Prof. Herman Hanko

I call your attention to this text under the theme "The Language of Ashdod on the Lips of Covenant Youth." I ask you to notice with me, first of all, Its Great Evil; secondly, Its Spiritual Cause; and finally, Its Radical Cure.

I have to call your attention first of all, to that little word "half" in the text. "Their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod."

There are a number of different interpretations of that word among the commentators. Some commentators take that to mean that the children who came from these mixed marriages were roughly divided in half, so that half the children spoke the language of their father, which was the Jewish language, and half spoke the language of their mother, which was the language of Ashdod. The home was bilingual. There are others who take the position that the word "half" really means that the children that came from these mixed marriages spoke a kind of Yankee Dutch. You all know, I take it, what Yankee Dutch is. They spoke half Jewish and half the language of Ashdod, so that it was a kind of mixture of both languages.

None of those interpretations is correct, however, because the text itself says that these children could not speak the language of the Jews. They couldn't speak it at all. It was a foreign tongue to them. While their fathers were Jews, their mothers were either Moabites or Ammonites or Philistines (Ashdod was one of the major cities of the Philistines). The children couldn't speak Hebrew, the Jewish language, at all. It was forgotten.

The idea of that "half" is really explained in the latter part of the verse: half spoke the language of Ashdod, and the other half spoke the language of Moab or Ammon, depending on whether their mother was a Moabitess or an Ammonitess. But none of them could speak any longer the language of the Jews.

It's really quite important too that we understand this, because in this particular case the two are mutually exclusive; and that's spiritually the way it is too. You either speak the language of Ashdod or you speak the Jews' language. But there is no possibility from a spiritual point of view, that you speak both. In that sense of the word you cannot be bilingual and be a child of God faithful to your God. That's impossible. So it's one or the other: you speak the language of Ashdod or Moab or Ammon on the one hand, or you speak the language of the Jews on the other hand; but not both.

Now in order to understand what this text is talking about, you have to understand, first of all, that language is a marvelous gift of God. We take it so much for granted because it's so much a part of our life; it's so common to all of us. But if you would stop to think about it for a moment, the ability to speak and the gift of language is a marvelous gift of God.

That gift was bestowed upon man in Paradise already, and the language which Adam spoke in Paradise was a unique language that has never again been spoken on the face of the earth. That was because of the fact that Adam was perfect in Paradise, and Adam's whole language was nothing else but an echo, a human echo, of God's speech. God had spoken, and the world had come into being. "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth." And each individual creature in God's creation was a word of God. And man had the marvelous gift of seeing that word of God in the creature, hearing it, and repeating it.

When we call a horse a horse, that doesn't mean anything, you know. You could just as well call a horse a centipede; you could just as well call a horse a star, because words don't have any particular meaning for us. But that wasn't the way it was with Adam in Paradise. He could see the word of God in every creature, and he, by his gift of speech, could say a word that was like God's word. When he saw a cow, for example, he could give a name to that cow, which name was just like the word that God had spoken that called that cow into existence. But that's all lost through sin. Nevertheless, the gift of speech remains, and because the gift of speech is such a wonderful gift, it can be used for great good or for great evil. Without the gift of language, all fellowship is impossible. If it were not that God made us capable of speaking, we could not have any fellowship with each other. Each man would be totally isolated from his fellow men. Each man would be an island by himself. But at the very heart of fellowship lies the gift of language.

That's true of the relationship of fellowship in the covenant between God and His people. God speaks to us through Christ. He speaks the Word of His grace. He speaks the Word of Christ powerfully, effectively, and that Word saves us, recreates us, and we speak to Him. In that holy conversation between God and us is the heart of covenant fellowship.

Now the language of a nation reflects the character of a nation. That's always true. You can tell what kind of a people a certain nation has by studying their language. The language reveals the culture of a people. The language reveals what that people think of the world in which they live. The language of a people reflects a people's understanding of right and wrong. The language of a people expresses their entire social life, their entire political and religious life. That's all expressed in their language. That's why, even though English and Dutch are not so very far apart, there are many, many words in Dutch that you can't translate into English. There is no English equivalent for them, because the language of a people develops with the people and it expresses the whole character of that nation. And if that's true of the differences between, say, the Dutchmen and the Americans, how much more is that not true of the differences between the Americans and the Chinese, whose languages are vastly, fundamentally different, because their cultures are so completely different from each other? That's why when Americans talk with Chinese, many times it happens that they don't even understand each other. Even though they have interpreters, even though a Chinese can understand the American language or an American can understand the Chinese language, they talk past each other, because their cultures are so different and because their languages express all these differences.

