Genesis 11:1-9, “Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’”
“But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, ‘Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.”
In way of introduction this morning I want to begin by explaining why Nimrod’s plan of unifying humanity (this city of Babel) drew such ire from God. As we mentioned in our first few studies in the book of Genesis God created man with a basic relational need that couldn’t be satisfied in God alone. People long for community with other people!
Clearly, by His design, lasting human community demanded God’s involvement. As long as man was at peace with God he would be at peace with one another. However, as a direct result of this splintering between God and man on account of man’s rebellion, there would subsequently be a fracturing within human community. This reality becomes all to apparent as man’s sin nature prohibited even the first two brothers to live in harmony. Envy, jealousy, and anger motivated Cain’s traitorous act of murdering his brother Abel.
In many ways Babel was founded to directly challenge this truth. Nimrod was able to sell the world on the lie that unity and harmony could be possible in spite of man’s fallen nature. Nimrod peddled the notion that apart from God man could still live as one.
The problem is that God knew not only would this social experiment eventually end in disaster for reasons we’ll soon discuss, but in the end Babel would rob humanity of the only mechanism by which community would be possible… God’s amazing grace!
The truth is that beginning with Babel man-made religion has not only failed to unify fallen man, but this counterfeit proposition has directly contributed to some of the deepest fissures within mankind. Honestly, religion has done more to create and solidify divisions within the human family than any other institution ever devised by fallen man. John Stewart famously quipped, “Religion. It's given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.”
As we noted last Sunday this city of Babel was established fundamentally in an act of rebellion to the commands of God. Following the Flood we’re told in Genesis 9:1, “So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.’”
Nimrod’s entire justification for building Babel was so that man wouldn’t be “scattered abroad over the face of the earth.” While God wanted man to disperse, man chose to unify! And it’s for this reason we read the Lord came down to Babel specifically to “confuse their language.” As one can imagine because they were now unable to “understand one another’s speech” unity was an impossibility. This division or “scattering” was the natural result.
On a related note… Isn’t it true that our greatest hurdle to relational harmony often boils down to a failure to communicate? And note this concept is as true within the macro-application of society at large as it is in the micro of friendships or marriage. Disagreements where the two parties involved don’t care to understand the opposing perspective always end up with people more interested in winning arguments than resolving conflict! Instead of working to make sense of the other side of an argument how quickly it is that we grow defensive, harden in our positions, rally to our own ideological corners, only to then demagogue and demean the other side as we fight it out!
Always remember… Because it’s only natural for divisions to manifest from confusion there are two fundamental keys to healthy relationships: (1) Have a heart to understand where the other person is coming from, and (2) Work to communicate with others effectively.
What’s fascinating about this passage is that not only does it seem there was only “one language” since the time God created man (singular tense), but it was specifically because man had failed to “fill the earth” that God decided to scatter him by supernaturally “confusing the language.” Literally, God “mixed up” the language which resulted in this confusion.
The idea is that from the city of Babel each individual family or klan, now unable to effectively communicate with or understand the other families, migrated away from the land of Shinar taking with them their own unique form of this common language. Note: Our text indicates this confusion and subsequent division occurred immediately, “So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city.”
One of the things that makes this entire story so interesting is that this text provides the only plausible explanation for the origin and diversity of human language. According to Wikipedia’s page on the Origin of Language, “The origin of language in the human species has been the topic of scholarly discussions for several centuries. In spite of this, there is no consensus on the ultimate origin or age of human language… One problem that makes the topic difficult to study is the lack of direct evidence… This shortage of empirical evidence has led many scholars to regard the entire topic as unsuitable for serious study. In 1866, the Linguistic Society of Paris banned any existing or future debates on the subject, a prohibition which remained influential across much of the western world until late in the twentieth century. Today, there are numerous hypotheses about how, why, when, and where language might have emerged. Despite this, there is scarcely more agreement today than a hundred years ago…” The post concludes by quoting renown Danish linguist Dr. Morten Christiansen, professor of psychology and director of Cornell's Cognitive Neuroscience Lab as saying the origin of language is considered “the hardest problem in science.”
In a profound sense, while evolution provides no explanation, the diversity we find within the human language was something instituted by God as a direct response to man’s rebellion. God intentionally mixed the one language into many for the purposes of dividing man so that he’d scatter and fill the earth as He had instructed.
On a related note I’ve included a link on C316.tv to an study just released this week by Dr. Christiansen proposing the latest evidence that “Humans may speak a universal language.”
All of this leads us to a much larger and pressing topic… I think we can agree this morning that we live in a day and age that celebrates unification, especially as it pertains to different people groups; and yet, in this instance, God purposefully segregates (divides) humanity!
From this singular act of God we not only have all the various languages, but we also have the development of ethnicities as well as the establishments of nations and cultures. So… Why would God want to divide mankind and in the process keep man from unifying? In a sense why would God have told Noah’s sons to scatter in the first place?
For starters… If you take into account that there were no chapter breaks in the original text, God’s instructions for Noah and his sons gain greater context when coupled with the final few verses of Genesis 8:20-9:1, “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground for man's sake, although the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.’ So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.’”
Did you catch the flow of God’s thought process? “Although the imagination of man’s heart was evil from his youth” God promises to never “again destroy every living thing as He had done.” And yet, it’s within this same context of the depravity, brokenness, and propensity for evil within all humanity that God then instructs “Noah and his sons” to “fill the earth.”
Though it’s inappropriate to extrapolate from the text that God is prohibiting the blending of different ethnicities (don’t forget when God scattered Babel there was only but one ethnic group), I do think the story of Babel presents a particularly relevant warning for us today…
Notwithstanding the fact that in previous times unity among the nations was only achieved through force, as a result of two World Wars, the rise of the United Nations, merging of the global financial markets, amazing telecom, transportation, and aviation advances, and the rise of the internet and social media globalization has become today’s norm.
While this last year we’ve seen increasing resistance to many of these trends, the truth is that there are very powerful forces trying to usher in a one world system. Consider… Over the last 75 years the sovereignty of individual nation states has been eroded through the consolidation of power into organizations like the United Nations, NATO, or E.U. Local markets are not only tethered to a larger global economy via trade deals like NAFTA, but they’re also at the mercy of an autonomous bureaucracy - Federal Reserve. Open borders with sanctuary cities, which allow for an unprohibited flow of migrants, is heralded as the only moral option for an advanced, progressive-minded society. In actuality, the brutal truth is that anyone in today’s political system arguing for the preservation of “borders, language, and culture” is viewed as being a nationalist or Nazi.
Now please don’t confuse or for that matter misconstrue what I’m saying as being nativist or isolationist (there have been several tangible benefits to globalization); however, I do think, in the face of this growing trend, we would be wise to consider the lesson of Babel.
Notice again God’s explanation as to why Babel was so dangerous… He says, “This is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose will be withheld from them.” Because of fallen-man’s inherent evil the story of Babel illustrates that God was and is deeply concerned when humanity seeks global unity - especially when the rallying point is a man-made mechanism to reach to the heavens!
The brutal reality is that the depravity of sinful man is in many ways tempered when natural divisions among people groups provide needed checks and balances. Think of it like this… One toddler is crazy. Two toddlers is nuts. Three toddlers is chaos. Four toddlers is war! Because of the human nature of a toddler (people who’s vocabulary consists of the one word “no,” who’s meltdowns are excused if they didn’t have an afternoon nap, who’s go-to conflict-resolution skill is biting, and who are utterly spoiled as they have everything done for them) allowing that person to unify with likeminded individuals is extremely dangerous because together they’ll yield an even greater tyrannical energy than if you kept them apart.
This is what was happening with Babel. Because each individual man was evil God knew unity would only increase man’s threshold for greater evil. Unity would result in greater rebellion. You see God scattered man from Babel because He knew these separations would not only temper the depravity of man, but theoretically aid in His plan for redemption.
In his famous song “Imagine” John Lennon wrote (here are the verses), “Imagine there's no heaven, It’s easy if you try, No hell below us, Above us only sky, Imagine all the people, Living for today… Imagine there's no countries, It isn't hard to do, Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion, too, Imagine all the people, Living life in peace... Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can, No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of man, Imagine all the people, Sharing all the world... (Chorus) You may say I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one, I hope someday you'll join us, And the world will be as one.”
In this song Lennon not only imagines a harmonious world living in unity, but he does something interesting… He points out all of the reasons he believes such a world has been impossible to achieve. “Imagine” postulates that the rudimentary concept of an afterlife, the antiquated notion of country and ethnic divisions, man’s restrictive beliefs in God and religion, even materialism are the very things keeping the world from coming together.
And yet, the irony is that Lennon fails to consider one key factor… Even if you were to eliminate all of the things he suggests, would a brotherhood of man really result? Isn’t it illogical to believe a collection of men living for today really posses nothing to kill or die for? Isn’t it naive to think man’s greed would be naturally replaced with a desire to share with all the world? Lennon, like many dreamers, failed to recognize the problem with man is man!
Once again I know many of these topics have come front and center in this years Presidential election (I am not saying you should vote to Make America Great Again)… That said, as Christians here’s why we should be hesitant and even suspect as it pertains to this tide that seems to be pushing us all towards global unity… At some point this utopian dream will be realized and what results will be the worst seven year period of human history.
In case you weren’t aware the Bible does describe a future day when all of the nations of the world will come together under the leadership of a man Scripture calls the Antichrist. Not only will this day see the global economies merge into one, but all religions will for the first time come under one unifying banner. A global community will be achieved in a way not seen since the Roman Empire; and yet, what does this unity end up producing? War, poverty, inflation, massive death, famine, disease, environmental catastrophes, a global persecution of Christians, genocide… In the end a unified man will reach the zenith of his pride when he actually stands to wage war against the God of the universe!
