The Biblical Link Between
Good and Happy
Translation Notes for Psalm 85
It is our custom that I read aloud to my wife for the half hour between retiring and falling asleep. For a few years now the material is the Tanakh, the Jewish Publication Society's translation of the Hebrew Bible. One night, reading in Psalm 85, I saw these verses and heard myself say:
Faithfulness and truth meet;
justice and well-being kiss.
Truth springs up from the earth;
justice looks down from heaven.
The lord also bestows His bounty;
our land yields its produce.
I stopped reading as these reciprocal ideas
kissed each other. I knew without looking that four key words of the Covenant were paired in the verses: CHesed, imath, tzadek, and shalom, usually translated as loving kindness, truth, righteousness, and peace. But these one word translations are deeply flawed. Here is my essay on translations, difficulties thereof. Also, check the glossary for Hebrew. This note is about these words, their meanings, and how they are used in Psalm 85 to link human behavior, the Covenant, and happiness.
I am no Hebrew scholar, no economist, and no philosopher. But I can read a lexicon and write English, watched enough Progressive politics to be a libertarian, and live by the Covenants of Eden, Noah, Abraham, Sinai, and the Lord's Prayer. Perhaps others will do the same for other parts of the Bible. Perhaps you. And if you are an Hebrew scholar, an economist, or a philosopher; please correct any stupidity you find here. Email me at email@example.com. When I think about it, ordinary people may have more useful things to say than professors, so everybody pile on and jab me with a comment.
First, I offer my own, also shallow, translation:
Covenant and order meet;
Honor and happy kiss.
Order grows on the land;
Honor watches over from the city.
Then the lord extends good;
So our land yields wealth.
Honor walks before Him as His Face;
He sets out a path for us of His own footprints.
The next morning (I could hardly sleep) I checked. Indeed, I found the usual limited pallet of Hebrew to English. But in Psalm 85 the choices of the translators come to a more troubling result. There is a tendency to break the link between individual behavior and outcomes in the social and economic world. Most English versions make these verses sound like
If I believe He will make me wealthy.
But some good folks get hammered by life and some evil people do very well. So a simple and magical formula that
What goes around comes around, or an earthly karma, is obviously not going very far. I do not think that is what these verses are saying. But lazy clergy, or greedy ones, do not bother to parse these words and ideas for their parishioners. Translators also do not want the burden of making sense of the Hebrew so they take the safe way out and make these verses sound spiritual and idealistic, not practical and organic to human existence.
The language of Proverbs and Psalms, especially, does promise that righteousness will bring blessings. And it is clear that earthly righteousness and blessings are meant. But how does this happen? And, why is it not always so? Without denying miracles or a little divine interference in the physical universe, it seems to me that usually He works through us for wrath or mercy. I believe that these verses spell out the mechanism that He uses to bless us in a material way. Also, if this is true, then the path to and reason for bad outcomes to good people is also clear.
Twentieth Century culture, now ungracefully passing away, has been unwilling to see the connection between happiness and virtue, between goodness and a good life. Too much is granted to Freud and the Progressives. The conventional religion of the last century held the false doctrine that man was a purely social animal. Given a good environment (parents, education, welfare, peace) people would be happy. Fascists, communists, and social democrats all agreed that people would be good if they were kept as well fed surfs. Little thought was given to the opposite proposition that it was good men and women who created a good environment. That sounded churchy and hypocritical (which soon became the only unforgivable sin in American public life). Human nature? That was claimed to be superstition, the outdated orthodoxy of that book of myths and fairytales: the Bible. Without a God or a species wide human nature all that was left to them was the State and emotional fads masquerading as reason. And thus the focus shifted from individual virtue and effort to the official structures of government as the fountainhead of prosperity and justice. Voting displaced free speech and religion as the most important human right, even though it is not a human right at all. Yes, I mean just that. The majority vote is a human invented system of reducing conflict and not a human right like bearing arms or private property. It is a good thing and worth dying to keep, but it is not a natural, or God–given, right.
