This is the first post in a series on the topics of Empire, Kingdom of God and Nations. I would like to have a look at each of these topics from both a biblical and political perspective. The goal is to better understand what God thinks about these topics and how we should live out following Jesus in this context.
A good place to start this series is probably at the beginning of the chronological biblical story. The first of these concepts that arises in scripture is that of a nation. It is easy to read a word without considering the full meaning, the mistake being to interpret nation as a political nation state. This is surely one of the definitions of nation, but not the first one we come across in scripture.
The tower of Babel becomes the starting point for the discussion. I won't go into this stories dating in history- that is perilously hard to do. One thing is certain from this story though- this is where the nations rebelled against God. The people rose up with pride in their hearts, "Hey, we should build a really great city, it will have a huge tower as its centrepiece, that will reach even up into the heavens, we will become famous and powerful. God will not be able to send us out across the world like he wants us to do, because in our great power we will do what we want." God sees their rebellion and says, "anything that they want to do will be accomplished, their pride must be ended." God decides to confuse their common lingua franca, and the people are stuck with their tribal dialects. They give up on their plans of world domination, and set out to live separately from one another, just as God intended when he said "go into all the world and multiply."
This is the story in the Bible where the nations are scattered. It is not exactly the story where the nations are born. There is a clear outline of the birth of the nations in Genesis 10. What ever date you place the tower of Babel, the nations were already coming into view before the tower. Each section of descent in Genesis 10 concludes with, "these were the descendants, identified by clan, language, territory and national identity." "All the nations of the earth descended from these clans after the great flood."
A linguistic world view that allows for multilingualism allows for each of these clans to have their own language at the same time as a common language existed. Many a time people have viewed this story and concluded that it was a curse from God to create multiple languages. This is simply not true, the various languages had already developed. God confused the common language, not as a curse, but as a means of grace, so that they would fulfil his plans and multiply to fill the earth.
This alternative view, that God acted in grace at Babel, allows us to see that the nations are a good thing in God's sight. This altered world view is further confirmed in the story of Abraham in Genesis 12. (Some time into the distant future after Babel.) God promises Abraham that he will become a great nation and that "all nations on earth will be blessed through you." God had a positive plan for all of the nations. He chose to make a nation out of Abraham.
The nations become a recurring theme of scripture from the tower of Babel, through the old testament, the new testament and up to revelation. They are dear to God's heart and a big part of his plan of salvation.
More to follow in future posts about How to Define a Nation, How to Define an Empire, What does the Bible have to say about Empires?, Are there still Empires in the world today?, What is the Kingdom of God and how does it relate to Empires and Nations?, Discipleship movements that change nations.