Chaos in the Old Testament


Human history is peppered with societies that rise to affluence and power only to disappear in the next instant of time. Geographic regions, such as the Fertile Crescent, undergo changes that rock the indigenous cultures – which then arise again as the phoenix out of the ashes of conflict. With introspection, we notice the internal shifts of beliefs, emotions and motivations that occur as our own life experience unfolds. All of these processes are influenced, to a greater or lesser extent, by the fundamental principles of chaos.

Chaos is defined as: 1) confusion, or confused mass, of formless matter and infinite space, supposed to have existed before the ordered universe, 2) any mixed mass, without form or order. From the Greek, chaos is the antithesis of cosmos, universal order. In societies, chaos is characterized as disorder, lawlessness, unpredictability, instability. Personally, chaos shows itself as an unawareness of order in my life – extreme uncertainty and confusion regarding appropriate action, complete absence of personal direction and unpredictability of future circumstances.

As chaos approaches the threshold of effecting fundamental changes in the “system” it describes, it is said that the system is “in a crisis.” Not coincidentally, the Chinese pictogram for crisis is the same as that for opportunity. That is the thesis of this paper: inherent to chaos is opportunity – a powerful potential for effecting changes with a remarkably small incremental effort. It is a power that each of us can wield to transform, not just our lives, but society as a whole! Jesus knew of this power, Gandhi knew of this power, Dr. King knew of this power. This power is the gift of chaos.

Biblical Lens

Our Judeo-Christian scripture provides us with an illuminating lens of principles and examples to help us better understand our life experience; clarifying our misunderstanding, focusing our attention on our true purpose and revealing methods for achieving that purpose. Metaphysically, the Old Testament represents the process of our spiritual awakening – our movement in consciousness from the Adam mind to the Christ Mind. Therefore, it is an effective tool for the examination of the conditions and effects of chaos on our own arising in consciousness.
The salient events of the arising and evolution of the monarchy in the Old Testament will be analyzed. Consideration of the historical aspects of these events will reveal the role of the principles of chaos in the social fabric of the Hebrew people. The metaphysical dimension of the scripture will expose the lessons we can use in our lives today to aid our awakening. But let us take a brief tour of chaos theory before we proceed.

Out of Cosmos, Chaos

Until the latter half of the twentieth century, most scientists looked upon the universe as a cosmos – an ordered entity, ruled by fundamental laws that were the same in every place and every time. The law of gravity defined the rules of interaction of massive bodies, the speed of light was considered the wall of maximum velocity through which matter could not penetrate, quantum physics reliably painted the entire spectrum of sub-atomic behavior. But when chaotic systems such as the earth’s global weather were considered, scientists threw up their collective hands with “it is too complex to be quantified, therefore, it can’t be understood.” In point of fact, science regarded the cosmos of the universe as having its flawed regions where chaos ruled instead.

In the early 1960’s, Edward Lorenz was researching a simplified representation of weather systems based upon three formulas specifying temperature, humidity and barometric pressure. He found that many formulated “weather systems” that he defined mimicked closely (but not exactly) the natural weather systems that he observed swirling outside his door. He could initialize his formulas with the values for temperature, humidity and air pressure, perform the iterative calculations to describe the conditions of a “weather system” and watch those evolve very much as natural weather systems were seen to unfold. As exciting to him as this was, he was startled by the discovery that every “weather system” he defined was extremely sensitive to initial conditions. That is, if he varied the initial value of temperature, for example, by a very small fraction of a degree from one “weather system” to another, the calculated results would be extremely different even after only a “week’s worth” of calculations. The results of calculations for the weather conditions of one hour would cascade into the calculations for the next hour, thereby evolving hour by hour, with any initial small variation in value multiplying over time. Lorenz described this by whimsically speculating that the flapping of the wings of a butterfly in China could cause a tornado in Kansas. This became known by chaos theorists as the “butterfly effect.” This sensitivity to initial conditions is present, not necessarily dominant, in virtually all chaotic systems. The “butterfly effect” is key to understanding the gift of power that chaos offers.