Based on the doctrines of the Nineteenth Century, the Twentieth Century was the bloodiest time in human experience. Hundreds of millions died because men with guns believed equality was more important than ownership, feelings more important than faith, and unity more important than freedom. The political philosophies of the Nineteenth Century, like Marxism, Fascism, and Socialism, were empty of wisdom and common sense and destroyed the character of whole nations, dooming them to poverty and violence. It is obvious to all but the fundamentalist believers in socialism that supressing human nature only discourages the goodness of it and encourages the evil of it.
There is an answer to the emptiness of Progressivism. I believe that we find the answers in the Covenants of the Bible and in the new findings of science that we human beings have a nature, a set of physical and mental characteristics we inherit from the sperm and egg. From a more rational understanding of what we are and what we are capable of will come a new, and old, dedication to freedom and the formation of good character. When both biblical religion and free science in the lives of ordinary people dominates and judges the State the individual will be free, acheivement will prosper, and happiness rain down. Using each of these immense Hebrew words, CHesed, imath, tzadek, and shalom, I will try and show that the biblical and the scientific views are not only compatible but even interdependent.
We begin with the word that the JPS translates
faithfulness, חסד, CHesed. It takes a lot of English to cover this word, but remember that for the original author and reader it was one word, one concept. Here are some of the English words in that cloud of meaning: love, Covenant Love, loyalty, loving kindness, mercy, grace, care, faithfulness, trust and trustworthiness, initiation of gift giving, and obligation. Fundamental to all of the meanings is the notion of reciprocity: a giver and a taker who then becomes a giver. Like almost all Hebrew words, but not at all like English or Greek, the internal and mental are not distinguished from the active and social. Some examples of CHesed are the lord exposing and then, upon his repentance, forgiving King David for murdering Uriah; the lord leading the Hebrews out of Egypt and turning them into Israel; the Promise to Abraham; and, for Christians and everybody else, the life, death, and resurrection of the lord Geshua. Please note that every one of these biblical acts of grace asks for, demands, a response of the same expensive charity toward our brothers and sisters. Also notice that there is both an internal, invisible component and a visible, social component. So goes the economy of grace.
Modern Christians are so caught up in the idea of selfless love that expects no response that Covenant love seems odd to them. Love is seen as internal, emotional, and spiritual rather than physical acts of virtue and kindness. The difference is response. The Ten Commandments are such a covenant or contract that expects a response. First, the lord lays down what He has accomplished for the people. He brought them out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. He freed the slaves and turned them into a nation of free men and women. So far it sounds like any cheap grace sermon. This act is indeed CHesed in the sense of love, mercy, and promise which is undeserved. But the verses continue with some obligations. Our loving God expects, indeed commands, that we reciprocate. Not like other deities who want sacrifices and bribes for themselves but, inventing ethical monotheism, our God asks us to show our gratitude for our salvation by acts of love and virtue toward other people. Not only hankies and hugs but also shovels and bread. CHesed that does not contain both sides of the loyalty and faithfulness and love reciprocity, from both man and God, is a crippled word.
There are indeed honors due to our God alone but each of these first few commands are aimed, not at paying Him back or bribing Him to continue mercies, but only to fence off His Presence and Person from our impurities. Our contract with Him in these commandments is that we are not allowed to do magic with the power of His Name. There are times and places we must keep separate for Him. And that only the Image He made of Himself, humanity, is allowed–not idols or stand-ins for YHWH. And Him first!
I think sometimes that the reason folks think God's love is unconditional is that they buy into the secular idea that man has no innate nature but that if God loves us enough we will be good. But that ignores the negative way the Commandments are stated. It also ignores the social implications of a people that disobey these laws. It leads to the sort of question an eighth grader asks in Sunday school:
If God's love is unconditional, what if I keep on sinning? The answer for anyone familiar with biblical history is easy: there will be one time too many and Nebuchadnezzar will come a' knocking.
So, then, what of faith? Isn't salvation by faith alone? What is all this Covenant keeping? Will God stop loving me if I keep on sinning?
In a word, no. Even if you reject Him completely, He will still love you. Now that may not bring you fame and wealth or even a next breath. For He loves all of us, even the evil, from Creation. He made us, we are His creatures. But have a little wisdom. All die. Does that mean He does not love us? No, it means He loves human beings. Human beings are born and they die. That is who and what we are, that is the creature that He loves, a creature that has a life span and reproduces itself generation after generation.
