Tower of Babel

In a lot of ways, the Old and New Testament mirror each other… there seems to be a parallel but inverse reintroduction to this idea of languages confused and people divided talked about within the story of the Tower of Babel. For those unfamiliar with the story, take a look at Genesis 11:1-9 before continuing on.

“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 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. 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.’ And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 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. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 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.”

Now jumping ahead many, many centuries: in Acts 2, there is the account of the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended so that when the gospel message was preached, each person present heard it in his or her own tongue (and even dialect!).

I find this incredibly fascinating, because the background to the tower of babel (even though it took place roughly 130 years prior to this story) was of judgment on the whole earth in the form of a flood that wiped out all living creatures, except those in the ark (and interestingly enough, the ark was open until God Himself closed the door). Then over a century later, the people were still in one place, trying to make a name for themselves by building a tower to reach the heavens.

I bring this up because prior to the day of Pentecost, Jesus bore the wrath of God, signifying that He took on Himself the promise of the judgment to come.

Not following? Check out Amos 8:8-9. Earthquakes, darkness at midday, etc… This text is prophetically speaking of the tribulation described in Revelation, but now look at the crucifixion scene in the gospels: rocks splitting, the sun going black for three hours in the middle of the day, etc… the idea here is that when Christ bore God’s wrath, He was taking our judgment that would come in the future (so we who place our trust in Him would have no judgment to bear), and it’s even illustrated in how the earth itself responded to the ensuing judgment.

Coming back to the day of Pentecost and the Spirit coming down (the Spirit, who is described in the epistles as the bond of peace and the one who unites us as one people), He descended on that day so that by the work of God all present were united as one people, understanding that gospel message of Christ’s suffering and resurrection on our behalf.

Consider the great hymn to Christ in Philippians 2… after the crucifixion (history’s most astonishingly humble and beautiful act worked on behalf of sinful man by the Holy and Glorious Son of God), the Father “has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Man is short-sighted, but God takes the long-view, and that’s why the point of God dispersing the people in Genesis was to reunite them, but this time under His name, not their own. He had something better for them than building a great name for themselves and then someday inevitably dying in their sinful state outside of Eden. His plan was (and is) to redeem and restore them, so that He would be known not only as Creator, but Savior as well.

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5 thoughts on “Tower of Babel

  1. I like how your account of the story of Babel takes mentions neither the arguments given by the people themselves or of God. The people were not trying to make a name for themselves. That was a means to the ends of staying together. Similarly, God did not want them to stay together and thus split them up by means of making it so they could not communicate with each others. Why did God not want them to stay together? This was because of the fact that otherwise nothing would be impossible for them. That is the only reason given and you don’t mention it once, except in quoting the passage.

    Man wanted to stay together and God split them up because they otherwise would be able to accomplish anything. Is this description of the story not true? Yes you are adding in other things from various other stories to flesh it out. But your analysis doesn’t mesh with the story as it is. You also have to make a few deletions it seems.

    Also, God apparently wasn’t interested in being a Savior, because that term is meaningless if you caused the thing you’re saving them from. As you mention, God wanted to be the immediate cause of their unity, though. God is not interested in their unity, so He cannot ‘save’ them from disunity. He is only interested in being the cause of it.

    1. Man has the capabilities of being ‘self-sufficient’ (and you are right, this is a great proof text for that), but if read within the entire context of the Bible it seems clear that this isn’t the point of this story. Even if God didn’t cause them to be divided and left humanity on their own so they were able to accomplish the impossible (like curing cancer, cloning humans, and I don’t even know… whatever ‘impossible’ means), there would still be one glaring issue: sin and death.

      God isn’t Savior because He caused disunity in order to bring unity. He’s Savior because He accomplished for us the truly impossible: salvation from sin. That’s the point. And what is sin? It’s not breaking the ten commandments (though it includes that). It’s not even not loving God and your neighbors (though it includes that as well). Sin is building your life on anything other than God. So if I find my identity in how well I keep the law, then guess what, I’m damned. If I find my identity on how much time I spend in my closet praying to God, then guess what, I’m damned. And if I find my identity in how much I do for my fellow man, no matter how good the intentions are, I’m still damned, damned, damned. Good works damn you, but God’s work saves.

  2. 1) Come peter. Make a single clear case. You have a story about ppl explicitly wanting to stay together and then God scatters them. You said: “the point of God dispersing the people in Genesis was to reunite them, but this time under His name, not their own”. You cannot be a “savior” of a problem you cause. Introducing a whole different topic that has nothing to do with unity (“there would STILL be one glaring issue: sin and death”), is just a diversion. Fine, that is another problem that He may have acted in such a Savior capacity. But it is just that, another problem.

    If sin is another issue still present if they are ‘doing the impossible’ and sin is the thing that really matters, then why did God disunite them physically? Being united under their own name would not lessen the weight of sin or the approach of death. It would not lead to an unity in one or another identity. They’d have stayed together and cured cancer, but the problem would still be there. Together, God instead would simply continue to show them what they lack and how to find it in Him.

    2) Plus, I don’t understand how the narrative works really in your version. He disunited them physically. Yet reunites them in name. However, the language/cultural barrier has been the biggest barrier in terms of spreading the Gospels and forming a unified identity in the Church. With one language wouldn’t have mistranslation. We wouldn’t have to waste time learning languages before missionary trips. The global discussion of the Church would move freely and include every voice. And so on.

    Also, I’m imagine a single language around the globe. Wouldn’t Christians still be united under the identity of Christ in such a world just as easily? Maybe more easily since they share a single Bible? And if there were a single language, wouldn’t we still form varying alternative identities. The US has one language but it isn’t homogenous in the least in terms of religions and other identities.

    2) So, you’re still not addressing “and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them”. Why does this play such a huge role in God’s justification?

    3) You know already that I am competely aware of the “saved by Grace and not by Works” such. You know I have preached this to others already, as well. You can assume I know the stock Sunday School answers. What I am intrerested in is “which God?” But that is another discussion.

    Also, James 2:24 “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone”, Matt 19:17 “but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments”, James 2:17 “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” and the whole parable of Matthew 25:31-46 seem to disagree with your simplistic analysis. Yes, “but faith is needed before works, or only works that are inspired by faith”. I’m aware. However, to continue the discussion, I like the the parable the most because the sheep and goats did not understand. They had helped without knowing. They did Good without seeing Jesus in it. On judgment day I will have fed the hungry and Christ will know I have done my best concerning ‘faith’ and found it in what I have found it in. You place so much on the cognitive aspect, the Which God? question, and feel so certain in the answer you were raised with. you have boiled all of salvation into worshiping the one God you just so happen to have your entire social network embedded in and conveniently now do not have to search out other religions (while still condemning them for not searching your out to the utmost).

    If “unity in identity” behind one particular God is so infinitely important to you, can you really say you have tried? Can you really stand before whatever lays beyond and say that you have followed your love and longing to know God as He is and not what happenstance has given you? I like the metaphor of the apple here. I’m sure you think your “fruit” is “sweet”. But you simply can’t tell me the apple is the sweetest of all fruits if it is all you’ve ever really tasted. Matthew 7:15-20 for this whole last bit.

    1. I think we just need to agree to disagree on this, because the way I see you quoting scripture (which I know you don’t even believe) is done in similar fashion to a man using the back end of a hammer to turn in twelve-inch screws – granted, it can be used to do that, but it was intended for a much greater purpose. And at the same time, everything I’m saying is looked at as inconsistent, illogical, incoherent, and utterly foolish to you, so rather than taking the time to respond with how each of the verses you’ve used are misunderstood and that the points you’re drawing are out of context, let’s just call it a day. This is not to say that you’re a waste of time, because I don’t mean that at all, and I trust that you’re not thinking that of me either (by the amount of time and length of responses you’ve given), but truthfully, we can both come to a consensus on the fact that neither of us are going to budge on this. Let God be the judge.

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