Throughout the Bible, we see references to kingdoms and nations and it is important that we understand the difference between the two words, because much of the conflict in the world is based on this difference.
The first time we find both these words used is in Genesis 10. In a previous article, I talked about the rise of Nimrod, (Genesis 10:8-10) who was Satan’s first attempt to set up a one-world government on earth.
“And the beginning of his [Nimrod’s] kingdom was Babel and Errech and Accad and Caineh, in the land of Shinar” (Genesis 10:10 NASV).
The Hebrew word for Kingdom (mamlakah) is derived from the Hebrew word for king “malak.” Kingdom refers to a country controlled by a king or one sovereign power. It is an external, largely political control. Under Nimrod’s influence, they built the Tower of Babel.
At this point, the descendants of Noah had one language (Genesis 11:1.)
In response to what was happening, God instituted languages that divided the people — along family lines — into nations (Hebrew goy):
From these the coast lands of the nations were separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations [Heb goy]. (Genesis 10:5 NASV)
The Hebrew (goy) is translated “people” or “nations” describes nationalities that formed through this imposition of languages (Gen 10:5). With different languages unique cultures and traditions formed.
Consequently, Moses used “goy” to describe Israel when they were in captivity in Egypt (Exodus 33:13). Israel was a nation within a nation and remained a distinct group in Egypt all the time they were there.
A kingdom in contrast is political in nature and can include a number of nations which either through mutual agreement or force form a country.
New Testament nations and kingdoms
The same type of words for nation and kingdom are found in the New Testament.
When Jesus gave the command to make “disciples of all the nations” (Mathew 28:14), He was not alluding to countries or political jurisdictions but used the Greek word “ethne” which is very similar to the Hebrew word “goy.”
Ethne refers to all linguistic, cultural and tribal groups. Jesus was not commanding us to preach the gospel in every political entity, but rather to every ethnic group. Kingdoms come and go, but nations and culture remain unique.
Jesus uses the same word when He gave the signs of the end times in Luke 21. One of these signs was a dramatic increase in conflicts as “nation rises against nation and kingdom versus kingdom” (v 10). The word kingdom refers to political jurisdictions or countries fighting between themselves, but the word nation is the Greek word ‘ethne.”
Here Jesus says cultural/linguistic groups will rise up against other cultural/linguistic groups and by putting this confrontation first, Jesus infers it will be the most significant problem of the two.
And this is exactly what we see happening today as countries are split apart as the ‘ethne’ or cultural groups within them try to break free to form their own countries.
Much of the strife in Africa is based on dominant tribal groups trying to assert control over smaller groups. There are an estimated 3,000 people groups in Africa spread through 47 countries. Most countries have many tribal groups and usually one group dominates the political process usually at the expense of the others.
Part of the conflict in the Middle East stems around conflict between different ethnic groups. In Iraq, you have the Kurds a distinct cultural group living in the north of the country. They speak Kurdish and for years have wanted their own country and even gained a semi autonomous status in Iraq.
However, the Kurd’s region (known as Kurdistan) extends not only in Iraq but Iran, Syria and Turkey as well.
And even though they are Muslim, they have been in conflict with dominant groups in the respective countries for decades as they strive for independence. It was recently reported that the American government is sending arms to the Kurds in Iraq to help them in their fight against the extremist ISIS, a largely Arabic group.
Even such stable countries as Canada are not immune to this problem as some in French-speaking Quebec aspire to see their province form its own country.
According to Jesus, this growing conflict between the nations would mark the end times.