Preparation for Advent. Idolatry – all about Our Name or ALL about God’s Fame? Some Hidden Lessons from the ‘ancient’ Tower of Babel. Genesis 11:1-9

Genesis 11:1-9 NKJV

The Tower of Babel

11 Now the whole earth had one language and one [a]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 [b] 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 [c]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.

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

I cannot tell anyone how many times I have read this passage, prayed through this ancient text and thought and believed I knew at least a few truths about it.

Yet, as I sit here pondering this text for this devotional about our preparation for Advent with a particular emphasis upon Idolatry – these two verses hit me:

Genesis 11:4-5 NLT

Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.”

But the Lord came down to look at the city and the tower the people were building. “Look!” he said. “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them!

Many stories in the Hebrew [Old] Testament can be difficult to understand.

From Noah, Abraham to the prophets, sometimes the Bible can be downright confusing. Or maybe we unknowingly misunderstand the lesson of the story.

Take the tower of Babel in Genesis 11, for example. My wife and I were talking about this story this week, and she asked me what I thought it was about.

I told her what I thought I knew, but then I thought I had better look at it again.

It must have been the Holy Spirit nudging me in my rib cage because, although I thought I knew a lot about it, I realized that I had totally missed the main point.

The tower of Babel is not just about a brick tower some people built. It’s all about pride, rebellion, and the importance of being obedient to God’s Word.

A New Covenant

The story of the tower of Babel occurs just after Noah’s death in Genesis 11:1-9.

Noah’s Death: (Genesis 9:28-29 NLT – 28 Noah lived another 350 years after the great flood. 29 He lived 950 years, and then he died.)

But to fully understand what’s going on, we need to turn back a page or two to the part when God had established a new covenant with His creation, the earth.

After Noah and his family leave the ark, Noah builds an altar and raises incense the aroma of which is described as pleasing to God’s heart. He was so pleased with Noah’s burnt offerings that God decided to never flood the earth again.

“And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma. Then the Lord said in His heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.” Genesis 8:21-22

God then tells Noah and his sons about the new covenant in Genesis 9:13-17 including the very telltale sign of His covenant—the hanging of a rainbow:

13 I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth. 14 When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, 15 and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures. Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life. 16 When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth.” 17 Then God said to Noah, “Yes, this rainbow is the sign of the covenant I am confirming with all the creatures on earth.” (NLT)

Sandwiched in between God thinking about His new covenant and then telling Noah’s family about it, God tells Noah and his sons to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1).”

Aged Noah only had three sons, but his family had no trouble fulfilling God’s command. They were so prolific that all of Genesis 10 is dedicated to listing all of their children and their grandchildren by name, and there were quite a few.

With the passing of each generation, each son’s family eventually established their own tribe and claimed their own nations.

So, while many were claiming territory, still many other people continued spreading across the earth and filling it.

It was during one of these migrations east that a certain group of people found a great place to build a tower.

Building a Great Tower

In the middle of nowhere in the land of Shinar (historical Babylon and currently Iraq, approximately 60 miles southwest of Baghdad), a group of migrants under the mighty leadership of Nimrod decided to stop there to build, create a village.

Nimrod was the grandson of Noah and the son of Ham.

If you remember, Ham was the son Noah cursed for teasing and making fun of his dad after he found his dad drunk and naked one night (Genesis 9:20-27).

According to the Bible, it was Noah’s curse that created the Canaanites because all of Ham’s family was then considered disobedient.

One day while the people were building the village, someone (perhaps Nimrod himself) suggested they build a tower that reached to the heavens.

When we say “heavens” we’re talking about three different heavens, the highest one being the holy throne of God.

So, these villagers are talking about creating a tower that reaches unto God Himself.

Though they knew they couldn’t actually build such a tower, their intention was clearly to make it as tall as was then humanly possible.

Why would they build such a tall tower?

Let’s look at Genesis 11:4.

“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.”

Their goal was to create something that represented their great abilities and establish a famous reputation among the other tribes.

They obsessively desired to be the very highest envy of everyone across the land. Their pride was bad enough, but that is not what got God really upset.

Remember,

they were supposed to multiply and fill the earth, but this group of people had decided to stop, put down roots, and show off how smart and skilled they were.

Their pride led the people to rebel against God’s command, to steal His glory.

God was not going to have any part of that, so there was only one thing to do.

The Lord’s Verdict

After the tower was built,

God came down to take a closer look at what the people had created, and He decisively decided he did not like it nor did He appreciate the people’s efforts.

He then had a little conversation with Himself.

“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.” Genesis 11:6

God notices exactly how “united” they are, and they all have one language, one vocabulary which allows them to do whatever it is which they wish to do. And respect for the Lord’s commands isn’t important. So, He comes up with a plan.

“Come, let Us [the Trinity] go down and confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (v7)

God did not destroy the tower, an abandoned monument to monumental pride.

But He did scatter the people.

How He did it the Bible doesn’t say. But they were all driven away, the village construction was never completed, and their language was suddenly changed.

Now, certain groups couldn’t understand each other anymore. Those who could communicate gathered together and created new nomadic tribes, which is why, how some scholars believe is how today’s languages were originally created.

