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Supernatural Session 8

Supernatural  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  38:02
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Cosmic Geography

The divine transgressions we looked at in the previous chapter had something in common. They were both supernatural rebellions aimed at co-opting God’s plan for humanity and the restoration of his rule. In this chapter we’ll look at another rebellion, one that originated with people.
This rebellion produced a predicament that we’re all still part of, and that predicament involves supernatural beings. The titanic struggle for God’s restoration strategy took a turn for the worse that only the return of Jesus will finally resolve.

The Tower of Babel

The story of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1–9) is simultaneously one of the best-known and least-understood accounts in the Bible. Children learn about it in Sunday school as the time when God confused earth’s human languages.
Genesis 11:1–9 ESV
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
After the flood, God repeated the command he’d given to Adam and Eve to cover the earth. He was trying to kick-start the spread of his ruling influence through humanity. Once again, it didn’t work. People refused. Rebellion in their hearts, they had a better idea, or so they thought. They decided to build a tower to avoid being scattered (Gen. 11:4). The logic seems odd. Sure, an amazing tower would make them famous (Gen. 11:4), but how would that prevent scattering across the earth?
The answer lies in the tower. Bible scholars and archaeologists know ancient Babylon and cities around it built towers called ziggurats. The purpose of the ziggurats was to provide places where people could meet the gods. They were part of temple zones. Rather than make the world like Eden—to spread the knowledge and rule of God everywhere—the people wanted to bring God down at one spot.
That wasn’t God’s plan, and he wasn’t pleased. Hence his statement—again to the members of his council—“Let us go down and mix up their language” (Gen. 11:7 gnt, emphasis added). God did so, and humanity was separated and scattered. The incident explains how the nations listed a chapter earlier in Genesis 10 came to be.
That’s the story most Christians know. Now for the one they don’t.

The Gods and Their Nations

Genesis 11 isn’t the only passage that describes what happened at the Tower of Babel. Deuteronomy 32:8–9 describes it this way:
Deuteronomy 32:8–9 ESV
8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. 9 But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.
Some Bible translations have “sons of Israel” instead of “sons of God” in that first sentence. But Israel didn’t exist at the time of the Tower of Babel. God only called Abraham after Babel (Gen. 12). “Sons of Israel” can’t be right. “Sons of God” is the terminology found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest manuscripts of the Bible. The ESV has it right.
The wording is important. When God divided up the nations, they were divided among the sons of God. God allotted the nations to members of his divine council. This is the Bible’s explanation for why other nations came to worship other gods. Until Babel, God wanted a relationship with all humanity. But the rebellion at Babel changed that. God decided to let members of his divine council govern the other nations.
God had judged humanity. Even after the flood they would not resume the kingdom plan he had begun in Eden. So God decided to create a new nation, his “portion” as Deuteronomy 32:9 says—Israel. He did this, beginning with the call of Abraham, in Genesis 12, the very next chapter after the Tower of Babel story.
God’s allotment of the nations to other gods frames the entire Old Testament. How? The rest of the Old Testament is about the God of Israel and his people, the Israelites, in conflict with the gods of the other nations and the people who live in them.
That wasn’t God’s original intention. Yes, what he did at Babel to the nations was a judgment, but God never intended that the nations would be forever forsaken. When God made his covenant with Abraham, he made clear that “All the families on earth will be blessed” through Abraham and his offspring (Gen. 12:3 nlt). God was planning to bring the nations back into his family at some point.
Paul knew all this. In his sermon to the pagan philosophers in Athens he said:
Acts 17:26-27.
Through Moses, God had warned his own people not to worship “the host of heaven” (Deut. 4:19–20), a label found elsewhere for the members of the divine council (1 Kings 22:19). Acts 17:26–27 makes it clear that God’s purpose was that somehow the nations would still seek after him.
But the gods who had been set over the nations interfered with this plan in two ways.
Psalm 82:title–8 ESV
A Psalm of Asaph. 1 God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: 2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah 3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” 5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; 7 nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” 8 Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!
We saw earlier in Psalm 82:1 that God had assembled the gods of the council. The full psalm tells us why. The gods of the nations had ruled those nations unjustly—in ways that were contrary to the true God’s wishes and principles of justice. God indicted them as soon as the meeting began: “How long will you hand down unjust decisions by favoring the wicked?” (Ps. 82:2 nlt). After hammering them for two more verses on their injustice, the Lord described how the gods had failed to help the nations walking in darkness find the way back to the true God: “But these oppressors know nothing; they are so ignorant! They wander about in darkness, while the whole world is shaken to the core” (Ps. 82:5 nlt).
Sadly, the Israelites wound up worshipping the gods “not allotted to them” (Deut. 29:26; see also 32:17) instead of seeking the true God. God’s reaction was swift and harsh (Ps. 82:6–7): “I say, ‘You are gods; you are all children of the Most High. But you will die like mere mortals and fall like every other ruler’ ” (nlt).
The gods would lose their immortality (Ps. 82:7) and die like men. We know from other passages that this judgment is something associated with the end times (Isa. 34:1–4). At the end of Psalm 82, the writer hopes for the day when God will finally reclaim the nations as his inheritance. As we’ll see later, he’ll get his wish in the New Testament.

