Halogen Headlight

The 300.  Spartans.  Thermopylae.  For those who know anything of Western history the Grecian battle against the Persian hordes is legendary.  But it is Barry Strauss’ The Battle for Salamis[1] which details the victorious stand in 480 B. C. by independent minded Greeks versus the totalitarian regime of Xerxes.  The subtitle of the book says it all: “The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece—and Western Civilization.”  Not until September 11th, 1683[2]–when Jan Sobieski and his Poles turned back Islam at the gates of Vienna—had The West stood so close to the historical abyss.

The 12 families.  Hebrews.  The Red Sea.  For those who know anything of God’s people in The First Testament the book of Exodus records Egyptian overthrow.  But it is the Genesis lightening strike, felling the tree of paganism, which set the world on fire.  The victory of Heaven over Hell began with a genealogical line so thin, the pompous nation states gave it few entries in their histories.  But without the Hebrew race, most of what we take for granted today would be only a pipedream.  It was Genesis that dragged people, ethnicities, and nations out of the cultural abyss.

While the Greeks gave The West an independent spirit, the Hebrews developed an integrated view of life.  “Sacred” applied to all creation.  “Secular” did not exist.  “Wholeness” best captured their lived lives.  If God is, as Genesis assumes, His singular, Authorial purpose gives answer to “Why?”  Genesis unifies knowing with living.  No longer are people left with a polytheistic coin-flip: “I wonder which god is angry today?”  Gone are the days of subservience to petty, tyrannical idols whose non-existence was lost on those scared to and scared of death.  Hope took the place of fear.  Thomas Cahill’s The Gifts of the Jews summarizes the result of Hebrew heritage as

Governed by a single outlook.  The material and the spiritual, the intellectual and the moral were one:  Hearken O Israel: YHWH our God, YHWH (is) One!  The great formula is not that there is one God but that “God is One.”  From this insight will flow not only the integrating and universalist propensities of Western philosophy but even the possibility of modern science.  For life is not a series of discrete experiences, influenced by diverse forces . . . Because God is One, life is a moral continuum—and reality makes sense.[3]

This time Cahill’s subtitle sums up the Hebrew influence: “How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels.”

The Hebrews had a sensible and sensitive outlook on life in contrast to other peoples’ attitudes.  Neighbor cultures believed fickle, temperamental gods practiced heinous crimes against each other.  Creation was the result of severed body parts.  Humans were created out of blood spilt as a result of godlike territorial warfare.  Indeed, tired of work, the gods’ sole purpose for human creation was an all-earth maid service.  Sinister and foreboding are the best word descriptions of pagan cultural thought.

But Genesis was a halogen headlight in the darkness of that ancient near eastern world.  In no other text is there a Personal, Eternal Creator.  Transcendence and immanence both poured from the Hebrew’s God.  He was at once separate and other-than while at the same time demonstrating caring compassion.  Only from One whose authority was autonomous and absolute could spring the framework of a well ordered world.  Creation worked.  Stability made life livable.  Harmony flowed throughout every established system.  Yahweh’s beneficence cascaded from His personal nurture.  Common grace was goodness shown through all creation.[4] In short, humans could

Know God in all his works . . .  things terrestrial as well as things celestial; to open to view both the order of creation, and the “common grace” of the God he adores, in nature and its wondrous character, in the production of human industry, in the life of mankind, in sociology and in the history of the human race.[5]

The singular distinctive sustaining the Hebrews and their way of thought within a region where dictatorial superpowers governed was

Primarily their unique religion which sustained them, making them capable of withstanding those forces of absorption and disintegration which would have removed them as a people from the stage of history.[6]

Totalitarian regimes like Persia mirror Hell’s desire for usurpation and slavery.  Freedom rings from the portals of Heaven whose Architect intended goodness in a good world.  Drawing the obvious distinction, Barry Strauss’ explains the utter defeat of Persia:

The Persian ships had little interest in continuing a struggle past the point where they might collect their reward.  Compare the Spartan willingness to fight to the last man at Thermopylae with the Phoenicians’ decision to turn and leave the line at Salamis after they realized that they could not defeat the Athenians.  The Spartan king Leonidas served a transcendent cause, while the Phoenician king Tetramnestus merely calculated the odds.  Freedom was worth dying for, but there was no percentage in giving one’s life in exchange for power from the Great King that one would never enjoy.[7]

We serve a Transcendent Person’s Cause: the last word on the first book, Genesis.

Genesis is Mark’s third favorite book in The Bible after Ecclesiastes and Leviticus.  Dr. Eckel teaches Genesis at Crossroads Bible College.

[1] Barry Strauss. 2004. The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece—And Western Civilization. (Simon & Schuster).

[2] The exact date of the 9-11 attacks precisely match the date Europeans turned the tide of the Muslim invasion in 1683: September 11th.  The message from our adversaries is clear to anyone who desires to understand the contiguous historical nature of our present state of warfare.

[3] Thomas Cahill. 1998. The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels. (Doubleday): 156-57.

[4] Gen 39:5; Ps 107; 145:9, 15-16; Matt 5:44-45; Luke 6:35-36; John 1:9; Acts 14:16-17; 1 Cor 7:12-14.

[5] Abraham Kuyper. 1899, 1943, 2008. Lectures on Calvinism. (Reprint, Eerdmans): 125.

[6] Eugene G. Bewkes quoted by Marvin R. Wilson in Our Father Abraham. (Eerdmans, 1989): 12.

[7] Strauss, 193, emphasis mine.

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