Babylon: A Typology

Babylon functions as a negative type in the biblical storyline, one that is important to notice and understand as you read through Scripture.

In Genesis 11, the secular spirit of Babylon is introduced; it continues through the Old Testament, as the nation-state of Babylon arises and opposes God’s people; and finally in the New Testament, Babylon’s reach extends beyond the Fertile Crescent to engulf Rome and all those nations who oppose the City of God.  According to Revelation 18, the Babylonian harlot seduces men and women to drink her intoxicating liquor.  The final result is destruction of Babylon, but today that great spiritual city continues to proliferate.

In his book, The Progress of Redemption, Willem Van Gemeren gives a helpful synopsis of the negative type of Babylon.

“Babel/Babylon becomes in the Bible a symbol of self-restraint, imperialistic secularism: control without accountability to the Creator.  The spirit of secularism can coexist with religions and deities, but not with the absolutism of the Creator-God.  Humanism and secularism are bound to run counter to theism.  Isaiah saw this spirit in the imperial ambitions of Assyria and Babylon (10:7-11; 14:4-6; 47:5-7, 10).  John the apostle symbolically speaks of the Roman Empire and all kingdoms to follow as Babylon the Great. Babylon, the seducer of nations, kings, and merchants will fall (Rev. 18)” (Van Gemeren, The Progress of Redemption90).

Thankfully, Christ has defeated every work of the devil (1 John 3:8), and has successfully delivered the death blow to the serpent and his city.  Yet, until Christ returns the spirit of Babel will plague society, inviting human ingenuity and progress to appear more powerful and appealing than the wisdom of a crucified Jew.  Yet, God’s wisdom will prove true in the end.

Trust that Christ is preparing his city, and on that final day, he will return to sweep aside Babylon and establish the New Jerusalem.  Which city are you looking forward to?

May we turn away from Babel and all it offers, and turn towards the city whose architect and builder is God.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


A Covenant with Creation: Isaiah’s Reading of Genesis 1 and 2

Yesterday, I cited Willem Van Gemeren’s reading of Jeremiah 31 and 33 to argue for a covenantal reading of Genesis 1-2.  Today, I will cite his observations on Isaiah.  Van Gemeren writes,

Isaiah’s language of God’s covenantal commitment is a most important commentary on Genesis 1 and 2.  he uses words for creation (‘form,’ ‘make,’ ‘create’) not only to refer to God’s creative activities in forming the world but also to signify God’s election, grace, love, and loyalty to Israel.  The words for creation are, therefore, also covenantal terms” (Van Gemeren, The Progress of Redemption63).

Van Gemeren seems to be picking up in the prophets (Jeremiah and Isaiah) the sense in which these biblical writers are understanding God’s role in creation as initiating a covenantal relationship.  In fact, in the same paragraph as the previous quotation, Van Gemeren observes, “An individual’s life in the presence of God is an expression of covenant (the technical term defining relationship between two or more parties)” (63).

For me, Jeremiah and Isaiah are two lines of evidence that I had not previously considered about reading a covenant in creation.  I think they are helpful, and show how Genesis 1-2 does include a covenant, something that the OT prophets (Hos 6:7) and NT apostles (cf. Rom 5:12ff) developed to help explain God’s relationship with the world.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

A Covenant with Creation: Jeremiah’s Reading of Genesis 1

There has been much discussion on whether or not Genesis 1 and 2 involve a covenant with Adam or with creation.  Scholars like Paul Williamson, Sealed with an Oathhave vehemently denied it; others like William Dumbrell, Creation and Covenanthave affirmed it. While the term “covenant” (berith) does not appear in Genesis 1-2, I am persuaded by a number of factors (e.g. the reference to a covenant with Adam in Hos 6:7; the implicit blessings and curses motif in Genesis 1-2, and the reference to ‘establishing’ a pre-existing covenant in Genesis 6-8) that there is a covenant with creation.

Another argument for such a covenant can be found in Jeremiah, where the post-exilic prophet grounds the new covenant in God’s covenantal relationship with creation.  Willem Van Gemeren’s explanation gets at the reasoning in Jeremiah.

“When Jeremiah refers to God’s covenant with day and night and the fixed laws of heaven and earth” (Jer 33:25), the term ‘covenant’ (berith) is parallel to ‘fixed laws’ (huqqot, Job 38:33; Jer 31:35; and huqqim, Jer 31:36).  For Jeremiah, God’s gracious and free relationship with heaven, earth, sun, moon, stars, and the sea is evident by the regularity of day and night, the seasons, and the ebb and flow of the sea.  It is a picture of his special covenant relationship with his people.  Jeremiah argues that, since God keeps covenant with creation, he will even more surely take care of his covenant children (vv. 35-36; 33:25-26) and the descendents of David, to whom he also covenanted his fidelity (v. 26; cf. 2 Sam 7:15) (Van Gemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 60).

What do you think?  Williamson and Dumbrell provide good reasons for and against the covenant in Genesis, but at the end of the day, I think the stronger case is made for a some sort of covenant in and/or with creation.  More on this on another day.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Biblical Interpretation Requires Both Testaments

At the close of his introduction to The Progress of RedemptionWillem Van Gemeren summarizes the need for including both testaments in our interpretation of the Bible. 

Interpretation also involves equal concern for the Old and New Testaments.  When the two parts of the Bible are held in careful balance, the continual tension between law and gospel, token and reality [VG’s terminology for shadow and substance], promise and fulfillment, present age and future restoration, Israel and the church, and earthly and spiritual only enhances a christological and eschatological focus.”  (Van Gemeren, The Progress of Redemption38)

As you read and study Scripture, be aware that a right understanding of the immediate text requires awareness of what came before it (antecedent theology–types, shadows, terms, and concepts), what time it is (where in the storyline is the passage), and where it is ultimately going (Christology and eschatology).  Only as we relate the trees to the forest will we gain an appreciation for both.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss