The Bible and the Nations (Part 2):
The Temptation of World Empire, Babel and the Beast
[Part 1 is at: "v15n2p22.htm"]
Socialism's aim is not only to abolish the fragmentation of humanity in small states and to end all distinctions between nations, not only to bring nations together but to bring about their fusion. Lenin1The parallel accounts of the first empire, that of Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-12), and that of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), together present two basic aspects of the same fundamental human temptation: to organize human society independently of and against God and his explicit commands. Let us first look at the account of Nimrod's Empire:
And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. Out of that land went forth Asshur and builded Nineueh, and the city of Rehoboth and Calah, and Resen between Nineceh and Calah: the same is a great city. (Genesis 10:8-12)Both at the original creation and later at the renewal of human life and society after the general destruction of the flood God had required of mankind that it be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth." Nimrod, the great warrior and builder of cities and empires, went straight against the divine command. Instead of encouraging the reproduction of the race and the peopling of the earth he undertook the expansion of his own clan, the destruction of his neighbors, and the expansion of his dominion over a vast territory under his centralized control. The text emphasizes three times the might, the ruthless physical power of Nimrod. Here for the first time in Scripture appears the concept ofKingdom. Here we find the original root of that recurring temptation of rulers to exercise unlimited political and military power and by incessant expansion to constitute world empires. ... Our modern obsessive urbanization, the growth of huge cities and the parallel emptying of the countryside are sure signs that the spirit of Nimrod and of Babel is far-reaching today. Such social behavior is a public sign of the general revolt of our excessively urbanized civilization against God and his created order. Such a trend can only lead in the long run to widespread ruin and disaster.
The building of the tower of Babel related in chapter 11 of Genesis is simply the account of a particularly important aspect of Nimrod's ambitious and futile enterprise in empire building.
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.The unity of language and of purpose made it possible for the men of Babel, apparently under the leadership of Nimrod, not only to establish the first world empire at the expense of the divinely ordained diversification of the nations, but above all to reverse the God directed movement of population spreading mankind out over the whole earth which had begun after the flood. Nimrod's lust for empire and his city building were the military and social aspects of this impious enterprise. The construction of a tower reaching up to heaven was on the other hand a religious enterprise destined to provide a central focus, both ideologically and geographically, to the dual desire to reach up to heaven - that is, to God - by mere human means and to establish a name, a reputation, for themselves. The first was an expression of that permanent human temptation to attain self-salvation through man's own efforts; the second was characteristic of the humanistic desire for self-exaltation - let us make usa name. Here we clearly see man's wish to substitute himself for God who alone has the legitimate right to establish his own name, and thereby to proclaim his own glory For only God can establish man's name, his true reputation. Wenham expresses this very well in his commentary on Genesis:
And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let as go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them upon the face of all the earth." (Genesis 11:1-9)
"To make for ourselves a name." Again the people's ambition suggests impiety. God promised to make Abram's name great (12:2) and also David's (2 Sam. 7:9, fulfilled in 2 Sam. 8:13}. But elsewhere in Scripture it is God alone who makes a name for himself (e.g. isa. 63:12, 14; Jer. 32:20; Neh. 9:10). Mankind is again attempting to usurp divine prerogatives.2The Godly path is plainly expressed by the apostle James thus: Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up (James 4:10; see also 1 Peter 5:5-6).
After the Flood God had promised Noah never to destroy the whole human race in like manner again. To confound the arrogance of those who worked to build their tower up to heaven God decided to divide their toagues, to diversify their language so that they would no longer understand one another nor be able to cooperate with one another in their impious and rebellious plan. Thus the final and most effective element forcing the nations to scatter over the whole earth, the diversity of languages, came from a direct intervention of God. By this means the lasting unification of mankind became an impossibility. In this way God himself safeguarded his design to establish numerous nations in history, fixing as he willed the time of their existence and their location (Acts 17:26).
The name the people of Shinar gave to their city, Babel, was the same as the one they frequently attributed to the great towers, the ziggurats, they were so fond of building, gate of the god or gate of heaven. But Scripture tells us that its true meaning is confusion for at Babel God not only confused the tongues of mankind but also the scheme of its inhabitants. The diversity of tongues that resulted from this divine intervention is a constant reminder to all men that their ambition to create paradise on earth and the unity of mankind apart from the Creator and his Laws is bound to utter failure.
