Week 6: Genesis 11:1-9 The Tower of Babel Corinne Gunter
Red highlights for slides.
Yellow highlight for the GRACE APP only!
Today we’re going to look at 1 more story in Genesis, the tower of Babel.
This story is about GOD intervening. Stopping the people from a massive (and misguided) building project.
Here’s the underlying issue:
Instead of obeying God’s command “to fill the earth” the people ignored God and did things their own way. Sounds familiar?
Good news is this…
Despite our tendency to ignore God and do things our own way, God never gives up on us.
Not only does God desire a restored relationship with us, He wants to use us to express His heart and intentions throughout the world. We are critical to God’s plan.
SCRIPTURE Intro & Read Text: GENESIS 11:1-9
Turn to Genesis 11 on page 10 in the house Bibles or follow along on the GRACE app.
We’re going to looking at the text for a bit – so you are going to need a Bible on your lap / or the text pulled up on your phone)
As your turning there let me give you a little context –
So, we are post flood / and the earth is being repopulated.
In Genesis 10 we find the account of the families / descendants of Noah’s three sons.
3x (v. 5, 20 & 31) we see this description related to the descendants of Noah’s three sons– it says v. 5 their descendants
spread out to various lands, each identified by its own language, clan, and national identity. Genesis 10:5
Which brings us to the text we are going to look at today, Genesis 11:1-9.
This week we will get very few details about WHAT happened and even fewer details about HOW it happened.
But that’s okay because this story is more about WHY it happened.
Remember, the Israelites are living in the wilderness, they’re wandering around the desert completely dependent on God for survival – about a million people from the various tribes –
and what they know about their current situation and their history is that there’s been difficulties and divisions between family members & and their descendants forever.
No doubt what they are experiencing is a far cry from God’s original intentions -- what Moses described in the creation story found in Genesis 1 & 2 –
What they WANT to KNOW is WHY the world is the way it is…
(Fun Fact: If read the rest of Genesis you’ll see lots of what we would call family dysfunction that leaves less than desired legacy. Think about Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Ishmael, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, and Joseph and his brothers. Yet throughout God’s story he uses less than perfect people behaving in less than perfect ways to continue His rescue plan for humanity. No matter what God’s plan will not be thwarted. Spoiler alert! That’s where we are headed next, a series on family dynamics fittingly named Bless This Mess.
Let’s read the whole text then go back and unpack it.
Read Genesis 11:1-9
Look at the first 2 verses: (Genesis 11:1-2)
Look at three thingsà language, moving east & settling
There was a time when there was one language.
The point is: Everyone could understand each other –there were NO language barriers between the people.
Why is this important?
Language can help UNIFY people around a common purpose.
There is strength in numbers and people tend to cluster with people who are like them.
You’ve heard the term “we speak the same language.” Meaning not only do we understand each other we ALSO tend to AGREE with each other.
A shared language brings people together. Language has power, it moves people toward action.
The PROBLEM was HOW they were using this one language.
2. Moving East
The 2nd thing I want us to notice is this… they moved to the EAST.
Going to the east in the ancient world is always seen as a movement away from God’s purposes, his presence and his will.
Moses is preparing the original audience to realize what is about to happen will NOT be a good thing.
The text says, “they found a land of Babylonia and they settled there.”
Mankind had a job to do.
Remember we were created in God’s image to be His representatives in this world.
From the beginning Adam and Eve were told to fill the earth. (Genesis 1:28) After the flood God said the same thing to Noah and his descendants in Genesis 9:1.
Settling in this place was in direct opposition of what God had instructed.
They “found” a place they liked. They were glad to be there. And they were planning to stay put.
Fun Fact: There are over 7,000 different languages for 7-billion people worldwide. Did you know the continents of Asia and Africa each have over 2,000 languages spoken? Nearly two-thirds of the world’s population speak one of these 12 languages (in order of % of world’s population): Chinese, Hindi-Urdu, English, Arabic, Spanish, Bengali, Russian, Portuguese, German, Japanese, French, and Italian. Fascinating article you might want to check out can be found here. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/23/the-worlds-languages-in-7-maps-and-charts/?utm_term=.34d85ea49ed2
3They began saying to each other, “Let’s make bricks and harden them with fire.” (In this region bricks were used instead of stone, and tar was used for mortar.) 4Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.”
What’s this about?
Bricks and mortar were believed to be better to build with THAN stone. AND the “tar” they used (instead of mortar) when dried would be waterproof.
So together they initiated a community-wide building project that would have taken years to build.
This city they were trying to build would have offered strength and stability and security to its inhabitants.
