“People could never reach up to Heaven, so Heaven would have to come down to them.” (Jesus Storybook Bible, p. 54)
Bryson is my little builder. He has all kinds of ideas, and when he gets siblings on board he can do just about anything. In the picture you see how he converted a garden box into a storm shelter last spring. With a little scrap wood, a few screws, a couple of hinges and a little inspiration from Laura Ingalls Wilder, he and Baron were prepared for whatever storms might come their way.
It is amazing what can happen when people work together, but sometimes that creativity runs awry. That seems to be the case in Genesis 11 where we find the story known as the Tower of Babel. Like many great passages of the Bible we have often relegated this one to the scrap pile of “childhood tales”, but we learned in VBS this summer that it actually provides significant context for Pentecost in Acts 2, and thus, for the identity of the church itself. We will come back around to that.
Genesis 12 will be pivotal as we see God initiate the process of reaching out to humanity seeking to bring us back into the fold, but we dare not skip over the last brush stroke of the backdrop mural which is Genesis 1-11. We’ve witnessed the beauty of creation and the grasping for knowledge and personal freedom that is the fall of man. Murder entered through Cain and immorality became so rampant by the time of Noah that God called for a mulligan and washed the scorecard clean with a flood. Unfortunately, the washing with water did not purify the hearts of man (remember the vineyard, the hangover and whatever happened in that tent) but it did confirm God’s love for man. When we read “God remembered Noah” (Gen. 8:1) a sigh of relief should rush from our lungs and out through our lips, not because it proves that God isn’t forgetful, but because it reveals that He still cares for us.
The command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28; 9:1,7) is not evidence of God’s bossiness, but of His desire for there to be more of us. His love is great and He wishes to share that love with a great many creatures, human and otherwise. This command to fill the earth plays some part in man drawing God’s ire at Babel. The desire to build a big city (Gen.11:4) slows the spread of humanity across the earth and stands in opposition to God’s command. We will label this issue exhibit #1 in the case of YHWH vs. the people of Babel.
Exhibit #2 is a familiar problem, humans grasping for control of their own destiny. (remember: “If you eat this you will be like God…”) “Let us…” crosses the lips of the men of Babel three times in Gen. 11:3-4: “Let us make bricks…Let us build a city…Let us make for ourselves a tower.” Obviously these folks had not read James 4, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15) The text implies that man is claiming God’s prerogative in making these plans inspiring the Divine response, “Let us go down there and confuse their languages.” (Gen. 11:7) One can’t help but remember the famous line, “Let Us make man in Our image.” (Gen. 1:26).
The explanation of this story is by no means cut and dry. If humans were made in God’s image, doesn’t it make sense that we would take initiative. Shouldn’t it be expected that we would work together, weren’t we made to work cooperatively in the image of a Triune God. Our final exhibit is God’s assertion in Gen. 11:6, “If we allow them to keep the same language, they will be able to do whatever they set their minds to do.” Again, doesn’t working together exemplify the best of humanity. Perhaps the answer is yes, except when the goal is defined by man rather than God. It seems the greatest problems come not because God forgets about humans, but when humans fail to remember God.
In VBS, we studied about Pentecost and how the miracle of the tongues was a reversal of Babel. Indeed, (if)when we see the church today reaching across divisions of race, class, culture, politics, geography, and self interest – we see His kingdom coming. In this period of great division in this nation the church must be the church and live into its calling. (See an open letter here regarding race relations and concerns.)
Most importantly, Babel when cross-referenced with Pentecost, teaches that God created humans to be united under God. As our national pledge claims, “One nation under God,” so we as the church are truly called not just to be one people, but to be one people under God. When we live as one people of our own accord, building our own cities and towers, we add to the confusion of this fallen creation. But when we place our eyes on the conductor and come together by falling in step with the Spirit of God, the sounds of symphony begin to emerge over the cacophony.
So I close with this, let us pray and let us live, in the only place where true life has ever been found…In Him!