Alfred Place Baptist Church

10:8-12 The table of the Nations

Genesis 10:8-12 “Cush was the father of Nimrod, who grew to be a mighty warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; that is why it is said, ‘Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the LORD.’ The first centres of his kingdom were Babylon, Erech, Akkad and Calneh, in Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah and Resen, which is between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.”

I read some surprising words about this chapter expressed by a well-known American writer and preacher, incidentally born the same year as myself, the late Dr. James Montgomery Boice of Philadelphia. He’d preached three sermons on this chapter and as he came to the end he said that “this is surely one of the most interesting and important chapters in the entire Word of God” (Genesis Volume One, Baker, 1982, p. 418). I couldn’t say that or do what he did; it is challenging enough to make a single sermon helpful. Imagine claiming what Boice did about this particular chapter with its lists of names, so challenging for any preacher to read aloud without stumbling. It is hardly amongst our favourites, like the Sermon on the Mount, or the eighth chapter of the letter to the Romans, or the great prayer of our Lord in John 17, or the opening chapters of Ephesians or Hebrews, or the closing chapter of Luke and yet Jimmy Boice did not say that it was the most inspiring chapter but “one of the most interesting and important in the entire Word of God.”

1. WHY THIS CHAPTER IS SO IMPORTANT.

There are a number of reasons for this.

i] The first is that it is true. William F.Albright was one of a trio of 20TH Century American Old Testament scholars whose names all rhymed – John Bright, G.E.Wright and W.F.Albright – who were revered by British scholars when I was at university. This is what Albright wrote of the passage before us, “The tenth chapter of Genesis . . . stands absolutely alone in ancient literature . . . The Table of Nations remains an astonishingly accurate document” (William F. Albright “Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands” quoted by Boice, p.402 op cit). He wrote that early on in his career and he got steadily more conservative as the years went by. Our sole knowledge of how the peoples of the world spread out after the flood depends on this chapter. There is no other document anywhere.

ii] The second reason why it is important is that it is particularly relevant to the situation in Britain today. One of the most dramatic developments in our time has been the introduction of many different nationalities to Wales. Ethnic and linguistic differences are now a way of life in every city. This new awareness of the diversity of the human family with its myriad colours, languages, cultures and songs goes back to Genesis itself. There is something deeply enlivening and enriching about the myriad sounds and faces of different nationalities.

iii] The third reason why Genesis ten is important is that along with chapter eleven in this portion of Scripture we are being drawn into the opening acts of a drama. Act one is our text in chapter ten, and it has a big cast, the Table of the Nations written about in this chapter. These men and women were all descended from Adam and Noah and so were of one blood. We see them here multiplying and spreading over the earth under God’s blessing. They were not yet under Babel’s curse. They were real people, individuals, cities, tribes and nations. One message of Chapter ten is that God is concerned with everyone. Today we see news reports of communities devastated either by a massive earthquake in Pakistan, or by a tsunami on the shores of the Indian Ocean, or living in a vast refugee camp in southern Sudan, the women standing for hours waiting in line to get to the single tap to fill a container with water. For a moment we are deeply touched by the suffering we see, and then we move on, but God never moves on. He never looks away from the whole creation groaning in pain. The Lord never forgets.

What must the world seem like today in God’s eyes? Amongst the many people for whom we were praying together on Tuesday night was a woman in Manila in the congregation pastored by Brian Ellis. Her name is Rachel, twenty years of age, a single mother of a six month old baby, a rather simple unsophisticated girl who has put her trust in the Lord Jesus. In the last month her baby was snatched from her in the street and has disappeared, while the police shrug their shoulders. There is a trade in babies and the bairn will be sold on; men will make a lot of money, and Rachel grieves desperately. I hope it is not said of her, “Weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Matt.2:18). Brian and the people in the Cubao church will seek to comfort her, and with us are angry and groan in their pain, but the greatest reality of all is that the Lord himself, Almighty God, in the midst of the throne in heaven is touched by her deep feelings of anguish.

