Jesus on Nimrod's Empire
By Thomas Cosmades
Founder of Cities and States
Languages are replete with aphorisms. Hebrew, one of the oldest, abounds with proverbial sayings – like all languages which were used and developed in the regions of the Middle East. Hebrew, Assyrian, Arabic, Hindi, Farsi and Turkish all have an adage for practically any given situation. Skilful use of aphorisms enriches a person's expression of the language. The English referred to an adage as a ‘saw’ (deriving from the Anglo-Saxon ‘sagu’). Everyone is familiar with the carpenter’s saw used for cutting wood. Apparently the significance of the adage is to make a point with a meaningful maxim.
There are many proverbs in the Bible, with a whole book carrying this title. Of these, the earliest, if not the first, is "Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before YAHWEH" (Genesis 10:9). Immediately following is a statement about this mighty man, who became the founder of Babel, Erech, Accad and Calneh, all in Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth-ir, Calah and Resen – eight famous city kingdoms. The first four were in Shinar – Hebraicised form of Sumer (Babylonia); the latter four in Asshur (Assyria) (cf. 11:2).
The First Empire Builder
There is some disagreement among Old Testament scholars about the proper translation of Calneh and also whether Asshur should be understood as the general territory of the ensuing four cities, or the object of Nimrod's exploits. We'll let students of Hebrew wrestle with the problem, while we proceed to scan this fascinating personality of the Old Testament, whose offspring is one of those unknown genealogies in sacred history. Nimrod was indeed a mighty achiever, founder of eight, or at least seven important cities, among which is the great Nineveh. The vastly evolved size and striking expansion of this city are mentioned in the book of Jonah.
Who is this Nimrod? Born to Cush – identified with the Upper Nile region – from the generation of Ham. The first on earth to be a mighty man. The LXX employs the epithet giant, similar to the designation of the Nephilim in Genesis 6:4. He stands head and shoulders above everyone else, all by himself and quite independent of Cush's other sons and daughters. In spite of no reference being made to Nimrod’s progeny, cities established through his gallantry and ingenuity give some indication about his illustrious generation. While he does not contribute to the ethnological line of people, he carries immense stature as a foremost historical figure. All too suddenly he appears in the annals of Old Testament history, and then his remarkable accomplishments disappear from the scene (cf. Genesis 10: 8-12; I Chronicles 1:10; Micah 5:6). Melchizedek can be mentioned as another person of unknown origin and progeny (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 7:1-3).
Nimrod's name, like that of the great fighter-hunter Heracles (Hercules) – probably also a real person, though with exaggerated account of exploits – is given to several places. The ruins of Nineveh are referred to by the locals as Birs Nemrut in the southwest of Babylon (cf. Micah 5:6). Hermon River in the north of Israel emerges from beneath the western tip of Kala'at Namrud or Mezudat Nimrod. The highest mountain (approximately 2,400 meters) in southwest Anatolia is known as Nemrut Daghi. Commagene was a buffer-state between Persia and Rome. The first king of this landlocked, highly civilized short-lived kingdom (64 B.C.-100 A.D.) was Antiochus Epiphanes IV. He built the immense cultic centre aspiring to syncretize Grecian and Persian deities and royalties. Through this he established a world-renowned super-cult. On Nemrut Daghi are some of the most mystifying ruins in modern Turkey (cf. "Throne Above the Euphrates", National Geographic Magazine, March 1951).
Greeks and Romans developed cults and cultic ceremonies based on Hercules, who was ultimately elevated into a mythical figure. Devotees prayed regularly to him, since he had proved himself to be their foremost benefactor. The twelve labors of Hercules – originally ten contests with monsters and two of otherworldly nature – were universally acclaimed feats which endeared the hero to everyone. Powerful conquerors of life-threatening monsters and skilful hunters appear as pioneers of civilization everywhere.
The First of the Mighty
In which period of history can Nimrod be placed? Most certainly to an undetermined epoch. The meaning of his name is interpreted with varying renditions, though not with any conclusiveness: ‘we will rebel,’ ‘valiant’, ‘strong’, etc. It ought to be reaffirmed at the outset that Nimrod is not a mythical character – one about whom myths have come into being and about whom diverse traditional theories merged. The odds of his being a real person with flesh, bones, blood and massive stock of muscle which he could utilize to full advantage, are weightier than if he were the product of a skilful compiler’s imagination. The Quran anomalously makes Nimrod Abraham's contemporary, in constant opposition to the patriarch (Sura 2:260).
In Nimrod's day, the earth was replete with uncontrollable beasts, menacing man's very existence. The age-long hostility between man and beast is one of the many sequels of humans plunged into the abyss of sin. When Noah came out of the ark, God made a striking statement: "The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered" (Genesis 9:2). His injunction about man's dominion over the animals in Genesis 1:28 is now accentuated with a new dimension: ‘Fear of you, dread of you...’ It may be apropos to refer to YAHWEH as ‘the Fear of Isaac’, twice mentioned (Genesis 31:42; 53b).
The friendly harmony between creature man and creature animal is gone! A very unnatural and unhappy development is upon both. The condition described in Romans 8:20 is on the stage of history: "For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope." The disturbing era of abnormality will only be altered by the appearance of the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 11: 6-9).
