The Spirit and the Nations

Genesis 11
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. 6 And the Lord said, "Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. 7 Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. 9 Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Acts 2
1 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.



To me, the interesting thing about the Acts passage, in terms of the suggestive juxtaposition you make with the Genesis passage, is the section at the close of Acts chapter 1.

There, the apostles were deciding to do something in order to honour God, by replacing the witness of Judas who had "gone to where he belonged" with someone else. The only mechanism they could conceive to deal with this was the casting of lots, which they prayed beforehand would be an indication of God's will. This was an act of unity in obedience and contrasts with and reverses the act of unity in hubris that we find in the account of Babel. The contrast is particularly marked with Genesis 11:3 where "They said to each other..." Here the apostles "said to God" - they prayed. At Babel, they were out to "make a name for themselves" and not be "scattered over the face of the whole earth" and in Acts, their plan was to "witness" - a plan which needed twelve people, presumably because it was going to be taken out to the ends of the earth, much as it was imagined in Mark 3:14 and Matthew 28: 19-20, and along the same organisational lines as Matthew 10.

JPB said...

You know ... I've never thought of the 12 in terms of the mission of the gospel. I've always thought of them more in terms of the re-identification / re-imagining / re-structuring / whatever you want to call it of the nation of Israel, imagined it in terms of Jesus gathering to himself the remnant, which would become the New Israel with himself as the head and the New Temple with himself as the cornerstone.

But I think there are some really interesting implications for the gospel now that you bring it up.

The gospel goes out in the form of a reconstituted Israel with the tribal structures of Israel transformed into the church. What is the significance of this? The significance is that the Kingdom of God with its divine-Davidic king enthroned at the right hand of God goes out into the world as a polis, as a nation. The gospel, our gospel, has socio-political implications.


The political implications are brought out in these passages too. Whereas the first city was Babel (Babylon) the province of the first king Nimrod, the hunter, the second city is the city of Jesus, the king and priest.

As to the significance of the reconstitution of Israel: Jesus announced the kingdom of heaven for the poor in spirit, and said that from the days of John the Baptist the kingdom of heaven forcefully advanced. He also taught that nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. The pslams about Zion make new sense in this light. Similarly, Peter's explanation of David's psalm in his address to the crowd in Acts 2 offers Jesus' own interpretation of the advent of a perfected kingdom.

"I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact." The same teaching reappears in Acts 13 and 15 (and Paul consistently alluded to Jesus' Davidian lineage - cf Romans 1 and 2 Timothy 2). Revelation 3, 5 and 22 also present Christ in this way.

This compares with Matthew 22:43-45, and Mark 12:35-38, and Luke 20: 40-46. John 7:42 gives an insight into what people thought about it at the time.

Doing a search for the keyword "kingdom" is quite instructive.