[Look at the great song at the end of this post along with additional resources!]
[Last month I wrote a passionate plea for us to reignite our affection for God’s word [click here to read it]. In today’s post I explore some reasons why we so often choose other paths instead.]
Few of us openly dismiss the importance of God’s word. We gladly praise its truth and affirm its authority. Yet, in reality our minds are so easily drawn to human wisdom and our emotions are so quickly snared by spectacular events. As a result, we set the old venerable Book aside to make room for something more relevant and exciting.
Do not be fooled. This desire to set up shop without God wells up within each of us. It’s there in the religiously progressive and the traditionalist. It lives in our home and it follows us to work. We desperately seek to secure our own place in this world and control our own future, and we are just not sure God’s way is enough.
So we quietly ignore the voice of God for something that seems more fashionable, more tested—the contemporary wisdom of the world. “Surely,” we think, “there must be some substance to what so many are doing. After all, look at how successful they are. Their families are happy. Their churches are full. Their bank accounts overflow. God wouldn’t want any less for me.” The choice seems to be so sensible. Without even knowing it, the voice of God is muffled beneath the hand of worldly wisdom.
Why do we feel like we need to enhance God’s ways? Why are we so enticed by the message and methods of the world? Significant answers are found by visiting the plains of Shinar. There, beneath the ground, lay broken ruins which testify to the destiny of all those who trust in worldly wisdom. Travel with me to that place.
Our journey begins on the foothills of Mount Ararat. The population of the world is wiped out by a catastrophic flood, and Noah’s family finds themselves in the fearful position of being the only human beings on the planet. God calms their fears by making a covenant with them. He promises to protect them and provide for them. Then God gives them this charge, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1,7). Emboldened by the Lord’s care and command Noah’s family launches out into the world.
However, before long they discover that obeying the command was much more difficult than they realized. Fearful experiences stalked them around every corner. Ravenous predators, dangerous ravines, poisonous plants, and sharp thorns made them bleed, get sick and die. Before long the exhilarating command to “fill the earth,” didn’t seem so practical.
It was then they came upon the beautiful plain of Shinar. This is a place they could call home. So a group of civil engineers developed durable building materials and proposed they build a city and an indestructible tower to keep them safe (see Deut. 1:28). This seemed much more sensible than trying to “scatter over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4).
“After all,” some of the leaders proposed, “If we keep spreading ourselves so thin nobody will remember who we are. So, let’s make a name for ourselves. Our project will be so great we’ll call it, ‘The Gate of God’ ” (i.e. Babel; Gen. 11:4,9), and the masses set themselves to the work.
Yet, what man thought was sensible, God saw as rebellious. What man thought was high, was far beneath the glory of God (Gen. 11:4, “a tower whose top is in the heavens…” yet, 11:5, “The Lord came down…”).
However, God chose to act with graceful discipline. He knew as long as people worked together toward such selfish goals there would be no limit to the evil they would achieve (Gen. 11:6). So He confused their language and turned their ambitions upside down. They wanted safety by collecting everyone in one place on earth, but God scattered them all over the earth. They wanted to make a name for themselves, but God made it where they couldn’t even pronounce each other’s names!
This story is at the beginning of our Bibles not only to show how the earth was populated, but to reveal a fundamental problem of its inhabitants. Two interconnected attitudes caused them to elevate the wisdom of men above the word of God.
The first attitude was fear. “Go fill the earth” is a rather terrifying command. Few of us would relish the prospect of a decades long camping trip into unproven territory. I have no doubt Noah’s descendants struggled with fear and wanted the safety of a city and its tower. Fear is understandable, and yet disobedience is still inexcusable.
Yet, we often use our fears as a reason why we must abandon God’s word. For example, we are afraid our children will leave the Lord so we compromise with worldliness and modify Biblical teaching to keep them close. We are afraid the church won’t survive so we latch on to newest church growth strategy rather than developing a heart for the lost. We are afraid if we truly get serious about serving the Lord it will consume our time, change our relationships, drain our money, and steal our fun, so we settle for a more comfortable compromise. It all sounds so sensible, but God calls it rebellion.
God’s charge still induces fear today. He says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15). The world is a scary place. Yet, God does not call us to huddle in our holy huts in a futile attempt to withstand the moral tsunami which threatens to destroy us. He says, “Care about the lost.”
The charge to “deny yourself…and lose your life” is terrifying (Mark 8:34-35). It’s more sensible to play it safe and settle down with everyone else on the plains of Shinar. But, God’s disciples are more concerned with obedience than safety. They are confident that God is in control and is more than able to protect and provide. Our fears are hushed by our trust in God, which allows His voice to come through more clearly.
Closely related to fear is our desire for acceptance. We want to be known and respected. “Let us make a name for ourselves” is the anthem of our culture. It is what drives our ambitions at work, our actions at church, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the pleasures we seek. We’re crying out, “Remember me!”
No attitude slings us more quickly into sin than pride! The antidote to this spiritual toxin is to see the greatness of God. No matter how great a name we achieve or how high a tower we build it will be buried anonymously under the sands of history. Only the glory of God will endure. Only what is done in His name will be remembered. Our stubborn pride will only lose its grip on us when it lives in the presence of the Almighty God.
Fear and pride built a shrine to human wisdom on the plains of Shinar. It is a monument carved with confusion, emptiness, and futility, and it calls upon us to tear down our Babel and move on! To bury our pride deep beneath the glory of God and move on! To banish our fears beyond the gulf of God’s provisions and move on! God has a world for us to reach and a holiness to complete, it’s time leave fear and pride behind and move on!a
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14)
A Song: Heaven Medley (Favorite Hymns Quartet)
Heaven Medley (Favorite Hymns Quartet)
This song medley will put a smile of your face. Give it a listen and you’ll live more joyfully today! Used with permission. You can find more great worship songs like this at: http://www.rjstevensmusic.com/
More Information About Babel:
#1 – When Did the Story of Babel Take Place? The story of Babel in Genesis 11 precedes and gives reason for the Table of Nations in Genesis 10 which records the time after the people were “separated into their lands, everyone according to his own language, according to their families, into their nations” (Gen. 10:5,20,31,32). Conversely, the story of Babel begins, “Now, the whole earth had one language and one speech” (Gen. 11:1).
Two hints in Genesis 10 lead us to the conclusion that the events at Babel likely took place within 100 to 300 years after the flood. First, Babel seems to be founded before or during the days of Nimrod (“the beginning of his kingdom was Babel” Gen. 10:10). Nimrod was Noah’s great grandson through Ham and lived only two generations after the flood. Second, Noah had a fifth generation descendant through Shem named Peleg, whose name meant, “Division” the reason given for his name is “in his days the earth was divided” (Gen. 10:25). Then the story of Babel is given to describe that division. Later in Genesis 11:10-26 we are given specific years in which each of Shem’s descendants were born. The results are as follows:
Flood Ended – year 0
Shem had Arphaxad – 2 years after the flood
Arphaxad had Salah – 35 years later
Salah had Eber – 30 years later
Eber had Peleg – 34 years later
Total: 101 years
Peleg lived a total of 239 years.
Assuming Peleg received his descriptive name within his lifetime, this sets the events of Babel sometime between 101 and 340 years after the flood.
In either case, old Noah was still alive since he lived for 350 years after the flood. The point I take from all this math is how quickly people fall back into sin! If God had not intervened mankind would be back in the condition they were before where “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).
#2 – Why Is the Story of Babel Included in the Bible? It helps us understand how people spread across the earth. It also shows us that national boundaries and language barriers are part of God’s plan to restrain sin in the world (Note: Life spans also begin to diminish at this time, which may have to do with environmental conditions, but it may also be a part of God’s desire to restrain sin in the world. See a chart on Life Spans In Genesis Here: Life Spans In Genesis).
A Call To Humble Obedience. But we must also remember its purpose for the original readers—the newly formed nation of Israel. Allen Ross calls this story …
“… a rather ominous warning: Great nations cannot defy God and long survive. The new nation of Israel need only survey the many nations around her to realize that God disperses and curses the rebellious, bringing utter confusion and antagonism among them. If Israel would obey and submit to God’s will, then she would be the source of blessing to the world. Unfortunately Israel also raised her head in pride and refused to obey the Lord. Eventually, she too was scattered across the face of the earth.” (Creation & Blessing. Allen P. Ross. Baker. p. 248)
That is a worthy warning for any country and any church to carefully consider!
An Illustration Of Worldliness. The name Babel means “Gate of God,” and the Greek form of the word is Babylon. From the beginning of the Bible to the end Babylon is the most dominate illustration of worldly wisdom and wickedness. The seeds of that wickedness are planted in the soil of pride and fear in Genesis 11. Isaiah uses Babylon as a pattern of worldly pleasure, power, and pride (Isa. 13:19; 14:13; 47:8-13), and promised that God would bring her down. He did. Later Daniel wrote of the pride of the Babylonian leaders who God easily humbled (Dan. 4), and predicted the nation would soon fall (Dan. 2,5) and it did. Then when the apostle John looked for a picture of the evil and arrogant powers which threatened to undo the believers in the first century, again he turned to Babel—the old Babylon (See Rev. 17-18). The point is the seeds of rebellion which sprouted in Genesis 11 find new soil in every generation to germinate and bring forth an arrogant preference for the wisdom of men above the word of God.
A Longing To Be One People With One Language. The story of Babel droops with sadness over a unity lost. Yet that longing for unity and understanding is fulfilled in Christ. On the day of Pentecost people from “every nation under heaven” heard the message of the gospel “in his own language” (Acts 2:5-6). In Christ all boarders disappear and we speak the same language of the gospel. “There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Only God could turn the plain of Shinar into the church of Christ.
#3 – The Placement of the Story of Babel. Why is the story of Babel placed after events of Genesis 10 when it clearly occurred before the events of that chapter? First of all, it follows the literary pattern of Genesis where a summary is provided first then the specifics are given (See Gen. 2; Gen. 6). In this case, the summary of nations is given first, then the reason why they divided into nations is provided. Secondly, this story brings a dramatic end to the Common History section of Genesis. Genesis 1:1–11:9 describe the history that is common to all families. That history ends with an arrogant act of rebellion. So, God turns next to the Specific History of Genesis. Genesis 11:10–50:26 describe the history of one family. That family God promised to use to bless the whole world. He did this through Jesus. The placement of the story of Babel says to us: In the face of arrogant rebellion God corrects the sin, but then He begins to work graciously for the sinner. What a gracious God!
A Song: Babel Today!
I was watching the NBA Playoffs a few days ago and heard a song entitled “Hall of Fame” by The Script, which they are using to introduce the games. You can go listen to it on YouTube if you wish. When I looked up the words I found the spirit of Babel is alive and well today! It is seen even in the way we play our games. Here are some of the words of the song.
You could be the greatest
You can be the best
You can be the king kong banging on your chestYou could beat the world
You could beat the war
You could talk to God, go banging on his door
Dedicate yourself and you can find yourself…Standing in the hall of fame
And the world’s gonna know your name
Cause you burn with the brightest flame
And the world’s gonna know your name
And you’ll be on the walls of the hall of fame
Pride — “go banging on God’s door” sounds like tower language to me.
Fame — “the world is gonna know you name” sounds a lot like, “let’s make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4).
Oh boy! Dear believer, don’t buy into such bravado! “Pride goes before destruction” (Prov. 16:18).