The City of Man

Genesis 10
Saint Augustine wrote a book called “The City of God.” In that book he compared and contrasted two cities that have always vied with each other throughout history. These two cities have always been opposed to each other. They have always sought to undermine the other. They can never be reconciled to each other. These two cities are the city of man and the city of God. For us farmers, we can call it the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of Jesus. The issues are black and white between the two of them. There is no middle ground. Augustine wanted people to recognize that they had to take sides. If a person has not made a decision to be in the kingdom of Jesus, then that person is still a member of the kingdom of Satan. Today we will learn about the city of man, or the kingdom of Satan.

We have now finished with the story of Noah. The Flood is over. We have seen that sin survived the Flood through Noah and his son Ham. We even saw the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent fighting again, in the persons of Shem and Japheth on the one hand, and Ham on the other hand. These are the beginnings of those two cities about which Augustine was talking.

And now we come to a rather difficult text. There are so many names. Some of them sound like insects! You know, you have the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, and the termites! What are we to make of all this confusion of people? There is a message for us in all of this information. The first point for us to take to heart is that God is sovereign over all the nations of the world. There is not a single nation over which God does have complete control. In the entire ANE, there is nothing quite like this list of nations. None of the ANE lists have a complete list of nations, all of which come from just one man. The nations of the world are united in this respect: they are all subject to God’s rule. We see in the book of Daniel, for instance, how God directs the course of nations so that His people receive the benefit from it. In Esther, we see that “coincidences” are not really by chance, but God directs the sleeplessness of the king, for instance. Even though God’s name is not mentioned once in that entire book, God is behind everything. Ultimately, Jesus’ command to go out to all nations and make disciples is the complete statement of God’s rule over all nations. Every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth. All nations are subject to God’s rule.

All nations are also subject to God’s blessing. We see here that the command to multiply and fill the earth was taken seriously by all of these nations. God gave to Noah and to his sons the very same command that He had given to Adam in the garden. And now, even after such a complete judgment as the Flood, God still wanted mankind to fulfill the original command to fill the earth with the image of God in mankind. But that command was also a blessing. In giving that command, God was also giving to mankind the ability to fulfill that command. So all nations are subject to God’s blessing as well as to His rule.

I am not going to go through every single name in this list and comment on it. That has been done by many people before me. I want us rather to direct our attention to the most important things that we can learn from the passage. This passage is divided up into three parts, according to the three sons of Noah: Japheth takes up the first 5 verses. Ham takes up the next section from verse 6 through verse 20. The descendents of Shem take up verses 21-32. We have see one important thing already: God is sovereign over all nations, both by His rule and by His blessing.

The second thing we need to see here is that Israel per se is not mentioned at all. Isn’t it interesting that, in a table of nations that was meant to be fairly comprehensive, no mention is made of the “most favored nation” of all: Israel? Only a hint is here of Israel: in verse 24-25 Eber is mentioned. This is the root of the word “Hebrew.” Moses wants us understand two things that follow from this important omission: God’s purposes for the world are bigger than just Israel. Israel always had a tendency to look down on all the countries around them, because they were the chosen nation. In fact, they would often call someone from another nation a dog, or some other kind of unclean animal. In Deuteronomy, Moses again and again tells the Israelites that it was not because Israel was greater than any other nation that God chose to have mercy on them. In fact, Israel was the smallest of all nations. But Israel kept on forgetting this fact. They kept on thinking that it was because of their might and power that they had acquired the promised land. Eventually, because Israel had forgotten who was really God, they were ejected from the promised land. So Israel was supposed to be a blessing to the nations, and instead they sat on their laurels. We are tempted to do that, aren’t we? We want to tend to those in our midst, without really thinking of those people out there who need our help.

It is interesting that there are seventy nations mentioned here. Seventy is an important number. It is the number of descendents of Jacob that go down to Egypt. It is the number of disciples that Jesus sends out two by two in Luke 10. Seventy is the number of completeness. All the nations are represented here in Genesis 10. The sons of Jacob that go down to Egypt represent God’s blessings on the people of Egypt. Israel was always supposed to be a light to the Gentiles. That is exactly what Luke means in chapter10 when Jesus sends out 70 disciples to spread the gospel. They are the new Israel that is supposed to be a light to the Gentiles.
In Acts 17 in the speech that Paul gives to the philosophers on Mars Hill, he says, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” So what Paul is saying here is that God scattered the nations in order that they might feel their way toward God and find him. But they cannot without the light of the Gospel. Paul says that God now commands everyone everywhere to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth.
In all of this, we can see that the city of man is alive and well. They are those who reject God. Even in the reaction to what Paul says, we can see this. Some mocked Paul when they heard about the resurrection from the dead. Those were the city of man people. However, others wanted to hear Paul again about this. Those that repented of their sin were those who belonged to the city of God. There is this struggle that is going on constantly.

When we deal with people who are not like us, how do we react? Do we say that they cannot be a part of our fellowship, because they are different? Paul also says that there is neither Jew nor Greek, for all are one in Christ Jesus. Do we look down on other races? Especially, do we look down on African Americans, or Native Americans? If someone comes to faith from one of those races, they have the same right to be in our church as any other Christian does. We cannot exclude them. Racism is not to be present in the Christian church. Nations are divided by sin, but are united when people come to Christ. That is the only way that nations can stop warring against each other. It is the only way that our missionary focus can remain on track.

Ultimately, the one man in whom the city of man came to its fullest expression is Nimrod. We read about him in verses 8-11. Nimrod was three things: a hunter, a ruler, and a builder. But all of this he did “before the Lord.” In this context, with Nimrod’s name meaning “rebel,” the phrase “before the Lord” probably means something negative like “in God’s face.” Nimrod’s power came by personally violent means, in contrast to how Israel got its power, which was from God. In a way, Nimrod represents the Antichrist. He is the ultimate leader of the rebellion against God. He is the leader of the city of man. He is in opposition to God, and to God’s people. Notice here that Nimrod built Babylon, or Babel, as the text says. Probably, Nimrod was a ruler of Babel when the tower was built. Therefore, we are to understand that Nimrod is not a positive figure in Scripture, but a negative one. Nimrod is against God. He was a very impressive man, though. He built not only Babel, but also Erech, an important ancient city, Accad, from which the Accadian culture spread, all of these in the land of Shinar, or Sumer. He also built Nineveh. That is a very impressive list of cities. They ultimately point to the one city of man that Nimrod built, symbolized by the tower of Babel. This was mankind trying to take God off His throne and put himself in God’s place.

Nimrod did not succeed, as we will see next week. Instead, God’s people succeeded. Ultimately, Jesus Christ would come to build a city, the new Jerusalem. The city of man would not prevail against the city of God. The city of God will eventually come down out of heaven like a bride adorned for her husband.

The question for us is: to which city will we belong? Remember, there is no middle ground. Don’t put off membership in the city of God. Don’t wait until the city of man is destroyed, and you remain in it. The story that John Bunyan tells of the Pilgrim’s Progress is a story about a man from the City of Destruction, which is the city of man. He has to leave the City of Destruction before that city is actually destroyed. That is what we are to do. We are to repent of our sin, of our belonging to the city of man, and instead put our trust in Jesus Christ. As Paul says in Hebrews, “For Abraham was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” We must trust in God by trusting in Jesus, who is the chief cornerstone of that city.

If we have put our trust in God, then we have to realize how the city of man still affects us. Do we still do the things of the city of man? Do we want citizenship in heaven, but still want to cling to the perks of being a member of the city of man? Do we still want to hang on to our sin? If our membership is truly transferred from the city of man to the city of God, then we will need to make sure that our conduct measures up to the standards of the city of God. That means living a Spirit-filled life in obedience to the commandments of God. It means that we live as children of the light. The children of darkness do the deeds of darkness, which are sexual immorality, debauchery, witchcraft, envy, greed, slander, gossip, drunkenness, idolatry, bad language, profaning the Sabbath, hate, murder, lust, and any number of other sins, though that list is fairly comprehensive. Instead, we are to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves, any neighbor in the whole world. We are to have the fruit of the Spirit. Live as true citizens of the city of God. That is our call.