An approximation of the “butterfly effect” in a physical system is the interaction of a straight-backed chair and the intervening force that affects the position of the chair as it is balanced on one leg. Very near the balance point, only small forces are needed to keep the chair at or near the balance point. The amount of effort that is needed to lift the chair from a stable position up to the balance point is many times greater than the effort needed to tip the chair in any particular direction once the balance point is reached. The “butterfly effect” is seen when a nominal force is applied to the chair to cause it to fall from the balance point into some stable position (“up-right”, on its side or “upside-down”).
Thirteen years after Lorenz’s observations, in 1977, a Russian-born Belgian mathematician, Ilya Prigogine, postulated that with any open system (a “dissipative structure”) , undergoing increasing conditions of chaos caused by an external energy influx, the system would reach a threshold (a bifurcation point) where its structure could spontaneously reconfigure itself to a “higher order” system to accommodate the increased level of energy. His argument was not that the system would necessarily reconfigure into a higher order, only that it could. If it did not, the system would continue to devolve into chaos, losing its properties of predictability. Prigogine’s work became known as the theory of dissipative structures, fundamental to the development of our understanding of chaos.

Old Testimony to Chaos

An example of Prigogine’s theory of dissipative structures in a social system is illustrated by the circumstances of the Hebrew people during the time of the Judges in the Old Testament. The Hebrew people were continually threatened by its neighboring tribes or nations during and after their settling in the land of Canaan in the thirteenth, twelfth and eleventh centuries BCE. It is written in the Book of Judges that each time a major threat arose, a leader or judge came forth to organize the Hebrew people into a cohesive defensive unit to thwart the aggressor. In the context of the theory of dissipative structures, the open system is the social structure of the Hebrews, the increasing political threat is the influx of energy imposed from without, and the bifurcation point is reached when recognition and ground swell support of the judge was given by the Hebrew people. The day to day “tribal nature” of the Hebrew society was transformed into a higher order organization of the “super tribe” for the period the threat was viewed as real. One can easily imagine that there existed, just prior to the selection of the judge, a substantial amount of power wielded by some one or some few to affect the judge’s selection. When the threat diminished or disappeared, the “super tribe” dissolved into its constituent tribes, each concerned with only its own welfare. However, after each judge arose, there was a subtle but fundamental shift in the structure of Hebrew society – it was being transformed by each aggregation of people in support of the judges to the point that it eventually demanded the appointment of a permanent monarch.

Intuitively, this theory of dissipative structures may seem to be obvious, perhaps because we are more attuned to the subtleties of our experience than we realize. But Prigogine’s contributions were:
1. the rigorous mathematical proof of this process,
2. the recognition that as the system nears the bifurcation point, the resulting conditions of the system are very sensitive to any incremental effort expended just before the bifurcation (as in the example of the balanced chair discussed above), and
3. the movement beyond the bifurcation point prevents the system, without external influence, from “devolving” back to the conditions that existed prior to the bifurcation – i.e. the arrow of time moves only in one direction, from past to future (e.g. when the balanced chair fell from its balance point into some stable position).

Recall that Samuel, regarded as the father of prophecy and as the last judge, warned the Hebrew people that the appointment of a monarch would have lasting and detrimental effects: “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; .… He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” 1st Samuel 8:11—17.

Samuel’s exhortation that “once you do this, you can’t go back” echoes the precept that the passage of the bifurcation point (in this case the appointment of a monarch) prevents the return to previous conditions. Notice that in his activity just prior to the bifurcation, Samuel was able to affect the outcome of centuries of Israeli history with very small incremental effort – illustrating once again the power that is the gift of chaos.

The increasing political pressure and external threats caused the Hebrew society to transform itself into a higher order organization (the monarchy), one that could withstand these pressures. This reorganization of society was quite “successful.” Even though David arose in the house of Saul to threaten his reign (the threat perceived by Saul constituted the influx of energy), no reorganization was necessary, the monarchy survived – although in the name of David rather than Saul. The Hebrew people flourished with increased abundance, greater national power and improved personal safety. And so it continued into the reign of Solomon. But the seeds of destruction were sown in the celebration of Solomon’s success.