Many men and nations have in the course of history succumbed to the temptation of Babel, to the desire for world unity and world empire. This recurring historical reality represents a permanent theme of the whole of Scripture. This imperial design against God and the divinely established autonomy of the nations is given a name in the Bible: it is that of the Beast. And the Bible shows us many such political beasts: the Egypt of Pharaoh, Assyria and Nineveh, the Chaldeans and Babylon, Greece and Mexander the Great, Rome and her irresistible world empire. The books of Daniel and Revelation show these political realities with great precision. The coming of the King of the nations, the Lord Jesus Christ, did not put and end to men's craving for total control. ...
But all such ambitions of empire building are destined to fail. They cannot withstand the ravages of time for they are built on the sand of man's rebellion against his Creator. The second Psalm expresses this well when it says of that king of the kings of the nations of the earth, the Lord Jesus Christ:
Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen (nations) for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. Be wise now therefore, 0 ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear; and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. (Psalm 2:8-12)As for the Beast, that great world empire, we read in the book of Revelation:
And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that satan the horse, and against his army And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshiped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. (Revelation 19:19-20)Thus the beast, or the world empires, are finally and utterly destroyed. But the three creational orders, Church, family and nation, persist into the life to come.
The Church and the Nations
In the Old Testament the nation of Israelis often opposed, not to the heathen or Gentiles, as a frequent mistranslation of the Hebrew word Goyim leads us to believe, but to the heathen or Gentile nations. The Jewish covenant nation is thus often described in the Old Testament as being in a situation of permanent spiritual antagonism to the pagan nations. Until the coming of the Messiah these nations were placed entirely outside God's covenant of grace. Now it is true that there was often in Israel a conflict between the faithful remnant and the apostate majority of the nation, and that the nation as a whole struck impious alliances with the surrounding nations, but this did not dissolve the bond between God and his chosen people.
This remains true to a certain degree since the rejection by the nation of Israel of the Lord Jesus Christ as Ring and Messiah. For as the apostle Paul puts it in the epistle to the Romans: "As according to the gospel, they (Israel) are enemies for your sakes (the Gentiles): but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance" (Romans 11:28-29). This is simply a confirmation of the words of Jeremiah. Proclaiming the coming of the New Covenant he affirms the persistence of Israel as a nation throughout history: "Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of Hosts is his name: if these ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me forever" (Jeremiah 31:53-56).
This plainly means that the Lord will maintain the nation of Israel throughout history until the end ofthe present universe as a sign of his covenantal faithfulness: faithfulness of blessing to those children of the nation of Israel who turn to the Messiah in faith and repentance to be fully reintegrated into the New Covenant as the regrafted natural branches of the covenantal olive tree (Romans 11:17-21); but also faithfulness of God to the curses of the covenant on unfaithful Israel throughout history....
With the preaching of the Gospel to every nation in the New Covenant this spiritual antagonism is no longer simply between the chosen nation (Israel) and the heathen (Gentile) nations, but within each nation (Israel included) a permanent state of war exists between the elect people (the Church) and those who within each nation reject the covenant of grace. The exclusive nature of the Old Covenant explains why Jesus Christ so abruptly rebuked the Canannite woman, telling her, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). Indeed his earthly mission was not to the Gentfle nations but only to the nation of the Covenant. Earlier he sent his disciples out to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God exclusively to the lost sheep of Israel and not to the other nations: "Go not into the way of the Gentiles (nations), and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep oflsrael" (Matthew 10:5-6). The time had not yet come when Jesus Christ by his crucifixion would open up the path of covenant blessings to all the nations. For as he said of his death on the cross: "Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the prince Of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men (men of all nations) to me" (John 12:31-32).
It was of this opening up of the nations to the prockifiation of the Gospel that Paul was speaking when he said to the heathen of Iconium who were on the point of offering a sacrifice to Barnabas and him as gods for having done a miracle: "Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: who in time past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways" (Acts 14:15-16). Now these times past are past indeed and all the nations of the earth are called, together with those members of Israel who tarn to their Messiah, to partake in the full blessings of the New Covenant.