But His love for every individual does not include helping them to the hurt of others. If I behave like an animal toward my brothers and sisters His love for them will turn on me and destroy me, either now or in the Judgment. This is so fundamental to the biblical religion and so widely misunderstood that it requires a longer essay, a book even, to clarify. But let this be enough for now: The love our Creator has for us from the beginning, as His creatures, is first the act of creating a stable and predictable universe in which we are free to respond, or not, to His love. And this: Love in the New Testament is not unconditional in the future tense but in the past tense. By that I mean He expects a response but He goes first, that He loves us before we love Him. If there is any common characteristic of this God it is this: He initiates, He starts, He begins, He makes. But if we mistake the intent of His offer of forgiveness, that we repent and sin no more, we will end up worse that before under His vicious wrath.
Do you see how shallow any English word is compared to this word, CHesed? Helpless in perfecting, I chose
Covenant Love. It is not very poetic. But alerted to the Original Testament context, the careful reader will expect both Law and Gospel, both promise and gratitude. No one can mistake this for a soft hearted emotionalism or for an
all saints are wealthy ethic. The Book of Job has a few things to say about this.
A scientist would say the same thing about the ordinary world with different words. Contingent, not predetermined, a future open to change, within very strict limits, by our efforts. Insofar as the Covenants are fulfilled in the physical and social universe, a scientist should have no problems either. My little miracle thing above would be a problem but we do not need a single miracle for this ethical system to work.
Truth and Order
The next word, אםת, often rendered as
truth, actually overlaps the idea of CHesed. The truth part is related to the older meaning of proof, the idea of testing until trusting. The meaning of this Hebrew word is more like
something you can count on and
dependable. Imath is related, do not ask me how, to the word
Amen! See my authority for this here. CHesed is more, and imath is more. But together, tied together with the verb for meeting, the mind of the reciter and hearer comes to this place where the grace of our God and our responsible virtue create a trustworthy and stable order. Yes, there I said it. Order, a truth about our God (and ourselves) that we can depend on.
Outside of this specific Covenant with this specific and unique God, order is found only by force, by the power of the sword. So Christians and Jews shy away from the word order because immediately the secularists call us Fascists. Nothing could be further from the truth. For in this Covenant is freedom born. Only here, in the Covenant given on the stone tablets on the mountain, is freedom with order possible. The reason is that when people show their gratitude to their God by living lives free of crime, full of virtue, and acting in love an orderly society can form without the heavy hand of king and bully. Yes, there is still sin and crime. Accuse me of hypocrisy and I'll come right back at ya. Nothing in our religion promises perfection, ever. It is only the socialists and Fascists (to be redundant) who believe that they can make a perfect world. Frozen stiff, but perfect. The biblical religions are rather more lively and realistic about human nature and the task before us. Forever. And here the unique genius of the lord stands out. A fence, limits, a guide, and the Means of Grace that is enough to give us freedom and order at the same time.
It is not even necessary for every single person to be Christian, good, or even law abiding for the social system to tend toward freedom and prosperity. First, bear in mind that the value system we have naturally and that is reflected in the biblical value system, does not tolerate crime. Theft is punished. False witness in court is punished, as is fraud in the marketplace. Adultery is not punished by law but a divorce is a terrible punishment and common in unfaithful marriages. And murder. A civilized society kills murders upon conviction in open court. You see, the Covenant of the Ten Commands, like all of the biblical Covenants, has two sides: Law and Gospel, punishment and grace, blessings and curses. Also, the State is not the sole recourse against crime, cheating, or sin. Individuals will take upon themselves the tasks of correction when they refuse to trade with liars, shun wife beaters, avoid people with a foul mouth, and refuse to party with heavy drinkers or drug users. A parent who turns away an adult child on drugs is doing the lord's work. Of course this is not enough and sometimes police, courts, and violence are necessary. That is, as locally as possible, the proper role of the State.
