Does God endorse polygamy?

Occasionally I am asked about polygamy.  We see this practiced by some of the characters of the Bible.  This sometimes gets Christians scratching their heads.  images Recently, someone who wanted my help thinking through this topic said, “Polygamy is in the Bible…and I don’t recall polygamy being directly addressed in the Bible as a sin (10 commandments, etc.)  

Sometimes Christians are confused when they see examples of important Bible characters such as Abraham or David involved in polygamous relationships. Unbelievers and skeptics will use an issue like this to “prove” that the Bible is antiquated, irrelevant, and even immoral when viewed in a modern context. The presence of polygamy in the Bible fuels the notion that the Scriptures are anti-woman and chauvinistic. Others see an inconsistency in the Christian’s stance on marriage being between one man and one woman in light of the instances of Old Testament polygamy.  Still others have responded with believing that God actually does or at one time endorsed polygamy. The heretical Mormon religion, in it’s earliest years, believed that polygamous practice was acceptable. While Mormon authorities eventually declared that polygamy must end among it’s members, we find that today, certain Mormon influenced groups continue to engage in this practice.

How are we to respond to this issue?

imagesAs Bible believing Christians, we must recognize that a very important principle of biblical interpretation is to recognize the difference between what the Bible “describes” and what it “prescribes.” Those two things are not always one and the same. For example, when Judas hangs himself, we are not given a prescription on how Christians should deal with their guilty conscience. The text is simply giving a description of what happened.

There are many passages in the Bible that are clearly prescriptive. That is, they are telling you what to do as one of God’s people. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is teaching us not to worry, to be peacemakers, to pray for our enemies, and so on. The New Testament epistles are filled with prescriptions, instructions for the church in how we are to live towards God, one another, and the world.

On the other hand, there are also many passages in the Bible that are descriptive. That is, they give an historically accurate description of events that have taken place. Just because they are descriptive doesn’t mean we can’t learn from these passages.  Indeed, the apostle Paul, writing about the Old Testament revelation, says,

…whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction… (Romans 15:4)

However, we have to be a little more careful with historical narratives as it describes everything…the good, the bad, and the ugly!

So as we come to this topic of polygamy, we see that the Bible describes a number of polygamous situations. How are we to view this?  And how is this to shape our understanding of biblical marriage?

I think the first place we should turn to shape our theology of marriage is not to polygamous David but to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  When He was asked a question about marriage, Jesus’ imagesanswer is quite informative. Jesus said,

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

 Jesus’ standard for marriage is ONE man and ONE woman, indivisible, for life. Period.

Now, I suppose one might say, “Well sure, but Jesus said that hundreds of years after David and Abraham. So maybe Jesus’ teaching was something new that hadn’t been heard before.”  But that isn’t true.

Actually, Jesus says absolutely nothing new. In fact, Jesus’ response is, “Have you not read?” In the parallel account in Mark 10:3, Jesus asks, “What did Moses command you?” Jesus wants to take his questioners back to the Scriptures, to the writings of Moses. When He says, “Have you not read?” it’s His way of saying, “Folks, read your Bibles! God has already spoken about marriage and I don’t have anything to add!”

And so Jesus takes them back to the writings of Moses. Way back. All the way to the beginning of the Bible and He quotes Genesis chapter 2 which says, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’

Again- ONE man. ONE woman. For LIFE. Period.

While many people hold that polygamy isn’t directly addressed in the Bible, we actually see that the Bible’s most clear and powerful word against polygamy is a word in the Bible’s opening pages that tells us what marriage really is and how God designed it from the beginning. What’s more, as we keep reading Genesis we also see that a departure from God’s good design for marriage and sex is associated with disobedience and reaps painful consequences.

imagesIn Genesis 2 God designs the standard for marriage.  In Genesis 3 sin is introduced into the human race.  In Genesis 4 we see the devastating outworking of sin in the human race and we meet the first polygamist, who is Lamech, a descendent of the evil Cain.  Godless Lamech follows in Cain’s violent footsteps, singing a boastful, ego-centric song to his two wives of his murderous vengeance upon another man.

