The Global Mosaic

For the week of October 13, 2018 / 4 Heshvan 5779

Concept art of satellite earth image with people of different races superimposed

 

No’ah
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 6:9 – 11:32
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1 – 55:5

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So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth. (Bereshit/Genesis 11:8-9)

According to this story, which takes place early within the Torah’s timeline, the people of the earth originally lived in the same geographical vicinity. The motive behind the Babel project was not what I was told when I was a child back in the days when Bible stories were still read in public school. I was led to believe that the people wanted a high tower to keep them safe in case another flood similar to Noah’s would occur. The biblical text records nothing of the sort. The actual reason is clearly stated: “lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (Bereshit/Genesis 11:4). This was in direct opposition to God’s earlier directive to do just that (see Bereshit/Genesis 1:28).

The people were also looking for identity in their building project’s goal of corporate security. What they thought was to their benefit God regarded as inevitably destructive. And so, he deemed it necessary to intervene for their good and that of future generations. He disrupted their ability to communicate. Until then all people of the earth spoke the same language. The resulting confusion led to the people gathering in separate communities that eventually migrated to different geographical regions. Thus the people groups of the world came to be.

The circumstances behind the development of nationalities may lead some to conclude that language and cultural differences between peoples is a negative thing. That the steps to this disparity began with disobedience to God is clear. Moreover, since then until now, language and cultural differences have certainly contributed to conflict between peoples. But is peoplehood diversity in and of itself bad? Let’s consider what would have happened if people would have “filled the earth” without the God-imposed confusion. Is it reasonable to assume that the people of the world would have retained the one original language forever? As distinct communities formed in various regions of the earth, accents and dialects would have quickly developed. Also, diverse geographical regions demand unique vocabularies. For example, sea-faring people create tools unknown to mountain folk and vice versa. Clothing common to one climate is often unheard of in another. Differences in language emerging from such contrasting needs and challenges are foundational to the formalization of culture and distinct peoplehood. Therefore, the development of diverse people groups would have happened even without the Babel project.

The complex mosaic of cultures was destined to occur under God’s providence with or without our ancestors’ initial cooperation. That the development of people groups over time is of God is not to imply that everything about every culture is always good. The curse has tainted the creation including culture. But in spite of the ways culture has been corrupted, the fact of national diversity is by God’s design.

False notions about what the Bible calls the “age to come” (see Mark 10:30, Hebrews 6:5) have also tended to undermine our appreciation of the global mosaic. Imagining the human story as moving toward the re-establishment of a unified nation of one language and culture creates an ideal that is contrary to God’s expressed purpose for humankind. In the Bible’s version of the age to come, following the Messiah’s return, the resurrection, and the final judgement, when sin and death are no more and global peace is permanently established, nationalities continue. The description of the New Jerusalem includes: “By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it” (Revelation 21:24). These are not individuals formerly of people groups or kings who used to be of distinct nations. The development of nationalities as overseen by God in history is retained.

This is not to say that there is no room for the mingling of nations. From economic trade and cooperation to intermarriage, there is no indication in Scripture that national distinctions are to be closed and outsiders kept out. At the same time, cooperative ventures should show respect for cultural differences of all parties.

Beware therefore, of noble sounding global unity movements. Any attempt by church or state to homogenize people groups is to undermine the will of God and robs the complex and diverse human family of our distinct and unique histories and the special contributions we have to share with the rest of the world.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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Avoiding the Devil’s Trap

For the week of October 6, 2018 / 27 Tishri 5779

The words "It's a trap" in the center of a bear trap

Bereshit
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 1:1 – 6:8
Haftarah: Isaiah 42:5 – 43:11

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So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Bereshit /Genesis 3:6)

When many fans of the Bible read the early chapters of Genesis, it is often to establish little more than a theological framework. Our first parents’ act of disobedience is viewed as simply the basis of the human predicament from which we require deliverance. While the happenings in the Garden of Eden certainly set up the unfolding of God’s salvation plan, there is much more to be gained by noting the details of this tragic tale.

The text provides us with insight as to Eve’s internal process as she pondered the serpent’s crafty suggestion. First, we are told she “saw that the tree was good for food.” As someone who was just born yesterday (I know she wasn’t “born,” and the event timeline isn’t clear), how did she so quickly become such a pomologist (fruit expert)? While Eve, like Adam, was created innocent, she didn’t possess all knowledge. As a human being made in God’s image, she was graced with great intelligence potential, but at this point, she was still quite naïve. Remember their lack of shame was not due to their being comfortable with their unclothed state, as much as their not knowing they were naked (compare Bereshit/Genesis 2:25 with 3:7 & 11). Over time, God would mature the human family. Be that as it may, Eve thought she knew better.

Not only did she confidently determine the goodness of the fruit, she found it to be “a delight to the eyes.” Looking at it evoked a sensation of pleasure. It made her feel good and excited her. Nothing like powerful positive vibes to entice someone.

Finally, she also saw that it “was to be desired to make one wise.” In other words, she felt that it was just the thing to enhance her life. Wisdom is more than knowledge or experience. It is the ability to harness knowledge and experience to fully and effectively engage the world around us. Eve was sufficiently conscious of the fact that there was much for her to learn and concluded that consuming the fruit would enable her to live a wonderful life.

It’s hard to miss that Eve was subject to the same tactics that propagandists and advertisers have always used. The serpent set her up to be vulnerable to the lure of the fruit. It was both beautiful and powerful. And perhaps there would be a time to engage it, but not for Eve nor Adam, not yet, if ever.

Where did Eve go wrong? She shouldn’t have listened to the serpent, I know. But there’s more to this dark tale than that. It might surprise you that Evil had a voice in the Garden at all. But it did, and it has been speaking ever since. Like Eve, we can’t completely ignore Satan’s temptations. Are we then doomed to succumb? It would be nice if “getting saved” would inoculate us from the devil’s schemes, but too many genuine Yeshua followers have been entangled by his trickery to claim such a thing.

Taking note of the dynamics of Eve’s own entrapment can help guard us when facing temptation. Her biggest mistake, replicated by millions since then, was to entertain the possibility that God could not be trusted. She opened herself to the possibility that God was not only lying, but that he was purposely and selfishly keeping her from what was truly best. The result was that her heart was twisted away from God her creator to herself, the creature. Transitioning from being God-focused to self-focused, she became her own god. Thinking she could accurately assess her environment and make her own life determinations didn’t liberate her from God’s apparent arbitrary limits as expected, but instead imprisoned her under her own mastery.

Such has been the condition of all since then. While turning to God in Yeshua breaks the chains of self-focus, it doesn’t automatically prevent us from returning to its trap. Whenever we prefer our own perceptions, desires, and feelings over and against God’s word, we play out the first sin all over again. The devastating effect of our first parents’ misguided actions should remind us to resist the lure of our perceptions, the deception of our desires, and the untrustworthiness of our feelings. Rather by fueling our lives with the truth of God through the Scriptures and nurturing an intimate relationship with him in the Messiah, we give ourselves the best opportunity to avoid the devil’s devices.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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