I am someone who actually cares about the Bible. I like Genesis, in particular. Genesis does a lot of things for us, but one of those is to offer us a lens on history from those who were living through it, or living a lot closer to it, at least.
They lived differently than we do.
Abram — before he’d earned the name Abraham — was from Ur of the Chaldeans, which was an ancient Sumerian city in Mesopotamia. This was the cradle of civilization. God told Abram to leave his country, leave his extended family, and leave his daddy’s house and to go someplace else. God promised he would show it to him.
I’ve been thinking about this recently because I’ve finished an audiobook called “Against the Grain.” It is by a fellow named James C. Scott.
Scott is interested in how states formed, and he’s not talking about Kansas and Missouri. He’s talking about the ancient civilizations. Sumer, Egypt, and all of the other ancient civilizations. The idea is that at one time we all lived “in the wild” making a living by hunting, fishing, and gathering like the indigenous tribes in America were when the Europeans arrived, but at some point things changed and we started having to pay taxes.
How did that happen? Was it a good thing?
Scott takes the point of view that it wasn’t necessarily a good thing. He points out that the change from hunting and gathering to farming didn’t bring individuals a lot of benefits. Early hunter gatherers were healthier than early farmers. (Here I have to think of how the offering Abel, the hunter-gatherer, made to God was accepted but Cain’s was not.)
Scott notes that a lot of the wars fought in those ancient days were not to capture land, but to capture people in order to use them as slaves. This was because a lot of people chose to leave the ancient city-states when given a chance. People didn’t like paying taxes anymore back then than they do today. They had to be forced into giving up their mobility, their hunting and fishing to become a part of a nation state.
Here I think of the Bible again, but this time it is Joshua, Judges, and the Book of First Samuel. Israel didn’t exist as a kingdom at first. They lived as a group of tribes connected by kinship wherein disputes were settled by charismatic individuals known as Judges. “There was no king in Israel and everyone did what was good in his own eyes.”
But the people wanted Samuel to give them a king. Samuel warned them that a king would do all sorts of nasty things to them, but they wanted one anyway. In the end, they got what they asked for.
Ultimately, the kingdom they founded was conquered by a succession of empires. It always makes me think of a picture of a queue of fish, each poised to be eaten by a bigger one.
The Bible does not picture these empires as fish. In the Book of Daniel and other places, the word “Beast” is used. They never felt they got as much out of being in a state as they put into it, and being part of a bigger state wasn’t necessarily better for them.
This hadn’t changed by the time of the New Testament. They didn’t want to pay taxes to Caesar.
Jesus said to give to Caesar what was Caesar’s but to God what was God’s. That was a nice way to not get caught in a pickle, but it also offers some practical advice. We give to Caesar (the State, the Beast) through taxes. We give to God by helping his children: “...to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”
So you don’t like the way things are going? It has never, NEVER, been any different. But there is something you can do.
Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like” the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook.