Living in the Shadow of Babel
The amount of information racing through our skies and pouring through our cables is staggering. If each packet of data was the weight of an eye lash there would be over 2,400 tons of data produced every second! There are an estimated 10 billion network devices on the planet capable of communicating with each other in a micro-second. The capacity for communication was never so massive.
This interaction has certain advantages, but it also introduces many problems.
For example, this connectedness causes political, social and religious trends to spread more rapidly than ever before. “Hot new trends” dash across the country at the speed of light, and no mountain, stream or ocean can stand in their way. Fit in or be left out! Yet, wisdom is most often born through long hours of careful thought.
The world of electronic communication gobbles up our time. Time Magazine reports that Americans check their phones 8 billion times a day. Hours are consumed with trivial tidbits about what someone had for breakfast, or a funny monkey photo.
Much of the communication in our culture is actively damaging. It scars our minds with immoral images, molds our values with human wisdom, and troubles our hearts with constant negative news.
In less than one generation, the most influential voices in our lives come from far beyond our local communities. We depend upon the electronic network for our sense of security and personal significance.
The Way of Babel
There was another time of vast communication. We find the account in Genesis 11. “The whole earth had one language” (Gen. 11:1). Access to information did not result in utopia, but divine judgment and societal collapse. This is the way of Babel.
The people were commanded to go and fill the earth (Gen. 9:1). Instead, they chose to stop and build a city. They did this for two reasons. First, to make a name for themselves (Gen. 11:4). They sought significance through their own labors. Secondly, they were searching for security (Gen. 11:4, “lest we be scattered”). After all, “There is safety is in numbers,” so they thought.
The shadow of Babel looms large over our information obsessed culture. We are tempted to find our security in being a part of the latest trend. It makes us feel “safe” to be in the crowd; doing what is popular.
People are often like birds in a field. One bird gets the idea to take off, and the whole flock takes to the sky. Another bird decides to turn left, and they all turn left. Hunters know the flocking nature of birds and use this to kill vast numbers at one time. Satan knows the flocking mentality of Christians and he uses this to snare great numbers of us at one time! Social media is a perfect weapon for his hunt.
We are also tempted to find our significance in how many people know our name and support our cause. Our identity is tied to how many people “friend” and “follow” us online. We seek immortality by putting our mark on the web.
The Way of Abraham
The author of Genesis contrasts the way of Babel with the way of Abraham. Abraham is not called to build a city but to leave one. He spent his life as a stranger in a foreign country. His security came from his Lord, not numbers (Gen. 14:1-17; contrast 11:2-4).
Abraham’s significance came not from what he made, but from what the Lord made of him. God promised, “I will make your name great” (Gen. 12:2; contrast 11:4)). Abraham’s value did not come from his family name or his cultural popularity, but that he belonged to the Lord (Gen. 15:1,6).
Abraham was happy to live in tents, but when he did set his hand to build something it was an altar to worship the Lord (Gen. 12:7-8; contrast 11:3-4).
The Way Out of Babel’s Shadow
Abraham provides us a clear path out of Babel’s destined ruin.
Don’t be too impressed with numbers. Your significance, dear believer, does not come from how many people you worship with, the number of people you preach to, or how many respond to your Facebook posts. A fascination with numbers will always lead to Babel (Matt. 7:13). You are more valuable than you can imagine because you belong to God (1 John 3:1). In addition, there is more security in Abraham’s tents than in Babel’s crowds!
Live local. My grocery store has a slogan on the wall, “Buy Local.” The idea is if you buy from local farms you will help people in your community and eat the healthiest foods. Our information age makes us keenly aware of what “others are doing” around the country, and deeply concerned about what is going on around the world. These global concerns often make us blind to the needs right in front of us. The kingdom of God will flourish and we will be more spiritually healthy if we “serve local!” God is big enough to handle the global concerns. He put you in your spot to help the person in front of you. So, put the phone down and look up and serve.
If you must build, build an altar. Babel was a monument to human achievement, and it ended in dust and confusion (Gen. 11:7-9). Abraham’s altar, on the other hand, was a reminder of human sin and divine grace (Gen. 12:7-8). Our altar is the cross of Christ. There we see ourselves most clearly—hopeless sinners. There we see the love of God most fully (Rom. 5:8-10). We mean something to the God of heaven! So, we gladly live in tents, because He prepared for us an eternal city (Heb. 11:16), and anything we do for Him is eternally significant (1 Cor. 15:58).
It is time to come out from Babel’s shadow and into Abraham’s way.
“Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Cor. 16:14).
An Exercise for Bible Students
Take a piece of paper, or make a document with two columns.
On the left column write, “The Fall of Babel” and make a list of all the elements of the Babel account (Gen. 11:1-9 – I came up with 17 elements of the story).
On the right column write, “The Call of Abram” and make a list of all the elements of Abram’s call (Gen. 12:1-9 – I came up with 16 elements of the story).
Then, make a list of the comparisons and contrasts between the two accounts. It will be great fun, and you’ll see how I developed the article.
The Fall of Babel (11:1-9) The Call of Abram (12:1-9)
*Yes, I know Abraham is called “Abram” in Genesis 12. I am using “Abraham” in this article since it is the name most familiar to us. It was the name God “made great” (Gen. 12:2). : )
Some of the resources behind the “eyelash” illustration.
2.5 billion gigabytes (GB) – of data was generated every day in 2012 (BBC. Big Data: Are you ready to blast-off?)
Wight of a human eyelash = 75 mirco grams (Texas Instruments: Weigh and Eyelash—Build a Microgram Scale)