12-12-2005, 08:25 PM
I don't know if this helps or not:
The City versus the Village: A Biblical Antithesis
Howard Douglas King
In this article, the author helps us to think through the big picture of the purpose of mankind on the earth. Men who want to lay the foundation for many godly generations must do more than simply provide for the security and well-being of their families today. They also need to grapple with the larger questions of how to shape a godly society for the long term. The fact that such discussions seem to most to be disconnected from real life shows how little we grasp the importance of formulating a biblical worldview and then living by it. We are pleased to offer the following perspective and would welcome other articles attempting to define the shape of a biblical society.
In a previous article, The Biblical Basis of Christian Agrarianism, I undertook to answer the question, What is the proper corporate calling of mankind? My conclusion was that the basic corporate vocation is agriculture, which is defined as the science, art, or practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock (Merriam Webster). God created the first man for the purpose of tilling the ground (Genesis 2:5,15). The scope of this task was at first confined to the Garden of Eden, which was not chiefly a flower garden, but rather more like a produce garden with fields and orchards. But man was to multiply, fill the whole earth and subdue it. All the earth was to be brought under cultivation. The garden was the model for a universal plan for all ages.
This plan was not repealed when man sinned. God sent the man out of the garden to till the ground (Genesis 3:23). Noah received substantially the same benediction as Adam (as we can see if we compare Genesis 1:28 with Genesis 9:1) and in connection with a covenant that is acknowledged by all to be still in force to this day. The millennium is described in terms of the prodigious fertility of the earth, and great longevity, prosperity and peace resulting from it (Isa 35:1-10, Micah 4:4). The eternal state is Paradise restored, complete with fruit trees (Revelation 22:2). The original central vocation of mankind has never been revoked, nor shall it ever be.
While God gifts some men for other individual callings, most men ought to be farming. Farming is the way that God has ordained for men to feed themselves, and is therefore the only strictly necessary occupation. It is the central task around which society ought to be organized, and which all its other activities and institutions ought to support.
However, early in the history of mankind, a rival plan emerged -- the founding of cities.
The First City: Guilty Cain's Vain Attempt at Security
And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch. (Genesis 4:16-18)
The first city was begun by the first murderer, Cain, in defiance of the righteous judgment of God. The Lord's sentence for Cain's unspeakable crime was A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be in the earth(verse 12). Undoubtedly, what Cain was seeking was security from the threat of vengeance, since the word rendered city (Hebrew ir) means “a guarded place”. He tried to pretend that the curse had no teeth, and that he could settle down and live a life of stability and permanence, like anyone else.
He gave his settlement the same name he had given his son, Enoch or initiated, which suggests that his intent was to put the past behind him, and to remake his world apart from God. He was not able to finish the construction, for the verb form used means was building. Cain was able to initiate the construction, but in the end he had to move on. He could never escape the consequences of his past life, or hide from the curse fastened upon him by Almighty God.
God had intended for man to fill the earth. In time, the earth was filled -- but not as God intended. It was filled with violence (Genesis 6:11). This word, filled is from the same Hebrew word translated replenish in Genesis 1:28. Scripture draws attention by means of this parallel to the stark contrast between God's peaceful agrarian plan for mankind, and what sinful mankind actually did. God's judgment fell, in the form of the great flood. Mankind was destroyed, but for eight souls who would become the new humanity in the new earth. Again, as with the first pair, God expressed His will that mankind fill the earth (Genesis 9:1).
Babel -- Rebellion and Confusion
But within a short time, the descendants of Noah decided to stick together instead:
And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:4)
We know the outcome. Judgment fell, and through the confusion of their tongues God caused men to disperse against their will.
And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. (Genesis 11:5-8)
But the principle of centralization rather than dispersion was far from dead. Even after the astonishing judgment of God upon the Babel project, man showed his determination to rebel against his Lord. There were wars of conquest, and the strong plundered the weak. Great cities were built with the riches stolen from honest working-men and farmers. The best land was claimed and systematically plundered by the strongest armies. Refugees from tyranny fled to less desirable locations. Empires were created as power became concentrated in great cities.
Nimrod's Cities of Violence
Among the violent men of his age Nimrod was preeminent. He might properly be called the father of the city. We read in the history of the sons of Ham (Genesis 10:8-12):
And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. Out of that land went forth Asshur, and builded Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, And Resen between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city.