Mention is also made of this opening up of the nations to the light of salvation in Revelation 20:3 where it is announced that Satan will he bound for a thousand years and will thus no longer be able for this period of time to deceive the nations. For until Christ's victory on the cross all the nations - with the exception of the nation of Israel (in fact the faithful remnant) - were outside of God's covenant of grace. Now this covenant applies to all the nations of the earth indiscriminately Now, in order that the nations enter into God's covenant salvation it was essential that the particular status of Israel as the sole covenant nation be abrogated: "Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof' (Matthew 21:43). Jesus taking up the message of the Old Testament prophets had previously announced the overflow of God's blessings from Israel to all the nations:
And he charged them that they should not make him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment Cjustice) to the Gentiles (nations). ... And in his name shall the Gentiles (nations) trust (Matthew 12:16-21; Isaiah 42:1-4)Here the blessing promised of old to the nations through the witness of the faithful remnant of Israel is accomph.shed....Let us listen to the extraordinary Old Testament prophecy of Psalm 72 which predicts that "All kings will bow down before him; all nations shall serve him" and "all nations shall call him blessed" (verses 11 and 17; also see Isaiah 66:15-24)....
It is of this blessing to which all the nations of the earth now have access in Jesus Christ that John speaks of in the book of Revelation:
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour ofhis judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication" (Rev. 14:6-8)This astonishing expansion of the Kingdom of God starting from the Jewish nation and growing to include all the nations of the earth was begun after Pentecost by that faithful remnant of Israel, those first Jewish Christians who recognized their Messiah in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, pierced for their sins and risen again for their justification. This is the mystery Paul speaks about in Ephesians, Chapter 2: the joining together in Christ of the heathen nations of the world to the covenant of Israel:
Wherefore remember that ye being in time past Gentiles (nations) in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the Commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ....For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:11-19).The consequence of this spiritual unity between the Jewish nation and the Gentile nations in the one body of the Lord Jesus Christ is that the fundamental spiritual opposition is now no longer between an elect nation, Israel, and the non-elect heathen nations. But now the conflict is to be found within each nation between the elect people, the Church, and those within the nation who are not of the elect, but reprobates. In this text of the apostle Paul we see clearly the accomplishment of the promises granted by God to Abraham: that in his seed all the nations of the world would be blessed. This is realized in and through the persons of the elect of every nation on the sufface of the earth. The redemption of the nations in Christ is accomplished through the body of Christ, the Church. Thus in its turn Scripture calls the Church itself a nation (see 1 Peter 2:9-10).
What has been abolished here is clearly not the creational identity of the nations, but all that is of sin within the nation (represented by the elect), that is, all that leads to division, conflict and war. This we see clearly in Paul's epistle to the Galatians: "Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children ofAbraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen (nations) through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, in thee shall all the nations be blessed" (Gal. 3:7-8). ... That is why Paul writes a little later in the same letter:
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:27-29)This in no way implies any kind of abandoning of national identity (Jew or Greek), of social distinctions (bond or free), of sexual differences (male or female). What is done away is the division, the enmity, the opposition...What disappears is not the creational realities of nation, sex and social order; and what replaces class warfare, national warfare and sexual warfare - so prevalent in a faflen world - is not internationalism, egalitarianism, or the androgynous ideal of unisex behavior In Christ nations, sexes and social classes are restored to their creational goodness and thus know a healthy (a holy) unity and a healthy (a holy) diversity. ...
What Christ has come to destroy is not the created order, including the diverse nations, but Ml the works of the devil. ... But there will come a time, Scripture tells us, when the whole world, the dominant element in every nation, wm turn against the presence of the Christian faith in its midst: "Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall hill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake" (Matthew 24:9). And in the same Gospel we read: "And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 10:21-22).
This is the reign of what prophecy calls the beast, the totalitarian wofld empire, the enemy ofthe nations and of the Church, animated by an unmitigated hatred for God and thus for all God's creational institutions. The book of Revelation is here particularly clear:
And he (the beast) opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make u'ar with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of lift of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (Rev. 13:6-8)And we read also in the same book that Babylon made "all the nations drink of the wine of her fornication" (Rev. 14:8).
This huge final conspiracy against God leads us to that period of human history placed by divine prophecy after the thousand years during which the nations were no longer seduced, and when
Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them to battle: the number of which is as the sand of the sea. And they went upon the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Rev. 20:7-10)This is the reign of - amongst that of many other power maniacs - those artificial and anti-national groupings such as the European Community, the so-called New World Order, the United Nations, all to varying degrees trying, in vain, to reestablish what the men who long ago built the tower of Babel failed utterly to do. It is interesting to observe that the Council of Europe has a poster that can be seen here and there showing the unfinished Tower of Babel and the twelve starred flag of the European Community, together with the slogan: Many languages, one voice.
