The judgment of Babel is pressing upon mankind. Upon all spiritual and cultural history rests the mark of this shattering primal catastrophe. Vainly the world struggles against it, striving to conquer its curse by its own strength.
i. The original scattering of mankind.
According to the Scripture three motives led to the building of the tower of Babel; pride, a determination to hold together, and vainglory. Therefore the Divine judgment is also threefold. The pride that stormed upward was judged by the coming down of the Lord (Gen. 11: 4, 5); the determination to hold together, through the scattering and dividing; and the ambition for vainglory, through the name of shame. Henceforth the very city through which they intended to make a "name" (ver. 4), and precisely by its name, is a symbol of overthrow; and Babel, the 'city of confusion," the city of " commingling' 1 is already, purely as a name of a place, a proof of the impotence of the sinner and the uselessness of all rebellion against God. 2
1With Babel(balbel) comp. the Heb. balal, to confuse, to mingle. The proud cuneiform interpretation of the Babylonian Bab-ilu, that it means Gate of God, is mere popular etymology and unsound, because spelings such as Bab-ili and Bab-ilam are known. so that the name can have nothing to do with the Babylonian word ilu(Heb. el, Arabic allah), that is, God. Dr. Pinches, Assyriologist at the British Museum in London, believes that the word Babel is formed from the sound, like the English verb to babble(Ger. babbeln, plappern), with which comp. the French balbutier.
2Tower buildings were also later among the characteristic types of Near Eastern culture. For instance, king Hammurabi's code(about 1900 B.C.) says: "He made high the summit of the temple tower at An-na(Erech)...; he was the protection of his land, who brought together again the scattered inhabitants of Isin." Within the temple area of each Babylonian city there stood a tower as its central point. Thus even today in Babylon there stands a giant ruined tower, the Birs Nimrod, concerning which, on occasions when the tower was renovated, it is often said in the ancient cuneiform inscriptions that its top was to reach unto heaven. Nebuchadnezzar heightened the summit of the step twoer of Etemenanki "so that it competed with heaven."
ii. The historical confounding of language a confusion of thought.
The confounding of language is in the first instance something fourfold; a confounding of vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and phraseology, and in this sense there are today about a thousand languages and chief dialects. Yet is it something further.
Whatever the original language may have been, whether (as the rabbis and church fathers supposed) the Hebrew or the Aramaic or (which is no doubt alone right) none of the old languages handed down to us, in any case the community of speech involved a vigorous uniformity of mental life. For because language is the phonetic manifestation of the mental, the mental part of all mankind must in special sense have been uniform so long as its expression, language, was uniform. The confusion of tongues was thus at the same time a confusing of the basic mental conceptions of mankind, since, through an act of God's power upon the human spirit, in place of the original oneness there set in a manifold cleavage in thought, feeling, and idea. Hence every language has its own special linguistic "spirit." Thus the confusion of tongues became at the same time a confusion of thought and conception.
" The original language in which Adam in Paradise had named all the animals (Gen.2:20) was, as it were, a great mirror in which the whole of nature was accurately reflected. But now God shattered this mirror, and each people retained only a fragment of it, the one a larger, the other a smaller piece, and now each people sees only a piece of the whole, but never the whole complete. Therefore also the conceptions of the nations in reference to religion and philosophy, art, science, and history vary so strongly from one another, and indeed often amount to a mutual contradiction."
Of necessity all this involved further consequences. With the deranging of world-consciousness there was conjoined a further deranging of God-consciousness.
iii. Degeneration of Faith and Religion.
At the commencement of human history there is present faith in the one God, Who revealed Himself in a threefold manner: in nature (Rom. 1:19,20), in conscience (Rom. 2:2-15) and in history (Gen. chs. l-11). The later heathendom is therefore a perversion of this threefold original: distortion of the remembrance of the original revelation, misinterpretation of the revelation in nature (Rom. 1:23), and a confused conflict of soul with the revelation in conscience-these are the three fundamental elements in all heathen religion.
Nevertheless the Divine influence upon mankind through the universal revelation persisted. God held mankind like a very powerful magnet. " Indeed, He is not far from each one of us " (Acts 17:27). God sought men so as to awaken in them a search after Himself, as a mother seeks the heart of her child so that it shall seek her in return: "that they should seek the Lord, if that they might feel after and find him" (Acts 17:27). Therefore, by the working of God Himself, there came the strikingly great search and inquiry among the peoples, even among the heathen. But the tragedy is that Satan, the great deceiver, has turned aside this search of mankind on to a false track, so that man is seeking after God and at the same time fleeing from Him. He will both have Him and thrust Him away from himself; he seeks God's blessing and avoids His presence; he will have nothing to do with Him, yet cannot get away from Him.
The original root in man of this religious discord and degeneration, according to the doctrine of the apostle Paul, is unthankfulness. For "although they knew that there is a God they have not praised Him as a God, nor given Him thanks, but have become vain in their thoughts and their foolish heart is darkened." (Rom. 1: 21). Viewed in detail, however, the following elements especially, through demonic misleading, brought about this transposition of values in the realm of religious life.
The conception of God and spirit as such is an inheritance from the original revelation, and so does not require to be first developed in the course of religious history. The problem which must be searched out is how it came to be connected with the elements of nature.
First of all there was the observing of dreams, for in them there was a something that "moved" and "heard" and "saw" even though all the bodily members were inactive. There "appeared" also the dead, likewise in action, and thereby "proving their continued existence as "spirits."
Further, there was the observing of death. For was it not here that this "soul," this invisible inward somewhat, while the dying man drew his last breath, forsook his body, as, so to speak, breath and air? And then the dead man became so still! Is this not proof that there is no movement without the will of an inward "I", an indwelling, active, breathing soul?
But in nature without all is full of movement: in plants and beasts, in the courses of the stars, in the majestic tempest, in the raging of the rivers, in the mysterious magnet, in the sparks of fire from the stricken stone. Is this not all a plain, irresistible witness of the existence and indwelling of mighty beings who are active in all these movements around us?-So nature came to be regarded as animated by spirits, and this animistic 3 philosophy arose.
3From Latin anima, i.e. "soul", the belief in nature being animated by souls.
But because man knew no other "soul" than his own, the endowment of these nature spirits with the characteristics of the human soul was thoroughly logical; and furthermore, because these nature-spirits, corresponding to the overwhelming power of their elements, could be imagined only as beings of a higher and intensified form of life, these human characteristics had to be ascribed to them in a higher and intensified measure. Thus there resulted of necessity a connexion between demon and hero, whereby the demonic ascended through the human into a personality, and the heroic through the demonic into the superhuman. This is the essence of the heathen conception of God. Thus the heathen created his "god" according to his own image (comp. conversely Gen. 1:27).
Here enters the power of human language to form and develop religious conceptions, for it is a peculiarity of the human mind that, involuntarily and oft unconsciously, it sets the material and the spiritual side by side and merges them both mutually into one another. Thus language humanizes things external to man and speaks of a "smiling" sun, a "merry" brook, and conversely carries over the external into the human and speaks of a "cold" loveliness, a "sunny" character, or a "radiant" joy. With a yet richer fancy it speaks of the "arrows" of the sun (its rays), the "stabbing" of the moon (Psa.121: 6), the "windows of the heavens" (Mal. 3: 10), the "eyelids" of the dawn (Job 3: 9).
So long as man held fast to the pictorial nature of these figures of speech no danger arose, but rather, on the contrary, an enrichment of his spirit. But in the moment when darkened through sin (Eph. 4: 18; Rom. 1: 21, 22), and led astray by demon powers, he proceeded from this fanciful clothing of reality with pictures to the belief in the reality of these pictures themselves, there arose from this side also a new world of deifying conceptions, and speech ranged itself among the principal factors in building up heathen religions. To the further formation of the conception of deity, and especially of the history of the gods (mythology) and the heathen ideas of the other world, many other driving forces co-operated; for example, the motives of fear and of desire, the necessity of retribution, meditation as to world origins, as also recollections of folklore and hero legends.
Grammatical gender is also significant in this connexion; for in many cases this was the deciding factor whether one should think of a divinity as masculine or feminine.
This all proves that there can be no question of any properly national type of heathendom before the confusion of tongues. Even if before the Babel judgment there may have been found individual ideas of nature divinities, yet the proper national type of heathendom had its beginning with the setting aside of the human race as being one people and the splitting up of mankind into separate nations (Deut. 4: 19; Rom.1: 18-32).
But at the same time this all came to pass under demonic co-operation. For the deities of the heathen are no empty imagination. According to the apostolic testimony of the New Testament Apollo, Diana, Aphrodite, and Ishtar, or whatever they are all called, are no mere intellectual personifications of the powers of nature, or mere ideal pictures of a wandering nature-deifying fancy, but in their background they are somehow actually existing demonic spirit powers, who, along the line of occult inspiration, in national types of mythological dress-sometimes in luminous poetical clothing, sometimes in horrifying gloomy dress-revealed themselves to the various peoples. Otherwise the great apostle to the Gentiles would not have been able, by express appeal to the name of the Lord Jesus, to drive out of that fortune-teller at Philippi a "Pythonic spirit," as the literal term is in Acts 16: 16. Python was, among other things, a designation of the declarer of oracles at the shrine of Apollo. In Delphi, the most important shrine and oracle of Apollo, there ruled as chief priestess the "Pythia" (a medium). Compare also the medium of Endor (I Sam. 28: 7, 8, and Lev. 20: 27, "spirit").
Just as little could Paul have said of the non-Israelitish religions that "what the heathen offer they offer to evil spirits" (I Cor. 10: 20). Thus there lies here a certain element of truth in national polytheism. Consider the angel princes of Persia and Greece (Dan.10: 13,20). Heathenism as a whole rests not only on error and deceit, but at the same time also on a spiritistic foundation.
Through all this the heathen, under demon influence, became the "creator of his gods." To the manifoldness of national character and of other elements corresponded a manifoldness of religious maxims and basic moral ideals.
The Grecian says : Man, know thyself.
The Roman says : Man, rule thyself.
The Chinese says : Man, improve thyself.
The Buddhist says : Man, annihilate thyself.
The Brahman says : Man, merge thyself in the universal
sum of all.
The Moslem says : Man, submit thyself.
But Christ says : "Without Me ye can do nothing,"
and in HIM
the Christian says : "I can do all things through Christ
Who makes me mighty " (Phil.4: 13).
"In his religion the heathen expresses his godlessness. Religion is the sin, namely, the sin against the fitst command, the replacing of God by the gods;" "the most powerful expression of the opposition of man against God and contradiction within himself.'
On the other hand even the conception of the gods (idols) has its basis in the idea of God. With all its disfigurement, the false god is a caricature of the one true God. Man in his religions is fleeing from God; but even in the flight he is held by God, cannot get free from the idea of God, and in his denial must bear witness of Him. In heathenism truth and untruth, worth and worthlessness, lie, not only beside each other, but in each other. "Therefore the relation of revelation to human religion is always a twofold unity; the gospel breaks the religions, is indeed their judgment, so far as they are lies and sins; the gospel redeems and fulfils the relinions, bringing them to the original truth from which they derive and to which in their manner they witness."
Nevertheless, viewed as a whole, this is the false way of myriads of men. Throughout the centuries it has ruled mankind "Whilst they held themselves to be wise, they have become fools" (Rom.1:22). Thereby the judgment of Babel became a judgment with most immense results. For the confusion of thought and intellectual intercourse involved in the dispersion of mankind and the setting aside of the oneness of the race, had as a consequence a religious confusion which far surpassed in significance the confusion of speech.
Also politically it had the most serious results.
iv. The Universal International Tension.
From this time forward world history is a conflict between two forces; the centripetal force of the world empires, and the centrifugal force of the individual peoples. Representatives of the former are, for example, Nimrod, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Alexander the Great, and Napoleon. Representatives of the latter are, among others, the warriors of Marathon, Arminius, Gandhi, and, in general, all national risings and wars for freedom. The general aspect has been that the centripetal force of world conquerors has been repeatedly thwarted by the centrifugal force of individual nations. The most significant form of this mutual opposition is war, and therefore will wars and rumours of wars continue till the Lord shall come (Matt. 24: 6).
But in spite of all this, the Dispersion judgment has not been the cause of the origin and formation of nations as such, but of nations separated from one another in spirit, religion, language, and politics. The racial structure of mankind as such began immediately after the Flood (Shem, Ham, and Japheth), and so is no judgment at all. Also on the new earth there will still be nations (Rev. 21: 24; 22:2). God strives after manifoldness in unity, that is, a family of peoples.
At the same time all this conflict of the forces that make history is overruled by the supreme Lord of history (Amos 9: 7; Isa. 45: 1-3), and thereby the history of the peoples becomes a judgment of the peoples. "Righteousness exalts a people; but sin is the reproach of the nations" (Prov. 14: 34). All epochs in which faith ruled are brilliant and fruitful', (Goethe); but morally decayed civilizations go inevitably to ruin. The measure of the blessing of the peoples greatly depends upon the degree in which they observe the Divine orderings of creation and history. In this sense there are also conversions of whole nations to God, that is, national repentance, as seen in Jer. 18: 7, 8, and the city of Nineveh in the book of Jonah.
A nation is an organism (Hos 11:1), and therefore as a unit is called to account. See the appeals of the prophets to the peoples, which always address the nations as units, for example, Amos 1: 2; Isa. chs. 13-23; Jer. chs. 46-51. They live a uniform life through generations. Therefore the descendants become sharers of the blessings or of the judgments for the deeds of their forbears (see Ezek. 35: 5, 6). Only through all these things does the dramatic tension of the whole world explain itself, end the rise and fall of civilizations in the whirl of kingdoms and races.
Here also, of course, there still remain secrets of the Divine government upon which we cannot give light. One has only to think of the Armenian people.
Divine ordinances in creation, history, and providence are:
Marriage and the family as the first germ of the whole.
Social status (I Pet. 2: 13, 14, 18; Eph. 6: 5-9; Col. 3: 22; 4: 1 ; I Cor. 7: 20).
Community of blood (Rom. 9: 3) and of history, of mentality and language, of education and custom.
Rulers (Rom. 13: 1-6; I Pet. 2: 13); since Noah (Gen. 2: 6).
Authority (I Pet. 2: 17; Rom. 13: 7) and obedience (Rom. 13:5)
Community life and administration of justice, the latter with the death penalty (Gen. 9: 6; Rom. 13: 4).
God-determined frontiers (Acts 17: 26).
Love of homeland and one's own people (Rom. 9: 3).
Respect for other nations.
v. The Redemption-goal of thc History of Salvation.
Nevertheless the confounding of the language did not signify that God was against every union of the human race. On the contrary, the closest spiritual and most comprehensive fellowship of mankind is His very definite purpose (Mic. 4: 1-4).
But the unity which He wishes has Himself as its centre, it is in Christ His Son (Eph. 1:10; John 10: 16;17: 21, 22), Whom He has appointed as King (Psa. 2: 6; Zech. 14: 9).
But man desired a dethroning of the Creator, so as himself to take in hand the government; and this combination of fleshly energy stood like a bastion against the carrying through of redemption. Therefore it had to collapse and "the scattering arm of God " shew itself. Through the destruction of the demonic, fleshly unity was the true, Divine, spiritual unity to be eflected. The abrogation of the universalism of the first revelation had therefore as its goal the more sure attainment of the final universalism, and therefore even the Babel judgment also-grace.
vi. The Triumph of God at the Close of History.
But mankind fights perseveringly against the Divine plan. The spirit of the defeated, rebellious Babel continues active the subsequent centuries also; indeed, in the End Time it will even seem to have attained its goal and triumphed, and the Antichrist will complete the work of Nimrod (Rev.13: 7, 8).
The history of the city of Babylon has
its pattern ---in the city of Cain (Gen. 4: 17);
its symbol ---in the tower of Babel (Gen. 11);
its chief commencement ---through Nebuchadnezzar (Dan.2:37;18);
its progress ---in world history (Dan., chs. 2 and 7)
its completion ---under Antichrist (Rev. chs. 13 and 17)
its end ---by the triumph of Christ (Rev. ch. 18 and 19).
For after Antichrist will Christ appear and win the victor (Rev. 19:11-21); and over the harlfot (Rev. 14: 8; 17: 1-8), Babylon storming upwards against heaven, shall the "bride' triumph (Rev.21:9), the city of God which descends from heaven (v.10), the new Jerusalem.
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