In Genesis 16, we see that Abram’s taking on of a second wife, Hagar, was clearly done due to Abram’s and Sarai’s lack of trust in God.   On the one hand, God had promised Abram offspring. On the other hand, Abram was old and Sarai was infertile. In an attempt to “help God out”, Sarai suggested Abram take a younger woman to have a child by, and that child could become Sarai’s.

So the driving factor behind this polygamous union was a lack of faith. What’s more, we images
are given the details of the conflict that arises in Abram’s home when his two wives clash. As you read the story, it becomes obvious that Abram’s polygamous departure from the Genesis 2 design for marriage brought some unpleasant and painful circumstances into their family. You reap what you sow.

The next polygamous character we see in Genesis is Esau. Esau, of course, is hardly the model of godliness. He was a violent and sinfully impulsive man, unspiritual and totally disregarding of God. The book of Hebrews describes him as unholy and sexually immoral. So whereas in Genesis 16 polygamy is associated with a lack of faith in God, in Genesis 26, polygamy is associated with the ungodliness of Esau. Indeed, he took two pagan wives and these women made life bitter for the family. (Gen 26:34-35)

imagesThe next character who engages in polygamy is Esau’s brother, Jacob. A man who, in his early years is of dubious moral character. We are introduced to Jacob in Genesis 25, and we see a man who for many years relied on his own wits more than God’s wisdom, and he seems hardly better than Esau. It is not until halfway through Genesis 32 that Jacob appears to turn a corner spiritually. Until then, he makes a lot of mistakes and learns some hard lessons. Among those was the marrying of multiple wives. You can read Jacob’s story yourself but even a cursory reading makes it clear that much heartache, pain, family dysfunction, and a proliferation of further sin sprang forth due to Jacob’s deviation from God’s design for marriage and sex.

It must be noted that polygamy, while typically legal in ancient near east cultures, was usually only practiced by those who were wealthy. It takes much resources to sustain multiple wives and all the children that come with such a situation. The instances of polygamy I just mentioned were all people from Abraham’s very wealthy family.   We should not believe that all men in the ancient near east had more than one wife.

Regardless, there is not a single instance in Genesis where polygamy is depicted as something wonderful and desirable. Indeed, we see in Genesis many examples of the damage caused by a rejection of God’s plan for marriage and sex.  Homosexuality, rape, prostitution, selfishness in marriage, etc.  All these practices are associated with godlessness, heartache, and strife. If only we had the wisdom to follow God’s wisdom! If only we would base our view of marriage on what the Designer of marriage says about it!

Genesis 2 is God’s clear, unambiguous word against any perversion of God’s design, including polygamy, and it sets the tone for the rest of the book.  However, Genesis is not the only book that informs our thinking about polygamy.

Because polygamy was typically a temptation for the wealthy and powerful, those who were most vulnerable to this sin were rulers and kings.images

The Bible is aware of this, and speaks directly to it. God knew that one day Israel would have kings, and God, through Moses, gives special instructions for those who would one day rule Israel. In Deuteronomy 17 God specifically says the king must not acquire many wives for himself. (17:17) This doesn’t mean that non-kings can go ahead and acquire many wives!  Genesis 2 applies to everyone, whether princes or paupers. But in Deuteronomy, God is specifically dealing with kings, the ones who will be in the best position to violate Genesis 2. What’s more, the kings of Israel were to be “God’s Anointed” or God’s “Messiah”, who would represent God to the people and who would represent the people to God.   In Deuteronomy 17:17, God specifically warns that the accumulation of wives will turn the king’s heart away from God.

Sadly, despite God’s warning, we see kings violating this standard.

King David ended up with several wives and if you study his family you’ll see that a lot of strife resulted in this.

imagesThe worst offender was Solomon, who had 700 wives and 300 concubines. And, once again, we see this associated with sin and rebellion. Not surprisingly, God’s ominous prediction in Deuteronomy 17:17 comes true.

For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God… (1 Kings 11:4)

Instead of being God’s Messiah to the people, leading them to God, he ends up leading the way in rebellion, sacrificing to the detestable gods of the pagans instead.

As usual, the departure from God’s standards of marriage and sex are seen to be foolish, ugly, and destructive.

In Ecclesiastes 2, Solomon looks back on his life and all of the ways he sought to content himself outside of God, including his massive harem building.  And yet, at the end of it all, Solomon concludes such pursuits wastes ones life.  He writes,

Then I considered all that my hands had done…and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:11)

Let me be quick to add that while I have been pointing out a lot of the negative familial and relational consequences that come with polygamy, I do not mean to say that we ultimately judge whether something is right or wrong by whether or not we think things are going smoothly in the wake of our action. For awhile, things were probably going quite smoothly for the wealthy, comfortable citizens of Sodom, until the fire came…

My point is simply that God has allowed us, the reader, to take a peek into the lives of these people and show us the fallout that came from trusting their own wisdom and feelings as opposed to God’s. God set the standard in Genesis 2, people violated the standard, and God gives us, the readers, a front row seat, as He allows us to see man’s futile and foolish attempts to build a life outside of Him and His ways.  Such a life comes crashing down in the end.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Prov 16:25)

God’s reason for designing marriage the way He did is not arbitrary. God’s not out to kill our pleasure and steal our joy. In the end, everything that God does is for the benefit and joy of His people, but everything He does is also for His glory.

There are many wonderful reasons why God created marriage, but there is an ultimate reason behind it all.

The apostle Paul describes marriage as a profound mystery that has been fully revealed in the wake of the redemptive work of Christ. He says,

This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32)

The reason why God created marriage the way He did in Genesis 2 is because it best imagesreflects the image He wants to convey, which is the relationship Jesus has with His wife, the Church.

The reason why the husband is supposed to lead and self-sacrificially pour out his life for the benefit of his bride is because that is exactly what Jesus did for His Bride.

The reason why the wife is to joyfully follow the lead of her husband, respecting and submitting to him is because that is exactly how the Church responds to Christ.

The reason why adultery is wrong is because Jesus is always faithful to His Bride.

The reason why spousal abuse is wrong is because Jesus never abuses His Bride.

The reason why sex before marriage is wrong is because Jesus became united to His Bride through a covenant promise.

The reason why polygamy is wrong is because Jesus only has ONE Bride, the Church!

Every deviation from God’s design for sex and marriage tells lies about Jesus Christ and the gospel.

Unlike the failed kings of the Old Testament, Jesus Christ is the perfect Messiah, the perfect husband, and all marriages are to be patterned after His special relationship with His Bride.

As we come to grasp God’s ultimate purpose for marriage, is it not a wonderful thing to know that in Genesis 2, when God the Father brings Adam and Eve together in marriage, He is thinking about more than just Adam and Eve?  He is also thinking about a damsel in distress. He is thinking about a people who are enslaved by a terrible dragon called the devil. A people in bondage to sin and death. And in such a people the Father sees a Bride for His Son.

imagesAs God officiates that first wedding between Adam and Eve, His mind already has in place a plan to send His Son into the world to win a Bride for Himself. Jesus Christ enters into creation, crushes the dragon through His victory on the cross, and purchases His Bride with His own blood. He takes this Bride, tattered and stained by sin and cleanses her, gives her new clothes, gives her a new life, and prepares a home for her. And Jesus says to us, His beloved,

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:2-3)

The Bible doesn’t say, “Thou shalt not commit polygamy.” It actually says much, much more.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

 

Holy Week at HCBC- Schedule and Resources.

holy_weekLast year we launched a new tradition at HCBC.  Pastor Steve and I both felt burdened about the lack of attention and focus on the Easter season.  Many churches place a huge emphasis on Christmastime and can spend up to a month, if not longer, centering corporate worship, sermons, and church activities around that season.  I’m not opposed to that in the least.  However, we have felt that in addition to whatever focus we put on Christmas,  it is very right and appropriate to increase our attention towards how HCBC worships during this season as well.

As significant as Christmas is, Christmas was not an end unto itself.  The reason Jesus was born in Bethlehem was to bleed on Golgotha.  He was laid in a manger for the purpose of, later on, having His body laid in a tomb.  He descended to earth as a lowly Man so He could later on rise triumphantly from the grave.  The whole purpose of Christmas is Easter.

For this reason, Pastor Steve and I are eager to continue our new tradition of expanding opportunities for corporate prayer and worship, preaching, teaching, and encouraging HCBC families to have times of personal and/or family worship in their homes which revolves specifically around the events we remember during Holy Week.

Here is the HCBC Holy Week schedule, followed by some resources you can use personally or with your family during Holy Week.  (Please note that due to the additional worship services we are adding during Holy Week, we will not be having our regular community groups during that time.)

Sunday imagesMorning, April 9th, – Palm Sunday Worship Celebration, 9:30am-12pm.  Sunday School at 9:30.  Corporate Worship at 10:45.  Pastor Steve and I decided that for Palm Sunday we will NOT break from our current sermon series, as the whole theme of Galatians is deeply connected and relevant to the meaning of Palm Sunday and all of Holy Week.

Sunday Evening, April 9th – Men’s Prayer, Holy Week Focus, 6:30pm-8:30pm.          Last imagesmonth’s men’s prayer gathering was one of our largest ever.  It was a beautiful time of unity and fellowship.  For this prayer time, we will be looking at and praying through Scriptures that are directly associated with Holy Week and Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

Thursday Evening, April 13th – Maundy Thursday Service w/Communion, 7pm-8pm.
imagesThe word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word where we get our English word “command” or “mandate” from.  Jesus gave a special mandate the evening before He was crucified, that we would love one another as Jesus loves us. (John 13:33-34).  In addition to a time of worship through singing, Pastor Demer will deliver a brief sermon followed by the Lord’s Supper.

imagesFriday Evening, April 14th – Good Friday Service, 7pm-8pm. We will spend time worshipping through song, followed by several of the HCBC men sharing brief moments of teaching based on Jesus’ seven final sayings from the cross.

Saturday Morning, April 15th – Easter Caroling, 2pm-2:30pm at Rose of Sharon Nursing Home in Dacula, 971 Harbins Rd, Dacula, GA. – Join us for a time of ministering to the residents and staff as we sing hymns, read Scripture, and share gifts in Jesus’ name.
imagesSunday Morning, April 16th – Easter Service, Resurrection Sunday, 9:30am-12pm – Join us as we celebrate Jesus Christ’s triumph over the grave and the powers of darkness!

And finally, here are some great Holy Week resources for you and your family from Desiring God Ministries.

Love to the Uttermost, Devotional Readings for Holy Week by John PiperThis free devotional begins on Palm Sunday, ends on Easter Sunday, and aims to focus our attention on Jesus as he displays his love to the uttermost (John 13:1). These meditations on the self-giving love of Christ are all excerpted from the preaching and writing ministry of John Piper.

Five Helps for Your Holy Week- This link features five of Desiring God’s best articles related to the Easter season.  Topics include a “Theology of Resurrection”, “Was Jesus Really Crucified?”, and 8 reasons why the Resurrection of Jesus is an historically reliable fact.

Your Sorrow Will Turn To Joy, Morning and Evening Meditations for Holy Week– For this free devotional, Desiring God has assembled a team of eleven pastors and scholars to walk us through Holy Week as we walk together with our Lord. This collection of short meditations includes readings for each morning and evening from Palm Sunday to the triumph of Easter.

A Theater Called Holy Week – Tony Reinke prepares us for Holy Week in his brief article highlighting John 12:27-33

Make Holy Week Holy to the Lord – The week between Palm Sunday and Easter is not intrinsically holy, except that all time is holy, since it belongs to God. But we can make it holy by setting it apart for sacred focus.  This link gives you the Scriptures from the 4 gospels that record Jesus’ final hours.  Consider using these Scriptures to supplement your daily time in the Scriptures this week.

It is my prayer that HCBC’s Holy Week focus will be a blessing as it helps you and your family turn your eyes all the more to the sufferings and triumph of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

 

Weekend Resource Round Up 3/31/17

Here are a few of the better resources that have been floating around in cyberspace the past few days:

Every Morning There’s War in the Piper household– Are you tempted to treasure _______ over Jesus? Where your treasure is, there your heart will be. Let’s fight the fight of faith together this day!

Is The Pope the AntiChrist? – The always controversial Luther said, “I owe the Pope no other obedience than that I owe to antichrist”  How are Christians to regard the Pope?  This article is helpful.

How to Delight in God’s Word– Is this an area you struggle in?  John Piper offers help and encouragement.

Trust the Means of Grace – You will not grow in godliness without being committed to the Word, Prayer, and Christian Fellowship. To the degree these are earnestly incorporated into your life is the degree that you will grow in spiritual strength and holiness as a Christian.