Solomon achieved his wealth through increased taxation of the Hebrew people and of the conquered nations. He maintained his power through his personal stature among the people and Israel’s strength among those nations. When he “slept with his ancestors,” and the binding glue of society (his personal stature) disappeared, the pressures of chaos increased substantially. In walked Rehoboam, a son of Solomon. Little did he know that the death of his father and the loss of Solomon’s personal stature effectively moved the bifurcation point “behind” him – that is, the Hebrew society was “primed” to reorganize into another structure or fall into chaos. So when, in 1st Kings 12:13 — “The king answered the people harshly. He disregarded the advice that the older men had given him and spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” — the Hebrew society divided into two kingdoms, never to be unified again. What if the “older men” had made their argument more persuasive with just one illustration that touched Rehoboam’s heart? What effects would have followed, how would history have been changed? But it was not to be; after this bifurcation, the Israeli society, as a whole, fell into chaos. The two kingdoms that emerged underwent their own evolutions, passing bifurcation points, evolving in some cases, devolving in others.
Another bifurcation occurred when the Northern Kingdom fell in 722 BCE as its government was overthrow by the Assyrians. The people of Israel, the Ten Tribes, were splintered into cellular groups and “spread among the nations.” But the reorganization of the Hebrew people of the Northern Kingdom into cellular groups represented a move to a higher order organization, though this was certainly not apparent at the time. The “influx of external energy” of nations conquering the inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent had little direct effect on the Hebrew cells that had been spread among the nations. Those cells became the “cultural receptors” of later Jewish influences that spread from Jerusalem in the centuries prior to and during the Common Era. It is not by happenstance that Paul found Jewish communities in many cities as he moved among the Gentiles, providing him receptive audiences as he carried his understanding of the teachings of Jesus to the “unwashed.”

Like the Northern Kingdom, the Southern Kingdom experienced its despot kings and a few kings that followed in the “path of David.” One such despot was Manasseh, who reigned from 687 to 642 BCE. He is characterized in 2nd Kings 21 as “doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD…. Moreover Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides the sin that he caused Judah to sin so that they did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.” It was during his reign that the seeds of the Deuteronomic Reformation were sown.

The forces caused by the evil suppression of the Hebrew society by Manasseh once again pushed the society past the bifurcation point. During this time, it is likely that a Hebrew priesthood went underground to begin the writing of the Book of Deuteronomy, a cohesive restatement of the Mosaic tradition. Manasseh’s power held in check the explosive forces that came into being because of his policies of suppression. But when he “slept with his ancestors,” those forces were unleashed. His son Amon, following in the father’s steps, survived only two years before he was assassinated, marking the passage of yet another bifurcation point. The assassins of Amon were executed to insure that the House of David not be overthrown.

A son of Amon, Josiah, then only eight years old, began to reign in the “way of David.” He restored the Mosaic tradition as a mainstay of Hebrew society. He reformed the Temple practices, abolished the worship of other gods, dismantled the institutions of sacred prostitution and child sacrifices. During the eighteenth year of his reign, the Book of Deuteronomy was discovered during the “remodeling” of the Temple. Josiah’s “Davidic” leadership allowed the priesthood, likely driven underground during his grandfather’s reign, to resurface. This priesthood was probably the authors of the Book of Deuteronomy, and may well have participated in the Deuteronomistic editing of the then unassociated books of the Pentateuch. Soon after the discovery of the Book of Deuteronomy in the walls of the Temple, Josiah led the people in a “covenant renewal,” reestablishing in the minds of the Hebrew people their role as God’s Chosen. This covenant renewal established a higher order organization of the consciousness of society and was a beneficial, if not necessary, preamble to the survival of the Jewish tradition during the coming Exile in Babylon.