Act two shows us man’s rebellion, wanting to make himself God. In the Philippines a man thinks he can act like God in taking a child away from one woman so that another woman may have it. In Genesis eleven men think they can make themselves as God and build a great tower reaching to heaven. In fact there is going to be an Act Three to this drama beginning in chapter twelve which tells us that God is going to call a man named Abraham. The Lord sets him apart from other men because the Seed of Abraham is coming and will be the Light and Hope for all these nations of the world, and comfort for the grieving Rachels. We are in Genesis and in the book of Revelation at the very end of the Bible standing before the throne and the Lamb will be found an innumerable throng from all the nations. The Bible has scores of references to the nations, and we are so glad that it does because mercy has reached our nation too. Maybe the ancestor of the Welsh is here in verse two, Gomer. So it is important because it is true, it is history and it is preparation for the coming of Christ through whom all these nations are going to be blessed.

2. THESE PEOPLES ARE ALL MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD.

Chapter ten begins, “These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth; sons born to them after the flood.” The sons are named in that order; we don’t know why, because the youngest son was in fact Ham, and yet he is listed between the other two, but please notice this, that when Moses deals with these three sons and their children in this chapter he does so in reverse order from the list in the first verse of the chapter. He starts with Japheth in verse two, and ends with Shem in verse twenty-one who, of course, prepares the way for the ongoing story of Shem’s descendant, Abraham (the line of promise is always mentioned last in Genesis – remember how evil Cain and his civilization is dealt with first). The middle son Ham is dealt with in verse six. I would guess that the familiar order, Shem, Ham and Japheth, is put that way because it sounds better in Hebrew, and that is all.

If I should ask you how many names are found in this chapter then the answer is exactly seventy (not counting the names in brackets in verse fourteen because they don’t belong to the main list). Is this number ‘seventy’ a familiar one in the Bible? Yes it is. There are the seventy elders of Exodus 24 and Numbers 11. The Lord Jesus sends out seventy disciples or maybe seventy-two (there is a textual variant)? So ‘seventy’ is a round number; it is a symbol of a large group of people. Genesis ten is no official international census including all the people groups of the world, but rather the peoples and nations which were most familiar to Moses when he wrote this. It is a representative list – like the list in Acts two of the peoples from all over the known world who gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. They are not exhaustive lists, but Moses has given to us a wonderfully cosmopolitan list.

Don’t judge Moses to be a sheep farmer chewing a stalk of grass, tucked away in a distant desert region, never leaving his patch of land, knowing nothing of the outside world. Moses was raised in the court of Pharaoh in Egypt; he grew up as the adopted daughter of a princess at the royal palace, familiar with international gossip and observing the visits of ambassadors from the nations of the earth. I am saying that chapter ten is preparing us for the coming of the promised Seed of Abraham and the distant nations of the earth are going to be blessed, the Philippines, Alaska, Australia, Patagonia and Tibet. God is vitally interested in the world. Christ will bless the whole globe. We see in this chapter ten in the first Act of the great drama of redemption how Adam has produced seventy nations through Noah’s sons; then in the next Act Abraham is also going to grow to seventy through Jacob’s sons.

Let us have an overview of this chapter as it prepares us for the Tower of Babel and the call to Abraham.

i] Firstly there are the descendants of Japheth in verses two to five. Seven sons are listed but only seven grandsons, and immediately you notice a principle of selection at work, don’t you? We can identify some of these people, Madai with the Medes, Javan with the Greeks, and Tubal with the Turks. The grandchildren of just two of the sons are listed, Gomer’s and Javan’s according to this selection principle. Five are ignored.

Then you have a summary of the racial identity and habitat of these men in verse five (we’ll meet these categories throughout the Bible), the opening phrase is ‘maritime peoples’ – those who live on the coasts and islands of the seas – and the other word is ‘nations’ or ‘Gentiles.’ So we in our congregation are doubly there in verse five, because we Welsh Gentiles live in this seaside town; we are a maritime people. For us the prophecies of Isaiah and the psalmists have been fulfilled, that the Servant of the Lord has brought forth justice to the Gentiles, and the coastlands which were in waiting have now received his law. That has happened to us! “All nations shall serve him” (Psalm 72:11) the psalmist declared, and what are we doing at this moment? We are at holy service; we are now serving him. Jesus is reigning over all the earth in the church – “where’er the sun doth his successive journeys run.”

ii] Secondly there are Ham’s descendants in verses six to twenty. Why is this list so much longer? Because these people were close neighbours of Israel. They would affect Israel constantly – Canaan (v.6), Cush (v.7), Babylon (v.10), Assyrian and Nineveh (v.11), the Philistines (v.14), the Hittites and the Amorites (vv.15&16), Sodom and Gomorrah (v.19). Where did all these originate? They were all sons of Ham.