Nimrod built a great empire that included Babylonia and Assyria. The first of his cities was Babel. Apparently this reprobate went and finished the city that God had condemned, and used it to dominate the remnant that remained in Shinar (Sumeria), and then repeated the pattern until the entire “fertile crescent” was under his control. The cities that he built were fortresses – walled cities. The Hebrew word is “ir”, from the root that means, “to watch, to guard”. It appears in the name of his city, Rehoboth Ir.
This is substantially the dynamic that has played out in all the miserable course of human history. God orders man to disperse, and to live at peace. Man chooses to centralize, and to make war. Greed, the lust for power and glory, and the need for security prevail over the good plan of God's devising. The city with all its characteristic corruption grows and grows -- and spreads its ominous shadow over the land.
The Patriarchs and the City of God
By contrast, the Patriarchs were neither builders of cities, nor dwellers in them. The first time the Bible mentions a godly man building (Hebrew bawnaw') something is Noah building an altar after the great flood. (Yes, Noah built an ark, but it's a different Hebrew word from the one used in reference to cities.) The next is when Abraham builds an altar at Shechem. Abraham was content to dwell in tents in the countryside after he left the idolatrous city of Ur. Scripture tells us that “he waited for the city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb. 8:10) He confessed that he was “a stranger and pilgrim in the earth” (v.13). He “desired a better, that is, an heavenly country, and a city prepared of God. This perspective is echoed in Heb. 13:13,14, “Therefore let us go forth to him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we have no continuing city.” The permanence, the security, the power, the glory that men seek by city-building is all in vain, for their proud edifices will be shaken to rubble, and in the end, only the eschatological City of God will remain.
The Destruction of Agrarian Civilization
In spite of the mighty builders of cities and empires, the agrarian village (Hebrew khaw-tsare' ) was the hub of most men's existence. The village is the naturally-occurring center of a broader farming community -- the natural development of a decentralized agrarian culture. Here, in the countryside, the small community flourished, with a modest division of labor and a minimum of external government. Most of the cities of ancient Israel were nothing else but small towns and villages like this. Self-sufficient, but not rich, supported by the produce of the numerous family farms and grazing lands that surrounded it, the rural village was the principal place of commerce and learning and public life for the common man through most of human history -- that is, until the advent of industrialization and the modern city.
The urban way of life has always been in opposition to rural life. While the non-commercial or subsistence farmer thinks of his farm first as a home, which supports a traditional way of life, then secondarily as a productive resource; city dwellers see the farm only as another potential source of income. G.T. Wrench, in his book, The Restoration of the Peasantries shows how Roman agriculture (the foundation and strength of the Republic) was destroyed as the small family farms were gradually taken over by urban usurers and aristocrats. Because they were only interested in income, they left the farms in the hands of slaves or hired laborers, who, lacking incentive, failed to return nutrients to the soil, and thus allowed it to become depleted. The empire that was founded on agriculture, that had once had some of the finest farmers in the world ultimately became dependent on foreigners for its food.
The city has always threatened to swallow up the village. But the ultimate stroke occurred during the nineteenth century, when the greatest social upheaval since Babel took place. The industrial revolution was a war of economic conquest and enslavement of the agrarian masses. Its chief motivation was to make huge sums of money for a few at the expense of the many, but it was rationalized as progress, and sold on the claim that it raised the standard of living for all. This is well summed-up in Ralph Borsodi's classic, This Ugly Civilization, from which I now quote:
When the first manufacturers discovered that wealth could be accumulated much more rapidly by applying power to the making of one thing in one place instead of making many different things in one place, the first step in the development of the factory system had been taken. On the heels of this discovery came lower prices, made possible by economies in labor and economies in material, and a ruthless war of extermination upon the guild, the custom, and the domestic systems of production.
But there was life before the industrial age. The chief production systems were the family homestead and the village craftsman. The former was a produce and consume system, as opposed to our familiar earn and buy system. As long as families could produce most of their necessities, they would need little money to buy things -- and would have little incentive to become the cheap labor that the factories required. They would also never be a large market for cheap, standardized, mass-produced goods while they could make better, personalized goods for themselves. Borsodi again:
Serial production in the factory destroyed the very foundations of individual production. The factory owners, by concentrating systematically on one product, were able not only to outsell the craftsmen but to paralyze most of the productive activities in the home. The factory product, eventually, sold so cheaply that the workshop producers could not hope to meet its competition. It became so cheap that it did not even seem worth while for individuals to continue its production for their own consumption.
