Summary: The Tower of Babel is a life parable telling of the dangers of the Spirit of the Age - Poverty of Spirituality and Pride of Life - and the chaos it brings which only Christ’s redemption can right.
The story of the Tower of Babel is a sad description of breakdown of fellowship, growing isolation and confusion. It all results from human beings’ failing to live in dependence on God, becoming proud of their achievements and determined to be the source of their own security. That was the root cause of the chaos they brought on themselves.
After the Flood the population had rapidly multiplied at God’s command to Noah to ’Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth’ (Gen 9:1). God had blessed mankind in its fresh start, confirming His covenant to Noah. But mankind continued to be a disappointment to God. One particular group migrated to what is now known as Iraq. It became the centre of civilization of the ancient world. Babylon was the summit of human achievement. It became the most influential city on the plain. A stepped pyramid in the form of a tower, called a ziggurat, was built, honouring the god Marduk, although nothing of it remains today.
The people of Babel, several generations on from Noah, had developed technical skills. The builders of the Tower had gained sufficient architectural and mathematical knowledge to undertake a large construction project. The Creator God had endowed mankind with intelligence. This was good and fine, using their God-given gifts. They had also developed as a community, for we find them saying, ’Let us build.’ But they were sadly lacking in several ways. In the first place there was their:
POVERTY OF SPIRITUALITY
God had allowed the development of mankind because He had given it the priceless gift of freewill but, because of man’s fallen nature, the bias towards sin is clearly seen. The statement ’Let us build’ is incomplete. Its real form is ’Let us build ourselves’. Their project was theirs alone. They had left behind the spiritual heritage of Noah and forgotten their Creator. They were building according to human wisdom. It reminds me of the verse, ’Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain’ (Psalm 127:1). They were like the builder in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders (Matt 7:24-27). Jesus highlighted the contrast between the two types when He said that the wise ’hears these words of mine and does them’.
The builders of the Tower knew what God’s standards were but decided they knew best. We can either build on Him and His teaching, which we will find as solid as rock; or else we can build on any other religion or philosophy that the world offers, and we will find that it’s sand, and in the last day it will spell ruin. I recently read a book entitled ’Discerning the Spirit of the Age’. The writer, Derek Tidball, illustrated his expose of the 21st century culture, often alien to God, by observing the slogans and values by which several global brands market their products. Obviously, there were some positive things in them but the downside revealed the superficiality of today’s culture. I’d like to share with you some of the points he made.
He mentioned Nike, the sports shoe manufacturer. Nike’s marketing symbol, the ’swoosh’ - <______ - is easily recognised. The slogan is ’Just do it!’ It invites people to take control of their lives; to break out of the dullness of the mundane and achieve. It’s a rallying cry to motivation and to action. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that in the correct context. The work ethic is good. For the Christian it’s a sound principle.
There are times as Nike tells us, we should ’just do it!’ As a piece of secondary advice it’s good but it can be wrong if becomes the main idea of life. Nike’s philosophy is that we already have within us all the resources we need to be achievers. We’re self-sufficient; we have the capacity within ourselves to reach life’s goal. It’s all there. Our works can save us. So what’s stopping us - ’Just do it!’ The non-Christian way of salvation is ’the self-movement of man’ towards God. Martyn Luther called it ’climbing up to the majesty on high.’ The human spirit can ’soar aloft towards God.’ It’s the self-confident optimism of ’the ascent of man’, the goal of evolution. But what has it achieved? It certainly hasn’t outlawed crime, war, selfishness and all the other ills that beset our poor planet.
According to Jesus, such a line of argument is deeply flawed. It’s not those who are rich in their own spirits, or think they are, who are blessed. It’s those who are poor in spirit - those who know how spiritually bankrupt they are and recognise their inability to make up the shortfall themselves, who are blessed. It is they who will enter the kingdom of God and not those who think they can make it by their own efforts. At the heart of the gospel is the fact that we can only get back in touch with our Creator through what Jesus has done for us. It’s not a self-help gospel. It’s about Jesus supplying what we lack. He made the connection we couldn’t make ourselves. It’s not ’Just do it!’ but ’Jesus did it!’ - that’s the slogan that counts.