Monday, May 30, 2011

To Fill the Earth

For the last week, I’ve held one foot in Genesis 11, while the other foot of my compass has explored connections in other parts of the Word, all part of Lyla’s challenge at A Different Story to camp on a certain passage of Scripture for seven days.

My eyes have sparkled more in excited revelation than they have in the last month, me literally running for the phone to call my mother with what I’ve learned, rushing forward after evening worship service to tell my pastor how his sermon just helped complete the last piece of the puzzle God had set before me for the week, and laughing out loud at the irony of discovering in this “staying” the importance of obediently not staying but rather going forth.

After the flood, God told Noah and his sons, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it” (Gen. 9:1,7). This was a direct command—to GO and FILL the earth, a repetition of the first command God gave Adam, to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28).

The Hebrew word translated in both these verses as “fill” was used by God before the flood to describe the state of the earth as “filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11). God’s rationale for Noah and his sons (as well as Adam and Eve) filling the earth makes sense—if Godly men filled the earth, then it would be filled with holiness and righteousness, not violence and evil.

At first, it seems Noah and his descendants sought to obey the Lord. Scripture says, “It came about as they journeyed east,” (Gen. 11:2) implying they were filling the earth to some degree. Then, several people decided they were tired of moving and filling, that they wanted to stop and stay awhile, to “make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4).

No more scattering…no more filling. Here, at the Tower of Babel, the filling stopped, and rebellion began. But God’s commands would not be thwarted: “So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:8). He repeats the same phrase in verse 9, emphasizing the “scattering,” the earth-filling that the people began doing again, albeit this time against their will.

Fast forward to the New Testament. It is right after Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus had told his followers to stay put until the Holy Spirit empowered them to go. He said, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). His disciples got the first part right—they stayed put and waited: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1).

Yet, once they were Holy-Spirit empowered, they still stayed put, forgetting the second half of Jesus’ command to be witnesses outside the walls of Jerusalem. Scripture says the early church members were “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house…” (Acts. 2:46). The Jewish high priests even confirm how localized the believers were to Jerusalem, saying “you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching” (Acts 5:28, my italics).

Jesus’ followers were filling their Jerusalem with His glory. But, they weren’t filling the whole earth, as commanded. I am unsure as to whether their stopping at Jerusalem’s outer walls was an intentional act of disobedient rebellion, an act of fear, an act of racism (i.e., Jesus is for the Jews, not the Gentiles), or just that they got so caught up in celebrating with each other that they forgot to go further. In my heart, I think it could be a little of all of the above.

Yet, no matter the reason, the result was the same—no filling. Just like at the Tower of Babel, God did something mighty to fulfill His plan. This time, though, it wasn’t by frustrating their language but by bringing persecution: “a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1).

Fill the earth. That has been the command since the creation of Adam, and continuing with the new Adam, beyond the resurrection of Christ.

Too often today, Christians want to create strongholds of separateness to protect their families, their children from society, its untruths, and evil’s attacks on their faith. While raising up one’s children in the Lord around a secure hearth of faith is definitely important, such an action does not negate God’s command to GO and fill the earth with the gospel, the righteousness, the holiness, the beauty of Jesus Christ.

To defy God’s command to go and fill our world for Him is just asking for God to bring some sort of only-God-could-do-this calamity to scatter believers.

But what’s more frightening? If we who believe in Christ do not fill our world, those who do not believe will fill it for us.


  1. I LOVE this. Even without kids, I often feel the urge to hunker down in our safe, Christian house and hide from the filled-with-violence world outside. But, I believe God equips us for what He calls us to do, so I head out again and again to "fill" our little corner of the earth. Thanks for sharing your latest revelations :)

  2. I love this. This is the beauty of making ourselves (or just letting ourselves) stay put. His Word keeps working over in us as we work it over. And we see those pieces come together. I'm so glad you had a chance to sit still with it.

    And as unappealing as it sounds, our suffering does spur us on to spreading His glory more than keeping snuggled comfortably in our houses. Thanks Jennifer!