Sunday, May 30, 2010

Does God have something against cities?

When Twinkle Toes (9) got to the story of the Tower of Babel on the first day of her 90 day Bible reading, she called out to me, “Mom, this Bible doesn’t have the whole story of the Tower of Babel.” I assured her that she had a real Bible, that it was not abridged, and that the whole story was there. She insisted there were some details missing (I’m not sure which ones she had in mind) and I insisted there were not. Perhaps this little exchange prompted me to make some observations myself while reading through the story of the Tower of Babel and I thought I’d share them.

When I first read: “In that way, the Lord scattered them all over the world, and they stopped building the city.” (Gen 11:8) I wondered what God has against cities. You see, this is a recurring discussion in our home. Big D would love to be out in the country and I’m a city girl. Not a big city girl, just a city girl.  Really a town would suffice. (Am I beginning to sound like Lot?)  You see, around here living in the country goes hand in hand with combating the wind and dust, mice and snakes. I mean, are we all supposed to be raising chickens and goats?  Anyway, I got a little nervous reading Genesis 11:8 and thought I’d better investigate further. In order to do that, I needed to back up a bit.

Not that raising chickens doesn't sound like loads of fun.  These belong to a friend of mine who makes living in the country look easy, but I know better :) . 
What had God told Noah’s sons to do after the flood? “Then God blessed Noah and his sons and told them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth.'” (Genesis 9:1) I’ve always looked on this as one command. Have lots of kids and they will in turn fill-up the earth. This time through I started to see God’s words to Noah’s sons as two commands: have lots of kids, and fill the earth. Hmmm. Fill the earth, like spread out, as opposed to staying in one place. In case they weren’t listening, God repeats Himself in verse 7 of chapter 9, “Now be fruitful and multiply, and repopulate the earth” (emphasis mine). Well, there it is as plain as day, two commands. The earth had been full of wicked people prior to the flood, but “God wiped out every living thing on the earth- people, livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and birds of the sky. All were destroyed.” (Genesis 7:23) And now God wants Noah’s sons and their wives to repopulate or fill the earth again. Doing this would require two things: having children and spreading out over the face of the earth.

Now, back to the Tower of Babel. What was the motive behind building the great city? “Then they said, ‘Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.’” (Genesis 11:4) It appears there are two motives behind the cooperative building of this great city, and for some reason it is only the first one that is usually taught or at least emphasized. Their first motive was pride. They wanted to be great. In fact, they wanted their tower to reach to the sky, some saying they had similar aspirations as Lucifer’s desire to be like God. But there was a second motive, as well. They wanted to make a way for them to all live together in one place, without having to spread out around the world. Noah’s sons had kept the first of God’s commands. They were multiplying. But they either failed to pass onto their children God’s second command of filling the earth, or their children knew it, but chose not to obey. Genesis 11 gives us the math- Peleg which means division, so named because he lived through the Tower of Babel incident, was born 101 yrs after the flood and lived for 209 years. So for over 100 years post-flood Noah’s progeny had been multiplying, but not scattering.

What was God’s response? “Come, let’s go down and confuse the people with different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other.” (Genesis 11:7) This seems a little strange, why would God do this considering He Himself had instituted the language they all spoke? Verse 8 holds the answer, “In that way, the Lord scattered them all over the world, and they stopped building the city.” A-ha! He was going to accomplish His purposes regardless of their submission or rebellion. His people could obey willingly or they would be forced to comply to His desire that they fill the earth again.

This reminds me of a similar instance in the New Testament. At the ascension, Jesus tells His apostles, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere- in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) In this case, it isn’t people He wants to fill the earth with (that has already been accomplished), it’s His Word, the gospel, that He wants to spread through all the earth. Acts 2 tells us 3,000 responded to Peter’s first sermon in belief. These people were not just from Jerusalem- there were Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs (Acts 2:9) who all heard the gospel in their own native languages! I assume that these foreigners for the most part made their ways back home again, but what about the Jerusalem believers? Acts 4 gives an approximate number of believers in that first church in Jerusalem of 5,000 men, not counting women and children. So we’re talking about a mega-church in the neighborhood of 25-30,000 people when we include women and children. It seems phase one of Acts 1:8 had been accomplished. Though I’m sure Jerusalem was a large city, by this time I bet most people there had heard the gospel. It was making headlines!

Interestingly enough we don’t have any record of believers scattering until they encountered persecution beginning with being confronted by the high council and really heating up with the martyrdom of Stephen. “A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 8:1- phase two accomplished.) Again, we don’t know if the apostles were neglecting this teaching of spreading the gospel around the world, or if they were teaching it, but it was not being observed. Either way we see once again that God’s will cannot be thwarted. He will accomplish His purposes whether His children are willingly obedient or not.
So my conclusion is that while God doesn’t have anything against cities per se, or human ingenuity for that matter, He does have a problem with disobedience. Specifically in these passages, God wants us to not only fill the earth, but fill it with His Word. There are so many ways we can submit to the Lord in this area. We can become full-time missionaries of course, or even go on short-term mission trips. We can help support missionaries with our prayers and dollars, we can help support Bible translation projects, and we can help support Christian organizations that care for and educate orphans around the world (like Rafiki international). One of the reasons I love Sonlight homeschool curriculum is because it’s so missions-minded. In fact, welcoming children into our home and fostering in our children a love for God’s Word and a heart for the lost is probably one of the greatest ways we as parents can be obedient to the Lord in this area. And of course today, we can even share God’s Word over the internet!

I think the point is, God doesn’t want us to live to please ourselves. He doesn’t want us staying in our comfort zones. He wants us to die to ourselves and live for Him. He wants us to adopt His agenda as our own and at the top of His agenda is the spreading of His people and His Word around the world. Some of Jesus’ final words to His disciples were over just this subject. “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” (Mathew 28:19-20a) Will it be easy? No. Will we suffer? Yes. That’s why Jesus encouraged them with these words: “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Mathew 28:20b) If we’re for Him, He’s with us. And I for one am immensely encouraged that my husband and I can live for Him… even in the city!


  1. Thanks for answering my question! I have decided to go with an NIrV version. Being that this is my first time reading through it, I really want to understand it. When are you starting? It will be nice to know that someone else is reading right along with me! It seems so daunting to if it is something that I won't be able to accomplish. I hope to prove myself wrong. Have a great rest of the weekend!

  2. let me tell ya,God pulled me out of my comfort zone for sure! i'm a total city girl...born and raised just outside of new orleans! however, i married a total country boy...and we now have a one acre farm! we have chickens (ick!), a garden, a few fruit trees...and i think that's all. lol. totally out of my element..and i'm not allowed in the garden b/c of my black thumb. haha.



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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.