The spinning wheels, the combs and cards, the reels and the looms and the loom rooms disappeared from the craftsman's shops and from the homes of rich and poor. These were replaced by mills in each of which only one process in the making of fabrics was carried on.
Much of the cooking and preserving disappeared from the home. Homes with kitchens, pantries, vegetable cellars, smoke-houses and milk houses in which foods were cooked, smoked, pickled and preserved by the joint effort of the entire family were replaced by packing houses and canneries, in which foodstuffs were systematically packed and canned and bottled by the most approved factory techniques.
The village craftsman participated in a limited division of labor, specializing in products that could be produced with a particular class of materials, using a particular set of tools and equipment, using certain techniques which he had mastered. This was more efficient than every homestead having to produce everything it needed from raw materials, and allowed a relatively advanced technology. These skilled workmen, the backbone of the village commercial economy, had to be displaced. Once more, I quote Borsodi:
The ubiquitous village smithy, where horses and oxen were shod and where practically everything which the neighborhood needed in the way of iron work was made: agricultural implements, carpenters' tools, building hardware, fire-place utensils, cooking utensils, cutlery and hundreds of other things, disappeared. The smithy's place was taken by mills and machine shops in each of which only one article or one commodity was made, or if a number of allied products were made, each was produced serially instead of on custom order.
Yet in spite of the competitive advantage of very low costs of production, the early manufacturers found it difficult to put the craftsmen out of their misery. It took generations for the mills and factories to establish their present supremacy. It was only after the manufacturer discovered that concentration of production upon a single kind of goods made it possible to support systematic salesmanship that the old craft production really began to succumb. Systematic salesmanship made possible the profitable operation of the factory because it enabled the manufacturer to sell at a profit in territory where handicraft competition had been destroyed while selling at a loss in territory where it still survived. The factory was thus enabled to extend itself into new territory, selling if necessary at a loss until all neighborhood production ceased and then recouping its initial losses after the sale of its product had become firmly established.
With competing systems of production eliminated, the industrialists now had control of the means of production, a large and dependent market, and a willing workforce of displaced people who now had to earn money somehow to buy their necessities. Production was now systematic and could be made fully subservient to the principle of efficiency. The productive homestead and the village craftsmen were gone.
Even then, the city was still dependent on the countryside for the production of food. But eventually, the family farm gave place to the huge factory farm, where food is mass-produced. So the economies of small towns in the industrialized world are now wholly dependent on large local mills and factories financed by the cities, often owned by impersonal multi-national corporations.
The modern small town is no longer the community that it once was. Along with most of the local production, local folkways and fashions have given place to materialistic mass culture. Instead of being self-sufficient, it is nothing more than an appendage of the city -- dependent and dominated. The city rules through mass media, mass education and mass marketing. Economic survival is difficult in a small town, and people are drawn to the city in hopes of making a decent living. The village has all but disappeared from the face of the earth. The city has triumphed, and brought all under its sway.
Jerusalem - The City of God?
I have been painting a very negative picture of the city. Some will say, But you are talking about the City of Man, aren't you? What about Jerusalem? How can all cities be evil if God called Jerusalem His own -- the holy city and the city of God? First of all, this is correct -- I am talking about the City of Man. But there is no material city in the world today but what falls in that category. The City of God is of another kind altogether, and it has yet to be realized. It is in connection with the New Heaven and the New Earth in the closing chapters of holy Scripture (Revelation 21 and 22) that the bride of Christ, the Lamb's wife assumes the form of the New Jerusalem -- a city descending out of heaven from God. The church is identified with that city even now, for that is its sure destiny, but it is not yet a reality.
But what about earthly Jerusalem? Isn't it called the city of God? The answer to that is this: Just as King David was a type of the Messiah, but no earthly king of Israel was the true Messiah; so the earthly Jerusalem of the Monarchical period was only a type -- and not the real city of God. The true Jerusalem is the perfected, glorified church of God at the end of history (Revelation 21:2,9-10). In her shall be fulfilled the ideal of which earthly Jerusalem was only a type: a people dwelling in peace and brotherhood, with God as King in their very midst. The permanence, security, glory and dominion of this city are all pictured to us in John's vision. But these things can never belong to any city that man builds -- or to history. This is the only city that Abraham and the patriarchs were interested in, and it is the hope of believers throughout time.
