"Code of Hammurabi" by Georgezhao - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Code of Hammurabi” by Georgezhao – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Dr. Harold Sala

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:23

The year was 1901 and the science of modern archaeology was just coming into its own when an archaeologist by the name of M. De Morgan began digging at ancient Susa, which is in modern Iran today.  He found a slab of black diorite which measured slightly more than 7 feet by 6 at the base and tapered to about five and a half feet at the top.  At the top of this rounded stele is a depiction of Shamash, the Babylonian sun God, giving the law to Hammurabi, one of the most famous of all Babylonian kings.  The writing on the stone is Semitic Babylonian.

It’s a code of law, actually a rehashing of other law codes adapted by Hammurabi for his subjects in Babylon.  Written about the time of Abraham, this code of law contained nearly 300 legal provisions including such items as false accusation, witchcraft, military service, land and business regulations, family laws, tariffs, wages, trade, loans, and debts.

Hammurabi, though, wasn’t the first to produce written laws.  In the 21st century BC, a Sumerian king by the name of Ur-Namu wrote a law code, the oldest one which we know of today.  Ur-Namu’s law code was written at least 700 years before Moses went up Mt. Sinai and came down with the Ten Commandments and a codified law.

A study of some of these ancient law codes indicates common themes:  the value and worth of the individual, certain personal rights which should not be violated, and prohibitions and regulations ensuring the safety of families and property.  Question:  Where did these ideas of right and wrong with many common threads come from?  The answer can only be the universal law of God, affirmed by a moral sense of oughtness, a sense of right and wrong which at first was enforced by an individual’s personal conscience.

The law code which we find in the Old Testament, often called the Law of Moses, contains a theme, however, lacking in other codes:  the theme that man’s personal problems are the result of rejecting the will of God to pursue his own way.  It’s what Isaiah was talking about when he said that all of us, like sheep, have gone astray and have turned to our own ways (see Isaiah 53:6). This kind of behavior the Bible calls sin.  It was this revelation that God wanted man to have which made our forebears realize that when someone took his neighbor’s wife, he not only violated his neighbor and his wife, but he also sinned against God Himself.  That clear knowledge makes all the difference in the world.

Ultimately what conscience first told man had to be written and codified because the voice of conscience can go dead and mislead individuals.  Written laws take away the ambiguity.  What one person thinks is OK is abhorrent to another.  What one person’s conscience may approve, another condemns.

Though you may have never really thought much about it, it was exactly for this reason that God wanted you to know clearly what He expects of you and how you can find fulfillment and happiness.  That’s why He gave us a timeless book, the Bible, which spells it out for men and women of all culture and all ages.

A closing thought:  laws spell out clearly what is right and wrong and specify the punishment for wrongdoing.  The Bible also does that.  It says the wages or penalty for sin is death, but the Bible doesn’t stop there.  It speaks of mercy and forgiveness.  The common theme is that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who took the penalty for our sin that we might be brought back into fellowship with the Father forever.

No law code ever written did that, save the Bible, for no other than God Himself could forgive our sin and human failure.  As Paul put it, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Resource reading: Romans 3.