Summary: If we want significance, success and security, we need God
DEPENDENCE ON GOD
“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”” (Genesis 11: 6)
A world with one language - a good idea? Yes? No? Men working together in unity - a good idea?? Yes? No? Men wanting to achieve - a good idea?? Yes? No? Men coming together in one community - a good idea?? Yes? No? From a human perspective these four ideas sound meritorious, however, from a divine point of view these ideas created some concern for God. You would think that God would appreciate the desire of men to be able to communicate readily, being united in mission, being committed to community, and using their intelliigence, but God saw behind the desire of men and put a stop to it.
We might well ask why God would put a stop to seemingly noble ideas focused on unity and community? Why did God act to cause confusion of language (v. 9) and the scattering of the people?
It is God who perceived in mankind’s desire for unity and community a movement away from dependence on himself. God says, “If as one people speaking the same language theyhave begun to do this, then nothing they plan will be impossible for them.” Unity and community would mean that human beings could achieve anything they wanted without reference to God. Moreover, the desire of humans to build a city with a tower reaching to heaven, reveals something of their thinking, they wanted to reach toward heaven on their own merits and abilities (v. 4). The people in the plain of Shinar failed to realise that their thoughts and ways were not God’s thoughts and ways. The people of Shinar took it upon themselves to strive for greatness without recognition of God’s graciousness to them. The people of Shinar strived for significance, success and security not considering that it is in God that these things were to be found.
The people of the plain of Shinar example the problem that is basic to all peoples, the sin of pride. The sin of pride separated man from God (Genesis 3), brother from brother (Genesis 4), family from family (Genesis 9), and now nation from nation (Genesis 11).
Interestingly, the confusion of tongues that began at Babel was reversed at Pentecost - “Each one heard them speaking in his own language” (Acts 2: 6). Also unity is not worked up by man; it is sent down by God. Paul writing to the Ephesian Christian writes, “There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4: 4).
The plain of Shinar was settled by a man named Nimrod. He was a mighty hunter (Genesis 10: 10). He is recorded as establishing the cities of Babylonia and Nineveh. Anyone with a Bible knowledge will know that Babylonia and Nineveh were places that eventually created dread in the people of God.
It is Warren Wiersbe who suggests that Nimrod was a rebel against God and he planted the seed of rebellion in the hearts of those who eventually settled in the plain of Shinar. He set up his own kingdom. A kingdom that was not about to acknowledge the authority of God or dependence on him.
The incident at Babel is a reminder to all people that we cannot build our cities and communities without God. We need him if we want to have significance, success and security.
We have not known thee as we ought,
Nor learned thy wisdom, grace and power;
The things of earth have filled our thought,
And triffles of the passing hour.
Lord, give us light thy truth to see,
And make us wise in knowing thee.
Thomas Benson Pollock)