But what about not everybody needing to be Christian? Two points. First of all, Geshua tells us to be the salt of the earth. I believe it is just this sense that He means. It is the faithful, Jew and Christian, who must be the conscience of the society. And the example. If we do business with honor and truth telling, and no one else does, we will get all of the customers. Others will soon follow our leadership. Good people, even if they are not believers, will follow obvious goodness. And I believe that the best definition of goodness is keeping to the biblical Covenants.
The second point follows from the first. Sometimes I hear an atheist say that he or she knows the difference between right and wrong without being told by a supernatural being. I agree that atheists usually know the difference between right and wrong and often behave very well. But the values that American's hold in common come from two thousand years of cultural development in Christendom. We agree today that slavery is evil. Did we get this from the Greeks or the Romans? Are the Hindu Untouchables any less enslaved? Name one other cult or culture or civilization that rejects slavery. The only ones you can name, and few of them, are those so close to the natural state of tribes and clans that they make my point. Nature and Nature's God, specifically the biblical God, taught us to hate slavery. Trying to claim biblical authority for slavery is unlearned and ignorant. It was the slave owners who claimed biblical tolerance of slavery, not the Christian churches in America. If you claim that the Bible teaches slavery is okay you are following the lead of very evil men and I would suggest you learn more about the subject.
But this is what I mean about even atheists learning their ethics from the biblical God. The American founding documents are both classical and biblical. Our culture and literature and history is Christian and Jewish. Like it or not, this is a civilization with biblical roots and values. In so far as we are discovering these values to be natural to the human species, the strength of this argument increases.
So, for the Hebrew word imath, I choose
order. Please read into that an order of freedom, an order not like prison but like a line dance in a Texas saloon.
There is a natural human order. Again, this is not force or upbringing, but the natural born ways of human behavior. While it may have ruled what few people there were in the Stone Age, it has been mostly underground since cities were invented by warrior-priests. Here is a small list of human characteristics that come with our genes: marriage, language, division of labor, house, hunt, gather, cook, tools and weapons, war, barter, trade, money, singing, dancing, mocking, binding, crime, shame, guilt, laughing, hate, love, and hundreds of others. Or, how about missile rock, basket, digging stick, dragging, fire, hammer rock, clothing, naked, and death? And, unless beaten to death by a university education, father roles and mother roles, good and evil, work and profit. We can also include gods as human universals that are most likely transfered to us by our genes. But not the biblical God who initiated the contact and contract. In fact, the heresies of history always result from the mixing of the Person of the biblical God with pagan, inherited gods.
Two philosophical camps are allies in this view of man: biblical religions and evolutionary biologists. One camp sees humanity as the result of the lord God creating us using the raw materials He found in the physical universe and His Breath. He made us His Image, as if we were idols for this particular God made out of flesh and not stone or wood. The other camp is finding more and more evidence that we acquired hundreds of these little nerve gadgets in our brains by natural selection. Just one for an example: humans can throw ballistically and hit a moving target with a range and lethal force that is not only unmatched but undreamed of in any other animal. This ability needs practice and coaching but the basic nervous machinery is genetically inherited and without the hardwiring the feat is impossible because the order and speed of the muscle signals is beyond learning alone. For more on this see William Calvin.
What is important here is not which characteristics are inherited but only that there is a human nature. We are like this and not like that. The old idea that we are totally creatures of our culture and training survives only among those who make a living denying human nature: university professors, politicians, journalists. Many people are trying to change the world. They are leftovers from a bygone era of steam engine and Prohibition. They forget that the
world is people, men and women very little different in psychology or character from their Stone Age parents. Or from Adam and Eve. This is not a contest between science and the Bible but between pagan religious ideas and Western Civilization. The Nineteenth Century scientists are fighting with the Nineteenth Century Christians. Twenty-first Century science and biblical religion still have differences but not on the issues of human nature, freedom, and order.
