The City of God

MOST PEOPLE VISUALIZE earth’s early society as being purely agricultural with very little urban development. This is not so. Recent archaeological discoveries of ancient cities reveal evidence of urban planning in ancient times. An article published in the New York Times had the title: “Levittown on the Euphrates.” Mr. Levitt is well-known for the two Levittowns built soon after World War II, one on Long Island, Nassau County in New York, and the other in Bucks County in Pennsylvania. Both provided low cost housing initially for World War II veterans, and later for many other people. They were good examples of modern urban planning. The New York Times article shows that such planning was not new, but was employed by people living in the third millennium B.C.


We quote from the article: “A city that throbbed with vitality in the third millennium B.C. lies buried, forlorn and silent, beneath the windblown soil of the Upper Euphrates River Valley in southeastern Turkey. Gone are the clatter on cobblestones and the cries and murmurs of family life behind mud brick walls. But the ruins speak to archaeologists of a time when a revolutionary idea may have shaped the newest cities in antiquity.

“Mapping the site of the city, known today as Titris Hoyuk, archaeologists are delineating the usual urban remains. At the center once stood a palace and other public buildings on high ground. Out from there, streets ran through residential neighborhoods. Beyond city walls lay a cemetery and scattered suburbs.

“On closer examination, however, archaeologists have found surprises. The streets and terrace walls appear to have been laid out and built before the houses. And the houses seem to follow a master plan, some larger than others, but all of the same design.

“Archaeologists are thus drawn to the conclusion that Titris Hoyuk, population 10,000 in its heyday, represents a striking example of urban planning in antiquity. Built in about 2500 B.C., this was a kind of Levittown-on-the Euphrates.

“‘There was a centralized vision of what a city should look like that appears remarkably similar to a typical master-planned community in the United States today’, said Dr. Guillermo Algaze of the University of California at San Diego, who is directing the excavations.

“Dr. Gil Stein, an archaeologist at Northwestern University, who has excavated in the same region, called the explorations at Titris ‘very, very important research, which gives us a whole new look on what urbanism was like in the ancient Middle East’.”


“Scholars had long ago established that the first cities anywhere arose about 5,000 years ago in the lower valley of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, an area known as Mesopotamia that is part of present-day Iraq. Cities were presumably an outgrowth of an increasingly productive agriculture. Crop surpluses supported expanding long-distance trade and freed people to specialize in such crafts as textiles and ceramics. As the number of merchants and artisans grew, farm villages evolved into cities.

“By the middle of the third millennium B.C., it now appears, the first experiments in city living were such resounding successes that people were flocking to new cities over the entire region, in what is now Syria, northern Iraq and Turkey. This excavation, and similar clues at other sites in northern Mesopotamia, suggest that only well-planned construction projects could satisfy their needs fast enough. Further work at Titris and other sites is expected to reveal some of the changing social and political forces behind this rapid expansion of urban civilization and the innovation of planned cities.”


The first city mentioned in the Bible is the one that Cain built. (Gen. 4:17) Not much is known about that city, though it is believed to be composed of raised dwellings, most likely on a hill, with walls for protection. The Hebrew words ‘iyr‘, ‘ar‘, and ‘ayar‘, have been translated ‘city’, and they mean ‘something raised up’, ‘walls reared’, and ‘keeping guard’.

No more is said about cities until after the great Deluge, and the offspring of Noah’s three sons are mentioned. One of the descendants of Ham was Nimrod, and the “beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.” (Gen. 10:10) These were believed to be cities in the kingdom of Babylonia. Verses 11 and 12 tell of the building of another great city—Nineveh. Some translations assign Nimrod to building this city, but others name Asshur, who they say built Nineveh when he was forced out of Shinar by Nimrod.


What is noticeable from these scriptures is that cities were definitely a development of early times. Those involved in agriculture used a city as a central location for dwelling and for protection. In contrast, those raising livestock were nomads, seeking different grazing areas and living in tents. Such became the situation of Abraham, who lived in Ur of the Chaldees, and was a city dweller. He was asked by God to leave Ur and to go to a strange country. He obeyed God and began to travel towards this new country, taking with him Sarah, his wife, Lot, his nephew, and Terah, his father. They traveled along the Euphrates River and came to Haran—another city—where they stayed until Terah died.

In the time they lived in Haran, they accumulated many possessions including livestock and servants. Leaving Haran with these belongings, they became nomads living in tents, eventually entering the land of Canaan. The account in Genesis does not tell us that Abraham sought a city as he sojourned in Canaan. The Apostle Paul supplies this information, saying: “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles [tents] with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker [architect] is God.” (Heb. 11:8-10) From this account we know that Abraham was seeking the ‘city of God’.