In later history, the Lord solemnly warned the sons of Israel that He would loose the wild beasts among them should they abandon their loyalty to Him (Leviticus 26:22; Exodus 23:29). Against such a frightening menace a counter-force appeared to meet the need of the hour. The writer of I Chronicles puts Nimrod's rise to prominence in succinct language: "He began to be a mighty one in the earth" (1:10; cf. Genesis 10:9). Nimrod is the one who began to wield extraordinary power of will and deed.
Leaderless postdiluvian men desperately needed a hero of the stature of Nimrod. With his might, skill and political acumen, he was acclaimed by a wide range of continually intimidated people. He attained the stature of the man not only of the year, but of the century. The chase and subjugation of wild beasts was a preparatory exercise for the art of warfare. Xenophone calls men of that kind ‘disciples of chase’. Very soon people started bestowing honors and veneration on Nimrod. As a person able to manipulate the fears and exploit the weaknesses of people, he discovered early in history the art of imposed government. A successful tactic of rulers is to address the insecurities and sense of defeat troubling people who are under constant siege.
What a unique opportunity was open before the son of Cush! He masterfully introduced the art of politics into human stirrings and dealings. The hero from Cush was laying the ground for the thesis to be promulgated by Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), a few millennia hence. Hobbes’ political theory would defend the idea of absolute government. This did not descend from any divine prerogative. Conversely it was dictated by psychology. Hobbes’ belief was that man possesses instinctive feelings deriving from fear and self-preservation. This inborn drive impels man for social structure. He could not imagine a world minus the rule of the state. Since everyone’s desire is for self-preservation, people are drawn to each other to relegate all their power to an absolute sovereign. Such a ruler would employ his unlimited authority to impose submission and unity. The relationship between the governing and the governed was unbreakable.
Nimrod began treading the high road of the first empire-builder in human history. Every dead carcass of a vanquished beast demonstrated the worthiness of the name he bore and served to transform the loose family units and patriarchal clans into city kingdoms. As overall ruler, Nimrod established a confederation of cities. Nevertheless, these were eventually to become single monarchies, such as Babylon and Asshur. His ambition to be the potentate over diverse groups of people did not continue for long. In the course of history’s speedy development came Peleg, i.e., division, in whose days the earth was divided (cf. Genesis 10:25). Until today humanity must wait for the God-anointed Sovereign, during whose reign “there shall be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).
No threat from wild beasts remains anywhere on earth – if we exclude locusts, rats, flies, mosquitoes and in certain places, sharks! On the other hand, man has turned into the wildest of all beasts himself, stamping out one rare species of animals after another. Some visionaries are even running after the Loch Ness monster and the Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas. Keep off man's track, Nessy and Yeti! If you are anywhere out there, your tomorrow is not promising.
Imagine for a moment the rise of a hero with the mind and skill of Nimrod, who could render a lethal blow to dictators, terrorists, jihadists, arsonists, kidnappers, mafia chieftains and drug barons everywhere. If this modern Nimrod could bring these menacing species under his control, flushing them from their hide-outs, how immeasurably mankind would be indebted to him! But, alas, such a hero would soon turn into a mighty dictator himself. As Lord John Acton (1834-1902) put it, "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." Skinner says that Nimrod is the originator of the concept of a military state, based on arbitrary force. And how firmly established is his prepossession! Might, power and brutality have been the practice of military rule from its very outset.
Who is the Ideal Ruler?
There is an adage in the Middle Eastern countries: "Nimrod never smiles, does not pity, does not spare!" The designation ‘benevolent dictator’ is given to certain types of rulers. But is there such a person anywhere, either from left or right political stance? Indeed, Nimrod appears as a very benevolent leader, an obliging one at that. Yet, he does not miss the opportunity to exploit those to whom he extends his amicability and generosity: "He was a mighty hunter before the LORD" (Genesis 10:9). Some interpret this as, "being so bad that YAHWEH did not take his eyes off him!"
Having ambitious men like Nimrod before him, 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" (Genesis 11:6). The antediluvian earth ‘was corrupt in God's sight’ (Genesis 6:11). And sadly, so was the postdiluvian earth (8:21). The Deluge could not purge the human psyche from the dominion of sin. A far more radical transformation is necessary. This must await the ‘palingenesia’ of the created order (Matthew 19:28), which will be the enjoyment of those who underwent ‘palingenesia’ in their own soul (Titus 3:5) through the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (I Peter 3:20-22).
With all his favorable and not-so-favorable traits, Nimrod's place in history cannot be impugned. "Man’s wrath only adds to your glory; the survivors of your wrath you will draw like a girdle around you” (Psalm 76:10, Jerusalem Bible). This fascinating personality may have been the one who laid the groundwork for the institutions of organized worship and culture, with human government at the forefront. YAHWEH allows administration by mortals in a totally imperfect milieu until the flawless kingdom of the impeccable Pantocrator is established.
In a period when Greece was endeavoring to crystallize the ideal form of government, Plato devised the philosopher-ruler concept, entrusting human administration into the hands of supposed experts. In his delightful classic, The Republic, where he expounds the dialogues and teachings of his venerable mentor Socrates, he puts forth the concept that the ideal leader will be one thoroughly trained in all the disciplines necessary for the formation of an effective ruler. Almost half a millennium before Plato, mankind's Sovereign Ruler came to King David with a more concrete message:
“The God of Israel has spoken,
the Rock of Israel has said to me:
when one rules justly over men,
ruling in the fear of God,
he dawns on them like the morning light,
like the sun shining forth upon a cloudless morning,
like the rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth."