Metaphysically Speaking

The Old Testament represents history and myth on one level and an individual’s experience in the awakening of consciousness on another level. At the metaphysical level, each story, character or place represents an aspect in one’s own consciousness. It is at this level that I will explore the effect of chaos on my awakening of consciousness.
The Hebrew name “Samuel” means “name of God, sublimity of God, heard of God, instructed of God.” It is operative as spiritual discernment in consciousness that knows of and is guided by the conscious connection with God. My “Samuel” is perched at the bifurcation point (the “balance point”) of my decision-making process. If I am ready to hear the word of God I will make “righteous” use of this power. Very little effort is needed to initiate a cascade of thought, expression and action to “tip the scale” in favor of Spirit. That is the gift of chaos that exists near the bifurcation point.

An initial decision may be made in favor of “Saul” – the action of the personal will in attaining that which it desires. My “Samuel” will conform to my wishes, tipping the scale in favor of my personal self. But that initial choice can be changed in favor of “David”, divine love individualized in me. The divine love in me is patient, awaiting its time to establish the “kingdom” of right thoughts and action (the monarchy). My thoughts (the Hebrew people) are served by this divine love – they are nourished, guided and made fruitful as are the subjects of any effective and benevolent monarchy.

But I must remain constantly vigilant to the discernment of right thought and action least my “Solomon” (the state of mind in consciousness when the soul is united with wisdom and love ) be supplanted by my “Rehoboam” (that in my consciousness that exalts the senses ) and my “Jeroboam” (the contentious state in me that is an advocate for my thoughts ). The natural consequence of a contentious state of mind is a separation of my thoughts from the leadership of divine love (the fall from grace exemplified by my loss of contact with my spiritualized thoughts – the dispersion of the Ten Tribes of Israel). The natural consequence of exaltation of the senses is a forgetting of my true relationship with divine love (my “Manasseh” ). But even when I am exalting in the senses, the seeds of my redemption are being planted.

I may attempt to craft a fulfilling relationship with sense consciousness in spite of overwhelming evidence testifying to its futility (as Amon with his short reign). But I will find that my only salvation is a return to the Law (the Inner Guide), represented by finding the “Book of the Torah” in the Temple of consciousness. And who but “Josiah” (that in my consciousness that connects itself with spirit and tries to carry out the Divine Plan ) could lead me back to a right relationship with God?

Chaos in Application

Throughout this process of awakening – with its progressive and digressive developments – my “Samuel” waits to serve me at the bifurcation point. It is there at the “balance point” that my intention, in the form of a mere breath of a thought, has the power to affect how my experience unfolds. It is at the bifurcation point that the choice in favor of love will have its cascading effects leading me to the kingdom of heaven. So when I am in a chaotic state of consciousness, confused by circumstances or relationships, the potential of the bifurcation point becomes my ally. I can call upon the power of my thoughts to sway the outcome in favor of love, in favor of Spirit.

It is my experience that not every situation can be swayed by a “mere breath of a thought.” Not every state in chaos is adjacent to a bifurcation point. But when I approach the bifurcation, I must be ready with right thought; else my thoughts may sway the results away from Spirit. Gandhi spoke of the importance of his continual use of the mantra “Rama Rama,” that when he left this experience he would go with the thought of God in his mind. When he was assassinated, it is said that his last intelligible words were “Rama Rama.” We cannot predict our proximity to the bifurcation point – by definition. Therefore, we must be constantly leaning in the direction of Spirit to realize the gift of chaos.

As I look around me in the “world experience” and see chaos – disorder, lawlessness, unpredictability, instability – I remember the potential that is inherent in chaos at the bifurcation point. Rather than feel hopeless and impotent, I apply my efforts to be a healing component of the experience. As Lorenz discovered with his “weather systems,” my seemingly small increment of healing effort can have greatly magnified results as the web of consciousness reverberates with this healing energy. I remember the power exhibited by Jesus, Gandhi and King. I also am a Light of the World.