For some reason the elites of our societies are stuck in the past even as they believe they are modern. We seem unable to throw off these oppressors of our freedoms. What, then? Is it hopeless? No. For ordinary people work with, and around, common human nature every day. We count on it producing behavior which produces refrigerators, orange juice, and plumbing services. Because these people love us or because they were trained to be our servants and providers or because they are one kind or another of slave? No. All that we see around us, our homes and airplanes and cars and books, are offered to us because others want to eat and raise their families and leave behind them a legacy of achievement. Self interest can be selfish. So ordinary people, not those in ivory towers, have learned to trust the human characteristics of reciprocity, self interest (which includes the whole family!), and holding up a reputation for honest and fair dealings; while they are suspicious of cheaters, angry at liars, and violent with criminals.
Don't like it? Want to make a better world, a better species? Sick at the depressing thought that generation after generation of men and women have been so narrow and selfish and primitive? Tough. Get used to it. Because this particular human race is the only one there will ever be. Even if we evolve again, or are recreated again, the new creatures will have some mix of characteristics that they share which enable them to create a society without your help. Depressed? Good. You should be. It is the denial of fundamental human nature by political systems which has killed more people than any other factor of history. Call it religion if you will, but it was guys with swords who killed. Such men may call themselves prophets but the biblical prophets, especially The Prophet Geshua, had mercy and not control on their minds.
On the other hand, systems that recognize fundamental human rights and characteristics like freedom of speech, right to weapons, private property, freedom to price, seeking happiness, and civic virtue have prospered and achieved many of the artistic, cultural, scientific, and charitable goals we all long for. In contrast, those societies which have ignored true human nature have ended in murder, starvation, war, and the lazy arrogance of poverty.
All of this out of two Hebrew words? Just wait. There is more.
No one discovers the natural and spontaneous orders in human nature, markets, and the free inquiry of science in a few words of biblical Hebrew. God breathed it is, but we still have to use reason to understand it. For me, reason requires knowledge of the science of human nature, the economics of human society, and the value system of the Bible. My long winded essay is about these words of Psalm 85. Without an explanation of the assumptions about theology and society my bare translation or comments would be nonsense. My work, especially here in Psalm 85, is to teach that biblical religion, science, and freedom share a great deal of mental space. The elites in the churches, congresses, and schools have no interest in this cultural growth and many good people believe the Bible is incompatible with science and freedom. So if you are already aware of the alliance among science, faith, and freedom this essay is long and boring. If this way of seeing the world is new to you then the detail is necessary, even if it is still boring.
Next, two Hebrew words (צדק, tzadek, and שׁלומ, shalom) also provoke thousands of English words. First, righteousness, tzadek.
The older English versions, following the ancient Greek Septuagint version, translated tzadek as righteousness. Not bad, but Covenant Keeper would be better. Virtue and honesty are also good because their real world effects make it hard to fool ourselves into thinking we are righteous. The word love is perfect, except in our time when this wonderful word has degenerated into a mere feeling. Nor is the Hebrew word one end of the sin—sinless continuum. Tzadek is keeping covenants, upholding your end of the bargain. There is also just, as in doing justice. There is a sense in this word of choice, of deciding, of judgment. Not in the dumb sense that Adam and Eve took when they decided for themselves what was good and what was evil, but in the sense of upholding innocence and naming crime. The just and righteous see cheating and liars and fraud and speak up. Even when it is the judge who sins.
I never do this except this one time. I am going to quote something, here from the entry on
Righteousness in the OT in the 1962 edition of the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible.
Righteousness as it is understood in the OT is a thoroughly Hebraic concept, foreign to the Western mind and at variance with the common understanding of the term. The failure to comprehend its meaning is perhaps most responsible for the view of OT religion aslegalisticand as far removed from the graciousness of the NT. However, within the past one hundred years [now 150], thanks largely to the efforts of German scholars, this important motif of biblical faith has been clarified.
The concept deserves some negative definitions. In the OT it is not behavior in accordance with an ethical, legal, psychological, religious, or spiritual norm. It is not conduct which is dictated by either human or divine nature, no matter how undefiled. It is not an action appropriate to the attainment of a specific goal. It is not an impartial ministry to one's fellow men. It is not equivalent to giving every man his just due.
