Summary: Lessons from Babel. It is only in the act of praise and worship with our whole lives that we function as designed - not by building cities and names for ourselves - but by building up His people and honouring His name.
The Bible tells us that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" - with more fear than wonder I would suggest! In our relatively short history, we have developed science, engineering, medicine, economics, psychology and many other physical and social sciences to the extent that it is hard to believe we ever have any problems any more. At no point in history has man been so socially and technologically developed; and yet at no point in our history have we ever had so many problems to deal with. Logic would suggest that we are the problem - we are our own worst enemies!
(a) Man’s Ingenuity - Seven Wonders
Despite that, throughout history, man has been responsible for some of the most wonderful ideas and creations. For example, who’s heard of the "seven wonders of the ancient world". For those historically or trivially inclined among us, what were they?
- Pyramids of Giza "Khufu"
- Hanging Gardens of Babylon
- Statue of Zeus "Olympia"
- Temple of Artemis (Ephesus)
- Tomb of King Mausolus of Caria (Halicarnassus)
- Colossus of Rhodes
- Lighthouse of Pharos (Alexandria)
Each of these seven wonders were monuments to man’s ingenuity. Each was a showpiece of engineering superiority, a masterpiece of cultural excellence and - with one exception - fell-ta-pieces a long time ago.
(b) Shinar/Babel/Babylon - The Nemesis from Genesis
Now I’d like us to think about just one of these ancient wonders for a moment - the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. I don’t know what they looked like, but if pictures of the pyramids do any justice to the real pyramids, then the Hanging Gardens must have been incredible just to make it onto the list. In terms of beauty, I suspect they would be second only to the Garden of Eden.
But Babylon itself also interests me. Babylon is a place mentioned many times in the Bible. On the plain of Shinar the city of Babel (which we’re looking at this today) was almost constructed, and later on Babylon was built - complete with its Hanging Gardens. The places are synonymous because Babylon is purely the Greek form of the word "Babel".
But not only was Babylon horticulturally significant, the place is also historically and theologically loaded because in the Bible, nothing good ever happens in Babylon.
- The first significant reference to the area is in Genesis 10 where a bloke called Nimrod lives. It’s all downhill from there.
- In Genesis 11, construction on the city and tower of Babel commences and ceases.
- In around 600 BC, the southern kingdom of Judah was exiled into Babylon and some articles from the temple in Jerusalem were taken by Nebuchadnezzar and stored in Babylon on the plain of Shinar.
- A number of prophets - particularly Jeremiah and Isaiah have a lot to say about Babylon.
- And finally, Revelation 17 and 18 refers to the prostitute of Babylon. Chapter 18 in particular uses some extremely rich language to describe her downfall and the hatred with which God views everything she stood for.
All that happens in Babylon is either directly opposed to God, or symbolically presented that way. Babylon epitomises mans folly viewed against the omnipotence of God. It is the symbol of pride and godlessness that must attract God’s judgment.
And so before we even begin, with our 20-20 hindsight, we can see the scene being set for bad news. Babylon, or Babel - is in many ways a nemesis from Genesis. It is a place that comes back to haunt us throughout the pages of Scripture until its final downfall.
1. MAN’S PLANS
I mentioned earlier that the seven wonders were highlights from history. They symbolise mans subjugation of nature as God instructed in Genesis 1 as well as demonstrating man’s creativity and co-operation. But there is one other very important aspect of each of these constructions: With perhaps one exception, they are all classic examples of mankind’s absolute arrogance!
This arrogance is highlighted in the account of the tower of Babel. In Genesis 11:4 we hear men saying "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."
Within that one verse, we can see two things that motivate mankind:
(a) Making a Name for himself
Firstly, for man to make a name for himself. To be recognised and applauded for his vision and commitment to excellence. The tower at Babel would be a monument to man himself. It would become a place of meeting. It would become the social, cultural and economic focus of mankind. It would represent the pinnacle of man’s ingenuity and achievement. It would be like winning the right to host the Olympic Games - an icon of engineering excellence, economic stability, foresight and insight. With the completion of the tower, the people of Babel would know they had finally made it - and they would make sure that everyone else knew it as well!