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The Fountains of History
Shall I be far wrong if I suppose that few of you have ever read the tenth chapter of Genesis right through? Certainly, from a glance at the long, hard names, one would think that there is not much here for the edification of the reader, and that the best thing that can be done is to skip the chapter. Yet there are some home-words here, and hidden under rough husks are some germs, out of which perhaps we ourselves may have come! In the fifth verse you find the word "Gentiles." Pause at that word. It may be like the writing outside a letter which is meant for your reading! There is also the word "isles." No Englishman can pass that word lightly over. He himself is an islander, the sea-fog dims his windows and the sea boom wakes the gruff bass of all his songs. Perhaps the Hebrew writer had his prophetic eye upon these very shores of ours, so sea-worn and bleak. There is also the word "families." Surely we know that word well; we live at home; we have made poetry sing "The Old Arm-chair," "My Ain Fireside," and "The Children's Hour." The poorest Englishman tells you what "family" he belongs to, though he slept in the gutter last night, and pawned his coat for a shilling, which he spent in gin. So you see even here, in this chapter which seems to be all Hebrew and meant only for a Jew's eye, we pick out odd words that are plain good old English, the very freehold and charter of our own people.
Thus conciliated I think an Englishman might now stand at the point of view occupied by the writer of the tenth chapter of Genesis, from which he sees the going forth of the descendants of the sons of Noah, by whom "were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands, every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations." A wonderful going forth, truly; having in it the germ of every civilisation, the outline of every tragedy, the promise of final redemption and glory. To us the chapter is full of difficult reading, because full of strange, hard names that mean nothing to our memory or our love. Who are Gomer and Magog, and who are Sabtah and Dedan? Is there any home-music in Ashkenaz, or is any heart-chord touched by Cush and Mizraim? Yet learned ethnologists have seen wonderful things in this tenth chapter of Genesis. They have seen the descendants of Gomer seeking for themselves a dwelling in the confines of Asia and Europe, making an irruption into Asia Minor, disappearing in Asia, and coming up long ages after in the Cimbri, and as the founders of the great Celtic race. From Javan they have seen arising, in wondrous beauty, chaste and strong, the whole Hellenic people. Tubal and Meshech have been followed into the Cappadocians and the Iberians; so that even in those few names we begin to see the peopling of Northern Europe, the land of Greece, and the region between the Euxine and the Caspian. From Tiras will come the Thracian stock, and collaterally the Goths and the Teutons; and the ethnologist pauses at Ashkenaz, for in that root he thinks he finds the Scandinavian and the Saxon. So if we say, standing beside this great Hebrew cemetery, Can these dry bones live? the breath of the Lord is blown upon them, and behold they start up and claim even ourselves here and there as their own kindred, according to the flesh. And as for God, "is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also."
A clear conception of the import of this marvellous chapter should enlarge and correct our notions in so far as they have been narrowed and perverted by our insular position. We should recognise in all the nations of the earth one common human nature. "God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth." This reflection is both humbling and elevating. It is humbling to think that the cannibal is a relative of ours; that the slave crouching in an African wood is bone of our bone; and that the meanest scum of all the earth started from the same foundation as ourselves! On the other hand, it is elevating to think that all kings and mighty men, all soldiers renowned in song, all heroes canonised in history, the wise, the strong, the good, are our elder brothers and immortal friends. If we limit our life to families, clans, and sects, we shall miss the genius of human history, and all its ennobling influences. Better join the common lot. Take it just as it is. Our ancestors have been robbers and oppressors, deliverers and saviours, mean and noble, cowardly and heroic; some hanged, some crowned, some beggars, some kings; take it so, for the earth is one, and humanity is one, and there is only one God over all blessed for evermore!
If we take this idea aright we shall get a clear notion of what are called home and foreign missions. What are foreign missions? Where are they? I do not find the word in the Bible. Where does home end; where does foreign begin? It is possible for a man to immure himself so completely as practically to forget that there is anybody beyond his own front gate; we soon grow narrow, we soon become mean; it is easy for us to return to the. dust from whence we come. It is here that Christianity redeems us; not from sin only, but from all narrowness, meanness, and littleness of conception; it puts great thoughts into our hearts and bold words into our mouths, and leads us out from our village prisons to behold and to care for all nations of mankind. On this ground alone Christianity is the best educator in the world. It will not allow the soul to be mean. It forces the heart to be noble and hopeful. It says, "Go and teach all nations"; "Go ye into all the world"; "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others"; "Give and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, heaped up, and running over." It is something for a nation to have a voice so Divine ever stirring its will and mingling with its counsels. It is like a sea breeze blowing over a sickly land; like sunlight piercing the fogs of a long dark night. Truly we have here a standard by which we may judge ourselves. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." If we have narrow sympathies, mean ideas, paltry conceptions, we are not scholars in the school of Christ. Let us bring no reproach upon Christ by our exclusive-ness. Let us beware of the bigotry of patriotism, as well as of the bigotry of religion. We are citizens of the world: we are more than the taxpayers of a parish.
A right view of this procession of the nations will show us something of the richness and graciousness of Christ's nature. What a man must he have been either in madness or in Divinity who supposed that there was something in himself which all these people needed! The disciples asked what were five loaves amongst five thousand people, and truly we may magnify their amazement, as we ask, What is one man amongst all the nations of mankind? Truly Christ is bold when he says to his Church, Go ye into all the world. Has he considered the difficulties of travelling? how hard a thing it is to go a thousand miles from home, up hill and over sea? Has he considered the difficulties of language one set of peoples writing from right to left, another from left to right, another knowing nothing about grammar and literature one speaking nothing but monosyllables, another speaking hardly anything but polysyllables one language a rhythmic stream, another something between a grunt and a growl? Has he considered the expense of the undertaking? Men cannot travel for nothing. Men cannot live upon nothing. Men cannot support their families upon nothing. Yet Christ said, Go; go everywhere; go at once, and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Christ is undoubtedly to be credited with bold and daring conceptions. He had no material rewards for his messengers. He sent them away with the least possible allowance of personal comfort; no portmanteaus, no wardrobes, no retinue; he said, Go after all these people and tell them that I only am their Saviour and Lord. Never man spake like this man!
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 10". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany