Sunday, July 21, 2019


One of the most intriguing statements in Scripture concerning human history was made by the Apostle Paul when he was addressing the people of Athens in the Aeropagus of that city in Greece. The citizens of Athens had invited him to speak on his beliefs about God, since Paul was bringing to them some teachings that they had not before heard.

The Athenians were polytheistic in their beliefs, meaning that they had many gods. There were hundreds of images of various gods sculpted in stone that lined the streets of the city. In case the people had missed one, they even set up one captioned with the inscription, “To An Unknown God,”

A visitor to the city, one Epimenides from Crete, after viewing these statues as he walked the streets made the comment, “Finding gods in this city must be easier than finding men.”

Indeed, the city of Athens was commonly referred to in the day as “The City Glutted with Gods.” [1] 

The Unknown God

Paul used this homage given to the “Unknown God” as a stimulus and introduction to his speech to the people seated in the amphitheater who had come to listen to him. “Men of Athens,” Paul began, “I see that in every way you are very religious.” 

"For as I walked around and examined your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.

"Therefore what you worship as something unknown, I now proclaim to you.

"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples made by human hands. Nor is He served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else." (Acts 17:22-25 BSB) 

If the people were truly interested in the origin of mankind and the source of life, this certainly should have captured their attention. The fact that they had an altar to a god they did not know was testament to the fact that at least some of the Athenians were still seeking truth.

After calling attention to this altar, Paul then makes a statement of history. It is this statement that I find so intriguing. Speaking of this God of all heaven and earth, Paul continues: 

From one man He made every nation of men, to inhabit the whole earth; and He determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands.

God intended that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:22-26 BSB) 

Nations and Empires

As Paul used the altar to the “Unknown God” as a catalyst to his talk, so I am going to use Paul’s statement about God determining the times in which a people should live and the boundaries of their lands as my introduction.

Why is this statement so intriguing to me? I think it is principally because in have lived among so many various groups of people, and each time I have been fascinated by their histories.

In my late teens and early twenties, I lived in India, where I learned of the history of the people with whom I lived. This race of people were called the Indo-Aryans, who some 1500 years before Christ, migrated through the Khyber Pass of the Himalayan Mountains to settle in the Indus Valley and Ganges Plain of what is now Northern India.

“Who were these people?” my young mind wondered, “and what caused them to set out on this perilous and unknown journey in search of a new land?”

Later, Vivian and I and our sons lived and worked for a number of years in Central America among the Mayans. The origin of the Mayans is also shrouded in mystery, and seems to change with each research project.

They built great cities, all of which had been abandoned and mostly overgrown by the jungle vegetation by the time the Spanish conquistadores arrived. Their culture had risen to great heights, and for reasons today unknown (at least with certainty), came crashing down, causing all the people of the entire Central American region to leave their marvelous cities and disperse into smaller tribes.

But the Mayans were not even the first people of the region, a fact to which the famous Olmec Heads hold testament. These are the ancient and great stone sculptures of human heads found around the regions of Veracruz and Tabasco in Mexico. Most of these stone heads stand as tall as a man, or even taller. One of them is over eleven feet tall.

The Olmecs were not the ancient Mayans, since the rock carvings show that these people had their own distinct facial features. The sculptures do not look Mayan, but more African. We do not even know what these people called themselves, since the name “Olmec” was the term later given to them by the Aztecs. [2]

I also worked among the Incans of the Andes Mountains of South America, who like the Mayans, had perhaps the greatest and most highly developed culture of its time, building and living in great cities. Each of these cultures had technological advances far ahead of their contemporaries of Europe.

Lastly, I worked in the Pacific Islands among the Polynesians. This people were perhaps the most intriguing to me of all. In my later years, my now 60-some year-old mind was still asking the same questions as did my teen-aged mind.

“Where did these people come from?” I wondered. “And how was it that they could be so bold as to set out from wherever they originated in their tiny catamarans to begin to find and inhabit miniscule specks of land in the middle of our greatest and most violent of oceans?”

“How did they know there ever were islands in that vast expanse of foreboding water and storms?”

To me, these are all extremely intriguing questions without answers. I have many other questions as well, ones which come from my own experiences with peoples of other nations and places, and also about nations and people whom I have never met.

And now, through no design or decision of my own, I find myself working with the Bantu people of Africa, specifically the Kisii of Western Kenya. I am gradually learning about yet another ancient culture and have even more questions.

No book on history could ever give even partial answers to most of these questions. If our history books were honest with us, the text books would mostly consist of blank pages, interspersed only occasionally with the tiny bits of the history that we do know of men and women and nations of people through the ages.  Most of these histories have been lost to us. 

God’s Plan for People

And then Paul comes to us with this statement, “From one man God made every nation of men, to inhabit the whole earth; and He determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands.” 

Paul is beginning with the man Adam, the progenitor of our species. I will not go into the creation of the first man and woman in the Garden of Eden, as neither did Paul at that point.

It is of course a lengthy subject unto itself, and one that some people today as well as in those days would have disputed. But Paul states it as fact, and so do I. I have discussed the creation account in other places, but will not do so again now.

More important to do at this point is to look at what Paul said next: From this first man and woman, God gave rise to nations of people whom he intended to spread out from the beginning cradle of history and to inhabit the entire globe of our world.

We read in the creation account, “God blessed Adam and Eve and said to them ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’” (Genesis 1:28).

From the beginning God had grand plans for his creation, and it was for men and woman whom he had the grandest of plans. We were and are to be the caretakers of the rest of his wonderful and diverse creation in every region of the earth.

And, as the earth itself was to have diversity in its geography and also its biology, so the multitude of men and women who would eventually arise from the first humans also have different characteristics that were unique to their own tribe or their own nation.  
God’s Love for Diversity

This brings up another subject of creation that has always been fascinating to me. This is the fact that God loves diversity! Look at the kaleidoscope of flowers in the flower garden, or the birds, looking like they came from artist’s pallets, singing their medley of songs in trees of every description! Each of these is unique and wonderful.

We are each unique and wonderful! God has made each one of us to have our own special characteristics. That is why God has made us to have genetic variability. We are like our parents, but not exactly like our parents. Each one of us have ways that are unique to us.

Each of these differences are to demonstrate another of the aspects of God himself! Each show us another facet of the beauty of God.

To me these facts have always been interesting. God loves diversity.

The culture of the world does not. As much as it may deny it, the culture of the world holds up for us what they say the ideal man should look like, dress like, act like, or how the ideal woman should do these things, and then the culture of the world tells us that we should measure ourselves by how closely we resemble these ideal specimens. The closer we can come to this ideal, the more value that we have in the eyes of the world. “The Perfect 10.” 


It is a sickening standard, and one that fights against every intention of God. We can see this quest for the world to be one people with one culture in the story of the Tower of Babel. This event happened some centuries after creation, when the population of men and women had grown considerably and when they actually had begun to become dispersed in the earth.

When the people saw what was happening to them, in that they were being scattered, they decided that they must build a great city for themselves. The city was to be built with a great central tower that would be a testament to their own greatness as a people.

“Let us make a name for ourselves,” they said, “and let us not be scattered over the face of all the earth.”

We must understand what was happening here. This was a rebellion against every intention of God, which is that as distinct peoples, we be dispersed into the entire world and that we retain our uniqueness in culture and in character. We are not to become the same as everyone else, because in that sameness, we lose the great variety of ways in which we demonstrate the many faceted character of God.

And more than this, notice that the goal of the people of Babel was that they would “make a name” for themselves. Their goal in this grand plan of theirs was to demonstrate their own greatness, not the greatness of God. Their tower, which they said was to “reach to the heavens,” metaphorically spoke of their plan to usurp the magnitude of God and instead celebrate their own prominence.

Of course you know what happened. God understood their intentions and caused confusion among them so that they could not communicate with one another. He confused their language so that they could not understand one another’s speech.

“So the LORD scattered them from there over the face of all the earth, and they stopped building the city” (Genesis 11:8 BSB). 

God’s Purpose in Scattering

There are other demonstrations of this same principle in other portions of the Bible, but we will jump once again to what the Apostle Paul said on Mars Hill.

“From one man He made every nation of men, to inhabit the whole earth; and He determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands. God intended that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him” (Acts 17:26-27 BSB). 

The Rise and Fall of Empires

There have been great empires in the history of the world. I mentioned some of them earlier, but of course there have been many others. We immediately may think of the Greeks and Romans of New Testament days, and also some of the later European empires—the Spanish and the British come to mind, but the Portuguese were actually the first to have an empire that could be regarded as a global empire, and the Russians also had a strong empire that lasted almost 200 years, ending only in 1917 with the bloody Russian Revolution led by the Bolsheviks.

But of course there were other Empires in various parts of the world: The Yuan and Qing Dynasties of China, and some of the caliphates of the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East. Even before these times there were the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians and others.

None of these great world empires remain. They all reached a point of failure or opposition and finally collapsed.

Why did they suffer this common fate? It would seem logical that once an empire reached a point of dominance in the world where there is no longer any power that can compete with them, they would only continue to grow more powerful and increase their dominance.

Like the dreams of the builders of Babel, they would make a name for themselves.

Of course, historians have analyzed each of these empires and have given various reasons why they failed, but I believe that the chief reason is that God simply will not allow an empire to grow to a point where it will completely dominate the world.

He may allow a measure of dominance for a time, but failure will surely come—either from outside opposition or from within. God allows the rise and fall of nations, and has determined the boundaries of times of each of these nations.

This was Paul’s message to the Athenians. It is God who determines the course of history.

This is also the message of King David in Psalm 24. “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness. The world is His, and all who dwell there” (Psalm 24:1). 

Our Greatness is Only in Our Own Eyes

Nations will rise and fall, dominance of power will change hands, and that which seems secure today will crumble tomorrow. We pray for peace and we seek peaceful ways, but even if history is our only teacher, we know that the world is a turbulent place.

We can speak of nations and empires, but these are only allowed to exist for whatever purpose God has for them. They are nothing to God.

“The nations are like a drop in a bucket,” the prophet Isaiah says concerning how God views the great nations of the world. “They are but a speck of dust on the scales…all the nations are as nothing before Him” (Isaiah 40:15,17).

All of it, Paul says, is so that men and women will realize that in the end, there is no absolute security to be found any place in the world. Knowing this, then perhaps we will seek God, reach out for him and find him.

Rather than great world powers, God’s concern is always for the individual. It is for you. It is for me. It is that we will find our security in Him. 

Not as a Dictator, but as a Father

And what is God’s favorite way of relating to his people? It is not as a great and authoritative ruler who has the power to control every aspect of your life, although he certainly is that.

The same passage that I just quoted from Isaiah speaks also of the power of God, saying in part:


To whom will you liken God? To what image will you
compare Him?
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the foundation of the earth?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth; its dwellers are
like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them
out like a tent to live in.
He brings the princes to nothing and makes the judges of the
earth meaningless.
He regards them as nothingness and emptiness.
(Isaiah 40:18, 21-23 BSB) 

But that is not how God reveals himself to his people. He comes to us as a Father who loves his children. He comes to us as a Shepherd who cares for us as individual sheep.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him,” (Psalm 103:13).

“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus tells us. “I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14).

It is all about the individual with God. His purpose in allowing nations and kingdoms to rise and fall is not because it is somehow a bizarre amusement for him as if he were playing some sort of a galactic board game.

He does it to demonstrate that there is no true security in any nation or empire, no matter how large and powerful they become. They all fail.

Rather, God does all of this so that when we come to understand that there is no true and lasting security to be found in the world, so that we “would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us,” as Paul had put it.

God is not distant. He is involved with every aspect of our lives, whether we realize it or not. “For in Him we live and move and have our being,” Paul continues.

And as one of the most powerful kings of history put it, King David writes: 

May we shout for joy at your victory and raise a banner in the
name of our God.
May the LORD sanction all your petitions.
Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed;
He answers him from His holy heaven with the saving power
of His right hand.
Some trust in chariots and others in horses,
But we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.
(Psalm 20: 5-8 BSB)

What is Worthy of Our Trust

In what or in whom do you place your trust? Do you really think that if your favorite political party wins control of the government, all will be made well? None of us think that this would actually happen.

Where then is your confidence?

I have one more Scripture passage concerning the nations of the earth. The verses are from the book of Revelation, where the Apostle John is relating to us some of what he saw in his vision of heaven during the final days of the age. John writes: 

After this I looked and saw a multitude too large to count, from every nation and tribe and people and tongue, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10 BSB) 

In that new day, all of creation will worship the Great Lord of Heaven and of Earth. There will be a symphony of sound as every tongue from all of history will join their voices in praise. All peoples and nations will be represented. Each will recognize and worship the magnitude of the Lord.

Will you be one of those who worships before the throne? If you have decided today to place your trust not in the political winds or in riches, or in but instead to place your trust in Jesus Christ and his grace—let me know.

On that day before God’s throne, I will look for you there. We will embrace and worship our king.

 [1] As related by Don Richardson in his book, Eternity in their Hearts, Regal Books, copyright 1981 revised 1984, page 11.
He does not footnote the story, but does include a bibliography in which is found the book: “Lives of Eminent Philosophers” in two volumes by Diogenes Laertius translated by RD Hicks, Loeb Classical Library, London: Harvard University Press, 1925.
I do not know if this is where Richardson got the story, but if you are interested and if it is worth your time, perhaps it is a start.

[2] The name means "Rubber People"

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