Rather, righteousness is in the OT the fulfilment[SIC] of the demands of a relationship, whether that relationship be with men or with God. Each man is set within a multitude of relationships: king with people, judge with complainants, priests with worshipers, common man with family, tribesman with community, community with resident alien and poor, all with God. And each of these relationships brings with it specific demands, the fulfilment[SIC] of which constitutes righteousness. The demands may differ from relationship to relationship; righteousness in one situation may be unrighteousness in another. Further, there is no norm of righteousness outside the relationship itself. When God or man fulfils[SIC] the conditions imposed upon him by a relationship, he is, in OT terms, righteous.
The author, E.R.Achtemeier, forgot a few. At the top of the list is the market relationship between a buyer and seller. The price they bargain to is a covenant, the whole process is a covenant. For trade, indeed for any human economy to work, a whole set of simple algorithms must be in place. Those with true weights are righteous. Those who cheat are not. Because they break some moral law? Well, yes, but this particular moral law is grounded in the universal human covenant of the marketplace.
This is what is wrong with life long virginity. It breaks the covenant that we have been given life so that we might also give life to the next generation. To withhold your reproductive capacity is not righteous. It is spiritually selfish. After this statement I need only mention abortion because you can fill in the rest.
I noticed in reading about this word that it contains a sense of honor, duty doing, upholding my end of the bargain even when it is costly. So I will use the word honor for צדק.
The next word is שׁלומ, shalom, a word everybody knows means
peace. Above, I gave a few more English words to fill out the meaning. I like the word blessing, as in the Beatitudes, and the more American Constitutional word: happiness. In fact, if you replace peace with happy in your mental map of shalom's meanings, you will be closer to the original.
Thus we are directed to this earth and this life as the stage where our blessings come to us. Wait until the Resurrection if you must, and some of us must because we live in evil times, but I prefer to also be happy here and now.
So here is our verse so far:
Covenant love and order meet;
Honor and happy kiss.
The Social Contract
No version in my collection of versions ancient and modern gets the next verse right. It appears to them like a cosmic thing so they ignore the everyday economy thing that is also clearly here. Again, the rich meaning of two Hebrew words is collapsed into a nice and other–worldly verse. The two words are הארץ, ha eretz, and השׂמים, ha shemim, commonly translated the earth and the heavens. Which is okay and most often more than okay. But these two words are also used when referring to down and up, low and high, to soil and palace tower. So while historically these verses are understood as referring to the relationship between God and man, they could be taken to refer to the relationships in society like farmer and landlord, tribal leader and king. Labor and management? Here, having some understanding of that ancient economy, the meaning may circle around village and city, farmers and soldiers. This verse is not only about God and man but also about man and man, about the structures of society we have cobbled together for our stability and happiness.
I do NOT mean to introduce the pagan idea that earthly events are driven by heavenly events. Myth never works when trying to understand the Bible. I only mean to say that when ha eretz and ha shemim are used as a pair the meaning may also be human social relationships that carry reciprocal responsibilities.
Dependable, which is an excellent translation for the Hebrew imath, grows out of the soil when the farmers are providing oil and animals and grain to feed the city and the king. Honor peeking over the edge (which is the way the Hebrew reads) from the heights means the king watches out for the farmers under his care. Of course there is a component of the administration of justice, of course there is a component of reliability in the village. Of course the relationship between man and God is the background for this language. I do not want to change the translation, I want to open up the meaning and the mind.
So my translation of tzadek and imath will still be order and honor. So here are our verses so far:
Covenant love and order meet;
Honor and happy kiss.
Order grows on the land;
Honor watches from the heights.
The next verse is pure Original Testament.
Keep My Covenant and you will prosper. To our secular selves this sounds like those TV preachers who promise that if you sent them a hundred you will find two hundred on the sidewalk. It is nothing like that. Instead this is the very heart of Christian economics.
I use the word economics deliberately because the scale here is not the individual or even the family but the whole of a society, a nation or a civilization. Why? Because these verses are about the relationships that make a society. Here is the promise: When we keep the Covenant of Life and the Covenant of Freedom by reciprocal good among us as we live, trade, work, play, and marry; the community we live in will grow, prosper, and become wise. If bullies take over, and too often we let them do just that, and there is cheating, lying, and irresponsibility; the world will collapse into hunger, violence, and socialism.