(II Samuel 23:3, 4)
Plato is endeavoring to establish an ‘aristocracy of talent’. He dwells on socially desirable merits and then proceeds to shape the leader who can fill the bill. Forming the desired ruler he does with all diligence, but not having been enlightened by divine revelation concerning the basic moral-ethical flaws even in the most ideal of leaders, he makes little provision for failures in human leadership. George Bernard Shaw said, "Democracy cannot rise above the human material of which its voters are made." And Georg Friedrich Hegel with a masterful stroke makes this trenchant comment: "The state is the consummation of man as finite."
People particularly in the West are proud of their democratic institutions. Where however is the truly democratic axiom to be found? Who is that ideal ruler? Secrecy in high circles demands that much dishonesty, untruth and mendacity be concealed. Carefully guarded government archives store volumes of hidden ignominy. Most will never be made fully public. How much more horrifying are the secrets buried in the archives of nations that have no regard for free information or historic divulgence!
Where is the worthy ruler, who consults with his subjects on vital issues such as nuclear contaminates, industrial pollutants, or environmental experiments which endanger all species, causing a multitude of defects and deformities? Which military or civil establishment considers the citizens’ safety when conducting low-flying exercises?
The Soviet system is buried in the annals of history, yet serious questions cry out for an answer. Did the construction authorities of this passé regime consider the safety of those who would occupy the high-rise buildings in Armenia, which collapsed in a catastrophic earthquake? Why didn’t those who built and maintained the Chernobyl nuclear reactor keep it in proper working order? Why did a few days elapse before the same authorities made the disaster public? Analogous cases can be mentioned ad infinitum, not only within the defunct Soviet system, but in many countries.
The First Cities
The initial empire builder on the scene of history forcefully demonstrated and implemented the effect of being mighty on earth. It was not only Athens which boasted of a Golden Age. Long before that, Nimrod established and prided himself on his own Golden Age. He accepted his initial honor of being the acclaimed founder of a city – after the pattern of Cain's city of Enoch, possibly a mere walled fortification (cf. Genesis 4:17).
Nimrod laid the foundation of Babylon, that well-known politico-religious-cultural centre which discloses much about the beginnings of civilization. Erech was Nimrod's second city, known as Uruk to the Accadians, a reputable city in Sumerian times. Nimrod's daring and gallantry gathered momentum; at the same time his thirst for more sublime accomplishments intensified. He became the founding father of another famous city, Accad. This city developed into the capital of Assyria during the reign of Sargon I.
According to archaeologists, the site of Accad has yet to be discovered.
As leaderless people were acclaiming him ecstatically, submitting to his already celebrated rule, his horizons were expanding. He was avidly chasing world monarchy alongside his chasing wild animals. Invitations were pouring in from several family clans for him to destroy life-threatening beasts and assume leadership at once. Next, groundwork was laid in Calneh (Calno). Archaeologists cannot locate this city either. Some surmise that the Hebrew word must read as ‘all of them’, with the alteration of vowels (RSV, Jerusalem), in which case the cities of Ur and Nippur are included. The afore-mentioned cities were in the land of Shinar (Sumer), or Babylonia.
There was no end to our hero's appetite for advance. Covering considerable distance, he moved on to Asshur (we adopt this R.S.V. rendition in preference to the reading, ‘From this country came Asshur...’). Under his all-attractive banner Nimrod gathered the clans dwelling in the area which was to become the renowned city of Nineveh, ‘that is, ‘the great city’ (Jonah 3:3). People everywhere were amazed at the efficiency and dexterity of this capable leader. His arm gathered fresh might; his thirst to acquire more cities became insatiable.
Rehoboth-ir, ‘city of open spaces’, may be in the proximity of Nineveh with its city squares. Millennia later it was incorporated into the great city. A suburb of Nineveh was called ‘Rebit’. Nimrod was increasingly gaining the gratitude and allegiance of more people as time went on. All the while he was not failing to exert his indisputable rule over them. Calah appears as the next city which he founded. It is situated on the east bank of the Tigris, and is one of the places called Nemrut in our day. In recent years extraordinary treasures from the Assyrian Empire were brought into light in Calah (ca. 900-612 B.C.), located in present-day Iraq. Perhaps many of these pieces were looted by opportunists following the downfall of Saddam.
Men and women everywhere were gratified by the capable ruler’s benefaction. Next, Resen (Res-eni) appears as the eighth city in Nimrod’s illustrious inventory. Who can say if he did not establish several more places which do not appear in the crowded tenth chapter of Genesis?
People in every city were extolling the exploits of their intrepid founder-leader who successfully ushered in the Golden Age for men and women who had never experienced the status of being ruled by one mightier than they. With each passing day Nimrod was solidifying his confederation of city-states with innovations not known to man until then.
He was introducing the concept of culture, politics and nationhood into everyday life, constantly reminding his subjects of the endowments they enjoyed under his illustrious administration. It is alleged that the institution of slavery started with Nimrod's governmental imperiousness. Due to the might of his arm, it was not long until a dedicated coterie of devotees surrounded him, extolling their deft ruler’s feats of prowess. How many aspirants for world dominion determinedly trod the road charted by Nimrod! In Daniel’s prophetic book we read about the might of another absolute ruler: "And into whose (Nebuchadnezzar’s) hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the sons of men, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the air, making you rule over them all – you are the head of gold" (Daniel 2:38). We well know what happened to that famous image.
