Contrary to the lyrics of a popular Christmas hymn, it was probably not a silent night. As Joseph and Mary walked into the stable, they found themselves surrounded by various loud and dirty animals, each clamoring for food and space in the dingy shelter. The young couple may have wondered why Mary had to give birth in such an unrefined place. Only nine months earlier, they had been visited by an angel who foretold the coming of the long-promised Messiah through Mary’s virgin womb. As Joseph and Mary had come to realize, those angels had not included information about just where this world-changing birth would occur.
Now they knew. But as the new parents laid their precious child in that manger, they probably scarcely knew how symbolic such an act would be. Yes, the Creator of the entire universe — the Master Architect of everything in existence — was now resting in a rough-hewn wooden trough located in a crudely-built animal barn. As the newborn Jesus gasped his first breath in that stable, God knew that His plan for our redemption would be fully accomplished with Jesus’ last dying gasp on the cross.
It will help at the outset for me to affirm that the world of the Bible is the real world, where God is free to act within and to interact with His creation. Herein donkeys talk, axe heads float, people are raised from the dead, and fish swallow people.
When most people think of the Book of Jonah, they think of Jonah being swallowed by the “whale.” And yet, the great fish only occupies about 11 verses in the entire account. Thankfully, the Book of Jonah has a more poignantly theological focus than merely chronicling a fish swallowing a man. In reality, the story is not even about Jonah. God is the main character in the book of Jonah, and the real story is about His compassion on a reluctant prophet and a city full of heathens. The Book of Jonah shows Israel that salvation is not only for them.
The modern church has an imagination deficit. Too often, we read the Bible as a compendium of dictations and writings from various apostles and leaders, divorced from the cultural context and social realities surrounding its writing. We are prone to viewing the Bible as an aloof book, distanced from the everyday events of life.
But the Bible was borne out of the real world. This is a world where donkeys can talk, fish can swallow people, and dead people can live again. But this is also a world where people go to work, people go to the market, and people do ordinary things. God’s power is evident not just in the miracles of the Bible, but also the mundane events, too. His presence is seen not just in the phenomenal, but also in the prosaic.
11:1-2 – Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there.
The Great Flood had destroyed all life on Earth except for Noah and his family, who were then tasked with multiplying and filling the earth. Naturally, all of Noah’s descendants would speak the same language. Moses does not present this as a bad development, but rather in a matter-of-fact statement. It was not mankind’s common language, but rather the attitude and ambition of mankind that would cause God to see their single language as a liability. The passage implies mankind’s common unity of purpose. God saw that not only were humans speaking the same language, they were of the same mind, too. In verse 2, we see that humans had not fully obeyed God’s command to Noah and his sons: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1). Obedience to this command was obviously important to God because he had commanded Adam and Eve to do the same in Genesis: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). But mankind tends to embrace stasis rather than change, so the postdiluvian humans decided to band together rather than disperse and fill the earth as God had commanded.
After creating a beautiful paradise for Adam, God encouraged him to enjoy all of its bounty, except for that of one tree: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”1 But because of mankind’s propensity to idolize self, this idyllic Eden was not to last.
Self-idolatry, however, is not limited to mankind. Isaiah recounts the story of Satan’s fall from Heaven, writing that Lucifer’s damning sin was his desire to exalt himself to equality with God: “I will ascend into Heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God…I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High.”2 In this account, we see that Satan’s own weakness is how he tempted mankind. Satan wanted equality with God, and that’s exactly how he enticed Adam and Eve. History inevitably repeats itself when the creature rebels against the Creator. In other words, error loves company.