The old order, the order of Creation, is broken. Human beings, especially as they form hierarchies, take to themselves the power to decide what is good and what is evil. Clearly we came from either Eden or the rift valley of Africa equipped with the moral code that murder was wrong. But, as soon as we could, we decided that some could be murdered without guilt and we did so. And today, as Communism has demonstrated by the millions and millions, human beings still believe they can make up their own ethics. In my view this is like voting on the strength of the gravitational field of earth.
Ethical monotheism is a new thing on the earth. For the first time a god, this time THE God, presents us with a offer.
We are created to be His Image in the world and we serve as His arms, His feet, His eyes, and His Voice. He accomplishes His will for us through us. Not by our power, but because He first gives us the gifts of creation and then gives us the gift of freedom from sin and slavery. This should be enough to equip us to make the world safe, prosperous, and wise. When the good does not happen we must examine ourselves.
Two things are important about the biblical Covenants, from Adam and Eve to Geshua the King. First, He initiates, He starts, He makes the offer. Second, our response of gratitude is aimed toward the welfare of our fellow man. This works its way out in society to the benefit of all, even those who cheat and lie. Our internal intent has nothing to do with it. We always lie to ourselves about our internal motives anyway. What matters is our actions. If we are really good at napping stone into arrow heads and spear points but not so good at tracking game, the trade is obvious and benefits both napper and hunter. If we need a good reputation to keep our customers we will lie less. If others keeping their contracts with us is important to our welfare then we will do our best to keep our contracts. Up and down the ethical mountains, from Image of God to Sermon on the Mount, the social effects of covenant keeping are clear: peace, prosperity, and justice.
There remains the methods and powers of enforcement and encouragement. A great many people and civilizations hold and practice the power of the State to make and enforce the social contract. Mostly this means there is a two class society: those men who embody and mechanize the State and everybody else, namely serfs. So is hereditary monarchy, military dictatorship, street gangs, socialism, communism, and Fascism. I did not include tribal societies because they are natural and mixed. Only the American experiment is different because it is freedom under a covenant and law. Today this freedom is going away fast because most elected officials, almost all university professors, and the great mass of the media are Fascists who call themselves liberals or Progressives. Since they do not believe people have a constant nature they believe they can design a society anyway they like. Write their own covenant, so to speak. And too many of the people are following them, especially people of wealth and accomplishment who had common sense drilled out of them in college.
But in the Ten Commandments our God breaks through the sin and arrogance by taking the first step toward reconciliation. He took a slave people out of bondage and turned them into a nation of free people. This was not a one time event, although that Exodus was the marker for all time of His grace and power. But even today the basic structure of the relationship between the biblical God and His people, even nations, is enlightened by His Word. Look at the Declaration (there is only one). It is based on the gift of human rights to all men and women, a gift that is specifically credited to the biblical God, nature's God. Notice that while the native rights of human beings are for the whole species, the Declaration also brings in the idea of a voluntary covenant like Sinai. We are each and all the Image of YHWH, the biblical God. Without choice or even knowledge of this, we are made so by Him and we cannot opt out. So the rights of man. The Sinai Covenant is optional. He grants us mercy and saves us in many ways but we are free to take up our side of the agreement or not. So it is with all of His other covenants, from Abraham to the lord Geshua. So the Declaration claims one of our rights is that of forming our own social contract. The Constitution of the United States of America is such a covenant or social contract.
Our side of the contract in the Ten Commandments is a list of, mostly, negative statements:
Thou shalt not… Very wise. Instead of a list of things we must do, like pray five times a day or offer this or that sacrifice or give way all of your money, the commands form a fence around a very large field. Within these limits, we are free. This is astounding. But not to Americans. For we have inherited a civilization that takes this for granted. But for most of humanity for most of history the idea of freedom under law is foreign. We are not slaves to some stupid king because a very long time ago this biblical God started something that eventually freed us.
Geshua, quoting His Torah, says that the summary of the law is to love God and love your neighbor. Exactly. How do we do that? Interpersonal acts of mercy first and foremost. But also, for a longer reach of goodness, by keeping this Covenant of limits and freedom.
