Was God up in heaven somewhere not aware up till now about what was going on?
Was He relying on messengers – maybe angels – to travel back and forth to keep Him informed?
Did a message somehow finally reach God about humankind’s tower and the Lord decided to come down and see what was going on?
It is impossible to read it that way if you read it in light of what has already been said about God in the book of Genesis. Already God has been presented as the Maker of heaven and earth, the One concerned about the tiniest details of creation, the Omnipotent, Omniscient God who knows everything, sees everything and is all-powerful.
What this is, is irony.
It’s designed to show how ridiculous this situation really was. Here was this tower that people were in the process of building, thinking that it will take God’s breath away, it will threaten Him, thinking “Here we are, we fabulous inventors, awesome scientists, erectors of giant towers; we’ve dared to invade the heavens! You better watch out, God!” But up in the real heavens this tower is so little that God can’t see it. It is so teensy tinsy that God says, “I’ll have to come down there to see it.”
Then, in all seriousness, we are given God’s analysis of the situation, in parallel with the three reasons humanity had for building the tower,
1. Humankind’s unity
“And the LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language.'”
2. Humankind’s creativity
“This is only the beginning,” God said, “of what they will do.”
This creativity is part of the image of God which He gave to people when He made them in His likeness; this inventiveness, this ability to think and reason, to deal in concepts and put them together and to come out with very practical applications.
Notice that God did not suggest humankind does everything at once. People build gradually. One person discovers an idea, another person improves on it, and a third person links it together with yet another idea. So, gradually there takes form inventive solutions to the technical problems of life. As a result of these two factors at work in society, God comes to a startling conclusion:
3. Humankind’s potential
“Nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”
That sounds like now, doesn’t? “There’s nothing we can’t solve, nothing we can’t do.” The remarkable thing from the Scriptures is the truth in this claim. God Himself acknowledges it! He says it is true. If humankind puts its genius to any given, specific task, then people’s native creativeness and persistence will solve the problem eventually. Synthetic food, clothing, building materials, space travel, cloning … Nothing will be prevented to us.
What does God do?
People were building a tower and a city in order to prevent being scattered abroad over the face of the earth. But the net result is, because they were building the tower and the city, they ended up being scattered all over the earth!
What they had worked so hard to prevent … happened because they were opposing God’s will.
I had to pause after writing that down. How often have I worked a thing, from every possible angle I could think of, because I either didn’t trust God with it, or I was afraid what God wanted was not what I wanted?
What was behind God’s actions here?
Was God jealous of humankind’s obvious success?
Was God threatened after all by this tower of mud and tar?
Does it mean that God was afraid people would master all things and God wouldn’t be able to control them anymore, that the very foundations of the universe would be threatened by this creative, inventive people?
That may be the way some people would want to read this. We can do anything we want, if we want it badly enough! We don’t need God. Actually, we can become gods ourselves!
While it’s true that God has given humankind enormous potential, and people can do just about anything if they put their mind to it, the question is: can people -be- anything they want to be? That’s the fatal flaw in humanistic thinking, to glorify the self, to be the center of things, to be the master of the universe, to be God, in other words. God knows you and I are incapable of being all that. People are created beings, dependent on God just to be alive.
Humankind has great potential to do whatever we set out to do, so God sets limits.
God prevents humankind from getting in over our heads. People, in our inventiveness, think we can master the earth. But the very solutions we work out sometimes become the bigger problems which we can’t seem to control at all
Radiation coming through holes in the ozone layer.
Burning down the rain forests.
Pit mining that destroys the environment.
Antibiotics that have created super, untouchable bacteria.
Pesticides and herbicides that cause birth defects, yet are now losing their effectiveness on the pests they were designed to eliminate.
Nuclear waste, plastic mountains of garbage in the ocean, earthquakes from fracking, the poisoning of groundwater, and the list goes on and on and on.
So, it’s for your sake and mine, for humankind’s sake, not because God is afraid of humankind’s potential, but to protect humankind from itself, that God said, “Let us go down and confuse their language.”
Let us disperse humankind and keep them from doing what they are not God enough to handle when they are done.
God came down and suddenly, as the workers gathered for work one morning, they found they couldn’t communicate with each other anymore. The word “confusion” only begins to describe individuals’ personal terror, shock and isolation, and collapse of their society.
The Bible has a play on words with the name for Babel, linking it with the Hebrew word for confusion, balal. There was “bal al” in “Bab el.” It is interesting that the name Babel actually means “the gate of God.” They thought they were building a tower that would open the gates of God’s domain, but instead God opened the gates of confusion.
The people at Babel used their unity of language in an attempt to defy God and frustrate His plans for them, so God, by the power of His Spirit, brought disunity to their language to frustrate their plans of rebellion.
God brought down the proud.
When you no longer depend on anything in you, that’s when God is ready to give you everything He possesses.
God lifts up the humble.
That’s what happened on the day of Pentecost. God, by His Spirit, made communication unifying, spreading the gospel, God’s good news of salvation, to every person listening, though they had come from all parts of the world to Jerusalem, and spoke every language known. God brings true unity, and true community, through the gift of His Holy Spirit.
Knowing God is sovereign – God is in control – gives meaning to everything else you and I believe. Whatever temptation you and I are facing, whatever trouble is brewing, we can rest on the fact that nothing is outside the scope of God’s control and everything is going according to His purpose.
You and I will never be without resources to choose good, to obey God, to accomplish great things of lasting value, and to please Him.
Nothing of lasting value is accomplished apart from God
Yeah. I had to pause after that one, too. How often do I get a project in my head and plow forward, pell mell, with all my energy and creativity, all my determination and stamina, without hesitation, without a moment’s thought to whether this is something God also has in mind?
Or, how often have I set my hand to the urgent (as a procrastinator, sometimes that becomes my chief motivation) without taking a moment to assess whether it is also important to God?
If I want what I do to have lasting value, eternal value, then it must be a a project that has more than baked bricks and bitumen going for it. It must also be in line with what God wills and wants.
The first 11 chapters of Genesis continue to fascinate me, even after this months-long journey through their stories. In a way, these are the cave-painting chronicles, the prehistory of humankind, the foundational narratives that explain why and how all that we see around us came into being and is the way it is.
In praying about where to go next, I began thinking about what we call the minor prophets, that line-up of names coming after the major prophets. A lot of those books end up being rants and polemics, so … why are they in the Bible? I’m really curious about it, aren’t you?
That’s what’s coming next on Fridays, here at Grace and Peace
*A house of cards- A contemporary tower of Babel
“This project is a living monument to western capitalism. It is an interpretation of capitalism manifested into a theoretically inhabitable tower, presented as a parable much like the original Babel.
The playing card is used as the one building block to create this city. The obsession of the card, the grand yet flawed nature of the house of cards, and the fractal system are all parallels that can be drawn with a western economic system.
The card forms the element for a fractal modular architecture. A modular architecture that actively encourages both curves and immense detail while maintaining the properties of repetition and standardisation that allows it to flourish.
This is a grand, immensely dense and ornate architecture. It is essentially a cathedral to man.”
[Strasbourg Parliament, based on the Tower of Babel | pxhere.com