The first eleven chapters in Genesis tell us about two important cities. Enoch was built by Cain and Babel by Nimrod. Both were cities built as shelters by cursed people who had been wandering the earth. Cities throughout most places and times have been places not only of shelter but of power and worship. They have been the pinnacle of human existence. The cities provide order amidst chaos and meaning amidst futility. Cities have also been the ultimate expression of rebellion and defiance toward God.
Names of cities often tell us much as we have seen with Enoch and Babel. The city itself becomes a symbol. One of the first widely regarded sociological studies was Elementary Forms of Religious Life written by Emile Durkheim in 1912. Durkheim described how ancient cultures identified something in nature as symbolic of their values. For example, a lion might stand for strength, or an eagle for freedom. Images of these symbols were carved in stone and wood. These symbols, or totems, become objects of worship. Some cultures created super human entities (ex. Greeks and Romans) that represented their values and worshiped them. In reality, what each culture was ultimately worshiping was themselves, their order and their safety. As the Apostle Paul wrote about humanity, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.” (Rom 1:22-23 NRSV)
There was a tribe that lived in land of Cannan before Abraham’s arrival. The object they chose was as their idol was Venus, the evening star. The appearance of the evening star symbolized completeness and fulfillment because it signified the end of a day. They called Venus “Shalem.”
Eventually a city emerged from this culture. Egyptian texts dating from about 1850 BCE reference the city as “Urushalim,” or “city of completeness and fulfillment.” Sometime around 1000 BCE, when King David set up his throne in this city, the name changed to Jerushalim. The first syllable from the name “Jehovah” was apparently taken and added to the front of the name, thereby making it “Jehovah’s city of completeness and fulfillment.” The symbolism is astonishing.
How does God describe human habitation when the Earth is made new? The New Jesrusalem! God takes that which humanity created in defiance of God, adds his name to it, and redeems it. God loves the city. God reveals that he intends to redeem the most formidable tool of rebellious humanity and make it his dwelling.
However, we presently live in the midst of two cities. We all live in both Urushalim (or Babel) and in New Jerusalem. The story of Scripture is about a predatory humanity struggling for autonomy doing battle with a passionate, loving God who will not give up on bringing humanity into loving relationship. Scripture is tale of two cities.