There in the middle of the list of nations the name and activities of a significant individual is mentioned; he is Nimrod and is described in verses eight to eleven. One reason he is there is to prepare us for the tower of Babel. His kingdom was in Shinar (verse ten) and that is where the tower of Babel was built (Genesis 11:2). Nimrod was the driving force behind the erection of the tower. He was the archetypal middle eastern king. Mighty leaders built massive buildings. Mighty leaders hunted. Mighty leaders were warriors. Whether Nimrod was actually known in secular history by some other name is uncertain. Professor Donald Wiseman has suggested a king called Sargon, the first king of Akkad, while others have suggested that he was the famous king Gilgamesh.

I like what David Feddes has said about Nimrod: “Moses says Nimrod ‘be­came the world’s first great conqueror’ (Gene­sis 10:8,TEV). Nimrod was a man’s man. He was a skilled hunter. In fact, long after Nim­rod’s time, whenever people wanted to de­scribe a fearless hunter, they would say that person was ‘like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord’ (10:9). [Those last three words in verse nine, ‘before the Lord.’ could mean that the Lord was aware of all he did, or that he was only able to achieve what he did by God’s common grace.] Nimrod didn’t shy away from any­body or anything. He dared to take on the fiercest animals and the most dangerous hu­man enemies. He was bold and brilliant, able to conquer any foe and organize any project. His foremost city was Babel, also called Babylon (10:10). His courage, power, and ambition made him feared and admired.

“Today, too, there are leaders in politics, technology, sport, the media and business who have the strengths of a hunter. They aim for great things. The bigger the challenge, the better they like it. [I am thinking of the new breed of Russian entrepreneurs, or the American Bill Gates, or the Australian Rupert Murdoch.] They love the thrill of conquer­ing new territory, doing things that have never been done before. Such people leave their mark on the world and are splendid in many ways. The world would be a poorer place if everyone were timid, careful, and afraid to pursue a dream. The visionary who starts a new business from scratch, the scientist who pursues new discoveries, the inventor who creates new technologies, the politician who aims to change people and nations – such people get their talents from God and make vital contributions to humanity. [In some circles today such an attitude is deplored. A friend takes her children to a school where at the annual Sports’ Day she discovered that no child was allowed to jump more than half a metre – a foot and a half – so that none of the children might have the terrible thought that they had failed the high jump! Horrors! If this limitation were imposed on them throughout their schooling they might all be deluded into believing that they were wonderful high jumpers.]

“But they can also harm humanity if they rebel against God and try to play God them­selves. If humans ever figured out how to control future generations of humans through genetic engineering or manipulation of brain chemistry, would it be a great triumph of hu­manity? No, it would destroy what is truly human. C. S. Lewis makes this point in his book The Abolition of Man. If some people ig­nore God and pretend there are no absolute moral standards for human conduct and no limits on what humans may do to redefine themselves or others, they reduce humans to machines to be controlled and manipulated. The controllers may be smart and strong, but they are also harmful and wrong. Nimrod was smart and strong. Scripture says he was mighty before the Lord. God may have liked his energy and ability, since these were gifts from God, but God didn’t like Nimrod’s attitude, because Nimrod dominated other people and was more ea­ger to honour himself than God. One mean­ing of Nimrod’s name is ‘we shall rebel.’ That is what he and the people of Babel did: they rebelled against God.” (David Feddes, The Radio Pulpit, “Rebuilding Babel”, March 2001, pp.40&41).

So here is Ham the youngest and the most rebellious son of Noah. He was a lad who behaved abominably and his boy Canaan was cursed by the Lord. In the line of Ham was Nimrod and he was brilliant. His name was known all over the world, and the reason for his success or the success of the Russian, and Chinese, and Indian, and German and American businessmen today is not they all trust in the Lord. No, they do not, but because they are like every other descendant of Noah, bearing the image of God. Everything in Nimrod reflected God in some way, his thinking, his emotions, his leadership, his very body. Imagine standing in front of a full length mirror. The image reflects everything you present to the mirror. Everything you see reflects something in you. Of course the mirror is reflecting only part of you, the front part, and the outside, not the inside. Nimrod – and everyone of us – image God far more profoundly than that mirror; we reflect everything in God, and everything in us reflects God in some way.

