2019.02.24 | Genesis | Pt. 4, The Tower of Babel
Genesis | Pt. IV, The Tower of Babel
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
Hello everyone, my name is Pastor Dan. If you are new to our Church, we welcome you. Thank you for coming out.
As a Church, we have been going through a new sermon series called What’s Our Story. Our theme as a Church for the first half of 2019 is What’s Your Story. And What’s Our Story is part of that theme. The focus of What’s Our Story is not the story of our personal lives, but the story of humanity in general according to God’s perspective. The point of this series is simply learning truths about human life and experience as we read through the book of Genesis (which is the first book of the Bible).
And that’s what Genesis 1-11 is about. Genesis 1-11 sets the stage for everything. Generally, and this is an oversimplification, but we can say the book of Genesis is split into 2 sections. Genesis 1-11 is more general and universal, and we tend to focus on the macro level progression of humanity while Genesis 12-50 focuses in on God’s promise to humanity through the Patriarchs in a sort of micro level. Once again, that’s an oversimplification. But I hope it helps you understand the shape of Genesis.
And since we are looking at part of Genesis 11 today, we are hitting that turning point. That makes today’s passage significant. It is the last main passage before transitioning to Abraham starting in Genesis 12. So we know that this last passage is going to say something significant and foreshadow what is to come.
So what is Genesis 11 about? Genesis 11 is commonly just referred to as the Tower of Babel. And on the surface, it looks like a straightforward and simple story. Apparently back then the people of Earth have one language (which makes sense because humanity restarted after Noah and is somewhat young and grouped together), they all gather together, try to make a giant tower, and God gets mad and messes up their tower, and then gives everyone different languages and spreads them all over the world.
But if that’s everything, we have a big question: What’s the issue? Like, what’s the real problem here? Why is the Tower of Babel so significant that this is the closing story of Genesis 1-11?
1. The Stand Against God
This leads us to our first point. On the surface level, it’s hard to see an issue with the Tower of Babel. Therefore, it’s important for us to ask, “Why was God so upset?”
And I am asking us to think seriously about the Bible here. Our job as Christians is not just to read it and say, “Ok, that’s what the Bible says!” Rather we have to think seriously and deeply about God’s words. Because God commands us to love God will all our hearts and all our minds. We need to apply our minds here seriously to God’s Words.
So what’s the issue here. And to understand what’s going on, we have to actually go back a little bit.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Now I want to give you guys some time to really think about this. What is the actually temptation here? And I want to give you a hint, the Forbidden Fruit is not the real temptation. Look at the words of the Bible carefully, what’s the real temptation here?
If the real temptation was just forbidden fruit, then God really messed up! Because if God was really wise, if He really wanted to keep them from eating the Forbidden Food, He would have made it Forbidden Durian or a Forbidden Kimchi or Forbidden Natto. Because people wouldn’t eat it even if it was allowed! But that misses the point. Look at what the Bible actually says.
4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The forbidden tree is called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That’s not a random detail. It’s teaching us the nature of sin, of temptation, and of the Fall. Once again look at satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve. Satan says it will open their eyes and they will know good and evil. The fact that this phrase “knowing Good and Evil” is repeated is meant to grab our attention. This is important and big news, you can’t miss this. The forbidden tree is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9, 17; 3:5). And the temptation is that Adam and Eve’s eyes would be opened and they will know good and evil. That’s the real temptation.
In almost all societies, cultures, and time periods, it’s generally a given that God alone determines what if good and evil, right and wrong. Humanity’s moral standard is always supposed to conform to the divine standard. And what satan is tempting Adam and Eve with is, “Shouldn’t you be able to know what is right and wrong? Shouldn’t you be able to decide and claim what is right and wrong? Why can’t humans choose what is right and wrong apart from God?” And you see now why satan says in his temptation, “you will be like God.” The real issue, the real sin, is not about fruit. It’s not about God has all these arbitrary restrictions. The real issue, the real Sin is ultimately about dethroning God. That’s the real issue!
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
Do you see that now? This was the temptation.
Now we can debate endlessly on what made the forbidden fruit special. And was the fruit special? It was because the Bible says it was. How was it special? The Bible doesn’t give us any information on that. So that shows us, it’s not the main point. The main point isn’t “What’s so special about this fruit?” Because the Bible doesn’t tell us. What the Bible tells us is the name of it, and with that name, we learn so much about ourselves, life, sin, brokenness, and the Fall. The real issue was not “What makes the forbidden fruit so special?” The real issue all along was: who gets to be God? And when humanity ate the forbidden fruit, it was saying, “God alone should not be God. I too should be God.”
