In today’s reading, we find a group of people who are united in one language and one goal.
On the surface, maybe this unity that we see in the beginning of Genesis 11 doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. It seems that men are working together, getting along as they begin to build a city.
But they have left God out of their plans.
Their goal is to do the opposite of what God has instructed them to do…He told the sons of Noah back in Genesis 9 that they were to multiply and fill the earth. But, somewhere along the way, someone decided that this was not the right course for the future. Someone decided that God did not know what was best for mankind. Someone decided to stop trusting in His purposes for the earth.
So they settle together in the land Shinar, founding a city. They want to make a name for themselves by building a tower that will reach into the heavens…and they want to use this name – believing that it will come with authority – to put a stop to the scattering of the tribes over the earth.
They are building in their own honor, for their own glory, for their own gain, to accomplish their own will.
Did they believe that this tower would show God – their own creator – how powerful they were? Did they wish to show control over their future? Did they wish to reach heaven, believing that such heights would make them equal with God?
This immediately brings to mind the enemy, satan, who said “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation. On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’
I can see his pride, his desire to become like God, and his sneaky way of undermining the trust in man’s relationship with the Creator. I can see his schemes in the lives of these men who wanted to make a name for themselves, working to leave behind the will of God to, instead, fulfill their own desires.
Yes, they’d been led astray. Like their ancestors before them, they chose to listen to the voice of the enemy instead of to the voice of God.
And God already knew the destruction that comes with pride. He had already had His heart broken over mankind’s bondage to sin and selfish desire…and the violence and pain that came with it.
So He put a stop to this catastrophe-in-the-making before it could be completed.
It was, I think, a creative (and merciful) solution. Instead of destroying the tower, He changed the status quo…He confused the language of the whole world. Instead of one common tongue, each tribe or family found themselves speaking a unique language.
In this sudden disruption of language, work on the city ceased and the tribes began to disperse.
As I consider the Tower of Babel and this desire of mankind to build ourselves up, I wonder what we are trying to prove. Is it our own worth that we are attempting to establish? Are we consumed with self-sufficiency, chasing the idea that we are enough in ourselves and not dependent upon God? At its core, is our disobedience a symptom of not trusting God? And at the center of our distrust, do we find the ploy of the enemy to break our communion with God?
When it comes to my own life, I can see that this is true. I have tried to build my own towers in this life, looking for value and control in the work of my own hands. I didn’t trust that He was enough to fulfill my heart. There have been times when I didn’t obey God because of fear. I didn’t think I was able to do what He’d asked – I didn’t trust that He would provide the ability, the strength, or whatever was necessary for that time. There have been times that I did not understand the step He wanted me to take – and, so, I wouldn’t take it. Pride, too, has stopped me from obedience – which, for me, is another way to say that I trusted in myself instead of in God, so I chose my own way instead of His.
But what I have learned is that His ways are better than mine. I have learned, through taking one step at a time forward with Him, that He is faithful. I have put my trust in Him and found Him steadfast and always, always good. I have learned that my strength comes in surrender to Him, my confidence in depending totally on Him. I have learned that my actions, words, and perceptions of the world have a direct connection to how I see God…and the ability to fully obey, laying down my life and picking up the cross before me, comes with my trust in Who He is.
Because I know He is for me, I can step out in faith – even when it’s illogical or uncomfortable – to do whatever it is He might ask of me. Because I know He is love – because I know He loves me, I can follow wherever He leads.
These are on-going lessons…because God keeps calling us to follow into new places, doesn’t He? He keeps transforming us into His image. He keeps teaching us to trust Him, more and more, so that we can do the next thing to which He calls us.
I hope that we build our lives in His honor, for His glory, for His fame.
If we make any name known, Lord, let it be YOURS and not our own. Let it be Your will fulfilled in us, our obedience flowing out of our love for You…fearless to follow because of our trust in You.
Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
(Here’s an interpretation of what the tower may have looked like. This is a painting by an unknown Flemish master from 1587.)
“Genesis does not say what the Tower of Babel looked like, but archaeological ruins provide clues. Ancient ziggurats or pyramids exist all over the world. Ziggurats are stepped, tiered, or terraced pyramids that usually have a shrine on top. Ruins of these exist in almost 30 different countries including Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, India, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Peru, and Mexico.”–Bible Science Guy