‘One Anothers’ I Can’t Find in the New Testament – This is outstanding.  “The kind of God we really believe in is revealed in how we treat one another. The lovely gospel of Jesus positions us to treat one another like royalty, and every non-gospel positions us to treat one another like dirt…we will follow through horizontally on whatever we really believe vertically…Therefore, when we mistreat one another, our problem is not a lack of surface niceness but a lack of gospel depth. What we need is not only better manners but, far more, true faith.”

I hope one or more of these resources educates, blesses, and encourages you.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

Spring 2017 Community Groups Coming Soon!

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One of the things I love about HCBC is how eager our folks are to study the Bible.  Many people have been coming up to me lately asking when our next round of Community Groups will be launching.  I’m happy to say we’ll be relaunching the week of February 5th.  As usual we’ve got a terrific lineup of studies.  Here’s what we’re offering this time around:

1 Peter: Maintaining Our Hope in a World That’s Not Our Home

imagesLed by Steve Doyle at Barbara Coleman’s home.  1830 Jessica Way, Winder.
Launch Date: Tuesday, February 7th, 7pm.

Do you ever feel like an alien and a stranger in a land that is increasingly distant and even hostile to Jesus Christ?  That’s normal.  The Apostle Peter begins his letter by saying he is writing to “To those who are elect exiles…” (1 Pe 1:1).  To be a believer is to be an exile longing for their true home in heaven.  But in the meantime, how now shall we live?  This Bible study will equip and encourage all pilgrims who are passing through this difficult world in route to their ultimate destination, the New Heavens and the New Earth.  No study guide necessary, just your Bible!  Sign up here!

Lessons from the Upper Room

 Led by Jeff Thomas at Karen Lindsey’s home.  2515 Harbins Mill Drive, Dacula.
Launch Date: Wednesday, February 8th, 7pm.

Knowing the time was fast approaching for Him to imagesdepart this world, Jesus spent His final hours with His closest friends. As the disciples sat with their master, unaware of what would soon take place, Jesus served them, taught them, and prayed for them.  In this 12-part teaching series, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson paints a vivid picture of the disciples’ final moments with their Savior. Carefully walking through John 13-17, Dr.
Ferguson reminds us of the centrality of Christ in all of life.   No study guide necessary, just your Bible!  Sign up here!  For more information, view the trailer below:

 

God in our midst: The Tabernacle and our relationship to God.  

Led by Mark Pierce at the Pritchett home, 2290 Marshland Ct, Suwanee.
Launch Date: Wednesday,  February 8th, 7pm.

How does an ancient tent in the wilderness of Sinai relate to our relationship with God? The description of the tabernacle, God’s Old Testament dwelling place, spans sixteen chapters of the Bible. Yet many of us pass over this extended description without understanding its significance. In this series, Daniel R. Hyde encourages us to consider this “tent of meeting” (Ex. 27:21). By studying the particulars of this first tabernacle, we will better understand Jesus, the One who dwelt, or “tabernacled,” among us (John 1:14).  No study guide necessary!  Just bring your Bible!  Sign up here!  For more information, view the trailer below:

 

What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

Led by Demer Webb at the Sims’ home, 3605 Wynter Frost Walk.
Launch Date: Wednesday,  February 8th, 7pm

imagesIt won’t take long for you to be disappointed in marriage. It won’t take long for your dreams to be dashed. The reality is that you can’t escape the brokenness of this
world. You won’t be able to avoid the sin of your spouse.

The Bible teaches that we all bring something destructive into our relationships – sin. But as Paul David Tripp explains, we buy into the delusion that our biggest problem is outside of us. We blame our spouse. We blame our circumstances. We rarely take seriously the nature of our own sin.

‘What Did You Expect?’ challenges you to look into the mirror of God’s Word and see yourself with clarity. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you love yourself more than your spouse. Maybe you love your little kingdom more than God’s big Kingdom. When you reach that level of honesty, you’re at the edge of real good things for your marriage.

Sign up here!  

After you sign up, get your FREE study guide here! (required)  

To go even deeper, click here and order the book! (optional but recommended)

For more information, view the trailer below:

 

Behold Your God

PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF THE STUDY THAT BEGAN LAST SEMESTER.  

Led by Todd Harrison at the Harrison home. 1480 Bradley Gin Road, Monroe.
Study resumes Thursday, February 9th,  7pm.  

Are we sure that the God we serve is the imagesGod described in Scripture? Is rethinking Him biblically really necessary? How do we do it? How would it affect our views of Christ, the gospel, holiness, worship, evangelism, service, and revival?

Behold Your God is a study that focuses on God’s self-revelation in the Bible, helping the believer to apply the descriptions of God to all of life. Each week features a short biographical sketch of the life of a significant figure from Christian history whose ministry illustrates the truths that you will be studying weekly.  They include A. W. TozerGeorge MullerRobert Murray M’CheyneCharles Spurgeon,  Jonathan Edwards, and more.

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In addition, each week’s lesson will reinforce what you have been studying in the Bible on your own time throughout that week.  Finally, you will be able to listen to highlights from interviews with contemporary ministers whose lives and labors reflect these same truths.

This study is written with the conviction that our fundamental need in Western Christianity is to repent of our low and unworthy views of God, to return to the biblical descriptions of the true God, and to risk it all in order to live upon Who He is. Nothing in this study is new truth.  Instead, everything is meant only to help you to take the biblical descriptions of God seriously and to see how they form the foundation of Christian living.

***Because this is a study that began in the Fall, you are encouraged to consider another one of our study options.  However, if you are still interested in joining this study midstream,  order the required daily devotional and then sign up here!***

For more information, view the trailer below:

To preserve strong group dynamics and intimacy, Pastor Steve and I are trying to keep the groups from becoming too large.  Therefore, our preference is to have a maximum of 12 participants per group.  (This does not of course, include babies and other children who won’t really be participating in the study!) With that said, we want to make sure everyone is in a group, so if there is only one that you desire to participate in due to day of the week, location, interest, etc, then we will of course increase the size of any group to make sure that everyone is included.  With that said, please let us know as early as you can which group you’d like to participate in.

I’m thrilled that HCBC is able to offer such amazing studies that will draw you closer to God, facilitate transformation in your life, and sink your roots deeper into the precious Word of God, through which we are able to more clearly see and savor our Lord Jesus Christ!

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

Babel Revisted (post-sermon reflections)

One reason Pastor Steve and I have launched this joint venture in blogging is that we see it as a means to expand upon our teachimagesing ministry, supplementing and adding to things we are sharing through sermons and Bible studies.  It’s been great to receive affirmation through readers who have shared how various blog articles have blessed and encouraged them.

Before we are too distant from last Sunday, I’d like to share a few additional thoughts to the sermon I preached on the Tower of Babel.  If you missed it, you can listen online here.  While I hope I was able to capture the essence of Man’s problem and God’s solution in the rebellion at Babel, here are a few final reflections that I hope will further aid our understanding of this important Bible story.

The literary structure of Genesis 11:1-9

In the story of Babel, Moses uses a literary style known as antithetical parallelism.  Allen Ross gives a helpful definition of this type of writing and how it is used in Genesis 11.

“In the antithetical parallelism of the narrative, ideas are balanced against their counterparts.  The story begins with the report of the unified situation at the beginning (11:1) and ends with a reminder of that unity and its resultant confusion for the scattering (v.9).  This beginning and ending picture is reflected in the contrast of the dialogues and actions: verses 2-4 describe what humans proceeded to do; verses 5-8, beginning with the contrastive “But the Lord…,” describe how the Lord turned their work aside.”

Here is a helpful visual breakdown of how Moses contrasts Man and God in this story through his parallelism.  Notice how “top A” corresponds to “bottom A” and so on…

A The whole earth had one language (11:1)

     B …they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. (11:2)

          C  And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks…”(11:3)

               D  …a city and a tower… (11:4)

                        E  And the Lord came down to see (11:5)

               D …the city and the tower (11:5)

          C And the Lord said,”Come let us… confuse their language…” (11:6-7)

     B They were scattered from the plain of Shinar (11:8)

A The Lord confused the language of the whole world (11:9)

This type of antithetical parallelism further underscores the point that I made in the sermon, that what we have at Babel is Man and God completely at odds with one another.  The very structure of the passage demonstrates Man’s battle against God.  Notice also the center of this parallelism.  Letter E is in the middle and is meant to mark the turning point of the story.  The central focus is God.  Despite Man’s attempt to be at the center of all things, what matters most is the Lord’s response to all that is happening.