The Essence of Rulership
This subject takes our thoughts to a trenchant analysis which Jesus Christ makes regarding the art and actuation of the philosophy of political power. "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors" (Luke 22:25). Indisputably, this description – recorded only by the evangelist Luke – is the most accurate judgment on the actions of earthly governments, whether democratic, autocratic, right or left wing, despotic, sharia, or whatever.
The Lord Jesus draws his hearers’ attention to an engrossing recollection from the not-so-distant past by employing the word ‘Evergetis’, i.e. ‘doer of beneficial acts’. The oft-mentioned Ptolemean rulers of Alexandria prefixed extraordinary titles to their dynastic appellation: Ptolemeaus I, Soter ─ Savior – (323-283 B.C.); II. Philadelphous – lover of brother – (283-246 B.C.); III. Evergetis – benefactor (246-221 B.C.). Also one of the last kings in line was Evergetis II. The disciples knew well about the Ptolemeans who reigned in Egypt previous to their time. It was during the Ptolemeans’ rule that the Old Testament was translated into Greek (LXX). The disciples were aware of the reign of the Evergetis kings. They were called Evergetai (pl.). The blueblood Ptolemean kings had left their imprint on the Hellenic world with numerous achievements. The claim referred to by the sole genuine Benefactor, Jesus Christ, has been presumptuously adopted by rulers in ensuing centuries who fancied themselves as benefactors. This is one of two references by Jesus Christ where he gently censors the powers that be. The other one refers to King Herod: “Go and tell that fox…” (Luke 13:32).
In the book of Judges, Gideon's youngest son, Jotham, relates a fascinating paradigm concerning rulers who are not worth their title. While his parable targets Gideon's son Abimelech, whose mother was a concubine, it comes near the truth concerning a multitude of cruel, conceited, contemptuous rulers that history has recorded until now:
"When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim and cried aloud and said to them, 'Listen to me, you men of Shechem that God may listen to you. The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them; and they said to the olive tree, "Reign over us." But the olive tree said to them, “Shall I leave my fatness, by which gods and men are honored and go to sway over the trees?" And the trees said to the fig tree, "Come you, and reign over us." But the fig tree said to them, "Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to sway over the trees?" And the trees said to the vine, "Come you, and reign over us." But the vine said to them, "Shall I leave my wine which cheers gods and men, and go to sway over the trees?" Then all the trees said to the bramble, “Come you, and reign over us." And the bramble said to the trees, "If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon”’” (Judges 9:7-15).
A very revealing paradigm indeed! Olive tree, fig tree and vine – all cherished for their much-needed and appreciated products. Benefactors already, they don't need to gain prominence. But the insignificant, unworthy buckthorn is too happy to oblige, "If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade,” he says to the other trees. Alas for anyone who would rely on the protection and shade of the buckthorn. He can only be sparked off to set fire to a whole forest. Such are fallible mortals whose goal it is to be called benefactors.
What can a person say about principle-less leaders throughout history? They exploited their privilege of governing by siphoning off huge sums of money from the country’s treasury, harboring them in banks and other financial institutions, also by illegally acquiring vast properties. The notorious Marcos couple in the Philippines is a case in point, but they were not alone. A number of leaders in African countries and elsewhere had the disgraceful reputation of being skilful financial manipulators.
In the meantime, they succeeded in creating the image of being great benefactors of their people.
The factor of fear governing governors always ought to be kept in mind. A clear example of this is seen at the birth of Jesus. The New Testament account is revealing. “King Herod was greatly perturbed when he heard this; and so was the whole of Jerusalem” (Matthew 2:3, NEB). Herod felt intimidated by the One who was not born to intimidate anyone. Herod’s fear became contagious. Everyone understood that something serious was disturbing the ruler. So is the case in numerous lands where the leader feels uncertain of his domineering authority.
Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?" (John 18:33). Disturbed at his own question, Pilate was pacified by the Lord, “My kingship is not of this world” (36). Jesus, further aiming to put his disturbed interrogator at ease, posed a question: "Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?" (34).
We find a cheering assurance of King Jesus extended to his disciples, (often escaping our attention), "And now I vest in you the kingship which my Father vested in me; you shall eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel' (Luke 22:29, N.E.B.). This is an entirely new epoch where new relationships are inaugurated, in which nepotism, cronyism, and confidantism are totally eclipsed.
The Lord continues with the following assurance in regard to the dominance of his followers over the nations of this present age, "And he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken into pieces, even as I myself received power from my Father" (Revelation 2:27; cf. Psalm 2:9; cf. Matthew 25:31,32). Today this Christ is the unwanted, unapproved, jettisoned king, both by Jews and Gentiles (cf. Luke 19:12-14, 27).
KRATOS and POLITEIA
Back to Plato: Reflecting on his renowned mentor's views in The Republic, he says, "The state, whose leader assumes his duty with least excitement or compulsion is bound to enjoy the most benign administration, and the state whose leader feels hard pressed to take the helm, the opposite". To this end, Plato is convinced that the proper ruler must be educated under strict conditions in the discipline of philosophy. He ought to love philosophy above all other occupations, especially governmental philosophy.
Those pursuing any sort of advantage for what they lack, according to Plato, can never contribute to good government. Conversely, they develop the expertise of rivalry and contention in their pursuit of power. With such infighting they bring on their own ruin and that of the society which they seek to govern. Therefore, Plato continues, the only people to attain political power should be those who have no love or aspiration for it. Plato held that unruly instincts ought to be suppressed – and the instinct to govern is the most unruly of all. His concept of the ideal ruler was that he should sever himself from all distracting loyalties, even that of family. The highest talent of the person ought to be dedicated solely to the service of society with no arbitrary motive whatsoever. The true ruler exercises his authority only in the interest of the overall advantage of his subjects.