Now that was emphatically true of the Jews. The Jews spoke Hebrew, and there was something special about the Hebrew language, because the Hebrew language was a language that developed right along with the nation of the Jews. When God first called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees and brought him to the land of Canaan, and when from Abraham came Isaac and from Isaac came Jacob and from Jacob came the twelve patriarchs, and the nation developed, the Hebrew language developed right along with that. But, you see, God had made the Hebrews His own people among all the people of the earth and had revealed Himself to them, given them what Paul calls in Romans 9 the oracles of God and the promises; so that the language of God, the revelation of God, the word of God's promise, was woven into the very warp and woof of the language of the Israelites. You couldn't speak Hebrew without speaking of Jehovah, and without speaking of the laws that Israel had received on Sinai, without speaking of the hope of the coming of Christ, and without speaking of Israel's entire political and ecclesiastical and social and civil life, which set them apart as a nation distinct from all the nations of the earth. Their language reflected that. Read the Bible, the Old Testament Scriptures. That was the language they spoke. And that language was an expression of their whole identity as a separate people of God.

But the language of the Ammonites and of the Moabites and of the Ashdodites, the Philistines, was also an expression of their cultures, as language always is. And because it was an expression of their cultures, it was an expression of their paganism, their heathenism, their world and life view, if you will. Their language was an expression of that. Their language was an expression of how they looked at the world, how they explained where the world came from and why it was here and what their place in it was. Their language expressed their whole view of right and wrong. Their language expressed all their religion, their idolatry, their horrible, unbelievably corrupt idolatry, their immorality that was inevitably associated with their idolatry, and all the corruptions of the heathen that made these nations ripe for judgment. They were all expressed in the language. You couldn't talk their language without talking of their religion, their morality, their paganism, their heathenism.


And that was the tragedy taking place in Israel. These Jewish men were attracted by the beauty of the daughters of Ashdod and Moab and Ammon, and they married them, and in those homes were spoken two languages: the Jews' language spoken by the father and this foreign tongue spoken by the wife. But because those two languages were so fundamentally different, those were divided homes. And the tragedy of it all was--and that's always the way it goes--the children who were born from these marriages spoke not the Jews' language but the language of their mother. That's what happened in every instance. And in speaking the language of their mothers, the Jews' language became to them a foreign tongue. They didn't know it anymore. They didn't understand it. All they could understand was the language of Ashdod. And that meant, if that situation had been allowed to continue, the end of the nation and its distinctive character and its place among the nations as a separate people.

Now that has its New Testament counterpart. In the natural sense of the word this is no longer true. In the new dispensation God gathers a catholic Church, and a catholic Church is a Church that is gathered from every nation and tribe and tongue under heaven. And part of the beauty of the catholicity of the Church is that God saves from every nation His Church, His elect people, while preserving the national and racial distinctives of that people. The Chinese is saved as a Chinese, and the catholicity of the Church is what it is, because within that Church he remains a Chinese. A Dutchman is saved as a Dutchman, and the catholicity of the Church is what it is, because in the Church he stays a Dutchman. That's its beauty. That's the beauty of the catholicity of the Church.

But the truth of this text in the spiritual sense belongs to the new dispensation as well as the old. There is a certain language, a certain spiritual language, of the world, and there is a certain spiritual language of the Church. Ultimately, the language of the Church is the language of the Scriptures. That is, the spiritual language which the people of God speak must be a language which is biblical, because they owe their identity as the Church to the Word of God. And the Word of God is the source of their life and the source of their power, the source of their strength and their guide in the whole of their life.

But, you see, this reflects itself in especially two ways.

In the first place, over the years in the new dispensation, from Pentecost on, as the Church developed in the truth of the Scriptures, the Church formulated her own language--biblical, but her own language--by which she expresses her faith in this world. And the Church has agreed to use as an expression of her faith --has agreed for centuries, sometimes for a millennium--on certain terms which she uses to express her faith. Some of those terms are found directly in Scripture; some are not. Terms such as justification, sanctification, regeneration are terms that are found directly in Scripture. Terms such as Trinity, providence, are terms which are not found in the Scriptures but which the Church has developed in order to express what she believes to be the truth of the Word of God. And this language, this language of the Church, has developed over centuries and centuries of time and has become a language embodied in our confessions, a language which has about it a certain sacredness--not because language in itself is sacred, but because this is the language of the Church. Countless saints for countless years have used this language in order to confess their faith. These terms have meanings, precise meanings, carefully defined meanings, and are terms which carry the weight of the teaching of the Word of God in connection with them. They've become precious to the Church.

But in our modern day you have a situation where that language of the Church is forgotten. That's true. If you talk today in a large part of the ecclesiastical world about such terms as regeneration, conversion, sanctification, the antithesis, predestination, election, reprobation, people haven't the faintest notion of what you're talking about. They say, "That's a foreign language to us. We don't understand that language." And the sad part of it is that this is taking place in the church. That language which the Church has developed over the years as her own language, biblical, the tool by which she confesses her faith, has become a foreign tongue. So what does the church do about it? The church says, "Well, because all these terms are foreign terms in our modern society, we've got to draw up contemporary confessions and contemporary testimonies, which speak to our times." They simply, without the least bit of regret, abandon all of the language of the Church in order to put the faith which they now confess into some kind of contemporary language, while the language of the Church becomes a foreign tongue. If the minister gets on the pulpit, and he preaches and uses those terms which the Church has used for hundreds of years, the people say, "We don't understand what you're talking about. You're way too doctrinal. Your sermons are way over our heads. We don't understand a thing of it. The language you use is a foreign tongue to us." The trouble is, you see, that they can no longer speak in the Jews' language, and the only language they're capable of speaking in is the language of Ashdod. That's a tragedy of unspeakable proportions.

This text is talking about the children, the children of the covenant, the young people. Do our children and do our young people still understand the language of the Church, the language of the Reformed faith? Do they? Or is it maybe true that our young people, while they vaguely remember hearing in catechism words like "regeneration" and "the person and natures of Christ," couldn't give an account of what those terms mean if their life depended on it?

On the other hand, of course, not only is the language of the Scriptures used as the vehicle by which the Church confesses her faith, confesses what she believes to be the truth of the Word of God; but the language of the Church is the language which she speaks, by which she expresses all her faith, her world and life view if you will, how she views the world about her in which she lives. What is her attitude towards the things of this present creation? What are her values? What does she consider important in this world? The language is the language which she uses to express her opinion of what is right and what is wrong. The language of the Church is what the Church uses to express her hope and her longing that someday she shall be with Christ, while the language of the world is exactly the opposite from this.

Again we stand before the question: what is the language which our young people talk? Sometimes, when thinking about it, I shiver. They can talk the language of the television set. They know all the stars in all the programs that are on television. They can sing all the songs of the rock and roll stars. They know that language, filthy and obscene and corrupt though it may be. They can sing all the ditties of the TV commercials; that language they know. They know the language of sports: they know the language of the baseball players, what players have what batting averages and what teams are on the top of the league; that language they can speak. They're very fluent in that language and can discourse in that language with eagerness and animation and great interest. They can discuss with you the relative merits of different brands of beer; they're very fluent in that language. They can talk all about 4x4 trucks and speedy automobiles with powerful internal combustion engines. That language they know, oh yes. But when it comes to the language of the Church, the language of the people of God, you hardly hear that language spoken by them. They do not know it. They're embarrassed by it. They hardly can stand to be in the company of those who speak that kind of language, because they're almost ashamed to speak the language of the Church, the language that confesses that we are pilgrims and strangers in the earth, that our treasures are in heaven, that, as Paul expresses it in Timothy, "having food and drink, let us therewith be content." That kind of language, the language of prayer, the language of the Scriptures, the language of the hope of the child of God, the language of heaven, the language of the cross, the language of a penitent sinner who bows before the cross in shame and sorrow for his sin and seeks forgiveness in the blood of Christ; that language, that kind of language, is almost a foreign tongue.

