"Judgments of a Loving God" - Chapter 13

    

     

    

    

Chapter 13: The Judgments of Genesis (3)

Tower of Babel / Abraham & Pharaoh / Sodom & Gomorrah

        

         

Chapter 13 Contents 

  

13.1 The Tower of Babel

13.2 Abram and Pharaoh

13.3 Sodom and Gomorrah

13.4 Summary

   

    

Continuing to consider the specific judgments of God recorded in the book of Genesis we now move to next consider the strange case of the Tower of Babel.

 

13.1 The Tower of Babel

 

The Judgment

    

Gen 11:6-9 The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and (i) confuse their language so they will not understand each other." So the LORD (ii) scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel --because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

 

Reminder: ‘judgment' = a decision of God to take action against wrong behaviour in the human race. In popular misconception, God steps in and does something to apparently stop mankind enjoying itself and making itself feel good. There is one word used twice in that previous sentence which speak volumes: ‘itself'. God has no problem with human beings enjoying themselves for He Himself gave them the capacity to do that in an amazing way, but what we have here is an inward looking mankind doing things in its own strength to bring blessing to itself (in a bad way).

 

Let's consider all that happened here.

  

Background

Gen 11:1 “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.”

  •   Initially there is nothing wrong with that for it is what you would expect if mankind develops from a single source.

 

Gen 11:2 “As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.”

  •   Stage 2 of these people was development by expansion and settlement. So far, so good, no problem.

Gen 11:3 “They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.”

  •   Some criticize them for creating their own materials and not using natural rocks or timbers, but human beings have been designed to think, to rationalize and develop or invent.
  •   Stage 3 is going beyond mere settling, to invention as part of development, of taking what God has provided and applying it into the human need situation. So far, so good, no problem.

 

Gen 11:4 “Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

  •   Note there is a double development here.
  •   First of all it is to build a city. There are very differing views about cities. Some say they are a sign of mankind gathering together in groups to oppose others. Others say they are a place of development and blessing. There is no doubt that in masses of buildings, pavements, lanes, throughways, highways and so on, there is greater opportunity to hide away and greater opportunity to hide away also means greater opportunity to do things that are wrong.
  •   Second, it was to build a man-glorifying tower. Some say ‘big is beautiful' but here ‘big is boastful'.
  •  This is mankind stretching like a teenager flexing his muscles trying to assess himself. But it is assess himself in the absence of God.

   

In 2014 the UK were the first Invictus Games, similar to the Warrior Games of the USA, and built into the logo, boldly standing out are the words, “I AM” and we are told the games' name comes from a poem by William Ernest Henley which concludes with the words, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” This is intended to boost the morale of wounded servicemen that they “would be an inspiration for all of those that have been wounded, injured and sick while serving their countries.” Good in apparent intent but nevertheless exhibiting the same outlook as those who built the Tower of Babel – “I AM”. Is there a mockery from the powers of darkness who know that there is only One who can claim that name (Ex 3).

 

Understanding

But our verses above focus on the Lord's assessment of what was happening:

 

Gen 11:6  The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”

 

Remember what we considered when we looked at the Flood. Already the Lord has once had to move against rampant evil in humanity to prevent even worse things happening. It is probable that we do not know or cannot conceive the awfulness of rampant humanity opening itself up more and more to occult powers. The signs are there in the building of this tower: let's band together for there is strength in numbers; let us build this tall tower and start to realise our capabilities! The Lord sees that without some form of restraint, “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”

 

In our lifetime and the lifetime of our parents and grandparents we have known of two World Wars in which all hell broke loose. We have invented nuclear weapons capable of devastating huge areas and killing huge numbers. We have invented biological warfare that can do the same. Throughout the globe wars continue with small groups threatening to drag in all the major nations of the world again. Is nothing impossible for us when it comes to destruction of others?

 

And so He made a judgment: “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” (v.7) This would hinder and slow up development. This would give the world a (non)fighting chance!

 

The consequence? “So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.” (v.8) That city, Babel, is believed to be what became Babylon. When its name crops up in the Bible it is always symbolic of a godless, self-centred people out to harm the rest of the world. It finds its ultimate fulfilment in the book of Revelation where its influence dominates the world and comes under the hand of God in the final judgment.

 

Instead of destroying it and its inhabitants outright here, the Lord in His mercy simply scatters the people and allows the wider world to be populated so that many cultures can be developed, providing a greater richness to the modern world. In these ‘last days' the influence of Babylon grows again and maybe its final downfall is not far off. It is hard to see what lesser way there might have been in dealing with mankind in the situation, an act to prevent them from growing in ways that would hurt themselves.

 

    

13.2 Abram and Pharaoh

 

The next judgment – time when God acted to remedy a wrong situation – comes in the events surrounding Abram going down to Egypt in a time of famine.

 

The Judgment

Gen 12:17   But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram's wife Sarai.

 

The incident involving Abram and Pharaoh doesn't show Abram in a very good light – but he is only a new believer with an almost embryonic relationship with the Lord, so he hasn't yet come to realise that God will, in fact, protect him. We need to consider again the background of this story.

 

Background

i) Abram's sense of inferiority

We first of all read, “Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.” (Gen 12:10) The cause of the famine is unknown and so Abram does what any ‘sensible' person does and leaves and goes where there is still food; in this case it is Egypt.

 

But then Abram ‘thinks' and in his thinking feels vulnerable. He is going into a foreign land where there is a powerful ruler who is known to have an eye for beautiful women and Abram's wife, Sarai, is a beautiful woman. Abram thinks about this and thinks that the Pharaoh might kill him to get him out of the way so he can take Abram's wife. Solution: pretends she is his sister (well she is his half sister actually). But that's still going to leave Sarai vulnerable, but they still end up in Egypt with Abram saying she is his sister.

 

ii) Pharaoh's ‘natural' actions (natural for the day)

The inevitable happens. Pharaoh hears there is a rich merchant arriving and he happens to have a beautiful sister, so he does what any despot of that age did, he had her brought into his palace (we aren't told what more followed).

 

The Judgment & Response

The situation, as far as Pharaoh and his household are concerned, suddenly turns pear shaped! “the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram's wife Sarai.” (v.11)

 

Now what is interesting about this is what then follows:

  

Gen 12:18,19 “Pharaoh summoned Abram. "What have you done to me?" he said. "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, `She is my sister,' so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!"

When a whole lot of people in your household (including you!) starting getting ill, you start wondering why and questions are asked. What has changed? The only thing is you've brought a new woman into the court. Was there anything wrong with her? No, we check. Well check with the seers then.

 

We aren't told that that is how it happened but somehow they came to realise that this sickness is a judgment on bringing this woman into the palace. No doubt they question her and soon find she is Abram's wife!!!! They are quicker on the uptake than many Christians are and soon conclude this is punishment and this merchant and his wife need to leave – quickly and now! So Abram and his family and flocks and herds (which have grown since he's been there!) leave the country and return to the south of Canaan (the Negev) and the story continues from there.

   

Understanding

    

But now we need to come back to the Lord's part in all this. Without doubt He is the bringer of this judgment on Pharaoh and his household. Note in passing that no one seems to have died in it all, they just got sick. How does God bring sickness? We don't know but He clearly does as you can see elsewhere in the Bible. Why has He done it? Obviously to protect Abram, His young protégé who doesn't yet realise that God will look after him.

 

Déjà vu

   

Now what is remarkable is that after a whole lot of things had happened between the Lord and Abram we find the same thing happening yet again:

      

Gen 20:1-7 “Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, "She is my sister." Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, "You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman." Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, "Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, `She is my sister,' and didn't she also say, `He is my brother'? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands." Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die."

 

Now for those who think God is a nasty God, observe the gentle way He deals with Abimelech.  With this second time, Abraham (as he now is) is not forthright about his wife. On this occasion the Lord speaks to the king in a dream and makes it very clear indeed what is going on.

 

What we see in these two incidents, brought on by Abram's lack of understanding (which will change), is the Lord bringing judgment and threatening to bring judgment to protect His man and his family and to challenge the power of local kings. Why He did not speak in a dream to Pharaoh we don't know but perhaps the occult powers for which Egypt was known, hindered that form of communication and so more direct tactics had to be used. In both cases the Lord is challenging human behaviour, that of powerful figures, as if to say, ‘this is not what people in my kingdom do! This is wrong and so you will pay for it unless you repent quickly.' Both kings got the message and changed quickly, and Abraham and Sarah were saved.

 

I don't think we need to ponder on alternatives to what happened here, it is so simple – and it worked. No one died but wrong situations were put right. The discipline worked.

 

    

13.3 Sodom and Gomorrah

 

The Judgment

      

Gen 19:24,25 Then the LORD rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah --from the LORD out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities--and also the vegetation in the land.

 

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah raises a number of questions. First, why did the Lord destroy it? Second, how did He destroy it? Third, why did He save Lot?

 

Background

   

First must come the reason for the destruction of these two cities. Let's consider the record.

    

Gen 18:20,21 “Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me.”

Gen 19:23 “we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it."

 

These verses have an intriguing commonality – the word ‘outcry' which suggests that someone or something was crying out for something to be done in respect of those two cities. Now whether that is

  •   the cry of justice or
  •   the cry of righteous people who passed by and knew those cities, or
  •   whether it was from Satan acting as the Accuser, (e.g. Rev 12:10)

                    is not stated but the picture is conveyed that the state of these two cities has been brought to the Lord's attention. Now of course He sees all things and knows all things but what this is saying is that not only is He aware of what is happening, but others are as well and they have been bringing it to God. These cities are a blot on God's world.

  

The Guilt of Sodom

   

But what was it that condemned these cities? In the New Testament, Jude simply states, “ Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion.” (Jude v.7)

That is the usual order.

  •   Sexual immorality is sinful mankind casting aside God's order for men and women - one man with one woman for life. So godlessness in our modern society in the West produces that which the Bible calls immorality and it is treated as normal life.
  •   But unrestrained sin doesn't stop at immorality, it moves on to what the Bible calls perversion. Although modern men would like to water down the Bible texts, the texts are quite clear.

The apostle Paul spoke of this when he said, speaking of God's indirect judgments where God lifts off His hand of restraint:

 

Rom 1:24 “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another,”

  •   This was the first stage referred to above, but then,

Rom 1:26,27 “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion,”

  •   This is the further degradation spoken of by Jude. In Paul's language women took on ‘unnatural' relations with other women and men did the same with men which was called ‘perversion' which is defined as ‘deviating from what is considered normal'.
  •   Note in each case it is not 'being' but 'doing' that receives God's censure.

   

The account in Gen 19 reveals a city where this ‘perversion' has gone so far that men from all over the city are shown to have gone to such lengths that they demand sex with any visiting men. That this is tantamount to rape is undeniable, and this shows the depths to which this city had sunk.

The prophet Ezekiel, speaking of Sodom declared, enlarging the picture of their sin and depravity:

Ezek 16:49,50  "this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me."

Now we have said in previous studies that

a) God does not want death but would much rather see repentance and

b) if death is the outcome, it is the only possible outcome in all the circumstances.

 

We find ourselves being drawn to the conclusion that sometimes people get so set in their sin and hard-heartedness that repentance is almost impossible and therefore for the sake of everyone else, their removal is the only option left. That appeared the case of Pharaoh in the Exodus and would be the logical conclusion here. There appear no alternatives in such a context.

   

The Judgment of Sodom

Now how the Lord destroyed these two cities is a mystery. The description is succinct but open to question: “Then the LORD rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah --from the LORD out of the heavens.” (Gen 19:24)

 

Commentators suggest that ‘the natural ingredients of the destruction – petroleum, bitumen, salt and sulphur – were abundant in this region.' Again it has been suggested that a natural gas build up and release with ignition could create an explosion of tremendous force which first explodes upwards but then rains down, maybe even with the force of a hydrogen bomb, and the outgoing shock wave carrying the burning materials with it could have burnt up the delaying wife of Lot.

 

What we have described is a natural disaster in any other context but as the Lord has expressly warned of it and the two angels spoke of it, the only conclusion left is that it was brought about by God to wipe out these two past-repentance cities that, if left to themselves, might have spread their influence over a wider and wider area. The action becomes, not only penal, but also an act of prevention to save the rest of the people of that part of the world and also act as a warning to future generations.

  

The Saving of Lot

The only question we have left unanswered of our four starting questions is, why did the Lord save Lot ? Everything about Lot – his past behaviour with Abraham, his future pleading not to go far away and his subsequent drunken behaviour, all say here is a man who lives on the edge of righteousness; he is only just there. But ‘only just' is enough.

 

The apostle Peter declares him a righteous man (2 Pet 2:7-9) which would appear to have been the Rabbinic teaching of the day, but still his behaviour leaves him appearing an ‘only just' righteous man. Perhaps in fairness, we might suggest that his only knowledge of the Lord and the Lord's requirements, would have come through Abram and his knowledge and experience was strictly limited. Lot has come from a pagan background and has not become a full believer. It is perhaps for this reason alone, together with his relationship with Abram, that saves him.

 

     

13.4 Summary

 

Let's summarise each of the three judgments observed in this chapter:

 

In respect of the Tower of Babel, the Lord simply scatters the people confusing their languages to prevent further deterioration and to counter the pride and rebellion that was growing.

 

In the case of Abram & Pharaoh, the Lord inflicted the royal court with serious diseases to draw to the king's attention his accidentally unrighteous behaviour. As soon as this happens it is stopped.

(In the follow-up between Abraham and Abimelech, God intervenes and staves off a worse situation by a dream to the quickly-reacting Abimelech.)

 

With Sodom & Gomorrah, we found two cities that had degenerated into sexual immorality and perversion (so far from God's design for humanity) that the only course left was to destroy them to stop their influence infecting the rest of the world. As a counterpoint to this horrendous judgment, is the saving of ‘only-just-righteous' Lot.

 

So we have two disciplinary actions and one terminal judgment, two that sought to bring about a change of behaviour to enable life to continue, and one that terminated a number of lives to enable more lives to continue without further degeneration and destruction of the human race.

 
 

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