Nevertheless, there have been those who devotedly adhere to a contrary view of that expounded by Plato. Rhetorical sophist Thrasymachus came forward with the notion that rulers are never mistaken. Concepts of this sort and aspirations to deify earthly leaders have been apparent throughout the course of history. Reinhold Niebuhr said, "The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world.” And Mark Twain quipped rather caustically: "I'm not a politician, and all my other habits are good." The theory of democracy argues that people are not virtuous enough to be allowed to rule others for an extended period. Former German Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, remarked in a recent TV interview that those who govern shouldn’t keep their position too long.
James Madison, Father of the Constitution of the United States, held the view that all men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree. Against all bravura of depraved mortals, earthly leadership continues to pursue benefaction and prominence, exactly as described by the One who knows all men and needs no one to bear witness of man (cf. John 2:25). His knowledge of what is in both the ruler and the ruled is flawless.
Schools or institutes teaching the discipline and science of the fine art of government seek to attract the brightest applicants in order to equip them for highly demanding administrative posts. They pride themselves on being efficient centers of learning. Has any political science analyst or don given serious thought to Christ's lucid but probing exposition, which should be considered as the linchpin of governmental art and technique? His poignant statement amounts to an authoritative snub: "Rule over people and while exerting dominion be called their benefactor."
With his infinite knowledge our Lord presents a clear picture of earthly potentates and rulers from Nimrod all the way down to the next president, prime minister or dictator, notwithstanding Socrates' intelligent analysis of the proper leader. He, however, gives a practical admonition to his followers everywhere: "But not so with you" (Luke 22:26). In contradiction to such explicit reminders, the organized church has ruled hand-in-hand with earthly governments throughout history, claiming special privileges as presumed spokesmen of the Divine. They seem to be combining Caesar's interest with that of God. This practice can be traced back to Nimrod, who introduced into human economy a combined cultural-national-ritual stance. This is a far cry from the teaching and admonition of our Lord.
We ought to clearly understand that the spirit of the founder of Babel has been carried all the way through the epoch of the Babylonian Empire right into our times. The Apostle Peter, addressing the exiles of the dispersion – very likely from Rome – sends greetings from the church in Babylon: "She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings" (I Peter 5:13). The ultimate fall of this Babylon, depicted vividly in Revelation 18, reveals the arrogance, belligerence and perfidiousness which have always been characteristic of this world's egotistically-oriented systems.
Socrates in his discourse with Glaucon insisted that the troubles of states and of all humanity will only intensify until philosophers become rulers of our world, or when kings and rulers are converted into being philosophers. His view was that political power and philosophy must work hand in hand. There is no happiness for mankind as a whole and for the individual until such an achievement comes to maturity.
The highly theoretical concepts of Socrates projected by the able pen of Plato were never implemented. Could they have heard of a different type of philosopher-poet-ruler in a not-too-distant land, of whom even the half of his wisdom had not been told (I Kings 10:7)? Alas, his life became shipwreck and he left a split kingdom behind. YAHWEH ultimately punished the remnant of that kingdom, and afterward because of the arrogance of the castigator, broke the sword he had been pleased to employ. (Jeremiah 25:12; 51:20; 50:23).
Let us again remind ourselves of the weighty statement of Lord Acton: "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Human government at its very best leaves much to be desired. Thomas Jefferson said, “That government is best which governs least." Revolutions often do not lighten the burden of tyranny; they only shift it to another shoulder. Against this proven fact, the mighty prophet of the Old Testament, Isaiah, reassures everyone, "Behold, a king will reign in righteousness" (32:1a).
The Greeks detested the concept of kratos, i.e. the state assuming governmental rule, power and authority, with complete control over the people. Examples of this in our day are the dictatorial regimes stretching from North Korea, across Myanmar, all the way to Zimbabwe and even further afield. To the Greeks, there was a world of difference between the kratos (physical might, rule and authority) and the politeia, i.e. commonwealth─where people have their voice─with the aim and purpose of bestowing benefit on every citizen. Each person is responsible for the making and working of the city.
Kratos represented the concept of oppression, coercion, exploitation and tyranny. On the other hand, politeia is considered synonymous with freedom, dignity and respect. In one writing, kratos appears as a synonym of bia (force) (Aeschylus, Prom.12). The word for Plato's celebrated work is Politeia. Its translation as Republic is somewhat of a misnomer. In modern usage, kratos conveys the meaning of 'organized state' whereas politeia hardly receives mention.
The dissemblance between the two is carried into the New Testament: Kratos is mentioned twelve times in all, eleven of which bear direct reference to the mighty power, sovereign rule or exclusive deeds of the Father and the Son, with most employed for doxology and celebration. Its derivation Pantocrator appears as one of the most sublime appellations magnifying the Father and the Son. The sole exception appears in Hebrews 2:14 where kratos is mentioned in the milieu of usurped power: the devil holding the kratos of death, against whom the Archigos (Principle) of life and salvation (Acts 3:15; Hebrews 2:10) wins the mightiest of all triumphs. Contrary to the concept of kratos, the usages of politeia, politeuma, politeuomai (cf.Acts 22:28; Ephesians 2:12; Philippians 3:20; Acts 23:1; Philippians 1:27) are invariably favourable.
