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Tuesday 7 January 2020

Nationalism is God’s Gift to Humanity (Genesis 10-11:9, May 5th 2019) - Sermon Eleven from my Genesis Series:


So last week we spoke about how God is progressively redeeming humanity from our fallen sinful state. Not only is God saving individuals from their sin, he is progressing humanity generally towards rejecting certain evils and lifting up our standards of morality. Obviously this is not a straight line, civilisation goes through many hills and valley’s of righteousness and evil. But generally God is moving society forward. There was a time when raping and pillaging were once normal actions in war, indeed some cultures considered them a conquerors right, now they are war crimes. Slavery was once a basic fact in society, now it is seen as immoral, and most modern slavery is illegal. There are other examples. 

But God is not just progressing humanity towards a better state of morality, he also restrains evil in this world through various means. Think about it, Genesis 8:21 says this: “…Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood…” If humanity is so internally fallen, how can there be any hope for civilisation and for humanity to flourish? Well God has to put boundaries in different parts of our society to restrain evil. One of those restraints is government, God gives government the authority to carry out justice on criminals, and protect property rights. Another restraint is a limited life span, imagine how horrifying humanity would become if we were fallen and immortal? We would become like the demons. Another one of those restraints he has given to protect humanity from evil is nationalism. 

Now a lot of people freak out at this word. In fact the French President gave a speech condemning nationalism earlier this year. The reason a lot of people run from this term is because it drums up visions of Nazis and uniformed soldiers goosestepping through city streets. But the Nazis, even though they called themselves National Socialists, were actually hell bent on dominating other countries, which is the opposite of Nationalism, they were Imperialists in every sense of the term. Remember that China calls itself the People's Republic of China, when it is not really a republic. 

God gave nationalism to humanity for a reason, and our passage today deals directly with that reason, so let’s jump in Genesis 11:1-9, and see why God gave us this gift, and why we should make sure we make use of it for the good of humanity.

1. A Contradiction?? (10:5, 20, 31, 11:1) – Before we go very far, we have to deal with the obvious apparent contradiction between Genesis 10 and 11 which seems to stand out like a sore thumb. Three times we are told in Genesis 10: “5 From (Japheth) these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations…20 These are the sons of Ham, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations…31 These are the sons of Shem, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations.” And then chapter 11:1 starts this way: “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” 

1.1 This seems like a blatant contradiction until you realize that Genesis has done this before. You get a broad generalized account of creation in chapter one, and then a detailed look at the creation of humanity in chapter 2. 
       1.1.1 This is just a narrative device which serves to highlight what the author thinks is most important. 
       1.1.2 A lot of modern movies and TV shows do the same thing. They tell you a story, and then go back in time to show you how it happened. (I personally am not a fan of that type of story-telling).
1.2 So, Chapter 10 tells us about the breakdown of the 70 nations, who are the descendants of Shem, Ham and Japeth. Verse 25 tells us humanity was divided in the days of Peleg, and the first part of chapter 11 takes a closer look at why and how this happened. So let’s see what it says. 

2. The Tower of Babel (11:1-4) – “11 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” So again this verse is giving us a jump back in time to before humanity was divided by languages and nationalities. They decide to make bricks, bake them thoroughly, and use them to build a city and a tower. What’s happening here?

2.1 Some people focus on the fact that they say “Come, let us…come, let us”, and make the point that their self-referencing is highlighting their pride. This may be so, but this is also just normal language. 
        2.1.1 There is nothing sinful about saying: “Come let’s build something.” So what’s going on here that’s bad? 
2.2 Well Shinar, is another name for the land of Babylon, there was a reference to this land in chapter 10 where it says, “8 Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.” Now those of us who know their Bible well, know that Babylon is the great enemy of God’s people, all the way through from here to Revelation. 
        2.2.1 In this land they decide to built a city and ‘a tower with it’s top (literally head) in the heaven’. And they want to make a name for themselves while doing it. Why is this so bad? What’s happening here that’s so bad. 
2.3 Well the biggest clue is in the phrase ‘let’s build a tower with it’s top in the heavens’. “Throughout Mesopotamian literature, almost every occurrence of the expression describing a building “with its head in the heavens” refers to a temple with a Ziggurat (Walton, 373). So what is a Ziggurat? 
        2.3.1 A Ziggurat would accompany a temple, and the role of the Ziggurat was to bring heaven and earth together, to be a connecting point between the gods and man. 
         2.3.2 Indeed we see this in their names, a ziggurat at a place called Sippar was called” “the temple of the stairway to pure heaven.” Another is called, “Temple which links heaven and earth.” You could say if a woman bought a ziggurat, “She was buying a stairway to heaven…”
        2.3.3 The ziggurat, the tower to heaven, was the most powerful representation of the pagan religion of Babylon. A religion that re-made the gods in the image of humanity.  
2.4 So what is happening here is that the unified humanity is corrupting religion. They are building a temple to bring the gods down to earth, they are forming the corrupt Babylonian religious system that will dominate most of the world. But there is more to it than that, as well, and we see that in God’s response. 

3. The Biggest Threat To Mankind (Genesis 11:5-6) – “5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” I love the subtle humour in this passage. God is mocking Babylonian religion. See that massive tower that they built to connect heaven to earth, well, he’s going to have to come all the way down here to look at it. It’s so tiny and insignificant. But the most important point is verse 6: A unified humanity is dangerous. 

3.1 We tend to think of a unified humanity being a good thing. We even see this in science fiction. The Utopian future of Star Trek is a unified humanity, with everyone getting along, there is no need for money, or war, and crime is almost gone.
3.2 But the truth of humanity is far from that. Usually when humanity get’s together it is to achieve great evil. Remember Genesis 8:21 clearly says, “…Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood…” The Bible teaches that humanity is sinful and craves power. The tower of Babel is an episode where all of humanity united together to seek to lift themselves up as great as the gods. This is what it means when it says they wanted to make a name for themselves.
3.3 Think of every conquering emperor, or would be emperor, in history, what was his goal? To increase power and to make a name for himself. From Nebuchadnezzar, to Alexander the Great, to Napoleon, to Hitler, all of these men and more sought to subject multiple nations into their empires, to extend their power over people, and in doing so they all did great evil. This is what is happening in the tower of Babel episode of history.
3.4 Think about how dangerous sinful humanity would be, unified under one false religion, opposed to God. And it’s already starting to happen, Nimrod is building for himself an empire, and these early Babelites, are creating a false religion that will guide that empire. “And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” No amount of evil will be impossible for them. 
       3.4.1 A unified sinful humanity is the greatest threat to mankind. 

4. God Creates The Nations (vv.7-9) – To protect us from the threat of a unified sinful humanity God creates the nations - “7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.” 

4.1 So God’s response to the unified humanity, coming together to do great evil, is to confuse their language and disperse them over the face of the earth. God had commanded humanity to fill the earth, and here they were congregating in one place, looking to replace God, and make themselves great. 
4.2 To protect humanity from evil God created the nations, each one “by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations.” So why does the creation of nations protect humanity from the evil in this passage? Because it prevents the greatest threat to humanity happening: global empire. 
4.3 The desire of many world leaders in history has been global empire, from Nimrod, to Sargon of Akkad, to Nebuchadnezzar, to Rome, all the way to Hitler. Globalism or world Empire was the goal, or at least to get as much of the world as possible. But no conqueror has ever achieved it because they have gotten resistance from nations defending themselves. 
       4.3.1 The Persian Empire’s advance was stopped by Greek nationalism standing up for itself. In fact that is highlighted well in the movie 300. 
       4.3.2 The Roman Empire’s advance in Europe was stopped by Germanic tribal nationalism standing up for itself. 
       4.3.3 Nazi Germany’s advance through Europe was halted by English nationalism and Russian nationalism standing up for itself.
       4.3.4 America’s Empire is now being halted by many different nations standing up for themselves. 
        4.3.5 It’s a consistent pattern throughout history that empires reach natural limits, because other nations, sometimes other empires, halt their advance. 
4.4 God gave the nations their sovereignty and their boundaries, Deuteronomy 32:8 “8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.” Often when God condemns the nations in the Bible it is because they went outside their inheritance, their boundaries and sought to conquer or oppress other nations, or create empires: Amos 1:13-15 - “13 Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of the Ammonites, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead, that they might enlarge their border. 14 So I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah, and it shall devour her strongholds, with shouting on the day of battle, with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind; 15 and their king shall go into exile, he and his princes together,” says the Lord.” God condemns nations trying to conquer other nations for unjust reasons. 
4.5 God uses nations to restrain the evil of conquest and empire in the world. Nationalism is simply identifying with your people and wanting the best for your nation. When a nation thinks that because it is better than another nation it can conquer the “lesser” peoples, they are breaking the boundaries God placed on nations. Eventually another nation, or nations, will oppose them.

5. Nationalism vs Globalism: So nationalism is God’s gift to protect us from empire. Globalism and Empire are the same thing: the desire to move more and more of the world under centralized control.  Many of our leaders in Australia are obsessed with globalism, which is really part of the sin of Babel. Because the ultimate goal of globalism is to have international governments ruling the nations, and I guarantee they will then seek to enforce their version of religion on us all.

5.1 God dispersed the people’s at Babel to protect us from this evil. So as Christians we should oppose empire, we should oppose globalism which is just empire redressed and we should oppose any leaders who lift these things up as ideals. 
5.2 Biblically God is ok with nations co-operating, he’s ok with nations helping defend each other against empire, he’s ok with trade, but when nations seek to rule other nations, they are breaking the boundaries God places on people’s. 

6. So what does this have to do with us today? Well we need to recognize that if God set the boundaries for the nations of the world to protect us, he did it for a good reason, and we would be foolish to ignore that. I think it is fascinating that this sermon fell during election season. I didn’t plan that, I started writing this series last year before the election was called. But the Tower of Babel has implications for how we vote:

6.1 We should judge our potential leaders on how well they prioritize their own peoples, not other nations. 
6.2 We should judge our potential leaders on how much they push globalism, and try to push global agendas, this is just another form of the threat at Babel. 
6.3 We should never trust any policies put forward by our leaders that give away our national sovereignty. Because this goes against God’s boundaries for nations, and therefore is a sign that such policies come from the evil one.
6.4 Don’t let anyone guilt you for voting for leaders who are determined to do what is best for our nation and our nation alone, because that is the basis upon which God judges leaders: how they shepherd their own people: Ezekiel 34:1-10 – “34 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; 6 they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. 7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.” There is obviously more to working out who to vote for other than this, but this is very relevant. 

7. Conclusion: God has given nations and nationalism as a gift to humanity to protect us from the evil of empire. But even more than that he has given us a multi-national gospel which he expects us to take to all people and teach them why they must trust in Jesus and obey his commands. It’s our purpose to take this gospel to all people’s and point to the king they will bow the knee to, either in this life or the next. 

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