When humanity eats the forbidden fruit, it is rebelling against God Himself, dethroning God in their hearts and replacing Him with self. Humanity wants to enthrone itself as the new god. The fallen mind wants a new god. And the new god is us.
because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
And now we see that today’s passage in Genesis 11 is a continuation of what began in Genesis 3. Why was God so upset about the Tower of Babel? Was it because God hates high architecture? Was God actually afraid that they would reach Heaven? Is Heaven secretly invisibly somewhere in the clouds? Was God afraid that humanity was going to ruin His property value?
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth. On the surface, this seems innocent. But when you really think about it, and when you think about where they are coming from, it helps you understand what is truly happening here.
Up until this point, Humanity has been a history of rebellion against God. It’s never been good. After the Fall, it’s been murder, violence, lust, pride, wickedness, greed, etc etc etc. It’s been quite terrible. But we said 2 weeks ago, God still sees humanity in His image and loves us. God is still gracious to us. Even though we have fallen so far, so deeply entangled in sin, God still loves us and honors us as His image. But how do the people respond to God’s goodness? Rebellion again. And the Tower of Babel is actually one of the clearest signs of our continuing rebelling, our enthroning of new gods, namely self.
What was God’s first commandment to mankind?
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
And after Noah’s flood, what was the commandment He reiterated?
6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.
7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.”
Do you see how it all relates? God was always saying from the beginning to mankind that they must bless the Earth, spread out and cultivate and grow the Earth. We must fill the Earth and bless it for the glory of God. But here at the Tower of Babel, mankind is saying, “No! We refuse and reject your first command! We will not fill the Earth for your glory and your name, we will stick together and make a name for ourselves instead!” Mankind once again says, “No God! We can rise to your level. We refuse to listen to you, in fact, we will reach you. Our name reaches yours. We are living for our name now.”
The Tower of Babel is not ultimately about the height of a physical tower that offended God. The issue is that we are once again trying to reject God as God and enthrone ourselves as god. The Fall of Adam and Eve and the Tower of Babel reminds us that our greatest idol is self. If we are honest, we worship self, we pursue self interest, we focus on self preservation, we love self more than anything else in the universe. At the core of all our sins is the desire to put self before God.
And this is what the Tower of Babel represents. The Tower of Babel represents mankind’s stand against God. So to summarize our first point, we started out by asking, “What’s the real issue here?” And we said that the real issue is not the height of the Tower. The real issue of our passage is humanity’s rebellion against God and enthronement of Self.
2. The Emptiness of Worldly Glory
The ironic climax of our passage is verse 5.
5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.
The people were acting like they were gods, they wanted to build a tower up to God Himself! But God has to come down to see what they are doing. Their accomplishments were supposed to reach the heavens, but it could barely leave the Earth!
And this is an accurate picture of what it is like to try to replace God. Like really imagine what it looks like when we stand before God. Let’s say our greatest athletes whom we love and honor, they stand before God and they are like, “Look at how fast I can run. Look at me throw this ball.” Or our greatest scientists and philosophers, “Look at how smart I am! You are in trouble God!” Or even world leaders. Like if the whole world united together against God, what are they going to do to Him? Shoot Him? Drop a nuke on Him? Do you think the God how made the universe with His mere words would fear a bomb or a gun?
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
This is not meant in a condescending way. Because we talked about the image of God. God loves humanity. So this is not to degrade or humiliate humanity. Cause God treats humanity with love and respect. But basically, what it means is exactly what you should imagine when you think of an actual God being threatened by humans.
A lot of times we have the wrong image of God. Like we think He is just a bigger version of us. But He is not. He is perfect, all powerful, eternal, infinite. This is a Being we can’t fathom. And we just don’t really understand how crazy it is for us to try to fight Him. We might feel like we are doing so much damage to Him, we might feel like we can talk back to Him, we might feel like our Towers are so huge that they make us important, but His words to us are, “What are they doing?”
As they built the tower of babel, they thought they could be like gods. But it was all empty, meaningless, forgotten. The feeling I get is similar to the poem Ozymandias:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Think of the great Caesars of the Roman Empire. They were like gods during their time. Powerful, mighty, and wise. But do we still fear them? No! We put them on our Pizza boxes! And we have Casinos named after them! But none of you fear and quake before the Caesars today! They’re dead and gone!