Cities in the ancient world would have included things like:
· A temple or place for worshipping the local god, and
· some type of grain storage facilities for food so they could provide for themselves
· a city would have been surrounded by walls to protect the people from outsiders
Here’s the point:
THEY believed what THEY were building with their OWN HANDS would be INDESTRUCTIBLE and could provide EVERYTHING THEY NEEDED to survive and even thrive.
What about the tower à
This tower would have been known as a ziggurat.
Ziggurats/towers were built because the people believed that gods would use it to come down from the sky (the space where the gods lived) to receive worship & gifts AND in turn bring blessings to the people.
Kind of a like a pyramid shaped structure with a stairway for the gods to come down and get what they needed from the people. This tower would have been seen as a way for the people to appease the gods or even control the gods.
The tower would have been considered sacred space that could be used for worship.
Why was this a problem?
The problem was this tower wasn’t to exalt God and worship God but rather…
“make them famous and “keep” them from being scattered.
What they were building had nothing to do with honoring GOD and exalting His name and fulfilling their purpose. It was all about them.
Their ability to communicate with one language allowed them to work together.
BUT instead of being in sync with God…
· They disobeyed God’s command to GO fill the earth.
· They were not interested in being God’s representatives in the world.
· They were comfortable where they were and they liked the people they were with. They were content to just settle there.
· What they were attempting to build had nothing to do with honoring GOD and exalting His name – it was about making a name for themselves.
How does God respond?
God stops them and redirects their misguided steps.
5But theLordcame down to look at the city and the tower the people were building.6“Look!” he said. “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them!
God looks at what they’ve built and he is not impressed.
In fact, in the ancient world the people believed when a “a god had been drawn down – it was because he/she was upset with what man was doing.”
God doesn’t have to come down – He sees what is happening and has been aware all along.
God isn’t worried about our ingenuity and capabilities.
We are finite (limited) and God is infinite (unlimited).
He is the one who helps us make discoveries and advances in technology and science and knowledge. All knowledge is God given.
Our advances can either move us toward more and more self-sufficiency leading to arrogance and pride
we can come to realize EVERYTHING is a GIFT from GOD moving us toward gratitude and worship and a closer relationship with our Creator.
Instead of letting this line of thinking and way of living continue –
God saves them from themselves. He gets their attention and redirects their focus so they can fulfill their role as God’s representatives in the world.
How does he do this? How does he redirect?
Look at v. 7-8 one more time.
“Come, let’s go down and confuse the people with different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other. In that way, the Lord scattered them all over the world and they stopped building the city.”
God confused the people with different languages.
We don’t know exactly what this meant or even what it looked like. But what we do know because of the confusion they are scattered all over the world.
God confused their language because their hearts were not in sync with His.
And in turn they are scattered all over the world so they can be God’s representatives.
In the story of Babel, God pushed people OUT to fill the earth to show His vast love.
Jesus lasts words spoken before he returned to be with God the Father can be found in Acts 1:8. He said:
You will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8
In Acts 2 a miracle happens where instead of language dividing and causing confusion– the Holy Spirit enables each person, each nationality to hear the message of God in their own language EVEN though the people speaking were using their own native language.
EVERYONE could hear the message of GOD.
Miraculously they could all understand even though they spoke different languages!
What happened in Acts 2 is evidence of God’s CONTINUED healing and redemptive work. It is a foretaste of what WILL BE SOMEDAY – when Jesus returns.
Every tribe and language and people and nation will stand together worshipping – reunited, full of color and diversity, fully expressing the vast love and nature of GOD.
God desires a diverse world where language and culture do not divide but serve to reveal the vast love of God.
Fun Fact: I’ve loved thinking about all the places and times where Jesus instructs His followers to GO. Like Matthew 28:18-20 where he says, “go and make disciples of all nations.” We even see the beauty of diversity after Jesus returns through the eyes of John’s vision found in the book of Revelation. I can’t even imagine what it will be when Jesus returns but look forward to experiencing what John describes in Revelation 7:9-17.
What is God plan to bring about His intentions in the world?
God has great confidence in us when our hearts are in tune with His. We are critical to God’s plan.
Let’s be honest:
Maybe we are not so different than the people in this story.
It is easier to settle than to scatter.
It is easier to stay in familiar territory.
It is easier to surround ourselves with people who are like us.
To be with people we understand and agree with than to venture out beyond our comfort zone.
It is easier to ignore God and build our own kingdoms.
But that’s not God’s intentions for us or our world.
Not only does God desire a restored relationship with us, He wants to use us to express His heart and intentions to everyone, everywhere. We are critical to God’s plan.
God is inviting us into a new way of life where our desires become His desires. Where our actions reflect His heart and intentions.
God has great confidence in us when our hearts are in tune with His.