The focus of God’s efforts and his method of enlisting his people for his mission was meant to bring about the salvation of the nations. The nations, then, are the real focal point of God’s gracious activity. But it is also in the fulfillment of God’s mission to the nations that create the context for confrontation and persecution. That is why there has been a tendency, both in Israel and in the church, to focus inwardly rather than outwardly because it is the less stressful and less confrontational form of existence. To attempt to fulfill God’s mission to the nations will inevitably cause friction and resistance for the simple fact that God’s message of salvation challenges darkness and evil but it also appears to be a threat to cultures. And civilizations that have built their own systems, secular and sacred, and the gospel is a challenge to the assumptions and belief systems that appear to hold these cultures together.
All the peoples of the earth, according to the Bible, trace their ancestry back to one common ancestor—Adam. It is really a story of the God who created as much as it is a story of who was created. God created–and he created all there is, including all the nations of peoples of the earth. This simple fact sets the stage for God’s claim of authority and sovereignty over the nations. It is also on the basis of our proclamation as missionaries that all nations should give God the worship that is due to him. He is “Lord of history and all peoples are subservient to his purpose.” Th. C. Vriezen points out that the “Old Testament is the only ancient Eastern work in which we find this universal outlook… In Mesopotamia, but especially in Egypt, foreigners and foreign nations are simply looked upon as barbarians.”
The earliest God-established covenant with mankind was with Noah following the great flood. It was an attempt to start over, to clear the way for a new relationship with humans following the Fall and degeneration of mankind. As the nations came forth from Noah and his sons, there would be a covenantal connection with God from generation to generation. The covenant of Noah was a universal covenant. Christopher J. H. Wright explains:
“There is an unambiguous universality about God’s covenantal self-commitment here: His promise is not only with humanity but also “every living creature on earth” (Gen 9:10). This Noahatic Covenant provides the platform for the ongoing mission of God throughout the rest of human and natural history, and thereby also, of course, the platform for our own mission in participation with his.”
Genesis Chapter 10 reflects how the nations developed as offspring of the sons of Noah. It reflects not only the generation of human nations but also reflects the “riches of God’s majestic creativity.” Unlike the myths of other nations that lead back directly to some deity, Israel’s retrospective look in history leads back to a world of many nations, all of whom are the “offspring” of God. The one God created them all. Gerhard Von Rad writes:
“The line from primeval time does not lead linearly from Noah to Abraham, but it first opens up into the universe of the international world. When Israel looked backward from Abraham, there was a decisive break in the line to the primeval beginning, the table of nations. That is to say, Israel looked at herself in the midst of the international world without illusion. What Israel learns and experiences of Yahweh occurs exclusively within the realm of history.”
God allows national identity and diversity. It is difficult to speculate as to whether the complete unity of the race, with one massive nation with complete cultural and linguistic unity, was God’s original plan or idea. It would seem that from the beginning that God allowed diversity by the mere fact that he desired people to disperse across and around the world. Distance creates diversity. Whatever was originally desired, it seems certain that God not only allowed but also promoted diverse national identities. “Under the providence of God,” writes Geerhardus Vos, “each race or nation has a positive purpose to serve, [the] fulfillment of which depends on relative seclusion from others.”
The Tower of Babel incident with its subsequent punishment reveals the action God was forced to take because of mankind’s propensity for inventing ways to defy God. The unity of mankind, which could have produced amazing cooperation among nations to promote prosperity among the peoples of the world, was used to develop alliances against God. They refused to disperse over the earth and they desired to build their own reputations at the exclusion of God. In a preventive act as well as a punitive one, God confused their languages which forced them to disperse and diverted the possibility of greater punishment that certainly would have fallen upon mankind had they remained united. Again, God’s mercy was a part of his punishment.