Don't forget there's a kind of an exclusivity about this. It's one or the other. You can't speak a spiritual Yankee Dutch, not in the final analysis. Jesus says, "Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also." There's an old Dutch expression that, translated, goes something like this: "What the heart is full of, that the mouth speaks." And when the mouth speaks the language of Ashdod, that's because of the fact that Ashdod and the pleasures of Ashdod and the lusts of Ashdod are in our hearts. That's the tragedy of it. We must face the question tonight, you and I, in our homes and in our families: what language is spoken by us? Is it true that the children speak in the language of Ashdod and can not speak in the Jews' language--is that true of us?

The text traces this back to its spiritual cause, and its spiritual cause was of course these mixed marriages. I'm not so much interested in talking tonight about that matter of mixed marriages. What I want to emphasize is that the text traces this evil back to the home. If it is true that a generation is coming up in our churches that can speak only the language of Ashdod, the problem is in the home. In Israel, these Jewish men married heathen women. Oh, I can almost hear them talk, can't you, when their parents got after them: "We'll get these girls to come with us to the temple. We'll get these girls to come with us to make sacrifices. We'll get these girls to learn the Jews' language. We'll get these girls to become a part of the nation. We'll make good Jews out of them. Don't worry, Mother. Don't worry, Father. Everything's going to be all right. We love each other, and love will take care of everything, and pretty soon these girls will be good members of the church."

But it doesn't work out that way. Maybe at least we could say this: it is a source of great grief to conscientious covenant parents when their boys and their girls, when they are looking for a life's mate, instead of looking for one who is godly, instead of looking for a wife who will be a godly covenant mother who loves the Lord, who wants to establish a covenant home, they look for a pretty face and swinging skirts and flashing smiles. Beauty, vivaciousness, sparkling personalities and shapeliness are sometimes more important than the fear of the Lord when our young people look for mates.

But, however that may be, there's another old saying which you probably know, which goes this way, that if you put a good apple in a barrel of bad apples, you must not expect that good apple to make the bad apples good. But the bad apples are going to make that good apple bad. It's that way in human relationships too. And although these men who married these heathen women may have had the best of intentions, nevertheless when their children were born and when their children learned to speak and when their children came to years of discretion, not the Jews' language won out in those homes, but the language of Ashdod and Moab and Ammon. And it wasn't even as if these children could talk some kind of a Yankee Dutch. The language of the Jews was forgotten. They couldn't understand it at all anymore. It was a foreign tongue.

The fault lay in the home, because in the home the language of the church was spoken and the language of the world. And where you have that kind of a divided home, that kind of a compromised home, the bad wins out and the good goes down to defeat.

The question which we face tonight is not just simply this: what kind of a language are our children talking? But what kind of a language is spoken in our home? That's the question. The language of the Church, or the language of the world? Oh, maybe both. Maybe both. Maybe we try to speak both. Maybe we try to have our family devotions and have prayer and Bible reading at the table with our children and talk with our children about the Scriptures when we read the Scriptures with them. Maybe we do that yet. And maybe we teach our children their catechism, their questions and answers, and we see to it that they know the Bible texts which they have to memorize for school. But is that language of the Church consistently the language which is spoken in our homes? Do all the words which are spoken in the homes reflect the language of the Scriptures, that cherished language of the Church which expresses her faith and has expressed her faith, so that our children from the time they can learn to talk learn to understand what those terms mean? Predestination and providence, election and regeneration: do our children learn those terms? We mustn't say, "That's for the catechism to teach those terms." It's the home's business. By our life and by our conduct, by what we read and what we listen to on the radio and what we watch on television, what we sing and how we talk to each other, we teach our children a language. It must be the language of people of God, the language of those who are pilgrims and strangers in the earth, the language of those whose treasures are in heaven, the language of those who don't look at this world as one big playground in which to have a good time, but who understand that this world is a battlefield, in which the battle is fierce and unrelenting. That language, is the language which ought to be spoken in the home. If two languages are spoken, our children are going to speak the language of Ashdod. They will.

