Explain a frustrating, confusing, or humorous story that stems from differences in language.
Our frustration with language goes back to the story we’re looking at today in Genesis 11. But this is really not about differences in language. There’s something more important happening in these verses.
Sin occurs when we glorify our names instead of God’s name (Gen. 11:1-4)
11 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 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. 4 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.”
QUES: Is it good the the whole world was so unified? What’s offensive to God about the unity of the world mentioned here.
While it is good that man dwells in unity, the problem with the unity mentioned here is in it’s purpose. The people of Babel were unified in lifting up their own achievements independent from God. They sought to be great apart from Him.
We know that God isn’t against large construction projects.
From the beginning of man, God’s intent was for His name to be glorified as people populated and ruled over His creation. But instead, God’s image bearers wanted to build a city and tower for their glory and to exalt their name, expressly so they wouldn’t be scattered throughout the earth.
This is in direct violation of God’s command to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28 and the command to Noah in Genesis 9:1,7.
They intend to stay, but God has other purposes. In coming chapters, Abraham is called to leave this settlement and go to a land God will reveal.
The language throughout these verses suggests a strong sense of pride and independence. They rellished in the human spirit and ability to make, in their eyes, the most wonderful bricks and thought themselves well supplied with no need for divine provision. Notice the independence and pride repeated through the use of the word “us” in these verses.
In many ways, this story resembles the earlier attempt of man in the Garden of Eden to achieve equality with God, or reach an equal status apart from Him.
APP: Man’s desire for autonomy has not changed throughout the ages.
“bitumen” – is mineral pitch or tar used for mortar and for sealing boats.
A two-fold purpose is found in this construction project.
- The first is to “make a name for ourselves.”
This desire runs directly against God’s desire to have a great name and be rightly praised because of it.
Ezekiel 36:23 – I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.
Malachi 1:11 – For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.
THEO: God is great. None is His equal in any way. It is absurd to attempt to rob or diminish his goodness and power by attempting to become great in and of ourselves.
2. The second purpose of this construction project, a desire to remain independent from God.
QUES: Where in your community do you see people living according to the mantra “By my will, in my strength, for my glory”?
God will put an end to every kingdom that is not His (Gen. 11:5-7)
5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 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. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
The story provides a striking contrast between human opinion of its self-achievements and God’s viewpoint of such endeavors. If your God has to stoop down to even notice closely man and his loftiest achievements then he is obviously the one who is great.
God’s use of “let us go down” is largely a sarcastic response to the endeavors of mankind to build a tower to the heavens.
The unity of man, at its strongest, is still weak when compared to the powerful unity of the godhead.
“The necessary descent of God and the humanness of the enterprise, “that the men were building,” shows the escapade for what it was—a tiny tower, conceived by a puny plan and attempted by a pint-sized people. God’s lofty viewpoint (“see”) must be related to the previous reference to the tower’s reach for the “heavens,” where the divine abides. Psalm 2 is explicit about God’s attitude toward such mortal schemes, “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them” (2:4).”*
God’s action here is:
We should not see this as a reaction based on the sense of being threatened (God worried about His dominion), but it really is more focuesed on seeking to help man avoid further consequences for their actions.
This is actually grace in the midst of rebellion. The Lord’s discipline isn’t for purposes of spite or fear that his authority has been challenged, but is a means of helping us live in a God-pleasing way (Heb. 12:10-11).
God’s ways are higher than our ways (Gen. 11:8-9; Isa. 55:8-9)
8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 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.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Notice the tower was not destroyed by divine intervention as was Sodom and Gomorrah, instead it stood as a stark reminder of the danger of pride and autonomy.
APP: In our well-provisioned homes, let us not forget to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
God often does that for us: He frustrates our sinful plans, but He’ll leave the “broken towers” there with their consequences so we’ll stay close to Him and remember His grace. Broken towers in our lives feel like God’s judgment. And in a sense, they are. But any judgment before the ultimate judgment is mercy because it can wake us up before it’s too late. God’s small judgments in this life are warnings to us, towers that scream out: “Don’t go down that path! It will only leave you empty!”
QUES: What would change if we began to see the “broken towers” in our lives, areas of disappointment and pain, as God’s merciful attempts to draw us back to Himself?
Verse 9 tells us that the name of this place was called “Babel”, which means muddled, confused or mixed up. Let us not be muddled about what God is doing in the world and in our lives.
Christians believe in God’s personal and direct intervention in the world – as opposed to a hands-off approach** to creation – that affects not only the natural order but also the individuals and events within human history.
Instead, believers embrace the providence of God, where we see God’s continued work and involvement in his creation.
QUES: In what ways have you experienced God’s providence in your life?
What about times where things may not make sense to us? If God’s ways are not always our ways and his ways are higher than ours, what do we do?
Read Hab. 2:4 – 4 “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.
Hint: Consider the context of Hab. 1:1-6.
*Mathews, K. A. (1996). Genesis 1-11:26 (Vol. 1A, p. 483). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
**This philosophy is known as deism and was a prevalent philosophy during the American and French revolutions.