Or think of Genghis Khan or his grandson Kublai Khan! The Mongols created the largest contiguous land empire in the history of the world. And none of us shudder today at the thought of Genghis Khan. He’s dead and gone! We eat at his Mongolian grill at the food court at the Source in Buena Park!
Having a name in this world is surprisingly empty and temporary. Living for this world is surprisingly empty and temporary. The Idols we hope will fulfill us will inevitably fail us. Worldly glory is surprisingly temporary.
As many of you guys already know, I am a huge Football fan. And I was so sad when the Rams lost to the Patriots in the Superbowl several weeks ago. Hard times. However, there was actually very bad and shameful news this week in the Football world. The owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, is facing charges for soliciting prostitutes in Florida. This was part of a huge crackdown in Florida on sex trafficking and hundreds of arrest warrants have been issued. One of them is for Robert Kraft.
Now I am saddened to hear this. At the same time, as a big Football fan, I can’t understand why he would do this. This 77 year old man has everything. He just won the Superbowl, the one I just mentioned. This was the Patriots 6th Superbowl win. The Patriots are now tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for having the most Superbowl wins in all of Football. The Patriots have the greatest Football coach of all time and the greatest QB of all time. On top of that, Robert Kraft is worth $6 billion dollars. And here he is, getting caught paying for sexual acts in a strip mall massage parlor.
When I heard the news about Robert Kraft, two different songs popped into my head.
Gravity is working against me
And gravity wants to bring me down
Oh, I'll never known what makes this man
With all the love that his heart can stand
Dream of ways to throw it all away
Whoa, gravity is working against me
And gravity wants to bring me down
Oh, twice as much ain't twice as good
And can't sustain like one half could
It's wanting more that's gonna send me to my knees
Though all the wealth of men was mine to squander
And towers of ivory rose beneath my feet
Were palaces of pleasure mine to wander
The sum of it would leave me incomplete
Though every soul would hold my name in honor
And truest love was always by my side
My praises sung by grateful sons and daughters
My soul would never still be satisfied
It's not enough, it's not enough
I could walk the world forever
Till my shoes were filled with blood
It's not enough, it's not enough
I kept thinking, don’t you have enough in life? Don’t you have enough? Why would you blow it all away? When you have so much already? Shouldn’t you be happy and satisfied by now? It’s never enough. As John D. Rockefeller, the richest man in modern history, said;
I can think of nothing less pleasurable than a life devoted to pleasure.
John D. Rockefeller
I know of nothing more despicable and pathetic than a man who devotes all the hours of the waking day to the making of money for money’s sake.
John D. Rockefeller
And as comedian celebrity Jim Carrey said:
I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer.
These quotes and songs are not all Christian or even spiritual. But the reason why I even used nonChristian quotes is to show that everyone knows this. No matter how great we think we become for our selves and our own name, ultimately, it’s never enough.
And as Christians, we know that it is never enough because, as we learned from Genesis 1, we were made for God alone. And nothing else can satisfy our hearts until we are made right with God alone.
When the people of Babel tried to build the Tower to make a name for themselves, they were trying to make a great name for themselves. But even if they succeeded, would they finally have been satisfied? Would their lives be full and great? No. Because after they build the Tower, then they would just feel, “Ok, now what?” And on top of that, the Tower would still be way too small to ever reach God. It’s pointless, empty, temporary. In our first point, we said that the Tower of Babel represents mankind’s stand against God. But in this second point we see that the Tower of Babel reveals mankind’s emptiness apart from God.
What are the idols, the Towers in your own heart that you are hoping will give you worldly glory? Let me tell you, they will ultimately let you down. No amount of “good” can ever replace God in your heart. Because the good will never be good enough, it will never be permanent enough, never be strong enough, never be real enough, never be satisfying enough. The hole inside your heart is so big only God can fill it.
We live in an age with a nearly limitless amount of entertainment, pleasure, distraction, information because of the internet. And we can spend all day trying to fill our hearts with it and we are still empty! And we build these towers of success and money and popularity and reputation and we are still dying inside. Because at the end of the day, idols don’t satisfy. Because we were not made for just idols, we were made for more. Don’t settle for Creation when we were made for the Creator.
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.
There is nothing in this world that can compare with the Christian fellowship; Nothing that can satisfy but Christ.
John D. Rockefeller
13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Our hearts are restless until they rest in God alone.
