Summary: A look at humility and pride by contrasting the Abram and the builders of the tower of Babel.
Four preachers had a series of theological arguments, and three were always in accord against the fourth. One day, the odd man out decided to appeal to a higher authority. "God!" he cried. "I know in my heart that I am right and they are wrong! Please show me a sign, so they too will know that I understand Your laws." It was a beautiful, sunny day. As soon as the preacher finished his plea, a storm cloud moved across the sky above the four. It rumbled once and dissolved. "A sign from God! See, I’m right, I knew it!" But the other three disagreed, pointing out that storm clouds form on hot days. So he asked again: "God, I need a bigger sign to show that I am right and they are wrong. So please, God, a bigger sign." This time four storm clouds appeared, rushed toward each other to form one big cloud, and a bolt of lightning knocked down a tree ten feet away from the preachers. The cloud dispersed at once. "I told you I was right!" insisted the loner, but the others insisted that nothing had happened that could not be explained by natural causes. The insisting preacher started to ask again; just as he said, "God..." the sky turned pitch black, the earth shook, and a deep, booming voice intoned, "HEEEEEEEE’S RIIIIIIIGHT!" The sky returned to normal. The one preacher put his hands on his hips and said, "Well?" "So?" replied another. "Now it’s three to two!"
We can be very arrogant at times, can’t we. OK so we probably would go as far as the preachers in that joke but we do like to be impressed with our own importance. I remember being very arrogant as young person, convinced that I was right and everybody else was wrong and if I’m honest theres still an element of that about me now. But I think there is an element of that in all of us. We want to be right, but sometimes more importantly we want to be seen to be right. We want others to think well of us. In fact I think if most of us are honest we like the idea of being famous, we like the idea of some of our achievements lingering long after we are gone, so that when people mention our name everybody know who we are and what we accomplished. “Ah yes, David Petticrew, he was the great physicist who invented anti-gravity and flying cars, or perhaps the great pastor who started the 21st century Welsh Rival.” Well perhaps not, as I said I have been know for being a wee bit arrogant. But I think there is a wee bit of that in all of us. In the Biblical language of the passages we read we would like to make or have made a name for us.
That is the key to the two stories from Genesis this evening. Although it might not seem it at first glance they are very much linked. It all centres around the idea of making a name. We are told that the builders of the tower of Babel wanted to make a name for themselves, while God told Abram, that Abraham before God changed his name, that God was going to make a name for Abram. There is a great difference between the two. While it is true to say that we remember both of them we do so for different reasons and it is certainly the case that Abram’s name is much much greater than the builders of the tower of Babel. So if we look at the two stories we can see what it was that made Abram great and the builders of Babel not so great and perhaps we can learn how we can be great as well.
The builders of the tower of Babel set out to make a name for themselves. God had given the command to spread out and fill the earth at the end of the flood. However, the builders of the tower of Babel had decided that they didn’t want to follow God. Rather than spread out and fill the earth, they wanted to remain where they were and then build a city and a tower that reached to the heavens. In there arrogance they thought they could set themselves up against God. Now they looked at what they could now build and thought in there arrogance that could oppose God, that they knew better than God what was good for them. Look we now how to build bricks let us rise up against God, now that we are so powerful. And yet God laughs. If you think the Bible doesn’t have any humour then you need to read this passage. They set themselves as opposed to God and build a tower to reach into the heavens. But God has to come down to look.