The Deuteronomy 32 Worldview

Because of the Deuteronomy 32 worldview, geography in the Bible is cosmic.
Ground is either holy, meaning dedicated to Yahweh, or it is the domain of another god. This worldview is reflected in many places in the Bible. For instance, in the Old Testament the book of Daniel refers to foreign nations being ruled by divine “princes” (Dan. 10:13, 20–21). Another example: When David was running from King Saul, he was forced out of Israel into Philistine territory. In 1 Samuel 26:19, David cried, “They have driven me out from the Lord’s land to a country where I can only worship foreign gods” (gnt). David wasn’t switching gods. He also wasn’t denying that God was present everywhere. But Israel was holy ground, the place that belonged to the true God. David was stuck in the domain of another god.
My favorite Old Testament story that makes this point is found in 2 Kings 5. Naaman was a captain in the Syrian army. He was also a leper. After he followed Elisha’s instructions to wash himself seven times in the Jordan River, he was miraculously healed of leprosy. Naaman told Elisha, “I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel” (5:15). The prophet wouldn’t take payment, so Naaman humbly asked if he could load a mule with dirt to take home with him. Dirt? Why ask for dirt? Because that ground belonged to Israel’s God. It was holy.
It’s no accident that we see the same kind of thinking in the New Testament. Paul uses a range of terms for hostile divine beings (Eph. 1:20–21; 3:10; 6:12; Col. 1:16; 2:15): rulers, authorities, powers, thrones. What do they have in common? They were all well-known terms used to describe geographical rulership.
The apostle Paul wrote two letters to the Corinthian church to address some situations he’d heard about. In the first letter, he told church leaders to expel a man who was living in unrepentant sexual sin (1 Cor. 5:1–13). Curiously, he wrote that they were to “deliver this man to Satan” (1 Cor. 5:5). How does this language make any sense?
Paul’s statement makes sense only against the background of the cosmic-geographical worldview of the Old Testament. In Old Testament theology, Yahweh’s “portion” was Israel and the land he was giving the Israelites, the land of Canaan. His presence sanctified the ground—made it holy. Initially, the presence of Yahweh resided in the tabernacle. When the Israelites rested and set up camp, the ark of the covenant was placed in the center, marking Israel’s camp as holy ground. Later, after Israel took up residence in Canaan, Yahweh’s presence was in the temple, sanctifying the Promised Land as holy ground—Yahweh and his people were at home. Now, the presence of Yahweh indwells believers—we are the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Rom. 8:9). That means believers, the body of Christ, are the new people of God, a new Israel. Paul makes that explicitly clear in Galatians 3:
The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God.…
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. (Gal. 3:7, 26–29 nlt)
Since believers—and the places where believers are gathered—are holy ground, sin must be expelled. Just as the ground around the Israelite camp and the surrounding nations under the dominion of other gods were conceived as unholy ground, so in New Testament times—and now—the world was unholy ground. Hence Paul’s command to expel an unrepentant believer back into the world, the domain of Satan. To be expelled from the church was to be put back into unholy territory. That was where sin belonged.

Why This Matters

The cosmic geography that is the result of God’s judgment of the nations at Babel is the backdrop for Israel’s struggle. It also sets the stage for the gospel. The good news of Jesus’ work on the cross is that the people of God are no longer only Jews but rather all who believe in Jesus (Gal. 3). As the disciples go out into the world, the domain of Satan is transformed into God’s territory. The kingdom of God advances, regaining control of the nations.
The lesson is that this world is not our home. Darkness has permeated the globe. Unbelievers are essentially hostages of spiritual forces. They need the gospel to be set free. And don’t forget: It is the gospel that is our weapon. We aren’t authorized to confront principalities and powers directly. There’s no spiritual gift to that effect handed down to us by the apostles. But the faithful dispensing of the gospel will turn the tide. The Great Commission is a spiritual battle plan. We’ll learn more about that in chapters to come.
Another lesson: We need to view every congregation of true believers as holy ground. External appearances, buildings, and the size of the congregation are of no concern to God. What matters is that, where two or three are gathered, Jesus is in their midst (Matt. 18:20). The space is sacred. Every congregation, no matter how small or unknown, is on the front lines of a spiritual war. Every church has the same task. The powers of darkness will not prevail.
We’ll revisit the idea of cosmic geography when we get to Jesus’ ministry. For now, the battle lines have been drawn. The nations of the world have been judged and disinherited by God. It’s time for him to start over and carve out his own portion and people.[1]
[1] Heiser, M. S. (2015). Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters. (D. Lambert, Ed.) (pp. 47–56). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
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