3. The God Who Makes Us Great
5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
We said in the previous point that the Tower of Babel was not a real threat against God. In fact, it’s small and temporary. And that’s true. But then what did God mean here? Why is God concerned that nothing humanity plans will be impossible for them?
Seeing how nothing is a threat to God, most likely it the threat is probably not to God, but ourselves. It is because we would devise more and more wicked schemes that would worship humanity, glorify creation over creator, and continuously rebel against God. And God was right.
Because we see that today. As the world is coming together, as we slowly become a global culture, humanism is slowly becoming our banner. The world is joining together and rewriting the rules on gender, sexuality, morality, even life. And the world is asking the Church to fall in line with the world. The world is saying that the God of the Bible got it wrong so we are going to correct God.
Even some of the people I have met in life who call themselves ministers are rejecting everything about the Bible. One in particular is saying that the Bible’s view of righteousness is toxic, wrong, and harmful. He cusses out the Bible’s own standards. But he claims to be a minister of God because he stands for Jesus’s one true message which is love alone.
The world is uniting again against God. Humanism is blooming. Everywhere we go, we are asked to throw off the old Christ-centered morality and that we should judge morality based on what we want, what we feel, what we desire. We no longer have to say no to ourselves. Everything is about human empowerment. And a God that stands in the way of humanity is the wrong God. You see what the world is doing? This sinful world is trying to create a Creator in Creation’s image. We want a god in the image of humans.
Just like Adam and Eve, we have decided that we should be the ones who decide right and wrong. We should take that authority from God. And just like the tower of Babel, we have decided to build a system for ourselves that disregards everything God said. We will establish our own greatness, our own glory, our own security, our own life. But once again, worldly greatness is so temporary and flimsy that it always leaves us empty.
But here is the kicker.
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
God always wanted to give us a great name. I mean, why wouldn’t He? He loves us so much He made us in His own personal image, remember? That’s the thing! God is not against human greatness, God is the source of human greatness. And that’s why ultimately, even if the tower builders succeeded in building the tower of Babel, they would have still missed true greatness. Because look at what true greatness is. God says to Abram, “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” True greatness is blessing others.
42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
When your greatness is secured in God, you are unafraid to serve others. Because you aren’t competing with the world anymore. You aren’t anxious if someone will pull ahead of you. You aren’t resentful that others have what you want. You aren’t jealous of another’s success. When we find our greatness and our identity in God’s love and grace, then we stop building these selfish towers that could never satisfy us anyway, and we start serving others so that they may be loved and healed.
Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.
When God blesses Abram and promises to make Abram great, guess what, Abram doesn’t build another Tower of Babel to try to secure a great name for himself. Abram doesn’t turn to idols to satisfy himself. When your identity is no longer in this temporary world and its temporary accolades and temporary pleasures, and when you are secure in God’s love for you, knowing that you are His image, you can stop building these selfish towers for your name. Why? Because you already have a better identity in Jesus! So you don’t need to frantically and anxiously work yourself to become worthy. Because you already are worthy. So what does Abram build instead of a Tower for himself? He builds an altar for God. When your identity is secure in God, you build altars of worship not towers of work.
Brothers and sisters. We live in a broken world that is continually building Towers of Babels against God. And I want to call you all today, not to be selfish Tower builders, but to be worshipful Altar builders. Find your identity in His love and stop building these towers. Because ultimately, it could never satisfy you. Build Altars of worship instead. And you know what, one day, some of the people around you who are building towers, one day they will realize the emptiness of it all. And when they do, they will see you. And they will see how you aren’t frantically building a tower to feel significant and worthy. And they will see that you are living a life of the beloved. And that you have a quiet, divine greatness to you. And when they come to the Altar, they will see that the source of your greatness, your serenity, your peace is God’s love and grace. In a broken world full of Towers of Babels, be a warm altar of worship to Christ.
And I hope you see why we are going over this series. Because, you see, this is our story. We haven’t outgrown Genesis 3 and Genesis 11. Their story is our story. Genesis 1-11 is the Foundation of everything we see in this real world. Think about it. We are living in a world filled with broken goodness. Like the survivors of a catastrophic shipwreck, we live in a world wondering how these beautiful and glorious treasures got scattered around in such a broken and terrible world.
We spent 4 weeks now looking at how we got here. Understanding who we are, what we are here for, and why we are broken. But starting from next week, we are going into Genesis 12. Remember we said that this marks a turning point in Genesis. And starting from next week, we are going to start to see how to start living with God in this real and broken and beautiful world.