The literary theme of “journeying eastward.”

imagesIn Genesis, Moses employs reoccurring themes and motifs that will reappear throughout the book.  Such themes help to underscore and emphasize what he is teaching and the points he wants to make.  Themes such as blessing and curses, the expectation of the offspring of the woman, and salvation through judgment weave their way in and out of Genesis.  One such theme that makes a reappearance in the Tower of Babel story is “journeying eastward.”

The ESV translation is a bit unclear.  It says the people migrated “from the East.”  (11:2) However, consulting with a number of other translations such as the NLT, the NIV, and the NASB (the latter tending to be the most literal of our English translations), one finds agreement that what is being communicated here is that the people are going in an easterly direction.

This mention of moving to the east could be simply a mere geographical point of little significance, if not for the fact that there appears to be a pattern in Genesis of connecting the move eastward with something negative.images

Adam and Eve, exiled from God, are driven out of the garden, settling eastward from Eden (Gen 3:24)

As the murderer Cain goes out from the presence of God, he dwells in a land “east of Eden.” (Gen 4:16)

When Abram and Lot separate, selfish Lot journeys east, unable to resist the land there which appeared to be like the “garden of the Lord.” (Gen 13:11)  Of course the chief cities in that direction were Sodom and Gomorrah.

And in Genesis 11, of course, we see the people moving eastward, settling in what will become known as Babylon.

Moses appears to have a “theology of geography” in Genesis.

Movement to the east suggests a moving away from the enjoyment of the presence and blessing of God.  Old Testament scholar John Sailhamer suggests that such a literary device, “…contrasts God’s way of blessing (e.g., Eden and the Promised Land) with humanity’s own attempt to find the “good.”  In the Genesis narratives, when people go “east,” they leave the land of blessing (Eden and the Promised Land) and go to a land where their greatest hopes will turn to ruin (Babylon and Sodom).”

Therefore, the movement of the people eastward, in Genesis 11, already provides us with a clue to their spiritual condition even before they begin constructing Babel.

Comparison and Contrast

imagesRead in it’s context, it is helpful to recognize that the story of Babel in Genesis 11 immediately precedes the story of Abraham in Genesis 12.  (This may be one reason that Moses put the Table of Nations in chapter 10 before giving us the story of Babel.  Even though chronologically, Babel should come before the Table of Nations, thematically speaking, the story of Babel works as a great foil to the story of Abraham, and their positioning back to back makes it easier for the stories to be compared and contrasted.)

There are three particularly interesting and instructive points of contrast in these two stories.

First, the Babylonians start in the west and move in an easterly direction, which, if we are to accept the idea of Moses’ “Theology of Geography”, indicates a spiritual movement away from God.  On the other hand, Abraham starts out in the east, in the land of Ur as a pagan, but comes to know the One True God.  And he begins to journey into the West towards the Land of Promise.

Secondly, the Babylonians, out of fear of dispersion, want to settle and remain at Babel,  refusing God’s call to fill the earth.   Abraham, however, has faith in God, and “…went, as the LORD had told him.” (Gen 12:4)

Thirdly, the Babylonians are seeking to make a name for themselves but in the end are humiliated.  Abraham was seeking no such thing, but as a result of his obedience to God, the Lord promises to him, “I will make your name great.” (Gen 12:2)

The Rise and Fall of Babylon

Genesis 11 isn’t the last we see of Babylon in the Bible.  Like a reoccurring nightmare, Babylon, in all of it’s prideful anti-God “splendor” continues to rear it’s head throughout the Bible, and serves as a representation of Man in general, in his arrogant yet futile insurrection against God.  From the tower of Babel onward, we see man’s foolish attempts at exaltation overthrown by God.  Isaiah 14 addresses one of Babylon’s arrogant kings, saying,

“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the pit. (Isa 14:13-15)

Like the original Babylonians who would seek to build a tower to reach the heavens, this king arrogantly seeks to exalt himself to the heights of deity, but like the people of Babel, this king is humiliated. Indeed,he is “brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.”images

Or consider King Nebuchadnezzar, who arrogantly boasted,  “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan 4:30).  And yet as with Babel, God responds, and humiliates Nebuchadnezzar, laying him low by afflicting him with insanity to the degree that he acted like a beast for a period of time.

