Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Curse and the Cure: The Tower of Babel Part II

The Curse and The Cure: The Tower of Babel Part II
Dr. Dave Johnson
Assemblies of God Missionary to the Philippines

[This is the second in a series of blogs on The Tower of Babel.  To read the first blog, as well as other blogs on theology, missions, and Christian spirituality, please visit www.drdavejohnson.blogspot.com.]

In the first blog we studied the historical backdrop to the Tower of Babel.  In this blog we will take a look at the fruit of the rebellion that was sown there as well as the redemptive purpose that God had in mind when he judged the people scattered them all over the earth.

The Plain of Shinar was well watered, situated in Mesopotamia (the site of modern Iraq), along the banks of the Euphrates river.  When Noah’s descendents discovered this plain, they decided to abandon their nomadic lifestyle and build a permanent community.  Settling into a permanent home, in and of itself, presented no problem to the plan of God, as God did not command them to be nomads.  Presumably, they could have started permanent communities all over the earth.  The problem was that they did not wish to be separated, despite God’s clear command to scatter and exercise dominion over the earth.  This, in a word, was rebellion.  Their defiance to the expressed will of God led to rebellious action—the fruit of which, as we shall see, continues to impact the world today.          

The tower that Nimrod constructed was most likely an early form of a ziggurat, which was a large, religious shrine that became common throughout Babylon and Assyria and was used for occultic rituals.  It was a terraced, pyramid-like structure, with external stairs that led to the top.  One writer claimed that the signs of the Zodiac, which originated from Babylon, were actually inscribed on the Tower of Babel itself, although there does not seem to be solid evidence for this. What is clear from Genesis 11:4, however, is that they built the tower in defiance of God, in order to make a name for themselves.  It was this allegiance to their own desires rather than God’s purposes that brought down his wrath.

Probably not all of humanity left Babel after God’s judgment as the city of Babylon was later built on that very spot and became an important center of early civilization.  Archaeologists note that Babylon became known as a center for mathematics, astronomy, religion, and various forms of witchcraft and astrology.  One writer claims that all false religions came out this city as well.  Since Buddhism and Hinduism came from India, Islam from Saudi Arabia, and Christianity from Palestine, this claim, per se, is not valid.  However, there is a kernel of truth here.  Man has always been a religious being and since all of mankind at this point lived at Babel, it is only natural to trace the root of religion here.  But this is not all. 

Astrology, witchcraft, and divination are some of the many expressions of a religious system known as folk religion or animism.  In America, the most common expression of this is found in the New Age movement and in literature such as the Harry Potter books.  Animism, a worldwide phenomenon, is also thoroughly imbedded in every major religion, including Christianity in some cases, but especially in Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

On the surface, consulting tarot cards or going to a palm reader to determine the best date for a wedding or other major events in life, giving a love potion to someone to make them fall in love with you, or playing with an Ouija board seems like innocent child’s play.  Witchdoctors in the Philippines are seen as philanthropists because they try to bring healing to people.  Reality, however, is something else.  One of the core tenets of animism is that there is supernatural power that can be harnessed and controlled by humans and can be used for either good or evil.  In an animistic worldview, man, not God is the center of the universe.  This is why the use of witchcraft, sorcery, and most forms of divination are repeatedly condemned throughout Scripture. As we have seen in the story of the Tower of Babel, God who will tolerate no rivals.  The issue, then, is allegiance. One cannot practice animism and follow Jesus. When those who practice these things come to Jesus, they must renounce their practices (see Acts 19:17-19 for a beautiful example) and place their trust in Christ as their all-powerful healer, protector, and guarantor of their future.

But God’s judgment at Babel has a hidden silver lining found in the genealogy that follows in the rest of chapter in Genesis 11.  From Adam to Nimrod, God had been reaching out to humanity as a whole.  When he confused their languages, he divided them in to the various ethnic groups, tribes, and nations we see today.  He did so in order that he to reach them one by one (Ralph Winter/Steven Hawthorne Perspectives in the World Christian Movement: A Reader Pasadena: William Carey Library).  He began with a man named Abram, who later became Abraham, through whom God promised he would bless the nations (Genesis 12:1-3).  First, Abraham became the father of the Hebrew nation who was called by God to be a “company of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), living as God’s witnesses in a world of darkness.  Second, Jesus Christ, the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16), would come as the hope of all mankind and Savior of all who call upon his name from every tribe and tongue. 

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Copyright 2011 Dr. Dave Johnson 


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