Kratos when applied to immoderate human rule has had its disparate diabolic exertions on citizenry throughout turbulent human history. In the dark twentieth century, it manifested itself through the pernicious state dictatorships of National Socialism, Soviet Communism and Maoism, all three causing appalling agonies upon hundreds of millions of helpless citizens. The atrocities committed by the Khymer Rouge in Kampuchea, the ruthless Baathists in Iraq and Iddi Amin’s ferocious orgies in Uganda are all similar cruelties. To what repugnant extremes can the state-subject relationship be carried? Such is the outlook of the ruler-ruled conflict in this fallen world. The dark legacy of these and a few other savage regimes is here to stay until the time of regeneration (Matthew 19:28).
Whom Are We Serving?
The trumpet of the seventh angel and the loud voices from heaven terminate for good the influence and pre-eminence of Babylon or Athens, the former, spring-board of war and the latter, of culture. But another world is coming: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 11:15). The main gist of Augustine's thesis of history expounded in the ‘City of God’ is that all earthly empires must at last yield to the heavenly. "The Lord will become king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his Name one" (Zechariah 14:9).
Known governments developed out of clan and city rule. Nimrod stands out as the master executor of this accomplishment. Many have followed in his train. While using varying methods, the philosophy and moving force employed by each one has basically remained the same. In summary, this is how the Lord of lords and King of kings analyzed the matter: "Rule over people, in the process exert your authority and be called their benefactor." If we trace this common principle to the very beginning, we will notice Satan skilfully manipulating this precept in the garden. His aim was to rule over man. As one exerting authority, he impressed Eve by representing himself to be the couple's foremost benefactor. He succeeded with the utmost of skill. Throughout the ages he has been exerting the same method on people, who are unable to extricate themselves from his pernicious grip.
satanic tactic has been seen at work in several hapless countries where the
masses fell under the iron clutch of right or left wing dictatorships.
While such rulers crushed the people's freedom, will and sustenance, their
propaganda machines constantly ground out their praises.
An astute exploration of the New Testament will fail to satisfy the curious mind with some reference of criticism targeting the status quo. The Apostle Paul makes an indirect reference to the duty of the powers that be regarding the proper treatment of those under their rule: “For he is God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:4a). The question comes to mind, how many states feel that they are God’s servants appointed to govern for the good of the people? Obviously, much is left to be desired, even from the part of the most moderate administration. This concept is yet to be fulfilled.
Present world rulers never concede to the unselfish axiom put forward by the mighty Potentate: "The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). No political persuasion or position, in spite of Socrates' philosopher-ruler innovation, has ever come anywhere near this noblest model because all is earthly and of this present world. But he who came from above demonstrated the principle and approach of an entirely different Ruler.
It is not consistent for a person of clear Biblical teaching and Christian persuasion to be too closely identified with political positions and packages. Behind the impressive façade of political machine and effective delivery there lies a multitude of iniquitous, audacious acts. If one moves to the area of Islamic sharia rule practiced in a number of lands, with more aspiring to it, the appalling sight becomes increasingly conspicuous. The criterion for good government as set forth briefly by the Apostle Paul targeted leaders everywhere, from the least to the greatest.
Can a truly committed follower of Jesus Christ allow him/herself to act as a catalyst or propagandist of either right or left political persuasion? Does such an activity fall in line with Christ's admonition, "You are the salt of the earth... you are the light of the world"? According to Talmudic tradition, salt is the soul of something – hence the proverb, "Shake the salt and throw the flesh to the dogs." Christ must have meant his disciples to understand, "You are the soul of the earth... the flesh is of no avail... flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God."
Religion and Politics
Amos and the other roaring prophets of righteousness in the Old Testament spoke within the royal-political milieu of the time, but not for a moment did they allow themselves to be identified with, or smeared by, the systems of their day. They did not champion anyone’s cause. Conversely, as divine messengers they exposed and condemned sin, injustice, sham religion and ethical erosion in low, as well as in high circles.
There lived a man in Amos' days by the name Amaziah, who was the hired priest of Jeroboam II. Today he would be a well-paid palace chaplain, and how well he would qualify for this position of serving the idolatrous king! No thought engaged him more than showering laurels and praises on his boss. Amos' bold and unflinching proclamation was too much for the loyalist Amaziah. "O Seer" he yelled, "Go! Flee away to the land of Judah and eat bread there and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel for it is the king's sanctuary and it is the temple of the kingdom" (Amos 7:12, 13). In the same way, Hananiah opposed his contemporary prophet Jeremiah (28:1-17).
One of the snares which entangled Christians in the twentieth century was positional Christianity. Some enthusiastically took their stand with right wing causes and others with equal fervor, the left. The former shouted "We must arm!" the others, "We must disarm!" The element of confusion was apparent in these differing calls. Our Lord throws light on such opposing positions: "Just like children sitting in the market places and shouting at each other, 'We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn'" (Matthew 11:17). Heed, too, Paul's heart-warming admonition, "But live as citizens worthy of the Good News of Christ... But we are citizens of the republic of heaven..." (Philippians 1:17; 3:20, William F. Beck).
