A Biblical Worldview: Race & Language
David gave this talk at Woodside Church (Bedford) in 2010, as part of their "A Biblical Worldview" series. Click here to download it.
We've just started a series on Biblical worldview, and will be looking at Genesis to establish a Biblical worldview on issues including:
- Blessings and Curses
- Marriage and Family
- Individual and Community
- Honour Guilt Shame Anxiety etc
Worldview is the deepest level of culture, it's our deepest beliefs about life. If you haven't already, do listen and catch up with the first part in the series, A Biblical Worldview: Culture & Worldview.
Worldview answers the questions:
- Who are we?
- Where are we?
- What is wrong?
- What is the solution?
Often our differences with people today are worldview issues. Genesis is a series of stories to establish worldview. So in other worldviews, there are plurality of gods who are more powerful but no better morally than humans - for example, other ancient flood stories are because the gods thought humans had multiplied too much and were too noisy. The Bible presents it as God’s judgement on evil growing and developing so that a Holy God has to act for the sake of His holiness and the blessing of a new humanity descended from Noah and his family. Therefore, it's a deliberate tackling of a worldview issues. Genesis is answering worldview questions rather than precise scientific questions.
This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah's sons, who themselves had sons after the flood.
The sons of Japheth:
Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech and Tiras.
The sons of Gomer:
Ashkenaz, Riphath and Togarmah.
The sons of Javan:
Elishah, Tarshish, the Kittim and the Rodanim. (From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language.)
The sons of Ham:
Cush, Mizraim, Put and Canaan.
The sons of Cush:
Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah and Sabteca.
The sons of Raamah:
Sheba and Dedan.
These are the sons of Ham by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations.
Sons were also born to Shem, whose older brother was Japheth; Shem was the ancestor of all the sons of Eber.
The sons of Shem:
Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram.
The sons of Aram:
Uz, Hul, Gether and Meshech.
Arphaxad was the father of Shelah, and Shelah the father of Eber.
Two sons were born to Eber:
One was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided; his brother was named Joktan.
(Gen 1 20-25)
These are the sons of Shem by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations.
These are the clans of Noah's sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.
Genesis chapter 10 describes how the nations spread out after the flood. All are descended from sons of Noah; Shem, Ham and Japheth. The writing is in a particular style and the total number of nations is 70 – a symbolic number – so it's not every nation but a symbolic representation of all the nations/people groups. It's a positive description of the blessing of God resulting in the spread throughout the world of all nations.
THE STORY – GENESIS 11
Genesis often repeats a story in a way that fills in more details. Chapter 10 was a positive account of the dispersal of the nations. Chapter 11 contains a brilliantly written Hebrew story of God’s judgement on language.
The whole world had one language. After the flood they could all communicate. They knew God’s blessing and His command was in scattering to fill the earth. God had told Adam and Eve to do this, He had said the same in His blessing of Noah. However instead of scattering, people wanted to settle where they were and take charge of their own destiny.
They decided to build a city and a tower. They wanted a name/honour for themselves not for God, a tower reaching to heaven, but to put men in charge of their own destiny. So they built this tower so that they would not be scattered. The irony is – God said “Let us go down”. They tried to “reach heaven” but were so small in God’s eyes.
In the Garden of Eden, once people had tasted the tree of good and evil, they had to be prevented from trying the tree of life – symbolising eternal life in rebellion. Now that they had determined to take charge of their own destiny, they needed communication to be hindered so that they could not combine for evil. When you can’t communicate it hinders unity. God also in judgement scattered them – it had been intended to scatter them in blessing but it was in judgement.
HOW WAS THIS A WORLDVIEW STORY?
At that time, there were other stories around about why there were different languages. For example, in Mesopotamia, the story was that one of the many gods had decided to make mischief and have some fun at man’s expense.
In Babel, or later Babylon they had built a special tower, made of special bricks to provide a place for the gods to travel from the upper spirit world to the lower spirit world. This main temple or Ziggurat of Babylon was called the “house with the raised head”. It was the pride of Babylon’s history. The tower of Babel story is a “spoof” on the worldview stories of the pagan Babylonians. Just a human building, just made of brick not fine stones (as in Palestine), so far short of heaven that God could hardly see it! The name Babel/Babylon, they understood as meaning “the gate of the god”; this story gives it the meaning “confusion”. So this worldview story was intended to counter the Babylonian worldview story.
HOW DOES THIS BECOME A FOUNDATION FOR A BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW RE RACE AND LANGUAGE?
Always God’s plan to spread the nations across the earth. God did this so that His glory might fill the earth: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea”. Habakkuk 2:14
So the scattering of nations is part of God’s blessing. The nations are intended to be brothers – they are all descended from 3 brothers, the sons of Noah. So family etc is God’s plan for the nations together. They are all from one stock so Paul in his cross-cultural mission emphasises says, “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us”. Acts 17:26-27
Babel/Babylon represents man’s attempt to secure his own national destiny apart from God. Throughout Scripture, Babylon becomes a symbol of pride and domination of evil empires throughout history. “Make a name for ourselves” Gen 11:4.
“How you have fallen from heaven,
O morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
You said in your heart,
"I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain”.
The final victory of Christ will be demonstrated in Babylon falling – as seen in the symbolic language of Revelation. This represents all nations throughout history that seek to dominate the world in pride. Anything that gives idolatrous authority to human power and greatness instead of giving glory to God.
Difference of language/culture is to be honoured because it was part of God’s plan to restrict combining for evil in the way empires do. So rejoice in difference – demonstrating variety of Creator God, the blessing of God of the nations spreading out, and the judgement of God both on sinfulness and to preserve mankind for the future.
GOD’S PLAN OF A NEW WORLD/REDEMPTION/RESTORATION
Worldview of Genesis is when sin comes in and God judges, He also promises to put everything right in the future. So in Genesis 12, we see God’s promise to Abraham:
“And all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”. Gen 12:3b
“And through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” Gen 22:18
This is fulfilled in Jesus – when Greeks come to see Him:
“But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die”. John12:32-33
Through the cross:
- Curse upon sin of all cultures to be broken.
- Blessing promised to all people groups made possible.
- Division between people groups broken and we together inherit God’s promise as one new people.
The day of Pentecost – 50 days later broke the curse given at Babel. Through the Holy Spirit all languages can now understand the truth about God.
“Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" Acts 2:9-11 (The regions of the nations of Gen 10).
The curse of confusion between languages is broken. Not by returning to one language but uplifting and honouring every language. When we speak in tongues we not only build ourselves up, we also declare that the curse on language is broken and interpretation of tongues demonstrate that all can understand. That is why I honour language and encourage people on cross-cultural mission to learn the language – we bless the people we are reaching. Similarly encourage people coming here to learn English, but rejoice when they praise God in their own language.
To answer the worldview questions:
- Who are we as nations? – Brothers with all other nations.
- Where are we? – Filling the earth as God had planned.
- What went wrong as nations? – We sinned by raising up in pride against God and by being in conflict with our brother.
- What is the solution? – The cross! Pentecost!
“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
"Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb." Rev 7:9-10