Summary: The last in a series exploring the early chapters of Genesis, this three-point expository sermon reveals the motive, the materials, and the mess made at the Tower of Babel.
A New Beginning (Part 4)
Scott Bayles, pastor
Blooming Grove Christian Church: 5/4/14
One of my favorite lines from The Wizard of Oz comes after the Scarecrow tells Dorothy, “I haven’t got a brain… just straw.” Dorothy replies, “How can you talk if you haven't got a brain?” So the Scarecrow says, “I don't know... But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking... don't they?” Of course, Dorothy agrees, “Yes, I guess you're right.” Finally, she poses the question, “What would you do with a brain if you had one?” There’ve been a few times I’ve wanted to ask someone that question too.
But my question for you this morning is a little different. My question is: What would you do with a fresh start if you had one? If you could begin again today, if you had a clean slate, what would you do with it?
The last several weeks, we’ve been talking about new beginnings. In Genesis 1, we saw the beginning of everything. And in creation we see the power, planning and product of God. Then, in Genesis 3, we saw the deceptive character of sin, the destructive consequences of sin, and the divine covering for sin. Even though Adam and Eve blew it, God covered them with his grace and gave them a fresh start. But not long after, in Genesis 6-9, we find the story of the flood. Human wickedness had reached a crescendo. Every inclination of their hearts was only evil all the time. But even then God wouldn’t give up on us completely. He kept Noah and his family safe on the arch and then he placed his rainbow in the sky a symbol for God’s patience, promises, and peace. All of humanity had a clean slate—a second chance to get things right.
But what did they do with their clean slate? What would you do with a fresh start if you had one? Let me invite you to Genesis 11; just a turn of the page after God gave Noah and his family a fresh start, we see how the next generation used it.
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 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.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 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. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 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. (Genesis 11:1-9 NIV)
This construction project has gone down in history as one of humanity’s most epic failures. It’s been told and re-told in dozens of cultures all around the world. The Babylonians, the Chinese, the Hawaiians, the Toltec Indians, and many more all tell their own versions of this great failure. So what can we learn from their mistakes?
First, let’s look at their motive.
• THE MOTIVE
The Bible doesn’t give us a very deep look into the motivations of the people here, but a lot of ancient commentaries have chimed in on the subject. The book of Jubilees, for instance, says that the people built the tower in order to “ascend on it into heaven” (Jub 10:19). 3 Baruch 3:7–8, a Jewish pseudepigraphal text, goes further, saying that the people not only wanted to ascend into heaven but wanted to pierce it—that is wage war against heaven and God, an explanation also found in the Babylonian Talmud, Philo of Alexandria and others. Whatever their goal, I think their motive is summed up in one word: Pride.
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” (Genesis 11:4 NIV). They had bought into the lie Satan whispered to Eve back in the Garden: “You will be like God!” (Genesis 3:4). That’s what they wanted to achieve.
Psychotherapist Naomi H. Rosenblatt writes, “Every generation builds its own towers.” And she’s right. Whether these are actual skyscrapers (like the Sear Tower in Chicago, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Empire State Building in N.Y.), or mega-corporations that circle the globe, the idea is the same: “We will make for ourselves a name.” The Bible warns us against that kind of attitude. It says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).