Whence prosperity? How do we ensure peace and safety? What brings us happiness?
Not Fascism, but covenanted freedom. Some of these come from our nature as human beings and some come from our heritage as the Western Civilization, Christendom. We can begin with the division of labor, private property, and the price mechanism. The division of labor puts the best resources we have to the best use. I make refrigerators, you drive a truck. I am a fair driver but not in your league, just as you could run my machine okay but never keep up with my rate. If we insisted on equality I would drive one day and you would run the machine and the next day we would switch. The result would be equal but the society would have fewer and more expensive refrigerators and slower deliveries with more accidents. This is the choice that determines our freedom, wealth, and happiness: equality or the natural human tendency to divide tasks to those who do them best. Bear in mind that some of the jobs in a complex society will earn more money and some less. The mechanism for controlling this and the size of the differences is the price mechanism, see below, and the earnings will vary over place and time in ways that no one can predict or control. There are only two choices: Fascists making political choices of who gets what pay or freedom of choice by individuals on what they will do for what pay. History is clear. When the State interferes with price, and here I include the political labor unions, the economy is doomed. It will freeze up or violently change. Probably both. If you break this natural human covenant you will be punished. If not you then your grandchildren.
The same is true of private property. Without this we are serfs to those who truly own the property. That is what serfdom means: somebody else owns the means of production, including your labor. If a society hampers this natural human characteristic, ownership, it will fail or at least not progress in wealth or knowledge or charity. As an example, those societies with strong institutions of private property have cleaner environments than those societies where political ownership of the land has produced horrible, even radioactive, pollution.
The price mechanism is effective on the macro scale because it is first effective on the micro scale. Finding the price of a good or service is a simple algorithm that even very young children understand: offer, counter offer, acceptance and done. It has some noise in it in the form of slightly different prices because human beings are complex. Yet this routine action by ordinary people millions of times a day is able to carry supply and demand information throughout a world market for millions of products and the resources necessary to make them. No computer, no bureaucrat, no congress, is able to do this in real time. By the time a superman could gather and crunch the numbers for the millions of inputs to even a simple product like a pencil, the rain or illness or a new strike in the gold fields would have changed something enough to make last second's calculation slightly wrong. If it takes a couple of minutes to do the numbers the giant computer will never keep up with the simple act of a child buying a piece of candy.
I believe that this ordinary and natural bargaining we all do every day is inherited with our genes. Evolution agrees, cognitive science agrees, and Genesis agrees. This needs no supervision except for fraud and theft and coercion. We do it automatically and correctly if left alone. And yet through this mechanism adjustments are made for new conditions and products, people get what they need and want for a price they can accept and those who create and make are rewarded enough to continue. Any, and I do mean ANY, interference in this algorithm is unnatural, mean, and evil.
This is the ground level human and Creator contract. This covenant of reciprocal giving creates peace, prosperity, and justice. It also punishes cheaters and others who break this covenant. When He made us in His Image, He gave us many gifts. First, language. Then the social instincts that make us the most successful organism ever. We build things and invent things and create things. We Images of God are like Him as creators, creators who reciprocate love for love, value for value, mercy for mercy. Except when we sin, like voting for Fascists and Progressives (to be redundant)(again).
Yes, the English misses a lot! And the poetry is totally gone. Here is a paraphrase:
A good and free social order comes when we reciprocate to the Covenant of Life and the Covenant of Freedom by honest and kind behavior toward others. Keeping agreements and honest dealings creates a happy society. When we do our duty and work there will be safety and prosperity. The lord reciprocates with goods and profits. He sets the goals and pace and we follow.
So now our verse looks like this:
Covenant love and order meet;
Honor and happy kiss.
Order grows on the land;
Honor watches from the heights.
Then the lord extends good;
Our land yields wealth.
Honor walks before His Face;
And He sets out a path of His footprints.
This is not a better translation. It is only one more, also incomplete, rendering of these verses. What was the intent of the original author, or the Original Author? That would be the Hebrew. Anything in English comes up short of His intent, except this: Blessed are they who trust His mercy, happy are the ones who are loyal to Him. Just, peaceful, and prosperous is the society full of such people.