Cold Ham

Hammurabi steleAs I pedal my tricycle up the driveway to the education I never paid attention to, I finished reading The Codes of Hammurabi and Moses. As with our reading for last week, The Code was in effect while Abram was a pup in Ur. And like Gilgamesh, Hammurabi used every adjective he could for self-decoration.

The Code includes a couple hundred laws that Hammurabi claimed he received from Shamash, the Babylonian sun god. The laws themselves are inscribed on an eight foot tall, seven foot wide stone with an image of the law handoff as a heading. In the Prologue, Hammurabi writes about his calling from the gods to “go forth…to rule…[and] to give light to the land, and…promote the welfare of mankind.” If only that’s what the laws did.

One reason for reading The Code is to compare it with the Mosaic Law which was written around a thousand years later. Haters hypothesize that Moses borrowed from Ham (the diminuative form of Hammurabi that I suppose he wouldn’t appreciate). But the apparent similarities can’t account for the fundamental differences. Here’s a quick review of Ham’s rules that make for ugly leadership and culture.

  • The laws are fear based. Obedience doesn’t lift a man up in worship, it simply keeps his head out of the water (literally).
  • When in doubt about the appropriate degree of punishment, go severe. There is little to no mercy available, let alone applied.
  • There are only a couple cases when a second chance is possible. Third chances don’t exist. Forgiveness is a fiction.
  • Almost all the advantages go to the rich and the governing, rather than providing protection from the rich and governing. A few instances appear to limit the person in the power position, but who would keep the judge in power from bending the code for his wine-tasting buddy?
  • The laws lead to Ham’s glory and not the people’s good. Sure, sometimes what was actually good for men served for the king’s glory, but the king never served for the good of men.

In the end, Ham calls on at least a dozen different gods to curse any coming king who failed to follow his law. His imprecations were as empty as the heads of his gods.

Contrast the cold code of Ham with the reviving, rewarding law of the Lord.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
(Psalm 19:7-11, ESV)

We have every reason to be thankful for our God who gives good rules. He is righteous, He defines and reveals righteousness, and He promises forgiveness to repenters and blessing to those who fear Him.