Politics as introduced into the world scene by Nimrod has not depreciated. It has evolved into a very intricate art of man's ingenuity. In our times it is refined, developed and complicated. Nimrod too readily deviated from YAHWEH's command, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28; 9:1). Whereas Noah remained true to this charge following the deluge (Genesis 9:20), Nimrod diverged radically from filling the earth to founding cities. "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 scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth'" (Genesis 11:4). This venture, of which the seed was sown by Nimrod, ran contrary to God’s purpose and intent. The latter part of the human pronouncement was a direct affront to the divine dictum. Centuries later Job in his deep agony would describe the Sovereign in these forceful words: "He strips statesmen of their wits, and makes fools of counsellors. He dismantles royalty, and drives off kings in chains" (12:17, 18, Moffatt).
Man's Innovation: Cities
Jacques Ellul, in his provocative best seller, The Meaning of the City, calls cities "counter creation with anti-redemptive tendencies" (p.75), and coldly points out that urban civilization is a launching pad from where man can declare, "I killed God" (p. 15). While we take exception to his existential-dialectical approach to the birth and spread of cities within the created order, there are numerous worthwhile observations in his stupendous treatise. "Man", he says, "the founder of the city became its prisoner, doomed with her to destruction, condemned with her, cursed with her" (p. 25). The devastation of apocalyptic nature in Leninakan in Soviet Armenia as well as of other haphazardly built cities elsewhere lamentably corroborates this observation. Any casual visitor to the vast agglomerations of India, Bangladesh, Africa or South America, such as Calcutta, Bombay, Dacca, Cairo, or Recife, will be appalled at the repulsive immense slums where fellow human beings seek refuge and relief. The burgeoning population, life-threatening pollution, pervasive corruption, exacerbating crime, along with profanity, profligacy and other alarming portents make the modern megalopolis an ominous place of human concentration.
Since the super-city in the plain of Shinar was attempted and prevented by divine intervention, a vast number of grandiose cities have risen and fallen. Many ultimately became archaeological sites with geologists, anthropologists and historians making them objects of study. Observe the remnants of the ancient world, the imposing harmony of Greek architecture and the superb artistry of medieval centers. Contemplate the little-known cities of the autochthonic civilizations on the American continent and the ancient cities of China. All bear witness to man's aptitude for erecting breath-taking metropolitan habitats and then destroying them with equal proclivity and ferocity. Militaristic Sparta destroyed erudite Athens. Much can be said about the rise and demise of contemporary cities. We stand aghast as we observe cities being devastated by war, crime and pollution. The threat of terrorist attacks disquiets even the most placid city dwellers.
It is interesting to recall the beginnings of Islam, which partly owes its inception to the rivalry between two Arabian cities, i.e., Mecca and Medina, (622 A.D.). Man's ingenuity and capability of building extravagant metropolises--of which Dubai is an impressive example--is incapable of providing order, congruity, salubrity and tranquillity to the same. The universal rush to the city and the formation of agglomerations in our time, along with their simultaneous erosion, do not portend a salubrious future. Urban migration, creating one megalopolis after another, is a major concern of municipal authorities everywhere.
Pericles (490-429 B.C.), the renowned Athenian statesman, who encountered a number of setbacks in international engagements, compensated amply for his failures by employing city builders like Pheidias, Callicrates and Ictinus. He offered them a free hand to bring about the Golden Age of Athens in his own name. The grandeur of Athens also came to an end.
Planners of cities in the class of Rome and Constantinople sought to emulate the superlative features of Zion, but failed. The sad outcome of Babylon the Great is often mentioned as a metaphor of divine judgment, (Isaiah chapter 14; Revelation 16:19; chapter 18). The number of cities which met a similar destiny abound.
Many dictators aspired for world-wide dominion with an eye on overall prominence. Their chief passion was to design imposing cities with their own imprint, projecting their glowing achievements. Peter the Great built St. Petersburg, often called the ‘Venice of the North’. He borrowed everything that proclaimed excellence so that he could enjoy beauty from wherever he happened to behold the city. Stalin, another ruler of the country which came to be known as the Soviet Union, likewise in search of greatness, did not care for his distant predecessor's achievements. He followed a different pattern of building a new Moscow, embellished with his own type of skyscrapers, governmental edifices and impressive metro. Muslim conquistadores left their profound imprint on cities built after their own pattern everywhere, from Bukhara to Cordoba. Unending imprints of rulers seeking eminence can be found throughout the world.
A serious question should be raised at this point: "Are cities a human community or not?" Let everyone ponder it and find his/her own answer. There is no question that the explosion of the city happens at the expense of the country where community spirit is evident in every area of life. The creator of the city, Nimrod, let the genie out of the bottle, and no one can put it back.
The first city to emerge out of the industrial revolution was Manchester. Instead of reflecting an impressive triumph in man's progress, it became a picture of horror. The awful circumstances were the theme of writers in the same period: widespread injustice imposed on the working class, child labor, prostitution, eventual introduction of slavery, filthiness and ugliness. The prevailing conditions caused an anti-urban bias in England. Industrialists and merchants who prospered in the cities built mansions in the country. Writers began visualizing the ideal city which never materialized, just as Socrates' ideal ruler never did.
Our Lord shed tears over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37), a city chosen by YAHWEH (Psalm 68:16; 78:68; 132:13). Jesus foretold its fast-approaching devastation. How does Christ’s follower look at today’s cities ─ with joy or sorrow? Jerusalem took the road of all other cities not designed with spiritual reflection and purpose (Lamentations 1:1). A day is coming when the chief Architect (Colossians 1:16) will bring into existence the city of his own planning, a city with foundations. Its builder and maker is none other than the Lord himself (Hebrews 11:10). John jubilantly celebrates its grandeur: "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them.’” (Revelation 21:2, 3).
