Pastoral Psychology and the Heart 06

Dominion is love and vice versa.

A critical difference between the Ancient Near East (ANE) and the West is that in the former, even slaves were regarded as having some dignity. It arises from the way the ANE approaches life itself. ANE people would have ridiculed the notion of a passive and inert universe. There is life in everything; it was entirely appropriate for them to personify everything that had a name. It is within that setting that God chose out a people and built their culture so that He could reveal Himself. It wasn’t just picking out a useful nation; it was a nation He built from scratch and the culture to go with it. Divine revelation includes the packaging in which it was given; the means of transmission are critical to the message.

Thus, a Hebrew adult would have viewed the world in terms of persons and dominion. The Bible assumes you understand that ANE feudalism is written into nature itself. It’s not a dominion of turf, but of activity. The Hebrews came to self-awareness as a nomadic people, and it remained a part of their language long after they settled in the Promised Land. People living in stone houses would say, “To your tents!” The issue was not ownership of the land, but ownership of the activity on it. If you passed through without interfering, you remained free. If you got involved in any way, you had to be conscious of whose domain it was. Everyone served someone else; it depended on the context.

Granted, there were plenty of idiots with dominion they couldn’t handle, but the ideals were quite clear to everyone. Unlike the Western model, where the king is a hunter-warrior, the ANE king was always modeled on the shepherd-defender. To exercise dominion in the Bible meant caring about all of those who entered your domain. It also meant recognizing the limits of your dominion. It meant you recognized that even the most powerful dominion spread across a vast empire was still a grant from God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth who ruled all things.

Think about what is required to shepherd. It means getting off your lazy duff and extending a very limited control over a vast number and protecting them from things they could hardly be bothered to notice. It’s not meant to be an insult to those under your care to notice that sheep are incredibly stupid animals. It’s meant to humble you and keep your expectations realistic. You have to lead by voice, knowing that some will always wander off on their own, and that it requires a very stout defense against threats they hardly see coming. Sheep do two things: eat and make more sheep. The the place where they really excel is in being eaten by predators unless you stay alert.

But this assumes you understand the gravity of your mission as shepherd. It requires some training and confidence to wield the weapons of protection. It assumes you assert your dominion over the sheep. You’ll take a lot of guff from the sheep because they don’t see what you see. That’s part of the job, and there’s no point in taking offense. It’s not a matter of personality, but of duty before the Lord. It’s your role.

And while I’m not going to chase that rabbit here, there were plenty of good shepherdesses in the Bible. The style is different, but the job and outcome are the same. So ladies, you have a part in this, too. And to be honest, Scripture assumes you understand that no one ever tended sheep alone. When you read that so-n-so did this somewhere, unless it specifically says they were alone, they had servants and slaves and bodyguards. They got their lackeys to actually do most of the hands-on work, but it was all their decisions and dominion. Thus, the Bible says so-n-so did this or that, but often it was that person commanding those who served them.

So we have to ditch a lot of Western stereotypes about what was good and noble, and start reading things from a Hebrew perspective. Their manner of conduct and personal expression took into account the utter necessity of keeping the community stable. Indeed, one could boil down the concept of shalom as community stability. It was both a goal and a blessing granted by God. It meant necessarily that someone was exercising feudal dominion, but that everyone else did so, as well, but in their own domains.

God’s revelation presumes a tribal existence, because that’s how Creation itself is designed.

About Ed Hurst

Disabled Veteran, prophet of God's Laws, Bible History teacher, wannabe writer, volunteer computer technician, cyclist, Social Science researcher
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1 Response to Pastoral Psychology and the Heart 06

  1. Jay DiNitto says:

    “When you read that so-n-so did this somewhere, unless it specifically says they were alone, they had servants and slaves and bodyguards.”

    I can only think of maybe 2 instances off the top of my head where someone was “alone.” There probably weren’t too many more instances, I assume. 🙂


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