Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Genesis 11:1-9 - The Tower of Babel and the Quest for Human Achievement

Genesis 11:1-9 - The Tower of Babel and the Quest for Human Achievement - Pete's Bible Commentary

Gen 11:1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.
Gen 11:2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
Gen 11:3 They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.
Gen 11:4 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth."
Gen 11:5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building.
Gen 11:6 The LORD said, "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.
Gen 11:7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."
Gen 11:8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.
Gen 11:9 That is why it was called Babel--because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Have a think of some of the human achievements over the centuries. We could think right back to the philosophical writings of Plato and Socrates, or maybe consider the impact of Constantine and the beginnings of the established church. Our mind might flicker to Newton discovering gravity, or the development of the printing press in the 1500s that revolutionised how we receive and share information. In more recent days, the quest for human achievement can be witnessed in the discovery of electricity, the Internet, ipads, and iphones and i-everything. We think of names like Edison, Bell, the Wright brothers, Einstein and others. Human achievement is around us every day. Most of it great, and beneficial to our life, other achievements are oppressive and detrimental to society at large.

Genesis 11:1-9 is a story about human achievement. Or atleast, the quest, for human achievement. The tower of Babel was the people of their time, attempting to build a city, and a tower that was great, eye-catching, the talk of the town, the envy of all visitors. Genesis 11:4 picks up their motives, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves..." Have a look at the motive; the intention. Lets build a tower so that WE may make a NAME for OURSELVES. The motive for the establishment of the tower, later called the tower of Babel, was not primarily for community development, or to create a better way of life for its residents, or even to honour God. The building of the tower of Babel, was to make a name for themselves. What self-righteousness! Talk about the quest for self-aggrandizement!

Interestingly though, when you consider 21st Century living, and reflect on the tower of Babel story, you cannot help but think of the similarities. The tallest tower in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai which rests in the sky at 828 metres tall (2717ft.), 227metres taller than its competitor, the Abraj Al-Bait Towers in Mecca. At quick glance, you get the strong feeling, that these kind of feats of human ingenuity are for the pats on the back and the free publicity and the congratulations that one would receive when building such a building. The quest for human achievement and the desire for making a name for oneself, has not left the human psyche, even after thousands of years. The inner desire to prove oneself, to make oneself known and to be popular amongst the masses is rife today more than ever. It is a classic case of a contemporary version of the tower of Babel.

When we look at Genesis 11:1-9, what was God's response to the builders of the tower? Did God say, 'Well done guys, lets call this tower, the tower of success, and lets all drink and have a party to celebrate'? No, God seemed to be frustrated and even angry, that the people would not seek after his plans and purposes, and would seek to make a name for themselves. God scattered the people. God confused their language. The name for the tower, became the tower of Babel; with the word Babel sounding like the Hebrew word for confusion. It was not called the tower of blessing, or the tower of success, or anything remotely worthy of popularity. It was rightly labelled the tower of confusion; the tower of Babel.

We should be challenged today by this story today (Gen 11:1-9). While the people of those days sought to make a name for themselves, God looked on them with disgust. Contrast this with the story of Nehemiah, where he reestablished the walls around Jerusalem, with the help of the Israelite people. God firstly laid on Nehemiah's heart the need for rebuilding the walls. This building project came out of a vision from God. The tower of Babel was birthed from the quest for human achievement and popularity. Nehemiah was empowered by God in the process. At times God strengthened the work of his hands (Neh 6:9). Following the rebuilding of the walls and gates of Jerusalem, the Bible says, 'they realized that his work had been done with the help of our God.' (Neh 6:16). Contrast this with the tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9), and God is not present until he comes and disturbs the quest for human popularity and self-aggrandizement (Gen 11:7). God also seemed to bring unity amongst the Israelite people under the leadership of Nehemiah (see Neh 8:1-10). The Lord brought the opposite in the tower of Babel escapade. The Lord confused their language (Gen 11:7). The Lord scattered them across the ends of the earth (Gen 11:8).

Today, lets strive to be a Nehemiah, in the sense that if we seek to achieve something, let it be driven by a vision from God, blessed by God and resourced by God. Let our quest for human achievement only be seeking to make God's name great, and seeking to establish the works that he has purposed for us to establish.

This is part of Pete's Bible Commentary. Genesis 11:1-9 and the quest for human achievement.

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