Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

 11-12-04

The Tower of Babel                                                                            

Genesis 11:1-11:9


1 At that time all mankind spoke a single language.

2 As the population grew and spread eastward, a plain was discovered in the land of Babylon and was soon thickly populated.

3,4 The people who lived there began to talk about building a great city, with a temple-tower reaching to the skies--a proud, eternal monument to themselves. "This will weld us together," they said, "and keep us from scattering all over the world." So they made great piles of hard-burned brick, and collected bitumen to use as mortar.

5 But when God came down to see the city and the tower mankind was making,

6 he said, "Look! If they are able to accomplish all this when they have just begun to exploit their linguistic and political unity, just think of what they will do later! Nothing will be unattainable for them!

7 Come, let us go down and give them different languages, so that they won't understand each other's words!"

8 So, in that way, God scattered them all over the earth; and that ended the building of the city.

9 That is why the city was called Babel (meaning "confusion"), because it was there that Jehovah confused them by giving them many languages, thus widely scattering them across the face of the earth.

  Gen 11:1-9 (Living)

 

 
The story of the Tower of Babel is a sad description of the breakdown of fellowship, of failure in communication, and growing isolation and confusion.

 

It all results from human beings failing to live in dependence on God, becoming proud of their achievements and determined to be the source of their own security.


That was the root cause of the chaos they brought on themselves.

After the Flood the population had rapidly multiplied at God’s command to Noah to “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Gen 9:1).


The chapter before the account of the Tower of Babel, chapter 10, mentions 70 people showing how God had blessed mankind in its fresh start and confirming His covenant to Noah.


But mankind continued to be a disappointment to God.


One particular group, founded by the legendary Nimrod, who was celebrated as “a mighty hunter before the Lord” (10:9) migrated to what is now known as Iraq.

 

It became the center of civilization of the ancient world.

 

Babylon was the high point of human achievement.

Archaeologists tell us that Babylon was one of a number of cities built by a succession of people that lived on the Mesopotamian plain starting around 5,500 years ago.

 

There developed a tradition in each city of building a temple in the shape of a stepped pyramid, called a ziggurat. z i g g u r a t

 

Babylon became the most influential city on the plain and its ziggurat, honoring the god Marduk, was built, destroyed and rebuilt until it was the tallest tower.

 

With this evidence, it’s not hard to believe that the original Tower of Babel really existed although nothing of it remains today.

The people of Babel, lived several generations on from Noah and they had developed technical skills.

 

The builders of the Tower had gained sufficient architectural and mathematical knowledge to undertake a large construction project.

 

The Creator God had endowed mankind with intelligence.

 

This was good and fine; that they were using their God-given gifts.

 

They had also developed a political focus as a community for we find them saying, ’Let us build.’

 

But sadly, there was more to it than that, because their spiritual condition was far from what it should have been.

God had allowed this development of mankind, because He had given it the priceless gift of freewill but, because of man’s fallen nature, his leaning towards sin is clearly seen.

 

The statement “Let us build” is incomplete.

 

A better translation would be, “Let us build ourselves”.

 

Their project was theirs alone.

 

They had left behind the spiritual heritage of Noah and their forefather Nimrod and forgotten their Creator.

 

They were building according to human wisdom.

 

It reminds me of the verse; “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

 

They were like the builder in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders (Matt 7:24-27).

 

Jesus highlighted the contrast between the two types when He said that the wise “hears these words of mine and does them”.

The builders of the Tower knew what God’s standards were, but decided they knew best.

 

We can either build on Him and His teaching, which we will find as solid as rock; or else we can build on any other religion or philosophy that the world offers, and we will find that it’s sand, and in the last day it will bring about ruin.

 

There is a book entitled “Discerning the Spirit of the Age”.

 

In it, the writer, Derek Tidball, illustrated his description of the 21st century culture, that’s often alien to God, by observing the slogans and values by which several major brands advertise their products around the world.

 

Obviously, there were some positive things in them, but the downside revealed the bad taste of today’s culture.

 

I’d like to share with you some of the points he made.

He mentioned Nike, the sports shoe manufacturer.

 

The Nike “swoosh” is easily recognized.

 

The slogan is “Just do it!”

 

It invites people to take control of their lives; to break out of the dullness of the humdrum of daily lives and to achieve something.

 

It’s a rallying cry to become motivated and to take action.

 

Of course there’s nothing wrong with that in the correct circumstances.

 

The work ethic is good.

 

For the Christian it’s a sound principle.

 

The wise writer of Ecclesiastes warns of the foolishness of being over-cautious: “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap” (11:4).

There are times as Nike tells us; we should ’just do it!’

 

As a piece of secondary advice it’s good, but it can be wrong if becomes the main idea of life.

 

Nike’s philosophy is that we already have within us all the resources we need to be a success.

 

We’re self-sufficient; we have the capacity within ourselves to reach life’s goal.

 

It’s all there.

 

Our works can save us.

 

So what’s stopping us – “Just do it!”

 

The non-Christian way of salvation is “the self-movement of man” towards God.

 

Martin Luther called it “climbing up to the majesty on high.”

 

The human spirit can “soar aloft towards God.”

 

But what has it achieved?

 

It certainly hasn’t outlawed crime, war, selfishness and all the other ills that beset our poor planet.

According to Jesus, such a line of argument is deeply flawed.

 

It’s not those who are rich in their own spirits, or think they are, who are blessed.

 

It’s those who are poor in spirit - those who know how spiritually bankrupt they are and recognize their inability to make up the shortfall themselves, who are blessed.

 

It is they who will enter the kingdom of God and not those who think they can make it by their own efforts.

 

At the heart of the gospel is the fact that we can only get back in touch with our Creator through what Jesus has done for us.

 

It’s not a self-help gospel.

 

It’s about Jesus supplying what we lack.

 

He made the connection, we couldn’t make ourselves.

 

It’s not “Just do it!” but it’s “Jesus did it!”

 

That’s the slogan that counts.

”Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens” said the Tower of Babel builders.

 

They thought that by building upwards they could find the solution to life’s unanswered questions.

 

But they were wrong.

 

The fault line in their thinking was clearly visible.

 

Their vision to reach heaven was a human attempt to cross from “man’s place”, the earth, to God’s place, heaven.

 

But heaven isn’t to be grabbed at by human desire.

 

Heaven is found only as a gift of God’s grace.

 

Only Jesus could make the connection; we couldn’t make it by ourselves.

 

He did that by coming down to this earth.

 

Only He could offer the perfect life to God that we, as fallen beings, are incapable of offering to God.

 

Only He maintained an unblemished relationship with His Father.

 

It led Him to the Cross, where, in apparent defeat, He made possible the restoration of the broken connection with God.

 

It’s “through His poverty” that we “become rich” according to 2 Corinthians 8:9: You know how full of love and kindness our Lord Jesus was: though he was so very rich, yet to help you he became so very poor, so that by being poor he could make you rich.”


The builders of the Tower of Babel didn’t want God’s help.

 

They wanted to go upwards by their own efforts.

 

The tower was an expression of their own pride.

 

They didn’t stop to consider if that’s what the Creator God wanted them to do.

 

They believed themselves to be free agents.

 

Freedom of expression and action is a main objective of this age.

 

Politicians have recklessly been traveling down this road.

 

There’s a one-way street of deregulating practically everything in the area of morals.

 

The lifestyle values defined in Scripture are ignored or made fun of.

 

What matters today is personal freedom of choice.

 

If it’s right for you, it’s all right!

 

This is the modern way of thinking.

There’s the tendency to pick and choose the bits of the Bible that suit us, kind of like we “pick and choose” from a mixture of chocolates in a sweet shop!

 

The way of least resistance to the challenge of the Christian life is to reed the Bible selectively and interpret it to our own advantage, ignoring the uncomfortable bits or write off those bits that disagree with present-day culture.

 

We have to ask ourselves if our spiritual foundations are something other than God’s revealed Word.

 

As Christians we’re called to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

It may mean that we have to take the unpopular attitude of standing in opposition to the culture of the present world.

The early Babylonians had burdened themselves with a wrong set of values.

 

They were living in a world of fantasy; of make-believe.

 

It’s a bit like a visit to Disneyworld.

 

Yes, it’s colorful and pleasurable for a day’s outing, if you like that sort of thing.

 

But, it’s all staged and managed.

 

The sun shines forever, smiles never dim and the music never stops.

 

It’s ironic that Disney’s research and development division is called “Imageering”.

 

It’s a matter of “follow that dream”, but in reality it’s an act.

 

I understand that those who go on the ride called “The Space Mountain” get the feeling that they’re falling uncontrollably through space, but in fact, the ride is highly controlled and the wall is just a meter away!

 

It’s total illusion.

 

The reality of earth is different.

When Jesus came to earth as a human being He entered life in all its brokenness and suffering.

 

He not only encountered evil, but He actually overcame it.

 

He did more than merely express sympathy with those who were suffering, because their world was such an awful place to live in.

 

He didn’t just make them feel good, just like a visit to Disney World, but instead He changed things.

 

He took action that brought about a real change in their situation.

 

The storm was calmed.

 

Devils were expelled; disease was cured and even death was defeated.

 

Jesus never invites people to enter a run away world, where we simply pretend that the harsh realities of life don’t matter.

 

He goes right into the thick of all the ugliness and pain of our lives and meets it head on.

 
We’re living in a world in which Satan has taken over God’s rule as the rightful king of creation.

 

The evil one has brought the human race into subjection by cunning deception.

 

He lied to our first parents when he said, “You will be like God” (Gen 3:4).

 

The builders of the Tower of Babel followed in their footsteps.

 

Their motivation was “so that we may make a name for ourselves...”

 

They were out to build a reputation for themselves, and to be lords of the earth.

 

Why was their ambition doomed to failure?

 

It was a expression of pride, but pride goes before a fall.

 

Sinful man isn’t capable of “making a name”.

 

It’s only God who can do that.

 

Sin’s great trick is to create in our minds a false impression that we can distance ourselves from God.

 

Not, of course, to forget Him entirely, but to keep Him in His place as a kind of chaplain.

 

He’s fine if all He’s allowed to do is merely to give approval to our schemes and rubber-stamp our decisions.

 

But that’s what God won’t do!


The early Babylonians ambition of “making a name” for themselves was to “build ourselves a city”, but it was only a day-dream.

 

From the second generation onwards of the human family, mankind had been moving this way.

 

Due to their sinful nature, they were outwardly self-confident, and they were basically insecure.

 

They wanted to create a city that would be a gateway to an earthly paradise.

 

On the surface, the great cities of the world express the glory and power of the world - but it’s a fallen world.

 

J B Priestley wrote a powerful play called, “They Came to a City” in which he described the disappointment of those who entered it.

The city’s impressive buildings, dedicated to commerce and the arts, honor human genius and human beauty.

 

They look fine on the glossy pages of books that tourists take home for their coffee tables.

 

But those outward images don’t tell the whole story.

 

They are all part of the “Babylon” of this world.

 

Behind the gleaming buildings is the decay and squalor of a shantytown made of plastic and cardboard shacks, with chaos, violence and drug abuse.

 

What an illustration of people who have been mislead by the devil into accepting his values, rather than the claims of Christ!

This was revealed in the name they gave it, “Babel”, meaning “the gate of the gods”.

 

The people of Babel thought their extravagant project of a city “with a tower that reaches to the heavens” would ensure the preservation of their identity and control their fortunes.

 

They were sadly mistaken, as they hadn’t reckoned on the all-seeing eye of the Creator.

 

The writer of Genesis tells us “But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building.”

 

The whole scheme was a shambles.

 

There’s a pleasant irony here.

 

The Tower isn’t the gate of the gods: it’s so small that God has to come down to see it!

And as for the building materials themselves, there’s a mocking reference to them: “They used bricks instead of stone, and tar instead of mortar.”

 

The Mesopotamian plain lacks the stone deposits the Egyptians used effectively for their timeless pyramid monuments.

 

The very materials the Babylonians used were bound to decay.

 

Just think what the summer temperatures of 120 degrees would do to tar!

 

No wonder there’s nothing left of the Tower today!

 

This serves as a reminder that when technology ceases to be our servant, it quickly becomes our master, and human communities and human values are all too often the casualties.

 

There’s a hint of mockery in God’s description of the Babylonians feeble attempt to scale the heavens: “They have begun to do this; then nothing they plan will be impossible for them.”

It’s true to say “Man proposes but God disposes!”

 

Psalm 2 asks, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? ...”  The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them’ (1,3).

 

That’s how He reacted to the Babylonians feeble attempt to dethrone Him.

 

God saw that He was no longer the center of their lives and in judgment He declared that, as the apostle Paul would write to the Romans: “Since they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind” (1:28).

 

Isn’t that just what’s happening in society today?

 

If it lives without God as the center, there’s no central binding force at all.

 

If it breaks the bounds of God-given order, the results are only disintegration and frustration.

”Come,” said God, “let us go down and confuse the language of the whole world.  From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

 

And what was the result?

 

“They stopped building the city.”

 

From this point on in the Bible, Babylon represents the anti-God world system which, in its pride and arrogance, leads man to think that he can dethrone God and has no need of His laws and commandments.

 

We see it rearing its ugly head in Daniel, where the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is brought crashing down by the rock “not cut with human hands” (2:34) symbolising the kingdom of God.

We have a picture in Revelation of God’s final judgment upon Babylon and the anti-God culture she represents: “Woe! Woe! O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!” (18:10).

 

What a sad end - and yet it’s not the end because God hadn’t finished with His damaged creation.

 

God’s grace wasn’t exhausted.

 

In His mercy He chose Abraham, through whom He would start the process of accomplishing His saving purpose for mankind, ultimately through the Cross of His Son and our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The curse of Babel, the confusion of language, which has made communication so difficult for the peoples of the world, was wonderfully and dramatically reversed on the Day of Pentecost.

 

God graciously enabled the Spirit-filled disciples “to speak in other tongues”, a supernatural ability to speak in recognizable languages to the multi-ethnic crowd in Jerusalem.

 

This foreshadows the great day when the redeemed, drawn “from every nation, tribe, people and language”, will stand before God’s throne in heaven and acknowledge in praise, “Salvation belongs to our God.”

 

But until that great day, let’s not forget the lessons of the Tower of Babel.        

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