Nomads dwelling in tents live in temporary quarters. In seeking new grazing land for the livestock, the tents are convenient so that the home can be moved from one area to another. A city dweller, on the other hand, has a permanent dwelling. Once he acquires a home in a city he is not likely to move. Abraham was seeking just such a permanent dwelling place. But not simply any city would do—only ‘the city of God’ could be the place he sought.


Abraham and Lot had their own herds and servants. After leaving Haran, both groups traveled together. When strife arose between their herdsmen, it became necessary for them to part company. Abraham gave Lot first choice of the land, and when Lot saw that the plain of Jordan was well watered, he chose that land. He pitched his tent toward Sodom, a city in the plain of Jordan. Abraham went in the opposite direction, to the plain of Mamre. Shortly after this separation, Lot became a citizen of Sodom, and “sat in the gate.”—Gen. 19:1

It might appear that Lot fared better than Abraham in selecting the fertile plain of Jordan and in finding a city. But the Scriptures tell us, “The men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.” (Gen. 13:13) On the other hand, Abraham continued to live in tents (temporary dwellings) while he continued to look for the city of God. He did not find that city during his entire sojourn in the land of Canaan, but his faith was strong, and he believed that one day he would find it.

In the Book of Hebrews, after Paul’s mention of Abraham’s quest for a city, two references are made to a figurative city. The first occurs after a description of a terrifying scene at Mount Sinai, when the tables of the Law were received by Moses. Speaking to the Lord’s people, the church, he says, “Ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” (Heb. 12:22,23) The second occurs later when Paul says, “Here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”—Heb. 13:14


Abraham’s experiences were intended to foreshadow the history of God’s people during the Gospel Age. Abraham never found the city he sought in this world; likewise, neither do we. Lot, on the other hand, did, and represents many in Christendom who believe that they have found the city of God in this world. As Abraham was a ‘pilgrim and a stranger on earth’ so also God’s people are pilgrims and strangers as sojourners on earth. As Abraham lived in a temporary abode, we, too, have no abiding city here, but ‘seek one’ as a permanent abode. Abraham had faith that he would find the ‘city of God’; so also must we have the same faith. Jesus, too, had no permanent abode upon earth, no place he could truly call home. He said, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”—Matt. 8:20

Jesus had no permanent earthly home, but he knew that he would have a heavenly home. He wanted his disciples to be with him, so he told them, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:2,3) When we reach this place, we will have reached our permanent abode—the city of God.


A city was intended to represent more than merely the concept of permanence. In the Bible it is also used to represent a government or a kingdom. Cities of old were often nations in themselves, and most had walls and were self-sufficient. Some of the great cities of the ancient world were Babylon, Nineveh, Athens, Damascus, Rome. The power and might of the nation flowed from the city.

Not much is known about the very early cities of men except as archaeologists unearth them along with their secrets. One of the cities built by Nimrod became the site of the great city, Babylon. In its glory, Babylon had walls reported to be 300 feet high, extending for sixty miles around the city. It was famous for its iron gates and hanging, or terraced, gardens. Cities, at first, were intended to be centers for special services, trades, and for government. The latest archaeological excavations give evidence of planning so cities could provide dwellings for the poorest of people.

Cities became centers of power and their governments ruled the surrounding areas of land in which they were located. There was little benefit for an enemy merely to conquer the land in the vicinity of the city, because the city itself had to be conquered for victory to be complete. The seat of government, power, and authority resided in the city. The walls of the city were formidable protection. The people of that ancient era understood the illustration used by Solomon when he said, “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.” (Prov. 25:28) A city without walls was an easy prey for the enemy. The lesson for us is that anyone unable to control his emotions is an easy prey for his enemies: the Devil, the world, and the flesh, and he can be overrun by them.


God is the greatest of urban planners, and his holy city is designed to accommodate the poor and downtrodden of all nations. Everyone will have a place to dwell. The city of God is described in Revelation 21:10-23, and those who will occupy it are “the nations of them which are saved,” and these “shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”—Rev. 21:24-27

One might get the impression that the present nations and kings of earth as we know them will bring their glory into this city. However, we know that the glory of this present sinful world has no place in this city. This is clearly shown later where it is written: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.”—Rev. 22:14,15

In God’s wonderful kingdom, all will have to obey his righteous laws or perish. The purpose of giving life to all mankind in the resurrection is to restore them to the image of God. During the Millennial Age, the people will ‘walk up’ “the way of holiness” (Isa. 35:8) toward perfection.

As they ‘walk’, “light” (Rev. 21:11) from the city will guide them so they can “enter in.” (Rev. 22:14) Not until all mankind have been brought to perfection and are in God’s image—perfect morally, mentally, and capable of having dominion as kings—will they be able to enter into this city.

This then is the ‘glory’ that the nations and kings bring into the city. Isaiah 60:21 states the matter well: “Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.”

Dawn Bible Students Association
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