Building Towers

Genesis 11:1-9 -  “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in [Babylonia] and settled there…. Then 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.’ “But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The 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. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’  So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.”

Background Notes

The Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” was recently introduced as man’s most advanced passenger jet, but currently the FAA has grounded every one of them.  100 years ago the “unsinkable” Titanic was man’s most glorious creation for ocean travel, but it sank four days after its launch.  About 4000 years ago, the Tower of Babel was man’s attempt to construct the most impressive structure ever built, but it was never completed.  Clearly, man’s efforts to make a name for himself have significant limitations.

The Tower of Babel was probably a ziggurat, a wide-based temple tower of the ancient world.  Ziggurats looked like stepped pyramids, with a staircase or ramp running from top to bottom.  The staircase was for man to ascend the tower to reach a shrine at the top, and also for the “gods” to descend from heaven to the earth.

Remains of many ziggurat-type structures are evident around the world today, such as the Mayan and Aztec temples. Surprisingly, these structures are all very similar, despite having been built by people of very diverse cultures in distant locations. This would lead us to believe they are all linked to a common design origin, likely patterned after the Tower of Babel. After the Lord scattered the people all over the earth, they continued to build ziggurat-like structures of various sizes wherever they settled.  Astrology, moon-worship, and the worship of the zodiac find their roots in the ancient pagan religions that were associated with ziggurats.

Doctrinal Points

1.  In his pride, Man tries to reach Heaven by his own efforts.

“And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’”

After the Flood, God commanded mankind to be fruitful and multiply, and to fill the earth (Genesis 9).  But the rebellious people in Genesis 11 were doing everything possible not to submit to God!  One of their reasons for building the city and the tower was to stay in one place, in defiance of the Lord’s command to fill the earth.  In addition, they wanted to make a name for themselves by building a huge tower that would reach into the heavens.  Their desire was not to reach God, but to advance themselves! 

The root of their attitude was human pride. Our fallen human nature has always craved greatness.  People are looking for their own “15 minutes of fame” – we can even see evidence of this on YouTube and Facebook today.  People love to make a name for themselves.

Our fallen human nature doesn’t want to submit to God, so self-reliant man is still trying to reach Heaven by his own efforts or through man-made religions – in every way but God’s way.  Think of the “One World” movement. The goal is world unity: one world government and one world “religion” that opposes God.  Sounds a lot like the Tower of Babel, doesn’t it?  It’s not a new idea - it’s an old satanic scheme.

The Bible teaches that people must turn away from their proud self-reliance and call out to God for mercy.  When people reach out to God in repentance, they find that God has already reached out to them! What a contrast to human religion, that tells us we can reach Heaven by our own wisdom and our own efforts. 

2.  In His wisdom, God thwarts Man’s proud efforts.

“But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built” (v5). 

Did you catch the irony? God has a sense of humor! The people thought they were reaching into the heavens, but the Lord came down to see what they were building.

Verse 6 indicates that man can be quite successful in a united effort against God: “The 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.’”  So God thwarted man’s efforts.  God’s wisdom is displayed here.  Confusing their language and scattering the people was far better than allowing unified apostasy and rebellion against God to continue.  This also had the natural effect of accomplishing God’s purpose of filling the earth – exactly what He had already told the people to do.

In His wisdom, God has divided people into nations.  At the present time, even though nations war against one another, the division of the world into nations is far better than One World Government that is unified against God.

Just as God disrupted man’s efforts at the Tower of Babel, so He will continue to oppose and frustrate man’s proud efforts, today and in the future.  Isaiah 2:12 says, “The Lord Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted, and they will be humbled.” And Isaiah 2:17, “The arrogance of man will be brought low, and the pride of man humbled.  The LORD alone will be exalted in that day.”   And in His parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector, Jesus said, “He who exalts himself will be humbled…” (Luke 18:14).  In His wisdom, God will thwart man’s proud efforts, and He will redirect events to accomplish His own plan and purpose.

Practical Application

What kinds of “towers” are we building?

The people at the Tower of Babel weren’t interested in pleasing God with their efforts – they were only interested in making a name for themselves by building an impressive tower.  As believers, we need to ask: are we building monuments to ourselves in our lives – or to God?  Is my “bottom line” goal to make a name for myself – or to magnify the Lord?  Think about it.  Do I love to see my name in print because of my successes and accomplishments?  Do I aspire to hear my name announced because of my outstanding achievements?  Am I trying to “build a tower” for myself - even in church or in a ministry? 

This lesson can be applied to Christians as individuals, or to churches and organized ministries that are trying to make a name for themselves by seeking success and fame.  It can be applied to Christians in the workplace as well.

In Philippians 1:20 the apostle Paul said, “I eagerly expect and hope that … now, as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”  Whether through his life or by his death, Paul wanted Jesus Christ to be magnified!

The Lord has given us great creative freedom and ingenuity, but let’s use our gifts and efforts to glorify God.  What kinds of “towers” are we building in our lives right now?

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