Coming to chapter 11 of Genesis, I am thankful for reading through the Bible from the beginning. As you have done this with me, tell me, do you find anything “funny” about this episode regarding the Tower of Babel?
Most of the times, pastors, theologians, authors, love to highlight that the people at Babel were attempting to build something to rival God out of their pride. It makes for a good rhetorical argument, that ‘s for sure. Plus, it allows them to quote and agree with C.S. Lewis who considered pride to be the chief of all sins (in his classic book Mere Christianity).
While I’m not inclined to disagree about that last statement, I find reading all of Genesis 11 shows me that there was something else occurring here. It isn’t just about the pride of man, and God putting man in his place.
Read and tell me what you think:
“And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:3-4 (ESV)
Their desire was not just for a name, or a structure that reached up to the heavens.
Their desire was to not be dispersed throughout the earth.
Their desire was to be insulated and together. To have life on their own terms. To have safety, security. Their preferences honored at all times.
Sure that sounds like pride. Especially of the Frank Sinatra variety. But pride is not just the usual thinking highly of yourself.
It is putting your own needs and desires ahead of others.
In this case, its wanting life on their own terms, not God’s.
Because He wanted them to scatter.
God’s concern is not that through human ingenuity, it would actually be possible for them to “reach up to the heavens,” like they were proposing. Or that they could provide an adequate name for themselves. No! When God says “nothing will be impossible for them”, He is referring to the fact that no plan of theirs to avoid God’s plans for them will fail.
God’s not threatened by their human potential. He’s grieved that everything the propose to do is antithetical to all what He wants for them, and from them.
Remember what God tells Adam, and Noah – “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.”
In other words….”Spread out! Image me throughout the entire earth. Be my ‘man on the ground’ in every corner of the world.”
Or, to paraphrase Abraham Kuyper, “Live in light of the reality that ‘every square inch is mine!'” So, God once again intervenes. In chapter 11 He intervenes to scatter them. In chapter 12, He intervenes by calling another man on the ground – Abram – to serve a critical role in furthering God’s image throughout the earth.
God isn’t threatened by man’s attempts to make a name for themselves. He is concerned at them not living in light of who they were meant to be.
 And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”  So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.  Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.” – Genesis 11:6-9 (ESV)
For Further Thought:
1. Read the rest of today’s passages and notice the theme of God providing for His people. How does that affect the way you respond to God and His work for your life, in your life, and through your life?
2. In Genesis 12, we come to the story of Abraham. Does Abraham sound like a solution to the problem of human sin from Genesis 11? If so, how so? If not, why not?
3. Christopher Wright has written in his book, The Mission of God, that the calling of Abraham could really be an OT paraphrase of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…that He called Abram.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
The above mentioned book, The Mission of God by Christopher Wright is an incredible book on the subject of God’s mission, with heavy emphasis on the calling of Abram. Its also incredibly big and somewhat dense. Not for the faint of heart (at well over 500+ pages), but if you like this kind of stuff, its the best book, on the subject, I have come across.
Two other recent books (that I have not read, but have heard others recomend or can assume that they are good) are God’s Big Picture Book by Vaughn Roberts, and The Mission of God’s People by Christopher Wright. This later book really looks like a more accessible version of his larger book previously mentioned. A good friend, Jeremy Floyd, told me about the other book, by Vaughn Roberts, as another resource similar to Wright’s stuff.