It’s interesting to note that the person who first came up with the idea to build the tower said in verse four,

“Let us make a name for ourselves lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

It turned that his prophecy was fulfilled.

So, God called the tower Babel, which means “noisy confusion” and is where the later kingdom of Babylon was later established by Nimrod ~ 2200 BCE and became an empire which reigned from ~1900 BCE to ~539BCE when they were weakened by several wars with Assyria and Persian Cyrus II conquered the city.

Avoiding the Tower of Babel

With stories like this, it can be hard to understand what the lesson might be. On the surface, it just looks like a historical account of an early nomadic tribe.

But when we take a closer look, we see can observe that God is illustrating for us the critical importance of obeying and respecting Him. We also note the danger of becoming prideful, arrogant, and thinking and believing we do not need God.

God is reminding us (again) of the consequences of sin.

Some consequences are great, and some are not.

In the case of Nimrod’s tribe, their behavior and attitudes were so bad God completely scrambled their language and forced them back upon the road to “multiply and fill the earth.”

This is the power of God and is why we need to be careful about our choices.

Genesis 11:4 NLT

Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.”

One the surface, the people of Babel seem like a stellar example of what humans can accomplish as a team.

They created a gigantic tower in order to stay unified and become a powerful community.

However, to God, this was not good. If they could use their teamwork and build this tower, nothing would have been impossible for them (Genesis 11:6).

Why would God have had a problem with this?! Isn’t this the human flourishing God himself commanded in Genesis 1:28, to fill the earth and subdue it?

Because the people of Babel would take all of the glory and all of the recognition for their own handiwork and not glorify God for his blessing upon them; if God had said nothing, left them to themselves, none of them would have found him.

One must wonder how many ministries or churches with good intentions fall into this trap. We might think an enormous building with our name on it will give God the glory, honor, praise, but bigger isn’t always better in God’s eyes.

Throughout the Bible he used men who had little experience or leadership qualities and guided them to be the Godly men their situation required.

We all struggle with the temptation to rely on our works, glorify ourselves for our hard fought success, those of our congregations, instead of relying on God.

Remember this as we who are the Body of Christ ministers to others. God can use you to do a mighty work without a large following or famous church; you have the same God who created the heavens and the earth working through you.

Matthew 7:13-14 NLT

The Narrow Gate

13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell[a] is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.

As we prepare ourselves and our churches for this new season of Advent, as we each consider the contemporary relevance or irrelevance of Idolatry – choice of all of the glory upon our name or upon God’s fame as being the only #1 priority,

As Christians, we ought to brutally examine our hearts and minds every day to make sure we are staying on the path of humble obedience while maintaining complete and absolute respect for God’s power.

The road to hell is wide, its gate is quite wide for the many who choose the way.

Straying off the narrow road which leads straight to abundant life, eternal life in God in Christ, creates a tower of Babel— “noisy confusion” —in our lives.

Stick to God’s path.

Please! Take time today to give all of the honor to God in your accomplishments.

Follow His way, and you’ll never go wrong. His way is always the best way.

Psalm 119:105-112 NLT

Nun

105 Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
    and a light for my path.
106 I’ve promised it once, and I’ll promise it again:
    I will obey your righteous regulations.
107 I have suffered much, O Lord;
    restore my life again as you promised.
108 Lord, accept my offering of praise,
    and teach me your regulations.
109 My life constantly hangs in the balance,
    but I will not stop obeying your instructions.
110 The wicked have set their traps for me,
    but I will not turn from your commandments.
111 Your laws are my treasure;
    they are my heart’s delight.
112 I am determined to keep your decrees
    to the very end.

John 14:1-14 NLT

Jesus, the Way to the Father

14 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home.[a] If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?[b] When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is.[c] From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. 11 Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.

12 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. 13 You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. 14 Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!

Sometimes getting to where we want to go in life can be incredibly confusing.

After Jesus told his disciples he would be leaving them, Thomas said he didn’t know where Jesus was going or how to get there.

I like Thomas’s honest questions.

He doesn’t hide his confusion.

Sometimes Christians think they need to know all the answers.

But Jesus does not scold Thomas for not understanding.

He gives him directions.

Jesus tells Thomas the way to navigate successfully.

And that way is Jesus himself.

If the goal of life is to get with the Father, to get with God, then Jesus is the way.

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

It might help to think of it this way: each one of us has a God-shaped void in us that only God can fill.

As we long to be filled with the abundant life of God, Jesus is the way there.

The truth of his Word will guide us.

And along the way, his life in us gives us the power to stay on track.

What a wonderful journey!

What a wonderful Lord and Savior!

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

Heavenly Father, I pray You would teach me all there is to learn from the wise and foolish decisions made by the post Diluvian people and the rebellious self-centered attitudes they fostered in their heart. Thank You that You are my God and Creator and my center, and that You have given me all I need for life and godliness. Help me to make the wise and right choices in life and to refuse to adopt the sinful ways of the world which unwisely encourage independence from You. May I look to Jesus day by day and rest my hope and future in You. This I ask in His dear name’s sake, AMEN.

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Author: Thomas E Meyer Jr

Formerly Homeless Sinner Now, Child of God, Saved by Grace.

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