I just finished reading Christopher Wright’s An Eye for an Eye: The Place of Old Testament Ethics Today. Wright’s book, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God seems to be an expanded version of his thoughts in this book utilizing the same basic structure in the book with many of the same chapter headings and an added third section on the study of OT ethics in contemporary scholarship. I have skimmed OT Ethics, and I hope to read it in full soon.
As usual, Wright tackles a difficult topic and explains it with clear and concise language. His writing style is engaging and easy to read. He challenges misconceptions that minimize the OT Law and finds an appropriate place for the Law in the life of the Christian today. His characterization of the Law provide a helpful framework for understanding its purpose and function, and he highlights major themes and thrusts of the Law to show a fundamental picture of the relationship between God and his people.
There is much in the book to recommend, but I found the suggested framework for understanding OT ethics to be particularly helpful. He identifies three major themes in the Old Testament (God, Israel and land) and relates them to the major themes in the other major periods of Bible history (creation, NT and the end times). He uses a series of triangle diagrams to illustrate his point, beginning with the simplest one found below.
God, Israel and the land — these were the three pillars of Israel’s worldview, the primary factors of their theology and ethics. We may conceptualize these as a triangle of relationships, each of which affected and interacted with both the others. So we can take each ‘corner’ of this triangle in turn and examine Old Testament ethical teaching from the theological angle (God), the social angle (Israel) and the economic angle (the land) [Wright, OT Ethics, p. 18].
Now let me briefly summarize each segment of the triangle.
- God (The Theological Angle, or Divine Angle in An Eye for an Eye). God is the primary factor in Old Testament ethics. Everything else naturally flows from a proper understanding and relationship to God. God’s identity and character can be thoroughly found throughout Scripture, and it forms the basis for his covenant and dealings with Israel. He acted on their behalf, redeeming them from bondage and delivering them to the Promised Land. His will and intentions are reflected in his actions and his laws. The origin of the Torah is God and adherence to it promotes a healthy relationship with him. It provides the way of life and calls for imitation of God’s character.
- Israel (The Social Angle). Israel’s understanding of God directly impacted their relationship with others. Israel was to relate to others as people who had experienced God’s blessings. As such, they were to extend the same kind of grace and kindness to others, particularly those who were weak or helpless. Just as sin destroyed relationships with other people, redemption extended to the social elements of society. Israel was called to be a holy nation, and their treatment of others was a reflection of their God.
- The Land (The Economic Angle). The land was a central element of the covenants with Abraham and Israel, and it served as the epitome of divine blessings. The land was a gift from God that provided ongoing blessings of sustenance and security. Ethics for Israel demanded a proper perspective on physical blessings. The land and all physical blessings belonged to God, and Israel were called to trust God as the source of all life and use their wealth for the benefit of the community. The land was also a measuring stick for the status of the covenant. Covenant blessings involved a healthy and productive land while covenant curses resulted in depletion of the land and/or removal from the land.
See my next post on Wright’s Paradigmatic Interpretation here.