Jerusalem was a fortress city, but in keeping with its name, City of Peace, and its typical significance, it was to be unlike the other fortress cities of the biblical world. It was not to resist the decentralized and agrarian purposes of God for mankind, or to create an empire. It was in fact the hub of a pastoral and agrarian civilization. The small towns that surrounded it (the cities of Judah) had their own independent existence and cultural life. They were small centers of needful commerce, education, self-government and religious life.
The wars that Saul and David fought were defensive wars that led to the conquest and subjugation of their enemies as the only alternative to Israel's surrender. The Greater Israel (I Kings 4:21) that Solomon ruled had been enlarged -- not through a plan to dominate its neighbors, but in self-defense. Its very name means City of Peace, and its role was supposed to be defensive. Hence the prohibition of Israel's kings from multiplying horses (Deuteronomy 17:16) -- suited for wars of conquest, but unnecessary for defense.
In sad fact, Solomon violated that and other prohibitions, and Jerusalem not only failed to attain the ideal it represented, but it was eventually so corrupted that it became identified with Sodom and Egypt. (Isaiah 1:10,21-23, Revelation 11:8) It is not an example of a good city, as if the city ever produced a godly culture; rather, it is one more illustration of the corrupting tendency of urban life. The description of first-century Jerusalem in the seventeenth and eighteenth chapters of the book of Revelation is chilling! (For a thorough demonstration that Babylon, in this context, is to be identified with the earthly Jerusalem see The Days of Vengeance, by David Chilton.)
The Modern City of Man
When we look at the modern city, we see only the City of Man on an even larger scale. Today's largest cities are ten times the size of the great cities of the eighteenth century. Most of the earth's population resides in large cities today. Most of the earth remains uncultivated. Today only 3% of the United States' population is engaged in agriculture. Most of the population is landless. How does this square with God's revealed will that mankind cultivate the whole earth (Genesis 1:28) ?
But not only are we not doing the work God gave us to do -- we are at war with the whole created order, and busily substituting technology for natural ways and products. This is evident -- not only from the abuse of the environment, but also in the way many of us disfigure our bodies by shaving, painting, tattooing, piercing -- even major surgery -- to achieve humanistic standards of beauty, and in such things as the replacement of the family by the caregiver state, and the mother's breast with the baby bottle.
Even our food is produced in a new kind of open-air factory which bears as much resemblance to a farm as a modern steel plant does to the village smithy. The land is never touched by human hands. The soil is sterilized before planting to destroy pests, then sprayed with insecticides repeatedly. The food must actually be detoxified before it can be sold. New hybrid and genetically engineered seed must be purchased each growing season. The soil is never fed with the minerals that it used to contain, so the vegetables are mineral-depleted. The topsoil washes into the river systems, causing more and more serious floods. This is all done in the name of efficiency. The quantity of food produced is indeed enormous. But the quality? Anyone who has had fresh vegetables from his own garden knows the answer to that question.
We are almost as far from the Divine ideal as we can get. I say almost because the vision some would thrust upon us is of a completely artificial, manufactured food supply. Why not? Chemists, we are told, know so much about what the body needs that we will soon be able to feed ourselves better than when all we had was grown food. Right! Margarine is better than butter, no doubt! Man knows so much better than his Creator!
Where are we going? Are we headed still further from the divine plan, or is there some way to get back on track? It is difficult to see what will stop this headlong rush to destruction as long as the rich can keep getting richer and the masses are willing to be palliated by foolish amusements and useless luxuries. Perhaps the whole thing will have to implode as the result of an unforeseen crisis. History is littered with the remains of civilizations like ours that have failed to heed God's word.
The city is a great evil, inasmuch as it represents man's attempt to set the agenda of planet earth in defiance of its Creator. Whenever men gather together to provide themselves with power, riches, security, aggrandizement -- rather than seeking first the Kingdom of God -- there is the city, regardless of its size. For the plan of God for mankind is to fill the whole earth with His glory -- not to seek our own, individually or corporately.
Whenever I present this teaching, there is someone who will say, Even if what you are saying is true, what use is it? There's nothing I can do about it. I have a mortgage and a car payment, and health insurance has gone through the roof. I can't even think of doing anything about it. There is no family farm in my future. This just discourages me!
I understand, and yet I believe that understanding the biblical view of the city is of great importance. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is therefore profitable. What then -- you ask -- is it profitable for?
First, it should help us to see the goodness of God, for it shows that a great part of the miseries that are in the world are unnecessary, as they are the result of our corporate rejection of God's good way. When man fell, God immediately restored him to relationship, and though he punished man directly, the punishment was mild compared to what we suffer in this evil world dominated by the city.