The prophet Isaiah pronounced God’s judgment upon the city where sin has become routine. He says, “And the forest will utterly go down and the city will be utterly laid low" (32:19). This word depicts total judgment of natural environment as well as human habitat, called ‘city’. But the same prophet talks in triumphant celebration about a happier development ahead: "For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our ruler (lawgiver), the LORD is our king; he will save us" (33:22). The Old Testament evangelist refers in a nut-shell to all three offices of a single LORD, plus his generous offer of salvation. He will judge in accordance with his norm of justice the long succession of nations which trod Nimrod's path (cf. Matthew 25:32). He will lay the foundation of the very city in which he will reign supreme, bringing in total security and serenity.
The prophet Micah, depicting the strifeless, warless days of the coming kingdom, presents an entirely different, probably intermediary order. This domain will be without the hubbub of man-made cities: "But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken" (Micah 4:4). Then he proceeds to the ultimate judgment of his prophetic word: "The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might; they shall lay their hands on their mouths; their ears shall be deaf" (Micah 7:16).
We are still being carried on in the dispensation initiated by the mighty Nimrod. However, the follower of Jesus Christ, while living in this world, is not under that jurisdiction. We are not called to put down roots in Nimrod's domain. We are not to comply with his methods, nor to be motivated by the achievements handed down from his era (cf. Philippians 3:20). His early progeny is not mentioned in Genesis. His descendants, however, controlled by his spirit and insatiable appetite, have penetrated the cities and nations of this world. Unknowingly, they all pay allegiance to the mighty founder. The repercussions of being part of the world order which Nimrod initiated testify that his methods have swept millions down through the ages. Each person who reads these lines needs to decide with which kingdom he wants to be identified. The admonition of the following Psalm can be useful in the direction of casting the right verdict: "For you are yourself the strength in which they glory; through your favor we hold our heads high. The LORD is our shield; the Holy One of Israel is our king” (Psalm 89:17, 18 NEB).
Whom Shall We Send, Who Will Go For Us?
The Sovereign Christ invites each one of us to his kingdom and to the privileged citizenship of his sublime city. The terminus of the kingdoms and decaying cities of this world is evident. People who readily cast their vote to belong to Nimrod’s leadership and domain were ultimately dismayed. There is no disappointment for those who make the wise choice for Christ and his kingdom. The breathtaking agglomerations in our age with population explosion, universal pollution and repulsive premonition are all nearing their end. The need for choosing the right direction is upon every believer in Jesus Christ.
The most striking evangelistic event in the Old Testament is God's charge to the Hebrew Jonah to go and proclaim the message of repentance and forgiveness to the pagan city of Nineveh. The outcome is soul-stirring, though not entirely so to the restrained evangelist. During the captivity of the Hebrews in Babylon, their pagan captors required them to sing "one of the songs of Zion" (Psalm 137:3). What a golden opportunity they were offered to enlighten the disillusioned dwellers of Babylon regarding their belief and worship of YAHWEH, as well as his prophetic unfoldings on their behalf. The Jews could have invited the menacing Babylonians to be converted to the faith they were seeking to destroy. Sadly, this didn’t happen. Instead, it drew the sorrowful complaint: "How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a foreign land?" (v. 4)
In certain ways, the mood of the exiled Hebrews is reflected in Christian believers living in any city. "On the willows there we hung up our lyres" (v.2). Churches, Christian institutions and conferences abound in the city. Generally, however, the Christian is like an exile in his own city. Urban evangelism, student and home ministries, inner city involvements and other worthy endeavors are commendable. But can’t we who live in cities do more? Let us imagine for a moment every pastor in a given city regularly setting up a pulpit on some street corner in favorable weather, in addition to his pulpit ministry in the church. What about outreaches to the prison population?
The renowned theologian, Karl Barth, used to spend his Sunday mornings with prisoners in the Basel jail. There are some who don’t find themselves in agreement with his theological stance, but who can dispute the value of his noble service? Consider the impact if church members were to invite people from the streets into their churches, and following the service offer them a generous meal. Should this ministry be relegated only to rescue missions?
The Apostle Paul, a servant of Christ very familiar with the cities of his day, considered himself a debtor to both Greek and barbarian of all classes. He became indebted to the whole community, whether philosopher in the Agora of Athens, or magician in the back streets of Ephesus, the
Philippian jailor or the temple prostitute of Corinth. Luke records that Paul’s unceasing evangelistic efforts “…continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks … and fear fell upon them all" (Acts 19:10, 17). However, such a momentous achievement had its unpleasant moments: "They are disturbing our city ... saying that there is another King, Jesus ... almost throughout all Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable company of people" (cf. Acts 16:20; 17:7; 19:26).
While men and women in Old Testament times were not committed to meet the need of the cities within their own scope, believers in the New Testament era, baptized by the Holy Spirit, became fervent servants who ran with the Good News to every province and their cities. By this they proved they were genuine benefactors of people in their time. They enjoyed no rest or comfort until Zion's peace became the peace of beneficiary cities everywhere. No wonder that a whole empire gave up resisting the message and the messenger, ultimately yielding to his proclamation. These men and women became the true Evergetai in the course of human history. They honored the promise extended to them by Jesus Christ and reaped its reward: "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
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