Gods international mission
GOD’S INTERNATIONAL MISSION (Gen 9:18-10:32)
Read Gen 9:18-28.
This text is the primary biblical text used to support class distinctions in the middle ages, slavery in the 18th century and apartheid in this country. It has been used to justify the extermination of distinct ethnic groups and is the text that Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses used to support the oppression of blacks. It is the text that the church used in this generation in this country to not only make the oppression of black Africans acceptable, but commendable.
I believe we must pay careful attention to this text, not only because it has been so wrongly applied, but also because its rightful application continues to be largely ignored by the church.
Before we look at the details, lets begin by looking at the biblical and historical context
BLESSING AND CURSING
Blessing and cursing is one of the key themes running through Genesis. Blessing = God’s favour, God’s enablement, the means by which God’s plans are carried forward in the strength that He supplies. Cursing = God’s opposition, God’s judgment, normally the product of rebellion against God.
· Gen 1+2 – God creating and blessing creation and commissioning them to be fruitful and multiply
· Gen 3 fall and cursing of Adam and Eve, cursing of the earth = pain in being fruitful and multiplying and subduing the earth.
· Gen 6-8 – the curse of the flood, bringing an end to all life on the earth.
· Gen 9 – the Noahic Covenant, the promise of a new beginning and a new way of dealing with sin. God again blesses and commands those coming out the ark to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.
· Gen 12:1-3 – God chooses Abraham. Promises to make him into a great nation and through this one nation, Israel, to bring blessing back to every nation. The rest of Genesis traces this one, chosen family line – showing how God continued to be faithful to this promise to bless Abraham and His descendants and through him to bring blessing to all nations.
These opening chapters of Genesis are intended to help Israel understand their unique place of favour and their unique responsibility in carrying out God’s mission to the nations. .
The Main point of the passage
What is the big picture, the main point of this passage?
· We have three lines of descendants being identified as coming from these three sons
· We have a declaration of blessing and cursing. One is cursed, two are blessed. May the God of Shem be blessed (26) and may God enlarge Japeth (27)
· In Genesis, from where does blessing and cursing ultimately come? From God. God enables people to fulfill His plans and purposes and He curses those who oppose them.
· So ultimately we have here a clear indication of the role that God will play in the fate of the nations that grow out of these 3 men. Two will experience God’s enabling and prosper, one will experience God’s opposition and be humbled
· God’s plans and purposes not only concern individuals, but also the nations and the fate of a nation is determined by its relationship to God. God plays a central role among the nations.
Let us pause for a moment to consider the historical context:
· After the fall, in chapter 4-5 we had Genesis trace out the lineage that flowed from Cain and contrasted it to that which flowed from Seth. One was secular and was ultimately destroyed in the flood, one was characterized by the worship of God and was ultimately preserved through the flood.
· Now here, after the flood, we again have the tracing out of these lines of descendants. In this case, we have three – two will know God’s enabling, one will experience His opposition.
· Israel are poised to enter the land of Canaan. This rabble of slaves are going to have to fight against renowned kings and the powerful nations who are the descendants of Canaan. The Jebusites, Amalekites, Hitites are all descendants of Canaan. This Scripture forms the foundation for their faith that God would enable them to overpower and subdue these nations – that God would fight for them and against these nations and give them the land He had promised.
· Israel were to understand that they were about to carry out the plans and purposes of God which were revealed basically a thousand years prior. They were on a divine mission.
1: God’s role among the nations (9:18-28)
The Sin of Noah AND HAM
8:21 God knows that the flood hasn’t changed the sin of the human heart. Here we see the reality of this, that even the righteous Noah, is not sinless. As with Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, sin causes division and discord even amongst the most intimate family relationships.
The text itself emphasizes Ham’s sin more than Noah’s, but really the text is linking three related sins – drunkenness, sexual impropriety, and dishonoring of parents.
· Drunkenness: The OT doesn’t condemn drinking of wine (Ps 104:15) but But it does condemn drunkenness (Prov 23:29-35). Noah is clearly guilty of this.
· Nakedness: Nakedness became associated with sin and shame at the fall, when Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened and they became ashamed. In ancient culture, if you wanted to publically shame someone, then you would disrobe or partially disrobe them. Modesty was highly valued and immodesty was closely associated with immorality and sexual sin
· Dishonouring parents: The phrase “to uncover the nakedness” of someone was used as a euphemism for sexual intimacy, often sexual impropriety. So some have suggested that Ham was guilty of some kind of sexual misconduct here. But 1) the phrase “saw his fathers nakedness” and “uncovered his fathers nakedness” are not exactly parallel and 2) the acts of his brothers to correct the situation show that nothing more sinister is intended. Partly, our modern culture is so comfortable with immodesty and so lacking in honour for parents, that we don’t see what the big deal is. But here have a son, who 1) should have honoured his father, and yet dishonours him by looking at his nakedness, and 2) he does nothing to remedy the situation and restore his fathers dignity and 3) He makes it worse by going and telling his brothers, hey, go check out what father has been up to. The very careful response of the brothers in vs 23 tell us what a serious issue this was in ancient culture.
The sins of the nations
As we have seen on a number of occasions, the biblical text is setting God’s standards in stark contrast with the practices of the nations, particularly those nations into which Israel was about to go.
· The pagan worship of the nations in Canaan was characterized by drunken fertility rituals, where sexual immorality and drunkenness were practiced hand in hand.
· So at one level this is a polemic against the practices of the nations – its setting the record straight for Israel, that such practices are not something to aspire to, this is not a source of blessing, this results in cursing and destruction.
Noah’s blessing and curse
· Noah wakes up, discovers what has taken place, and for the first time in the biblical narrative, Noah speaks, and his words are a blessing and a curse.
· Up until now, God has been the one blessing or cursing, but here we see a blessing and a curse on the lips of Noah.
· How are we to understand these blessings and curses? We find them on the lips of Isaac as he gives Jacob his blessing, and we find them on the lips of Jacob at the end of Genesis as he pronounces a blessing on each of his 12 sons. Do these human words have authority and power? Are they meaningless, empty words – Noah just blowing off steam as it were?
o Given the central theme of Genesis being “blessing and cursing,” they are obviously significant
o The Scripture records these blessings and cursing’s as an explanation of present realities. Why was the land of Canaan being given to the Jews and why were the Canaanites going to be subjected to the Jews – this text provides the answer. Why did Israel come to be a nation enjoying God’s blessing? God’s blessing of Abraham and his offspring provides the answer. Why did the Levites come from the tribe of Levi and the David kings from Judah, Jacob’s unique blessings on each of his sons, at the end of Genesis, provide the answer.
o These blessings and cursings were probably originally offered as a kind of prayer to God. Calling on God to bring these things about. The fact that they are recorded in Scripture indicates that this was in fact exactly what God intended to do.
o These were divinely inspired prayers, declarations which were so aligned with God’s purposes that they were sure to come about. Prophetic prayers, as it were.
Why was Canaan cursed?
· So the text essentially passes over Noah’s sin of drunkenness and nakedness and emphasizes Ham’s sin in dishonoring his father. Then Canaan cursed, when Ham is the one who dishonoured his father.
· This shows that the text is not highlighting personal sin, but personal sin which grew into national sin. In this case, Ham’s sin foreshadowed the sin that would characterize the Canaanites. Ham had 4 sons, only one of them is cursed because it is only in the Canaanites this his sin finds full expression and it’s this sin that God is opposing.
· What is Ham’s sin which found full expression in Cannan’s sin? To dishonor one whom God has honoured. To show contempt for one whom God has raised up, is to show contempt for God himself.
· Scripture has just told us and shown us that Noah found favour in God’s sight. He was chosen by God to be the vehicle through whom He would preserve the entire human race and restore God’s blessing. Ham thinks nothing of dishonoring not only his own father, but more importantly the one man whom God had honoured above all men.
Blessed be the Lord of Shem
· Look how blessing is so closely connected to God in this text
· vs 26 says blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem. Not blessed be Shem, but blessed be Shem’s God. Because God will be praised when people see that blessing comes from Him. It is the nation who is rightly related to God, who will be blessed and God will be praised as a result.
· Look at Gen 12:1-3 – I will exalt you, and those who bless you, I will bless and those who dishonor you, I will curse. Same principle is being affirmed.
· To be rightly related to God, you must be rightly related to God’s people. Because God’s name and reputation is connected to His people. To love God is to love His people, to honour God is to honour His people, to serve God is to serve His people and to oppose God’s people is to oppose God and invite His opposition.
· Jesus taught a similar principle – whatever you do for the least of these who believe in me, you have done for me (Matt 25)
Some modern abuses of the text
· So this text is about nations and it is about God’s role and purpose in those nations. But we cannot take a text meant for a particular context – Israel on a divine mission to conquer Canaan as a means of carrying out God’s punishment of them for their sin and arbitrarily apply it to any other nation and any other political or geographical context.
· This text was largely applied to the oppression of blacks because one of Ham’s descendants was Cush, who is believed to be the forefather of Ethiopia and those of darker skin. But this interpretation ignores the fact that Ham is not the one who is cursed, neither is Cush. It ignores the fact that ¾ of Ham’s descendants were Caucasian and it was in fact only the Canaanites who were cursed and who were not of black lineage.
· So this is ripping a text out of context to suite some personal or political agenda.
· This text reminds us that we have an identity, not only as individuals, but as groups of people, as families and nations.
· It reminds us that our individual sin can be learned by our children and grow to become national sin. In this country, we know how the sin of racism can become nationally epidemic, condoned and propagated by an entire nation and the consequences will be felt for generations to come.
More importantly, though, we see that God’s plan of redemption concerns both individuals and nations, people and distinct groups of people. God is involved in the lives of individuals and the fate of nations. God wants to restore His blessing to people and people groups. This is God’s mission and we will experience His supernatural enablement as we align ourselves with His mission and we will know His displeasure and opposition as we oppose His mission.
So God has a central role among the nations. The next chapter expands the scope and shows God’s sovereignty over the nations.
2: God’s sovereignty over the nations (10:1-32)
1: Two kinds of Genealogies
There are two kinds of genealogies 1) Linear Genealogies trace a single line of descendants like we saw in Gen 5, they trace lineage 2) segmented genealogies, like this one, have more than one line of descendants and intend to chart alliances. They show how different groupings of people are related to each other.
· Sons of Japeth vs 2 – ending in (5) from these coastlands spread, land, language, clans nations.
· Sons of Ham vs 6 – ending in (20) by their clans, languages, lands, nations
· Songs of Shem vs 21 – ending in (26) clans, nations…
· People are being grouped according to lands, languages, clans, nations = geography, language, ethnicity, nationality.
2: different associations
Showing how people are connected to each other by these various criteria:
· This is not a genealogy of individuals. The table contains differing sorts of information. (1) It has individuals (e.g., Nimrod, Peleg, Eber). (2) It includes people groups, such as tribal names and nations. They bear the distinctive plural suffix -ʾîm (e.g.,vs 13) or the “ites” suffix(e.g., Jebusites, v. 16ff). (3) Finally, the table possesses place names (e.g., Babylon, Nineveh). In some cases it is uncertain if a place or an individual is meant (e.g., “Sidon his firstborn,” v. 15). (NAC, Logos)
· So the table is showing the inter-relationship between people, places, languages, cultures, cities and nations. Many of the names would have been much more familiar to its original readers than they are to us.
· This repeated terms “the sons of” sometimes means this is the descendant of, sometimes means this city or nation arose from. Really used to show association, dependence.
· This is showing God’s faithfulness to the Noahic covenant, to bless people and to spread them all over the globe. From these three men, God created rulers, mighty cities, distinct ethnic groupings and cultures, peoples and entire nations. God is sovereign over geography, language, culture, He has set the boundaries of the nations and determined their origin and end.
· Some of these places and peoples were very significant to Israel – Babylon, Ninevah, Egypt. Israel would encounter many of these peoples and they were to understand that these nations were not all their enemies. They had common ancestry, common heritage and associations. These were the nations and kings and people that God had brought into being and Israel had been chosen to bring God’s blessing to these nations.
· Canaan was cursed, but Israel was not to make an enemy of all nations. They are to recognize the sovereign hand of God in the creation of and spreading out of these nations and their role to be an instrument of restoring them to God’s blessing.
3: Very carefully arranged
The table is very carefully arranged:
· These 3 major sections.
· Repeated use of multiples of Seven.
o As a whole there are seventy nations named:
o The table’s favorite term “sons of” (bĕnê) occurs fourteen times (seven twice).
o Japheth’s section shows two groups of seven (sons and grandsons).
o The Hamites also have arrangements of seven: seven descendants of Cush (vv. 6–7) and seven offspring of Mizraim (if “Philistines” is omitted; v. 13).
o This harks back to creation of the world in seven days, the creation of nations along the same pattern. It is obvious that the table does not attempt to include every nation, rather, the symmetry of the count “seventy,” collected in three branches, shows that the table is representative of the totality of all peoples.
As one writer puts it, “There was a world of peoples before the call of Abram, and it is that map of peoples that concerns the God of Abram ultimately. Out of concern for the salvation of the nations, God calls Abraham and his posterity.”
God places Israel in the midst of the nations in order that they might bring His blessing to the nations.
Listen for a moment.
God has an international program. His plan of redemption concerns the nations, peoples, tribes and languages. This is where God begins to lay out this program. He is a central role among these nations, He is sovereign over these nations. The next chapter will show us how He created these nations, chapter 12 how He will begin to reconcile them to Himself through His chosen instrument… Israel initially, the messiah ultimately.
This text is alerting Israel and the church today to God’s international mission
· Gen 12:1-3 the Abrahamic covenant = blessing to all nations
· Ps 67
· Ps 96:1-10
· Is 42:1, 49:6
· Matt 28:18-20
· Acts 2:7-11
· Rev 7:9-12
This is why the gospel must not only go to every person, but to every tribe, language, people and nation! God has a personal and a national program of redemption. His plan is that a representative from all language and nations will acknowledge the work of Christ on their behalf and worship Him.
This is why it makes sense for us to be strategic about identifying unreached peoples groups, lost people groups and to bring the blessing of Christ to them.