Second, it confirms the doctrine of human depravity. For we see so clearly how perverse human nature is, that it cannot be content to labor for its food in the way God appointed, but whenever opportunity affords us an easier or more pleasant life, we grasp at it, regardless of the consequences to our fellow-men or the kingdom of God.
Third, it gives us an understanding of God's purpose for mankind, so that we can align ourselves with that plan -- pray and labor and sacrifice with it in view. Jesus taught us that true disciples will seek first the kingdom of God, even His righteousness -- not their own agenda. They are willing to suffer -- even be persecuted -- for the kingdom of God's sake. So it is essential to know what kind of world order accords with the principles of that kingdom.
Fourth, it gives us a realistic view of where we stand. It does no good to plaster over broken mortar joints in a brick wall, and hope the wall will hold up. We need to know the worst, or our solutions to the problems of life in the modern world will be superficial and ineffective. And at present, most of the solutions that are being proposed are superficial and they will prove ineffective.
It is absolutely crucial that we face the fact that our entire technological society is headed in the wrong direction. It is not just the Democrats or the Republicans, the rich or the poor, the educated or the ignorant, the men or the women -- it is not just the despicable, the perverted, the greedy, the lazy that are the problem -- we all are the problem! It is not just the notorious sinner that is to blame -- it is the respectable, decent citizen who has never thought to ask himself what God requires of him, and of others. It is the earnest Christian who is busy making money to educate his children in the ways of the technological society, so that they can be successful, without ever considering whether God wants them to be successful in that way, or whether his life ought to be spent seeking some other good than money.
It seems to me that parts of the Christian church have fully embraced the world's values, and adopted the standards and goals of the city of man. Wherein are we different from any law-abiding citizen who is a complete heathen? We have learned to go along and get along, and there are no longer any boundaries between the church and the world. Christianity has been reduced to a personal religious experience or perhaps a set of ideas -- nothing more. It is certainly no longer a distinguishable way of life, or a community with a culture distinct from the world.
What is needed, then, is a change in the basic premises of Christian thought. Our values and goals need a biblical house-cleaning. We need to get serious about defining the kingdom of God accurately and biblically, so we can begin to change our priorities accordingly.
Fifth, and finally, understanding these things should teach us to despair of self and human effort, and to seek salvation from our present bondage from the LORD God alone. We need to see the utter hopelessness of the present situation, and realize that we are all to blame, that we deserve to be in this state, and that only God can set things right. We need to humble ourselves before him, and cry out to Him for mercy and salvation -- that we may be able to return to a natural and godly way of life. The great need of the hour is men of wisdom and spiritual maturity who can lead the church back to the old paths of godliness in these evil times.
What can we do, since most of us live in either major cities, or in towns that possess the same character? Most of us cannot pack up and leave, at least not in the short term -- and certainly not without a plan. Most of us are incapable of surviving as subsistence farmers. Many of us are called to other legitimate vocations. I answer: we should begin to cautiously, responsibly explore our options together. That is the least that we can do if we are convinced that the current world order is evil. If we must of sheer necessity remain in it, we at least should be sincerely striving to either change it or to withdraw from its evils as far as we can. We may have an opportunity to be in the vanguard of the establishment of Christian agrarian communities. If we can but pass on the vision to our children, they may be able to go farther with it than we can.
I would like to make a proposal. I would like to see those who have caught the vision, but cannot see how to implement it, begin to network, to share information, to discuss possible first steps, to consider pooling some of our resources to form a society for the advancement of Christian-agrarian ideas and projects, and to establish a website and a locality where resources for study, for publishing, seminars and the like could be made available. If we cannot afford just now to move to the country and set up homesteads, could we send some of our sons and daughters to the country for a time, to work on homesteads and learn practical skills? Could not some of our older brothers and sisters who have the requisite knowledge and skills be supported at such a place, so that they could pass on the valuable expertise that they possess? It seems well within the limits of the possible to me.
We can do nothing, or we can do something. I had rather do something, however small, than nothing at all. It is, after all, better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. I have lit my candle. Will there be others?
I would be glad to be the point of contact, and to compile a list of those wanting to learn more, and especially of those who are willing to go farther with their agrarianism than mere talk. If you wish to donate your organizational skills or technical expertise to such an endeavor, I would also like to hear from you. You can email me through this website with any comments.
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