(Related podcast: “Only, no fear of God in this place” (Gen. 20:11; Podcast-audio)).
Law and Order is cornerstone for a civilized society. Is this enough for survival of a society, characterized by “only there is no fear of God in this place” (Gen. 20:11)?
Law may be formed, imposed and preserved by a brutal dictatorial regime. Human history is awash with such regimes, past and present. But what happens when Law and Order is maintained by democratically-elected representatives, forming “government of the people, by the people, for the people” (Gettysburg Address, Nov. 19, 1863)? Does this guarantee a civilized society, where morality laws are not rampantly violated?
The Bible painstakingly tells us, in great detail, two stories. They seemingly are non-related. Yet, they are amazingly look-alike; And they share the same conclusion regarding what happens when Law and Order is preserved, yet “there is no fear of God in this place”.
The first story is that of Abraham and Sarah, moving temporarily to reside in the Philistine city of Gerar. Abraham, fearing for his life because of Sarah’s beauty, introduces her as his sister (Gen. 20:5). This triggers the king of Gerar, Abimelech, to “take her” (Gen. 20:2). God appears in the dream of the night to tell King Abimelech that he would die because he took a woman who had a spouse. Then there is a dialogue between God and Abimelech, all within the same dream, and the king is repentant and apologetic (“in the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands have I done this”, Gen. 20:5). At the end of the dream, God tells the king that He knows that what Abimelech had done was innocently done, therefore he prevented the king sinning against God (by not letting him touch Sarah). Therefore, the king would not die.
Let us be reminded that the apologetic King Abimelech, who apologizes to God, is same king of fame — “I know not who has done this thing, neither did thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it but today” (Genesis 21:25-26).
Abraham is obviously aware that, Law and Order notwithstanding, when fear of God is non-existent, Sin and Apology goes hand in hand. So, when King Abimelech finally asks Abraham why he had lied about Sarah, his spouse, “…that you have done to me deeds that ought not to be done” (Gen. 20:9), Abraham replies:
“..because I said to myself only there is no fear of God in this place and they will slay me for my wife’s sake” (Gen. 20:11).
In other words: “I, Abraham, fully understand your concept of Law and Order (“deeds that ought not to be done”). Yet, I was still anxious for my own personal survival because “there is no fear of God in this place“.
In the immediately adjoining Chapter 21, the scenario that Abraham was fearfully envisioning, sin under the auspices of Law and Order, came to full fruition:
“And Abraham reproached Abimelech for the well of water which Abimelech’s servants had plundered” (Gen. 21:25); and sure enough, King Abimelech, of fame “you have done to me deeds that ought not to be done“, namely, Law and Order, replies: “I know not who has done this thing, neither did thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it but today” (Genesis 21:25-26).
“Law and Order”? — Sure, yet crime is acceptable because “ONLY there is no fear of God in this place”.
The second story is that of King David, Bathsheba and her late husband, Uriah the Hittite, “lawfully” dispatched to be killed in combat so that King David could lawfully take the pregnant Bathsheba for a wife.
Here is the story in brief. King David, walking around on the roof of the king’s house, see Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite, bathing; he calls for her and lie with her (2 Samuel 11:1-4). Learning that Bathsheba has become pregnant, King David first attempts, in vain, to convince recruited soldier, Uriah, to retire to his home and sleep with his wife, Bathsheba. Failing to do that, David ultimately sends Uriah to the battle front, where war is raging between the Israelites and the people of Amon: “..David wrote a letter to Joab…, saying, “Place Uriah in the front line of the fiercest battle and withdraw from him so that he might be struck down and die”, “…and some of the people, among David’s servants, fell, and Uriah the Hittite also died” (2 Samuel 11:14-15, 17). Law and Order, as pronounced by the king, is preserved, and the written command of King David is carried to the letter. But that was not right in the eyes of God (“…the thing that David had done was evil in the eyes of Jehovah”, 2 Samuel 11:27). Therefore, via prophet Nathan, a clear message is sent to the king, in a way that would not risk the reproaching prophet’s life. First, Nathan is telling the king a story, the story of the Poor Man’s Lamb (Second Samuel 12:1-4). It tells about a poor man, who had a single lamb, whom he nourished like his own daughter. Yet, when a rich man had a guest, he was reluctant to take of his own flock and instead took the poor man’s lamb to prepare a feast for the rich man’s visitor. King David, in rage, declares his verdict: “The man that has done this is worthy to die” (2 Samuel 12:5). And Nathan replies: “…You are that man…” (2 Samuel 12:7). David repents in the right way. He is not saying “I have sinned”, instead stating clearly: “I have sinned to Jehovah” (2 Samuel 12:13). Absence of fear of God now replaced by fear of God, once the Divine is revealed via Prophet Nathan.
This scene is an exact replicate of the two former scenarios, taking place hundreds of years earlier (according to biblical chronology), regarding King Abimelech:
- Fear of God in full view — when God is revealed to King Abimelech, in the “dream of the night”, the king repents;
- Fear of God vanishes — when God is not revealed, the internal restraint to avoid sin vanishes with it; This results in utter absence of repentance on King Abimelech part, and what remains is only social politeness and political correctness: “I know not who has done this thing, neither did thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it but today”.
Contrast these scenarios with how Abraham is displayed throughout Genesis.
Righteous Abraham does not need constant Divine revelation to respect the command of God. He pursues the word of God even when Divine command is contrary to the essence of Abraham own biological self-preservation, contrary to the essence of his spiritual self-preservation (the belief in the righteousness of God) — the mission towards Isaac sacrifice.
Abraham fully understands that even when Law and Order is the law of the land, fully preserved and maintained under the umbrella of human morality (“you have done to me deeds that ought not to be done“), this is no guarantee that atrocities not be committed under the full authority of the humanly-created law (or democratically-created law, in today’s terms).
“Only there is no fear of God in this place”.