Tower of Babel

Steven Hawthorne

Mercy to Babel God answers man's desire for security and significance

by Steve Hawthorne

Here's a verse you probably haven't memorized, "'Come let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly,' They used bricks instead of stone and tar instead of mortar" (Genesis 11:3). Why include such mundane details of a mud pie party in such an important book? I think that the bricks and tar are important to understand the story, especially in the context. What had just happened? The flood. What were the bricks all about? I think it's pretty simple: flood insurance. Kiln-fired bricks and tar can withstand a lot of water. And check out the blueprint for the tower. Whatever the point of design, it was going to be high. You've heard the expression "come hell or high water." These guys were getting ready for the latter and fairly well preparing for the former by doing so. The Babel people united in disbelief. They saw rainbows in the sky which signified that "never again will the water become a flood to destroy all life" (Genesis 9:15). But they didn't believe it. They wanted to be really sure. Boats worked, but they were pretty unreliable. People who rode in boats tended to get "scattered over the face of the earth." So the folks at Babel built a tower. They like most people had two basic needs: security and significance by groping for glory: "Let's make a name for ourselves!" (Genesis 10:4).

Through one special family he would reach all the families of the earth

Things haven't changed for most people. Today we're still erecting our own security schemes. Fat IRA accounts and lines of credit give an illusory sense of insulation from life's traumas. Many people frantically work two or three jobs just to have enough - way more than enough - for "a rainy day." We crave significance too. You know what it's like to want a little credit for your efforts. Some folks thirst for importance on a grand scale. Others just need to be needed by one other person. Don't we all abhor abject obscurity - or an even worse fate: meaninglessness? Now there is nothing wrong with being secure and enjoying significance. God has wired us up for that. But he never meant for us to find security and significance in our financial achievements or in the pages of "Who's Who." God watched the brick makers at Babel and let them get pretty far building their flood escape tower. And then God thought over the situation: "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them" (Genesis 11:6). These folks had gotten themselves on a trajectory of disbelief and self-destruction. If God hadn't done something at this point, any magnitude of evil would have been possible. Most people think of this as a judgment passage. I don't think it is. God broke in before he had to do something more drastic, like he did in Noah's day. He didn't let the rebellion get too far. In fact, this is probably one of the most stunning acts of mercy. What God did was beautifully simple. He divided humanity into language groups. And thus God created a world of peoples, clans, families, and cultures. Humanity was suddenly much more complex, but beautiful in diversity. And the plethora of people would never again rise as easily in united rebellion against God. They would each be preserved as winnable parts of humanity, susceptible to belief in God, and free to influence other peoples redemptively. God was getting the world ready for salvation. And in the very next story in Genesis, God mapped out to one man and his family His strategy for winning the world. He gave the plan to Abraham.

Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation And I will bless you; And I will make your name great. And you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And whoever curses you I will curse; And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:1-3).

Now we can see God's plan in all the daring simplicity. Through one special family He would reach all the families of earth. God wasn't playing favorites. He was pushing to reach everyone. The Blessing for all families and nations was both physical and spiritual. The book of Genesis closes on the high note of one of Abraham's family becoming a tangible blessing to the entire civilization of that part of the world. Joseph stockpiled grain and blessed the nations with survival during a famine. The promised blessing is spiritual as well. The word of God's love is still in our generation. Making progress to touch directly some of the last of the families or nations to be blessed. The word to Abraham makes sense in light of the strategic move of God at Babel, and the perplexing "punishment" at Babel turns out to be a marvelous act of love when it is connected to Abraham's story. It is God's answer, not only to the rebellion of Babel, but also to man's desire for security and significance. How secure do you think Abraham felt leaving home, severing family ties, packing up a few belongings and heading out without a forwarding address? "Where am I going, God?" says Abraham. "I'll tell you when you get there" is about all God gives for assurance. How's that for security? God actually gave him much more to go on. Promises. To our way of thinking, promises are just words. Most of us have to be reminded of promises that we make. Do you want to live a life of real security? Let God promise you a future, and be ready to take some risks. There really isn't any other way to be truly "secure." Jesus said repeatedly that whoever tried to "save his life" (that's shorthand for a life of striving for safety in one's own devices) would certainly lose it. But whoever would risk everything on God's promises, to the point of losing what the world holds dear, would surely find a life of surprising fullness. Amidst the promises of security, Abraham heard a truly amazing word, and we need to hear it as well: "I will make your name great." Compare that to the Babel folks trying to make their own name. Only God bestows true greatness. Do you want a life of significance? Go for it Abraham style. Abraham's significance didn't derive from some position he held in Ur, properties acquired, power he amassed or people he governed. Rather, he was a sojourner whose significance was found in his relationship to God. The Abrahamic way was to go for greatness, but only to go for God's greatness! Abraham didn't seek fame or fortune from God. He made it a habit to glorify God's name before the watching world. Find security in God's promises. Doing so opens you up to going places and touching lives that you might not if you lived a "safe" life. When you let go of your security systems, you get free of anxiety and begin living in anticipation. Find significance in who you are in God. Let go of superficial ambitions for small-time recognition and acceptance. Join Abraham in being a blessing to the nations of earth. You may find yourself blessing others as a missionary. You may never leave your home, you may preach to thousands, you may touch your neighborhood with kindness. There's no larger life possible.