Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The City: Nimrod to Babel

Today we continue our reflections on the spiritual nature of the city with the help of Jacques Ellul’s The Meaning of the City (pp. 9-20).

Ham (Genesis 9:18-28). After the Flood, Noah planted a vineyard and then made some wine, got drunk, and fell asleep naked. That’s the way his youngest son Ham found him. The next morning Noah cursed Ham for seeing him naked: “Cursed be Canaan [son of Ham]; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers” (Genesis 9:25, New Revised Standard Version, here and following).

Two responses to being cursed are possible. First, one may seek reconciliation with the one who pronounced the curse and be blessed instead. Two, one may seek enough power to keep the curse from having its intended effect.

Ham was the father of Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. Through Cush, Ham became the grandfather of Nimrod.

Nimrod (Genesis 10:6-12) energetically sought enough power to be a curse to others rather than suffering any himself. He was the first on earth to become a mighty warrior (v. 8).

Even more interestingly, he was a mighty conqueror before [Yahweh] (v. 9a). This means that Yahweh was aware of all that he did. It also means that Nimrod knew that his lust for power violated his relationship with Yahweh yet arrogantly dared Yahweh to make his curse effective.

Nimrod consolidated his power and gave structure to Olympia’s first empire by building cities. He started with cities in Shinar, including Babel (Babylon) and Accad, then built several more cities, including Nineveh, after extending his control over Assyria.

With Cain we have the city as a symbol of human defiance of Yahweh and as an alternative reality to Yahweh’s creation as ordered good. With Nimrod we have the city as source, structure, and goal of conquest. We have urban civilization tightly linked with war. We see the will of Vulcan and his human minions tightly linked with that of Mars.

Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). Here, in the land of Shinar, we humans want to make a name for ourselves (v. 4). We have no interest in being named by and responsible to Yahweh. We want to think of ourselves as autonomous in relation to Yahweh, as self-centered rather than theocentric, even if thinking so only binds us more tightly to false Olympian gods.

To avoid being scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth, to avoid the curse of Cain, we imagine we need only to do as he did and work with one another to build a city or, today, the Global Technological System (GTS). There we may completely ignore Yahweh, construct a whole shared worldview that imagines us as the measure of all things, and thoroughly subordinate his creation to ours. There we may even construct a monument to our towering arrogance and mock Yahweh where he lives.

But Yahweh does not sit idly by and watch us commit collective suicide. [Yahweh] came down to see the city and the tower (v. 5). Yahweh sees it and knows the rejection of him it embodies. Rather than simply destroying this symbol of rebellion with a bolt of lightning, he confuses our language. He slows our ability to work together in our rejection of him and, at least temporarily, we abandon the effort. We made our plans but, unexpectedly if graciously, Yahweh intruded.

Copyright © 2014 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.