Conclusion: God Redeems His Entire Creation
True unity is of a totally different nature from that exemplified by this confused international mass of nations. True unity respects the creational order (hence the existence of a diversity of nations) and finds its common bond, not in human ideologies, but in respect for the Word of God, for his commandments. This unity in diversity is wonderfully expressed in that biblical event which in a sense is the true reversal of the division mankind provoked by the dispersal of tongues at Babel: Pentecost. We read that the apostles "were filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven" and "every man heard them speak in his own language... the wonderful works of God" (Acts 2:4-11)....
By speaking through the Person of the Holy Spirit in every tongue God shows that his design is to save all the nations of the earth in the persons of his predestined people in every nation. The Holy Spirit does not save men from out of their nations and tongues into the Kingdom of God. He saves them as it were in and through their particular nations and languages. What we have here is firstly the maintenance of the languages created by God with all their riches. But there is more to the miracle of Pentecost than this. The exhortations of the apostks were understood by each of their flsteners in his own tongue. This implies that the barrier between peoples established by the dividing of languages at Babel is transfigured at Pentecost. The diversity of languages is indeed confirmed hut the absence of communication caused by this separation of tongues no longer holds. In the Kingdom of God the languages thus maintained in God's redemptive purpose will, like the whole creation, be transfigured in Christ. ... This of course means that God's redemptive purpose does not work towards the suppression of the nations but for their salvation, their redemption, their sanctification, their transfiguration and their recuperation in the renewed creation, the new heavens and the new earth.
For God's purpose is not the total destruction of the old creation and the establishment of an entirely new earth and new heaven in its place. His ultimate purpose through the revelation of Scripture, the incarnation and suffering of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and through the establishment of the Church is nothing less than the complete renewal ofall things: "And Jesus said unto them, Verily Isay unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matthew 19:28). And in the book of Acts we read that "heaven must receive (Jesus Christ) until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken of by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:21). And finally we read in the second letter of Peter: "Rut the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Peter 3:10, 13).
But this passing away of the present heavens and earth does not mean their total annihilation, just as our own death as Christians in no way signifies the complete annihilation of our created personality Paul in speaking of his own death does not speak merely in terms of the destruction ofhis body but in terms of final renewal: "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we hove a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens... For we that in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up in lift" (2 Corinthians 5:1, 4). This means that life - not death as after the fall - is the decisive factor. It is life that swaflows up death for the Christian, not death that destroys life. So the end of the world does not mean that the world will simply be destroyed to be built up again anew like the first creation as from nothing. The whole person of the Christian and all creation will be entirely delivered from corruption, sin and death: "... the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21)....
This final renewal of all things is the magnificent, the glorious theme of the last chapters of the book of Revelation:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband...And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour to it.... And they shall bring the glory of the nations into it ... And he showed me a pure river of water of life, ... and on either side of the river was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations". (Rev. 21:1-2, 24, 26; Rev. 22:1-2).We learn from this text some very extraordinary things.
- First, as our many readings have let us suppose, here it becomes very clear that the nations of the elect are in the new earth and the new heaven.
- Second, that these nations are healed in the persons of the elect adopted by God from the midst of every one of them. We now understand a little better why God was indeed so interested in all these nations of the earth which indeed are a recurring theme of this very book: "And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, and hast made us unto God kings and priests: and we shall reign on earth" (Rev. 5:9-10). "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number; of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb" (Rev. 7:9-10).
Finally, we see that in the new earth and the new heaven all the riches of the nations are retrieved...Everything done by man that honors God will be saved. There we shall find the highest human achievements in every field, redeemed by the cross and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Music and the arts, the sciences and technology, literature and history, all the crafts and the most humble tasks faithfully accomplished in honor of Jesus Christ will find their place in the new earth, in the new heavens. Thus salvation concerns every aspect of our lives and our vocation lies in living every circumstance God's Providence affords us to the glory of the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31), in the Lord Jesus Christ by whom "are all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth" (Colossians 1:16), and for those that have thepatience of the saints" and "keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." Nothing is lost, for "I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them" (Rev. 14:12-18).
Editor's Note: Published in condensed form with permission of the author. For copy of complete original manuscript, write to Jean-Marc Berthoud, Trabandan 16, Lausanne, Switzerland. M. Berthoud is the editor of the excellent French language Christian quarterly review, Resister et construire.
1 Quoted in A. Solzhenitsyn, From Under the Rubble, Fontana, 1976, p.
2 Gorden H. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Books, Waco, TX 1987, pp.239-240