And Babylon appears also in the book of Revelation, in Man’s final attempt at rebellion against God.  But again, Babylon, described as a “dwelling place for demons” (Rev 18:2) goes down in shame and defeat.

Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying,“So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more… (Rev 18:21)

Seeking a true home

We all long for home.  A place where we can dwell in safety, security, peace, and prosperity.  In Genesis, we see people like Cain, those of Babel, and later on Lot, banking their hopes and dreams on the things of this world.  Since Genesis 11, people have, either literally or figuratively, sought to find their home in Babylon, “east of Eden”, hoping to find life in their own autonomy away from the presence and rule of God.

imagesIn Genesis 12, God calls Abraham out of his home and sets him on a journey to find a new home.  The Promised Land that God promises to give to Abraham and his descendants was a good land, a land flowing with “milk and honey”  (Lev 20:24).  But by the time Abraham dies, all he has in this land is a field and a cave which is a burial plot for him and his family.  (Gen 23:20)

But Abraham wasn’t disappointed.  He knew that the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises was yet to come.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Heb 11:8-10)

Eventually Abraham’s descendants conquer Canaan at long last, but life in the land ends up being a disappointment and falls far short of the paradise of Eden. That’s because Canaan was never meant to be the final destination for the People of God.  It was but a type, a shadow, a downpayment of something better to come.

The Patriarchs of Israel, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, knew this better perhaps than their  descendants.  We are told that,

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Heb 11:13-16)

For those of us who repent of our Babylonian ways, trusting in Jesus Christ to deliver us from our sinful pride and from a dying world, we, with Abraham, await with hopeful expectation for the city to come.

And at the end of the Bible, we see that the corrupt, failed city of Babylon is replaced by the glorious heavenly city in Revelation 21.  We don’t have to build a tower up to the heavens.  Instead, a day is coming when heaven will come down to earth.images

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:2-4)

And those who will inherit this city are not the proud and arrogant.  Instead the people of this city are a people who are forsaking the ways of Babel by humbling themselves and embracing their need for a savior and forgiveness of sins through the cross of Christ.  Those who will enter into this city will be a people not interested in making their own name great, but instead a people who will enjoy making His name great forever.

May that day come soon!

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

 

 

 

Weekend Resource Roundup 12/17/16

Here are a few of the better resources that have been floating around in cyberspace the past few days:

What I’ve Learned from Being Isolated and Allergic to Everything – Sometimes God surprises us by withholding healing, only to give us something much better.

3 Marks of Righteous Anger –  If you need help distinguishing between righteous and sinful anger, this might be useful.

There’s No Such Thing As Chance – “…the Providence of God, as taught in Scripture, is opposed to fortune and fortuitous causes.” John Calvin

Even If He Doesn’t – “Our position as His creation cannot be that He should do as we demand. It cannot be that He is only good if He gives us what we want. It cannot be that His love is spelled out by how satisfied I am with His answers to my prayers. Yet, it is possible to have great hope and security in His ability to rescue us while also having great faith that even if He doesn’t, we can trust Him and He is good.”

Joseph Did You Know? – Mary often gets a lot of press, and rightfully so, during Christmastime, but I really appreciated these reflections on Joseph, and I think you will too.

Weekend Resource Roundup 12/3/16

Here are a few of the better resources I’ve seen floating around cyberspace the past few days:

Husband, Learn Your Wives.  A good word for husbands. I for one have much room for growth here. Hope this pushes other men as well…

Ingratitude, Ethics, and Porn.  “It could be that much of your spiritual striving is taking place in an unhealthy atmosphere of ingratitude and entitlement…Being thankful is not abstract, pie-in-the-sky spirituality, it is the daily battle to see the world correctly in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

When am I Ready to Become a Christian.  A good resource to share with someone considering Christ.

Does God Promise To Feed And Clothe Christians?   Jesus tells us that God will give us everything we need, but how are we to think about Christians who even now are starving in other parts of the world?

I pray one or more of these resources will be helpful to you as you seek Christ.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer