The Nations Motif: God is a Nationalist!

God is a “nationalist” judging from the Primeval History, the Abrahamic covenant that directly builds upon it, and the general tenor of the rest of the Bible. True, the dispersion of Babel and the chaos of the multiplicity of tongues is considered a divine judgment, but the resultant expansion of humanity throughout the world is the divine will as expressed in the cultural mandate at creation. God loves diversity as well as unity, and the variety of human cultural expression is not a negative thing in the Bible apart from idolatry.

Out of the seventy nations God chose one nation to be uniquely great, and this is the one that will come from Abraham. God elected the Hebrew nation not because it is better or more special than any other nation (Deut. 7:6ff. is very clear on this), but chose it for the purpose of converting the nations, the offspring of Babel, to God as we elaborated in the Post “My Covenant in Your Flesh” (Jan. 2 2014). Again, the land of Israel is the Temple (symbolic of Eden and lost origins), and the Hebrews the priests who are to expand the sanctuary to the whole world.

It is in this context that we need to approach chapter 14, the story of the four kings, Lot, and Melchizedek. I remember my doctoral adviser remarking that this chapter does not seem to fit into the flow of the Abrahamic cycle of stories, and was material just “stuck in” for lack of a better place to put it. However, I have since discovered that this chapter is placed here to demonstrate God’s fulfillment of His initial promise to Abraham in 12:2 to make Abraham a great nation. The fact is that God makes promises that are both fulfilled in his life time, and more completely in the far future. This is obvious with the promise of seed, but even land, where the whole of Chapter 23 is devoted to the purchase of Sarah’s burial plot; it is a part that represents the whole, a piece that is a guarantee of the rest. Here in chapter 14 we find that Abraham even in his life time emerges as a great nation.

The four kings are Amraphel of Shinar (ancient Sumer the cradle of civilization), Arioch a Hurrian (North of Syria), Chedorlaomer an Elamite (East of Sumer), and Tidal, a Hittite (modern day western Turkey). They represent the 4 great Mesopotamian powers of the age. What were they doing in Palestine and specifically the “cities of the plain” (most notoriously Sodom and Gomorrah near the Dead Sea)? A possible scenario is that they were vassal “petty states” to these great powers which rebelled. To crush the rebellion, they sent a raiding party sufficient to punish and loot, and in the process made off with Lot and his family. That Abraham was powerful enough to deliver Lot and recover the loot demonstrates that he was in this instance a player on the world stage bringing justice to the nations, a foretaste of what is to come.

The mysterious priest-king Melchizedek fits into the great nation promise as well. He blesses Abraham and his God (13:17ff.) thus fulfilling the promise of 12:3 “I will bless those who bless you” and therefore blessed of God. He serves as a model of how the nations should interact with Abraham. He is rewarded in becoming the prototype of David, who as God’s anointed, is rightfully king of all kings. Finally, we find Abraham interceding for Sodom in 18:16-33. His greatness lies in the fact that God admits him into his exclusive council on the basis of the promise that “Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the world shall be blessed in him” (18:17f.).

If we read these introductory chapters of the Bible carefully, we find that God is anything but provincial, anything but a territorial spirit. True, He elects, calls, and chooses a people, but does this to reach the whole. Even evil nations have rights that God must respect; the intercessory dialogue between Abraham and God suggests that if there were even 10 righteous persons in Sodom the city would have been spared. The Amorites, destined to be destroyed in Canaan by the offspring of Abraham, has integrity as a people with rights to exist before God, judging from the text of 15:16, where their iniquity was “not yet full” to justify their immediate destruction. We can only conclude that national and cultural variety is a revelation of the very heart of God.

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