Month 11:13, Week 2:5 (Chamashee/Teruah), Year 5935:300 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Sunday 5 February 2012
The Spirits of Egypt
IV. Ethics, Morality, Idolatry & Religion
Continued from Part 3
Compared to the depravity of its neighbour, Canaan, Egypt was a relatively advanced and civilized society and there is much about it that we will find ourselves readily able to identity with. In ancient Egypt, as in modern post-Christian secular society, there was never a theoretical framework for ethics and morality. As Christians or Messiancs, our morality and ethics are codified in Torah and are to be understood and interpreted relative to the Creator, Yahweh-Elohim, who is Regent.
The nearest to ethics and morality in ancient Egypt is what they called ma'at, which was conceived as a blend of 'truth', 'order' and 'cosmic balance'. These were personified in a goddess of the same name, Ma'at. Sounding very New Agey and occultic (which is what it was), this goddess represented the divine harmony and balance of the universe that was thought to affect every aspect of Egyptian life. At the core of this concept was a kind of doctrine of ancient statism which maintained that the people had an obligation to uphold ma'at through obedience to the king by which the state and its apparatus obtained its legitimacy and power. Add 'democracy', replace the singular king or head with a team or government with a Prime Minister or President, and replace 'cosmic balance' with a system of 'rights', and you have pretty much the same system. What the king or pharaoh claimed in ancient Egypt, the 'state' claims today by 'democratic right'.
An Egyptian autobiography on the tombstone of an official called Nefer-sheshem-re pretty much sums up the Egyptian concept of ma'at or 'right':
The Egyptian Book of the Dead, which details judgment of the soul by Osiris, god of the underworld, gives us some ideas as to what was and was not acceptable behaviour. Amongst unacceptable behaviour or isfet ('wrong') may be found injustice to people, maltreatment of animals, tampering with the grain measure, tampering with the boundaries of fields, and tampering with the plummet of the balance. Theft and murder were also regarded as isfet, along with exploitation of the weak, causing injury, depriving orphans of their property, causing pain or grief and causing hunger. Lying, committing adultery, ignoring the truth, slandering servants before their master, being aggressive, eavesdropping, losing one's temper, and speaking without thinking, were all regarded as moral and social failings. Most of these ethical standards we can agree with and are the legacy of the anti-diluvian patriarchs. In other biographies like those of Nefer-sheshem-re we read of commendations to justice, honesty, fairness, mercy, kindness and generosity, the timeless standards of Heaven that have blessed all societies that have adhered to and implemented them, originating as they do, of course, out of the lev (heart) of Yahweh.
"I have left my city, I have come down from my province,
having done what is right (ma'at) for its lord,
having satisfied him with that which he loves,
I spoke ma'at and I did ma'at, I spoke well and I reported well...
I rescued the weak from the hand of one stronger than he when I was able;
I gave bread to the hungry, clothing [to the naked],
a landing for the boatless.
I buried him who had no son,
I made a boat for him who had no boat,
I respected my father, I pleased my mother,
I nurtured their children."
Yahweh's quarrel with ancient Egypt in the time of Moses was not, of course, with any of these things, but with false religion and the oppression of His people, Israel. This included deifying the king and the belief that he had the right to determine and uphold ma'at for the people without reference to some absolute, written standard such as the Torah. The fate of every Egyptian after death, according to their belief system, depended on how how he measured up the king's ma'at. Thus the traditional funery prayer began, "An offering which the king grants".
Though the influence of kings weakened over time because of their inevitable moral failures, and ma'at became more closely identified with the Egyptian creator and sun-god, Ré, with the king demoted to his mere representative, this was still false, blasphemous and idolatrous religion which Yahweh hated.
Idolatry is the debasement and materialisation of national religious consciousness away from the Eternal King, Yahweh-Elohim, towards mental, human and physical images of the same. From the very beginning, before the foundation of nations like Egypt, there was pure worship of Elohim (God) and a spiritual theology. Idolatry is a declension from the norm, not an earlier stage gradually and with difficulty superceded. There is no 'evolution' from idolatry to enlightenment, but rather a constant battle to prevent devolution through the medium of divinely raised spiritual leaders, and the seduction by demons of the mass of the people. The broad sweep of evidence for the pre-flood patriarchal religion that preceeded Moses shows that it was a religion of the altar and of prayer, but not of idols. The first Egyptians, we must suppose, were like the patriarchs who subsequently lapsed into sin and through demonic mediatorship evolved the complex religion I spoke of in Part 2.
The modern world is no different from the Egyptian one in this respect. Professing high ethical standards and advanced civilisation, the West has nonetheless abandoned its Christianity (however flawed) and has slid into darkness. The practice of idolatry, in whatever form, be it toward living humans or imaginary gods and 'ascended masters' (and these days, aliens and UFOnauts too) - what the Bible calls gillūlīm and elīlīm - 'dung pellets' and 'godlets' (e.g. Ezek.6:4) - is to worship the evil powers that inspired their creation and adoration. The practice of idolatry brings men into deadly contact with these satanic beings that are full of the poison of spiritual delusion. Those who worship idols become like them (Ps.115:8; Jer.2:5; Hos.9:10). And because of the reality of satanic power behind idols and idolatry, it is an abomination to Yahweh (Dt.7:25), a detested thing (Dt.39:17), and it is the gravest sin of spiritual adultery (Dt.31:16; Jdg.2:17; Hos.1:2).
The high ethical values of the ancient Egyptians counted for nothing as far as salvation was concerned. There was only one Elohim (God), Yahweh, back then as there is only one Elohim (God) today, and He has not changed one iota in His view of idolatry. The contrast between Yahweh and idolatry is to be drawn in terms of life, activity and government. Thus the ma'at notwithstanding, the life, activity and government of ancient Egypt was perverse, by which the Israelite people had become seriously infected.
People make the same mistake today in thinking that their morals and ethics are enough to earn them salvation. They can never do that so long as they are disconnected from the chayim (life) that is in Yahweh through Messiah. Idolatry is more than idols or statues but is anything that diverts our attention and worship from El Elyon, the Most High. Thus sexual sin is idolatry (Gal.5:19-20), of which this generation is guily up the the hilt, covetousness is idolatry (Eph.4:19; 5:5; Col.3:5; etc.). Idolatry is spiritual adultery. And it doesn't matter how 'moral' or 'ethical' you are in other respects when you are committing adultery! Indeed, any deviation from the Torah-norm is idolatry (1 Jn.5:19-21). The idol is whatever claims that loyalty which belongs to Yahweh alone (Is.42:8).
We should not, therefore, excuse Egypt because it was more 'advanced' or 'civilised' than its neighbour Canaan. Our modern world might well be said to be more 'advanced' - at least technologically - than Egypt, but does that make it any less idolatrous? By no means! And in many respects, it is far worse, at least if we are to judge it by the standards of the Egyptian official Nefer-sheshem-re. We can behave as 'decently' as we possibly know how but so long as we are committing adultery we are dead in our sins and hell-bound.
Tomorrow we will conclude this series by looking at marriage and gender rōles to see just how 'Egyptian' our civilisation has really become.
Continued in Part 5