Some of you can hear alarm bells ringing, and you want to say, “Hang on a minute! Aren’t you really saying that there is no difference between us and God?” No. There is a great difference between a mere reflection and the source. When you stand in front of a mirror the image is like you. The image is not you. You are a real person; the image is not. So the illustration is helpful to a point, but the image of God which is you is much closer to reality than your reflection in a mirror.

How was Nimrod the image of God? I would say physically he was the image of God, yes physicially. Let me explain. When Nimrod looked around with his eyes and saw the heavens and earth and the people of the land then in his body Nimrod was displaying God’s image. I mean that our human eyes are an image of God’s ‘omniscience,’ his power to see everything. Again, when Nimrod lifted up his hand and with it directed or built or smote or caressed he was displaying the image of the God who behaves in all those ways. When Nimrod swiftly ran, God is swift. When Nimrod mocked with his tongue, God mocks. When Nimrod pitied, God pities. We all know that God is Spirit; God does not have a body, but our very bodies reflect and image God’s power and grace. That is true for every single person in every race of man, that the actions of our bodies are reflecting the image of God.

Again, Nimrod had authority and here he also imaged God, because God holds the office of King; he is in fact the King of Nimrod, and the King of the businessmen who have such influence in the world, and the king of every world ruler. It is God who made Nimrod and everyone of us men and women with a certain rule and dominion over our lives. Let me make this as simple as possible; when we make choices; when we say yes or no; when he decide what to do with our pocket money or allowance or wages or time we are the image of God. Even if we are in prison yet in our horrible confinement there are choices we ourselves make about our hours and talents. Behind a locked door in a cell we still display a certain authority in our own decisions, and then we are reflecting the image of God. When we vote and put a government into rule then we image God. When Nimrod built a high tower he imaged God. When he hunted and killed a deer he imaged God. When he was a mighty warrior and killed his enemies in battle he imaged God. In his authority we see the image of God.

Again, Nimrod had a sense of morality, a conscience that encouraged him to do right and to avoid ill. When he obeyed his conscience and spared a young man on the battle field or a young woman he had taken captive then he imaged God, but often Nimrod marred and distorted the image of God because he was a fallen rebel at enmity with God. When Nimrod and his family sought to build the tower of Babel yet then, in a strange way, that very sin reflected God, because sin is trying to be God, trying to put oneself on the throne. Even the distortion of the image in Nimrod reflected God in an ironic way. I am saying to you that only a special kind of creature can sin. A whale cannot sin; a starling cannot sin; a worm cannot sin. It is men and women, boys and girls who sin, and they all do sin, and they do need a Saviour. Nimrod could never escape the image of God any more than he could escape his skin.

So I have taken the one representative Nimrod of all these seventy individuals and nations that is found here in Genesis ten. Moses has given us a more fully drawn human being in him as though to say “Don’t forget that these other men are more than just names.” I am saying that everyone of the other sixty-nine men is like Nimrod in being a three-dimensional personality, bearing God’s image. In other words, all the descendants of Shem, and all the descendants of Ham, and all the descendants of Japheth were made in the likeness of God. The image of God belongs to rich and poor, male and female, bond and free, to those who have learning difficulties and those who are so disabled that they can hardly do anything for themselves. This image of God belongs to every unborn child; it belongs to those who are going to die later this very day. We have before us this list of people and nations, and there are many such lists in the Bible and every person mentioned has the dignity of being in the image of God. Each human being is wonderfully precious in God’s sight. Every one will have to give an account of himself to God. Dolphins and giraffes and starlings and snails won’t; they are not in God’s image; they are not accountable, but you are. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.

iii] Thirdly, there are the descendants of Shem in verses twenty-one to thirty-one. This family and its descendants are very important and this is hinted at from the very first. We are told gravely, “Sons were also born to Shem” (v.21). You compare that to the words introducing the family of Japheth, the bare “The sons of Japheth” (v.2) and of Ham, “The sons of Ham” (v.6). But with Shem there is a judicious statement and we are even reminded that his older brother was Japheth – who is going to be blessed by his association with Shem. We are also told that, “Shem was the ancestor of all the sons of Eber” (v.21). Why is that important? Because in verse twenty-five we are told, “Two sons were born to Eber. One was named Peleg,” and he, according to Genesis chapter eleven and verse sixteen, became the great-great-great grandfather of Abraham who is the father of all who believe. Again, the word ‘Eber’ is related to the word ‘Hebrew’ – which is the word the nations of the world use to describe the children of Israel. Just look at the phrase in Genesis 14:13 where Abraham is called, “Abram the Hebrew.” So the Seed of the woman is certainly coming! Has he come to you? Has he bruised the power of Satan who is destroying your life?