We hardly have time in our homes anymore for family devotions. Hardly can we get the whole family together around the table to pray together, to read the Bible together, and to talk about the Scriptures together. Tonight's the night we go out to eat, and this one has to go here, and that one has to go there. This one's got to hurry away to do this, and we don't even have time for family devotions. How do you expect, then, that in our homes will be spoken the language of the Church, the language of prayer, the language of Scripture, the language of the hope of the child of God?

That children coming from those homes know only the language of Ashdod, ought not to surprise us. Let's be clear on one point which we all know: because of the fact that we are still in this world with the body of this death, the language of the world is easy to learn. It amazes and simply astounds me how these little tikes who can barely talk can pick up in an instant the ditties of the commercials on TV. Nothing to it. It's like falling off a log to speak the language, to learn the language of the world! And that's because it appeals to our sinful flesh. It's exactly the kind of language we like.

But the language of the Church is hard to learn. It's worse to learn than Latin. You have to study it and study it and study it; you have to spend time at it; you have to be prayerful about it; you have to pound it into your head again and again and again because you forget it so easily. It's hard. The language of the Church is hard to learn. And so we take the easy way, and we learn the easy language. Who wants to learn Latin? Who wants to learn a language that takes so much blood, sweat, and tears? Who wants to take the time to learn it? We've got other things to do. We haven't got time to sit down and study hard the language of the Church. So it becomes a foreign tongue. That's happening.

What we're talking about is of course the antithesis, the spiritual antithesis that exists between the Church and the world. There's a very beautiful expression of that in Deuteronomy 7. And, interestingly enough, in Deuteronomy 7, it's connected with the warning against the evil of intermarriage. This is what the Lord says: "Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen." That's the antithesis.

The Lord has called us by His sovereign grace through Christ to represent the cause of His Kingdom and covenant in the midst of this present evil world in which we live, and He has given to us by the power of His Spirit a new heart, through the work of regeneration, so that we are called to live out of the principle of regeneration by grace in all our life. And only in that way is God's name, God's cause, God's covenant, God's Kingdom manifested in this present world. If that life of the antithesis is a life of the heart, a life of regeneration by grace, then it is a life that reflects that all our treasures and all our hope are in heaven. For where your treasures are, there will your heart be also. And our speech, our language that we talk, is a language of which the heart is full. That overflows from our lips.


Beloved, this calls us to some serious self-examination, does it not? The Lord's cause will continue on the earth. It will--there isn't any question about that. The Lord has guaranteed that His cause will continue on the earth until the Lord returns. But He has not guaranteed that His cause will be represented by the Protestant Reformed Churches. We don't have that kind of a guarantee. And if we should prove unfaithful, if the language of the Church is lost among us, the Lord will have those who still know that language, though our churches may be overrun with the language of Ashdod. That's not impossible or inconceivable.

But because the cause of our churches is so dear and so precious to our hearts, we stand before that question tonight: what language is spoken in our homes? Is the language of the Church spoken yet in our homes? Is that the only language which is spoken? Do we strive and struggle to make that the language which our children hear exclusively, whatever may be required to do that? If we don't, then we must repent. It doesn't do for you to say, "Nice sermon, Dominie," and then go home and forget it! We must repent on our knees, in sorrow of heart before God. If the language of the Church is forgotten, God won't continue His Church with us! God forbid that that should happen. And if that danger is present, let us repent and cry out for forgiveness at the foot of the cross and resolve by grace to make the language in our homes the language of the Scriptures, of the Church, that our children may learn to speak that language and that God's covenant and cause continue with us.

Lord, we thank Thee for Thy Word, even though Thy Word hurts and even though Thy Word humbles us. We thank Thee for it. We need to hear it Lord, we do. Only we pray that in Thy mercy towards us Thou wilt make us not just simply hearers of the Word, but also doers, that that beautiful, glorious speech of the Scriptures may be our speech in all our way and conversation, and that that may be the language which our children speak, so that the cause of Thy Church is preserved among us and our seed until the Lord comes again. Amen

Last modified: 01-Aug-2001