Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Noah's Theological Geography

Passages like Genesis 9:17-11:9 are asking to be overlooked - at the heart of it is the 'table of nations' pinned between 'naked man sins with fruit' and 'the fall of the city of giants'. What's going on? These are the early days of a new creation - the new Adam stood on a mountain amidst a formless world and now like his forefather he stands with three sons Shem, Japheth and "Ham the father of Canaan" (repeated for emphasis). The new Adam is uncovered and humiliated in his tent by one of his sons, while two cover him.

Noah prophesies a blessing on Shem, and on Japheth and curses Canaan to serve them both. A new order enters the family - the blessing is with Shem, but Japheth has blessing as he dwells in Shem's tent, but not so for Canaan. These are the fathers of nations and they now relate theologically.

We draw maps by terrain and by politics, and we can draw them by theology. Shaped by Noah's prophetic vision we meet the costal peoples of Japheth, who will find blessing as they seek covering in Shem. From Japheth including Tarshish where a Shemite will perversely run for cover instead of going with the gospel to Nimrod's city Nineveh.

Next we meet the descendents of Ham (father of Canaan) among whom are Egypt, Sodom, the Philistines and the city builder Nimrod. Cain who was of the evil one was the last city builder and that isn't a good example to follow. Abram will later look to a city - whose builder is God - let God build cities not man. And there is Shem's blessed line (the Semitic people) - the line of Eber (the Hebrews) whose family proceeds to two sons Peleg and Joktan in the days when the world divides.

In those days of division the new human race gathers on the plain of Shinar under the serpent Nimrod's leadership to resist God - rather than scattering into obscurity and filling the earth as God had said they want to stay and build a city, and a name for themselves. They don't get far - God comes down to them, but he sees the evil they could commit and just as Adam was exiled to keep him from further evil, so too Nimrod and all the peoples are scattered and given different languages, they are the babblers from Babel. Frustrated in their sin, humiliated and sent to the ends of the earth. Pride is parochial and in seeking to stay and make a name for ourselves, the humbled are extended beyond themselves into obscurity and blessing.

As they scatter a Shemite will be promised the land Canaan occupies, he'll flee to Egypt and face a tyrant, his nephew will desire the land of Sodom. Place and people groups will not just be incidental but important to understanding what's going on... though as the gospel unfolds even geography and genealogy can be overthrown and anyone from anywhere will be able come into the blessing of God.

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