Before we transition I want to take a minute and place these things into the greater context of the Biblical narrative. As we’ve noted God “confused the language” of men specifically in order to scatter man across the earth because of the tendencies of his fallenness. God knew because of the evil nature of man true societal unity apart from Him could never be achievable. As a result Babel was a pipe-dream that’d end in disaster - So God intervened!
And yet, it’s important to understand the separation that came at Babel would not have been necessary if the heart of man had not been wicked. In the exact same way sinful man had to be separated so that his wickedness would not be compounded, theoretically righteous men could be unified so that greater righteousness would be compounded.
Consider… If the logic behind God’s intervention at Babel is true (evil + evil = greater evil), then the inverted would also be true (good + good = greater good). Since this is the case, unity within the diversity of man would not only be possible if man’s sin nature was no longer a problem, but unity in such a community would be a powerful force in the world.
While God confused the language to separate mankind, understand this divine intervention was simply a means to an end. God scattered man from Babel for the purposes of truly unifying man in a way that would create a pure and lasting community. What false-religion would fail to yield a real moving of God’s Spirit would later accomplish!
It’s with this idea in mind that I want you to turn in your Bible to Acts 2:5-13, “And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs - we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?” Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.”
Understand… It’s an amazing thing that while God confused the languages and scattered man in order to prohibit the furtherance of his rebellion, in this instance God brings the nations back to this one place so that they might hear the Gospel “in their own tongue!” You could say God scattered the nations at the Tower of Babel so that He could reach the nations on the Day of Pentecost!
While at Babel man was seeking unity as he made his own “tower unto the heavens,” on this glorious day God came from heaven to reach down to man. What grace!? Man had done nothing to earn this revelation or deserve it! The Spirit was given by God to accomplish on this earth what no man-made institution has ever possessed the power to do!
Consider that as the church initially begins to spread out from Jerusalem following the events of this day we’re given three fascinating stories in Acts that further illustrate God’s grace and in many ways the reversal of Babel… At the end of Acts 8 Philip the Evangelist will preach the Gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch… A descendant of Ham. In Acts 9 we then see Saul of Tarsus encounter the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus… A descendant of Shem.
Finally, in Acts 10 we see the Apostle Peter taking the Gospel to the house of a Roman centurion named Cornelius… A descendant of Japheth. It really is amazing with Genesis 11 in mind that Acts records the Gospel being extended to all three of these people groups, descending from Noah’s three sons, whom God scattered at Babel.
Finally, please understand the unification of mankind, in one city, with one language, and under the reign of a single man was not in and of itself evil. As a matter of fact you can make the case it was the ultimate plan of God. Man had been created for community.
The problem was that the city was not to be Babel, the mechanism was not to be a man-made false religion, and Nimrod was not fit to be the king to accomplish it! Instead, Scripture tells us there will come a day when all of the elect from every nation throughout every age shall gather together as one people in the city of New Jerusalem to exalt and worship the name of Christ Jesus the King! Jesus and He alone will eventually unify the nations!
Revelation 7:9-10, “Behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
And yet, this type of unity was only possible through a supernatural act of God whereby the very nature of man was transformed. What Babel intended to be but would only fail because of the depravity of man, the church of Jesus Christ has been called and equipped to accomplished through the indwelling Holy Spirit!
1 Peter 2:9-10, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”
Always remember the best man-made religion can do is divide humanity. The best Babel has to offer is confusion! And yet, because we have now been given a commonality that supersedes any and all of our differences (God’s grace, Jesus’ sacrifice, and the indwelling Holy Spirit) the church is to be the one place on earth that provides a taste of heaven.
Here’s the irony as it pertains to the best form of human community this world can offer… It’s always community predicated upon our likenesses or sameness and not one that celebrates our unique diversity. No matter what secular society attempts to do in order to change the status quo people always connect with people who are most like them.
Sadly, even in the greatest social experiment ever devised by man (the melting pot of America) the vast majority of our neighborhoods and schools are still segregated across ethnic and social-economic differences. Friends, the truth is that no attempt of sinful man will ever be able to remedy this tragic reality. Babel (man’s best attempt) has and will always fail!
However, the church is not a creation of man! It’s a work of God! And as such it should be the one place in our world where our unique unity is made evident by our distinct diversity. You see in Christ and by His Spirit our ethnic differences and cultural distinctions should all fall by the wayside as we stand unified at the cross of Calvary!
It is my prayer that Calvary316 be known by our community as a place that bucks the trend. That we’d be a place where young and old, black, brown, or white, rich and poor, Republicans or Democrats, city-folk and farm-bread alike come together, in spite of our differences, so that we might celebrate that one strand that binds us - God’s grace!