1Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 3They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4Then they said, “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.” 5But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”8So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9That is why it was called Babel–because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
After surviving the first catastrophic global natural disaster that was recorded in Scripture known as the Great Flood which lasted for 40 days and 40 nights, Noah and his entire family, the only human survivors, received a very specific instruction from God, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” In Genesis 10, otherwise known as the Table of Nations, we find that the three sons of Noah, Japeth, Shem and Ham indeed followed God’s command. In the said chapter, we find 70 names of Noah’s descendants who eventually re-populated the earth. In Genesis 11, we learn that these new citizens of the earth enjoyed the grace and favor of the Lord. They eventually became very productive, efficient and united as a people enjoying a common speech and language. Such blessedness ushered a very strong and confident posture in their hearts that they believed they could do anything their hearts ever desired.
First, they said to each other “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” Although the Scripture is silent as to the details of this production endeavor, what we can say is that the people had reached a distinct level of confidence about their skills and capabilities as a nation.
And rightly so, the moment they successfully mass-produced these bricks, they immediately leveled up their goal. They said, “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.” It became quite obvious at this time that the spirit of arrogance had made its way into their consciousness. They were aware of the favor of God, they were conscious of their powerful unity as a people and they were very mindful of their capabilities, strengths and achievements. The must have told one another, “Given who we are and what we have done, what can we possibly not do?”
Commenting on what the descendants of Noah had committed, noted theologian Matthew Henry said, “How soon men forget the most tremendous judgments, and go back to their former crimes! But, what really was their crime? In the context of Greek literature, their “crime’ was “hubris.” Hubris, the common downfall of the Greek gods and goddesses of old, is a word that means “extreme haughtiness or arrogance because of one’s failure to be in touch with reality causing an overestimation of one’s own competence or capabilities.”
And so we read that in answer to humanity’s pride and defiance of God, the Lord visited the city they were building and unleashed a powerful spirit of confusion that destroyed their unity as a people and caused them to separate from each other because of that confusion. Thus the tower they built— the tower that was suppose to make them famous ended up having an infamous name. It was eventually named was called “Babel” which means “confusion.” The city and the tower were never completed. The big time project was eventually abandoned by the people because of their confusion. Certainly there are many complex and scholarly commentaries available on what this spirit of confusion is really all about, but one thing we can establish for now is that hubris is and forever will be sure recipe for destruction.
After the great flood, the Lord gave a sacred covenant to Noah and his children that God’s presence will be with them and that the Lord had given them the blessing to reign over his creation according to his righteous intentions. But instead of taking the promises of God to heart and taking responsibility over creation, the people slid back to their old ways. They had again become self-preserving, cunning, and had developed an obsession to make a name for themselves.
According to some commentaries, the builders of the tower actually engraved their names on the bricks to immortalize themselves and secure their participation in this colossal undertaking. But you see friends, just before their hubris completely destroyed them, God–in his awesome goodness— intervened. In a very a creative and wise manner, the Lord established his sovereignty one more time and reminded humanity who was really in control.
Today, thousands of years after that tower was built, the whole world finds itself in the same dilemma. As the entire global community continues to enjoy unprecedented advancement in almost every sphere of human existence, we are also facing the risks and the dangers of our own achievements. Day after day and generation after generation, defiance against God continues to emerge in many shapes and forms— from the very subtle to the very explicit. This reality has not even spared us, the church of Jesus scattered all over the world today trying our very best to salt of the earth and light of the world. Karl Barth one of the most influential theologians in the 20th century wrote, “Whenever people claim to be able to see the Kingdom of God… what they actually see is not the Kingdom of God, but the Tower of Babel.”
And so today, we pause and humbly come before the Lord with repentance — for our self-serving ways, our presumptuousness, our lack of fear and reverence of God; our delusions of grandeur; and for many other desires of our hearts that have made us think so highly of ourselves.
Gracious God, many of us today are in the crossroads of our lives. We are trying to find our own little place in this world — and to live out our purpose, our significance and our glorious destiny. Take a tight hold of our hearts, O God, so that we may never end us building lofty towers for ourselves or taking credit for works that you alone have done by your mercy and grace. Bring our hearts back to the Covenant you have offered to humanity from the beginning of time through Jesus Christ —- that if we will be your people, you will surely be our God. Have mercy upon us O God, and save us from our foolishness before it’s too late!