Summary: God confuses the world to protect his people, while the gospel of Jesus makes all things new.
In my pastry class, a student noted that everyone liked sweets. The Chef-Instructor misheard what was said and began answering the question: “Why does everyone like sweets?” She said that when we were cavemen, we saw people eating bitter things more often became sick or died. That which tasted sweet was usually safe. Over time the desire for safety became a desire for sweets, which is now a health problem.
Her comments reminded me of our study in Genesis. Understanding how things began and why they are the way they are affects the choices we make. But we need not fool with speculative ideas, because God describes the beginning of many things in Genesis. And today he tells us of the beginning of… confusion. Though I really do not know how to pronounce these strange names, I will do my best as we read Genesis 10.1-11.9.
[Read Genesis 10.1-11.9. Pray.]
When contestants in beauty pageants are asked, “If you had one wish, what would it be?” the cliché answer is “World Peace.” The Preamble to the United Nations Charter says that its purpose is to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war….” And web pages allow people to sign petitions for world peace.
Dreams of unity, human cooperation, a one-world benevolent government, and free and universal healthcare are not new to us. People have always fantasized about coming together to make everything great. No longer would there be conflict, environmental disasters, poverty, greed, or disease. It seems we could save the world if we can just combine the money of Bill and Melinda Gates, the commitment of Gandhi, and the naïve optimism of Jimmy Carter.
But it will not happen. There will not be lasting peace between Jew and Muslim in the middle east. We will not end hunger. Nations will not sacrifice their own interests for the good of others. These things will not happen because God decreed confusion for all world orders and humanistic programs which refuse to submit to him.
Genesis 11 describes the defeat of the first man-centered world government. At a city named “Babel,” men sought glory, but God made confusion. He did this, not because he is an ogre, but because two things happen when mankind unites around something other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
First, any peace or progress apart from the cross inflames mankind’s lust for a life without death to self! The cross is not simply a symbol of our faith; it is the center. That is precisely why Paul preached the gospel without eloquent words, lest the cross be emptied of its power. And Jesus said that if anyone would come after him, he must take up his cross daily and follow him. The true faith is dying to self so that the life we live we live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you. Cooperation without the cross takes us away from the Christ.
A second consequence of success in godless, humanistic endeavors is the rise of tyranny. You have heard it said that, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That is not quite correct. The heart is already corrupt; power gives corrupt hearts the means to rule over all and eventually destroy all who oppose. God mercifully intervenes at Babel because Nimrod’s success will yield tyranny.
So keep in mind two things as we consider the many languages people speak. First, Babel shows the wickedness of our hearts and asks us to repent. Second, Babel shows us God’s grace and calls us to faith. To respond correctly, first…
1. We Must See the Need for Confusion (Gen 11.1-4)
200 or so years have passed since Noah left the ark, and everyone on earth is a near relative, speaking the same language. As they spread out from Noah’s home, they find the fertile plain of Shinar. There Nimrod, a descendant of Ham, rises in prestige and power, and proposes a central headquarters for mankind. Others rally around his vision for a great city, a hub of commerce and religion, the center of a new world order. Mankind’s wisdom and power will be proudly displayed. But God confuses their speech, thereby scatting people across the globe. Why does he do this?
A superficial reading has produced a variety of erroneous conclusions. Some assume that God is anti-urban and that this is a pro-agrarian apologetic. Others feel that God fears losing mankind’s love and devotion, so he must defend his continued relevance to the world. Some think this proves (again) Moses’ ignorance of how the universe works, including the evolution of languages. And it has even been suggested that primitive people really thought they could build a skyscraper tall enough to see God, like the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin who reportedly said from space, “I don’t see any God up here.” (Though, apparently, the quote comes from a speech by Nikita Khrushchev.) But none of those explain Babel. Why does God confuse our languages?