Approach to Spiritual Powers — Cont’d:
This is the second in the ‘Spiritual Warfare Series.’ The first is here.
6] For good or ill, spiritual power is embedded deeply in human culture. Babel’s tower was constructed to consolidate power in defiance of God. It coordinated materials, social labor, technology and public vision to hinder their scattering across the earth [Ge 11:4], defying the cultural mandate to ‘fill the earth and subdue it’ [Ge 1:28]. So God confused their language and they scattered anyway. It took Pentecost to end that language division.
But Yahweh’s response to Babel had another component. Babel was built also to ‘make a name for ourselves’ [Ge 11:4]. While Babel tried to make itself great and make a great name for itself, the next chapter says:
‘Yahweh said to Abram, “go from your country, from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great’ [Ge 12:1-2];
Much of the wrong in our culture results from a failure to discern the difference between our making ourselves and our name great, and YHWH making Abram a great nation, and making his name great. As malevolent, spiritual power is deeply embedded in culture, confronting it is difficult and exhausting work. It can be deeply counter-cultural and unpopular. But that confrontation is absolutely necessary. This leads to …
7] Moses’ confrontation of Pharaoh has the character of an exorcism. The struggle of Moses and Pharaoh manifests itself in the competing claims of Yahweh, God of Israel, and Egypt’s gods. Pharaoh’s derisive question, [presumably what we would call a rhetorical question] puts it this way:
“Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go” [Ex 5:2].
The claims, magicians, miracles and plagues that follow are a wrestling of spiritual power, evil and good, each to subdue the other. Relevant also are issues as authority, recognition and obedience. The unstated question of Ex 5:2, ‘to whom do we listen,’ matters in any society of people.
8] Prevailing ideologies and narratives assume demonic nature. So rather than aligning with them, our Christian responsibility is to unmask earthly powers, to reveal their true character, and to direct the nations away from such powers manifested in ideologies and narratives, and to Jesus Christ.
The role of ideology and narrative becomes apparent by comparing these two, closely related texts:
‘Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me’ [Ex 20:1-3].
Note the blatant contradiction of Ex 20 :1-3 with Ex 28:1-4.
‘”This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”‘ [Ex 32:1-4].
The first commandment does not begin with, ‘you shall have no other gods.’ The narrative of Yahweh as the God who led Israel out of Egypt is also belongs to the commandment. They are inseparable. This means that Aaron’s account of national origins is not only false but it is blasphemous. It stands in direct violation of the first commandment.
I have addressed civil religion with some stridency. There is a reason for it. I take a dim view on church/state relations, and I tend to see the ‘Christian nation’ thing [whatever the nation] as bent toward heresy. Whenever God and nation are slung together, my instinctual response is to think Babel, Egypt, Moses and Aaron.
As I see it, the role of prevailing ideologies and narratives in the Roman empire is a significant part of John’s theological strategy in ‘Revelation.’ It is also why the faithful church will NEVER embrace the world or be embraced by it. At the very best, earthly powers EVER behold the faithful church through a jaundiced eye. We err to expect better.