Notice a simple phrase remarkably found both in the first and last verses of this tenth chapter – the book-ends of this chapter. It is the phrase ‘after the flood’. There was a flood; God’s wrath once came upon the world in judgment. Never forget you are living in a moral universe, and that the same God will hold you and your nation responsible for your lives just as he judged these men who were your fathers before you. Maybe a little flood has washed your whole life away. Don’t despair! There was a world reborn after the flood. If we cast ourselves in repentance on God there is life after the judgments that may come upon us, and we have been brought low. In our futures we can live useful lives serving God and our fellow men.

So here are the descendants of the three sons of Noah, and the chapter comes to a grand climax in its last verse, “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” (Gen. 10:32). They spread to the British Isles and France and Germany and Malaysia and the Bahamas where some of you come from. They were there on the Day of Pentecost and were amongst the 3000 which turned from their gods to worship the living Saviour – he is Lord of all. What a challenge is right here on our doorsteps. We are all aware that Britain is becoming a multi-ethnic society at an astonishing rate. Nobody knows for sure how many folk now living in the UK were born in other countries. The official figure is around five million (most researchers think it’s much higher). In other words, at least one in twelve of our population were born overseas. And of course the proportion is much larger in big cities. We have the God-given privilege of communicating the gospel to people who have come here from many parts of the world. We have the goal of building a church where folk from very different cultural backgrounds worship and work as one body in Christ.

Stephen Rees has pointed out that all of these folk bring with them their own cultural sensitivities just as we do ours. And somehow we will have to live together, work together, grow together, kept as one by the Spirit of Christ. That will involve some very big practical dilemmas: how do we communicate when some of us only speak English while others know English only as a second language or not all? But it will also involve understanding cultural differences. We will have to learn why folk from different backgrounds react as they do to different things, why they struggle with different things, why they find some things baffling or offensive.

It was like that in New Testament times. The Roman Empire broke down national boundaries to an extraordinary extent. People moved (or were moved) around the empire with remarkable ease. After a war, whole populations might be enslaved and then scattered throughout the empire. The Roman legions which conquered Britain would have included men drawn from scores of different countries. When those soldiers retired, many of them settled in the places where they had served. Every major city in the empire would have seen people of different languages, backgrounds and cultures jostling one another in the streets. Some groups – above all, Jewish people – tried to keep their own national identities wherever they were scattered; others tried to assimilate themselves to the life of the places where they had moved. Most learned at least a smattering of the common language of the Empire – Greek; others had only their native language – they were labelled barbarians because all they could say was bar-bar-bar…

The apostles were determined to bring the gospel to them all. Paul declared: “I am under obligation both to Greeks (ie the Greek-speakers) and to the barbarians… the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek…” (Romans 1:14-16). Jew, Gentile, Greek-speaker, bar-bar-barian – Paul knew he had to tell the good news to them all. And he understood that to do that, he would have to understand the different cultural backgrounds of each group and respect them. “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law (ie those who shared the Jewish culture) I became like one under the law…To those not having the law, I became like one not having the law…I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some…” (1 Corinthians 9:19-22).

We have to understand such issues if we’re to win unbelievers. But even when people are converted, their cultural backgrounds do not fall away. Nor should they. Yes, things in any culture – including tradtional British culture – that are sinful, need to be repented of and put away. But most cultural differences do not come into that bracket. Paul and his fellow apostles insisted that believing Jews, believing Gentiles, believing people of all nations, with all their cultural differences, must learn to live together in the local church in love and unity.

3. GOD INVITES EVERY RACE TO JOIN THE NEW HUMANITY IN CHRIST.

So here in the Bible we are presented with the God of creation, and the men he has made who live and move and have their being in him throughout their lives. God has put them all in the places where they are to live, and God has done that to us. We live exactly where we are intended to live surrounded by nations whom God has purposed to live in our midst. To some in the nations he says, “Stay put!” To other he says, “Begin an exodus.” You are in the right place today. You are amongst the worshiping community of the new humanity, the family of faith and the household of God.

What has happened to many of you is what also occurred to those in the early church. I am thinking of that extraordinary scene painted for us in the book of Acts when the apostle Paul stands in the market place in Athens and preaches to all the Gentile people in that place, the most cultured and educated city in the world. Paul is influenced by Genesis ten because he tells his audience this, that from one man Adam God “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” (Acts 17:26). Those words were extraordinary both as spoken by this man Paul and also as addressed to this audience in Greece. Paul’s listeners were racists, virtually every one of them. Personal racism is individual attitudes and actions that express prejudice, superiority, and bigotry toward people because of their culture and ethnicity. Cultural racism is attitudes and actions that treat the cultures of other ethnic groups as intrinsically inferior and undesirable. Racists tends to resent and suppress the expression of other languages and cultures and to exploit them for gain.

The people on the Areopagus thought that the only place in the world to live was Athens, and the only race to be was Greek. The people of Athens divided the world into two racial classes – Greeks and barbarians – primitive savages were all the rest of mankind who weren’t Greeks. Then the Athenians had a further division – themselves and the rest of the Greeks, because they regarded themselves as Athenians as the true sons of the soil, the original Greeks. They hadn’t migrated there as the other inhabitants of Greece. They were the pure ancient Greeks – la creme de la crème – and pitied the poor people who didn’t live in Athens and weren’t Greeks.

Then also listening to Paul were the Roman soldiers, the conquerors of Greece, keeping law and order at the Areopagus. They divided the world up into Roman citizens and barbarians. They too were all racialists; all their certainty that they were true and real men lay in their racial self-confidence. Then there was the preacher himself and Paul had also at one time been a complete racist, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. He had divided the world up into two groups, Jews and Gentile dogs, and he thanked God every day that he wasn’t a Gentile.

What a change has come over him. He reads these words of Moses in Genesis ten in a new light. His conclusion is that God made every nation of men the Greeks, the Romans, the barbarians – that they should inhabit the whole earth. God had determined the exact places where they should live. Every nation made by God; every nation preserved by God; every nation loved by God; every nation made different by God, with its own history and name.

Paul can see that when God singled out Abraham and made promises to him and his descendants it was not to make them into some master race. It was rather to use Abraham as the starting point from which to bring the blessings of the Seed of the woman to the whole world. Paul understood this and he went to Athens to make Athenians his brothers. “It is men of faith in Christ who are the sons of Abraham,” he said. In the church of Jesus Christ there is no discrimination between Jew and Greek and Roman and Barbarian. We may not prohibit any man from taking any office in the church because he is the wrong race; there is no wrong race any longer. In the congregation believers are all one in Christ Jesus. God has a plan that in the fulness of time he will unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:9&10). The mystery long hidden but now revealed in the gospel is that the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promises in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:2). How Paul loves what Christ has done for the nations of the world; “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two [Gentile and Jew] one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians. 2:14-16). Reconciliation between Greek and Barbarian, Roman and non-Roman, Jew and Gentile is the inevitable fruit of new life in Christ. Are there tensions and superiorities within the gospel church? Then that is a contradiction of our new life in the Saviour. But that is very different from the government’s push to multiculturalism and diversity. Caesar hated the claim that the only supreme Lord was Jesus Christ. Caesar hates it yet. Commanding people into righteousness doesn’t make people righteous. Commanding people not to be racist doesn’t make people less racist. That is the great flaw of moralism. If we could be better people we would, but we can’t. We need to be born from above to enter this new humanity. That is the gift of God. Ending feelings of racial superiority is a gift of God unleashing the power of the gospel in this new family, the household of God. Those born of God will read Genesis chapter ten and they will see the rich tapestry of the nations of the world, like them coming from Adam and Noah and his sons.

There is indeed one new humanity, but that does not mean that Paul ignored completely his Jewishness. We know he didn’t. His heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel was that Israel should be saved. He said, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel” (Roms. 9:2&3). So when Paul went to a new community the pattern of evangelism he adopted was always the same. First he visited the local synagogue and spoke to his fellow countryman about the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Paul loved the great men of the past who had all been Jews like him, Abraham, David, Elijah, Isaiah, Daniel, Nehemiah. Paul lived among those men; he learned what they wrote; he studied their heroic lives and he longed for the organization they belonged to and had shaped to be reformed and find life in confessing the Messiah. There was no longer a master race and there never will be one again. There is the one new humanity of the twice born, those people who were once in Adam and now are in Christ by faith. Christianity is the only truly international religion; that is another proof that it comes from heaven

21 January 2007 GEOFF THOMAS