Heather has supplied the notes this week and today our passage is Genesis 11:1-9.
This story of the tower of has inspired many artists to depict it in art form down through the centuries. It appears on the surface as a simple story which explains the geographical migration and separation of people groups (as summarised in chapter 10), and the consequent development of different languages ( the name ‘Babel’ sounds like the Hebrew word for ’confused’ and has given us the English word ‘babble’), but there is much more to it!
Some clans had evidently moved eastwards and settled in Mesopotamia (v2) where they decided to build ‘a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens’ v4. (There is ample archaeological evidence for Mesopotamian temple-towers, known as ziggurats, which were square at the base and had sloping stepped sides which led upwards to a small shrine at the top – the names given to some of these in ancient inscriptions – e.g. ‘The House of the Link between Heaven and Earth’ – illustrate the thinking described in v 4)
The two things which struck me forcibly on reading this passage are the proud, ambitious, arrogant and self absorbed yet fearful nature of the people described (v4) and the presence and power of the Lord God over human affairs v8 – both of which are very true even today. This story has a timeless quality about it, insofar it depicts men trying to ‘make a name for themselves’ and trying to reach heaven by their own efforts, but at the critical moment, God steps in, demonstrating his concern for and authority over the world.
A few generations after Noah there seems to have been no concern for God, no recollection of his gracious dealings with Noah and his sons etc in saving them from the flood. Possibly each subsequent generation felt that they had ‘moved on’ and could manage pretty well on their own – a common situation in human history, reminiscent of pre-flood days (chapter 6) as well as of Wales today, post the revival period. Certainly behind the building of the tower of Babel we can see a presumptuous attitude of self-reliance and self aggrandisement, and in that attitude a challenge to God himself.
Of course we need to remember that Pentecost (Acts 2) is a sort of sequel to this, where the message of good news is spread via many languages – and God has also promised that all believers, whatever their language, will one day be united in service and call on the name of the Lord at least in the same heart language – Zephaniah 3:9 ‘Then I will purify the lips of the people, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve Him shoulder to shoulder’ – and Revelation 7:9-10 ‘a great multitude from every nation and language’ …worshipping our God together.
As human sinful beings, we are all prone to both pride and fear, which tend to dampen down faith and reliance on God.
Let’s acknowledge our weaknesses now before God and ask Him to increase our faith and trust in Him as the one who knows what is best for us.
Let’s remember all He has done for us in the past and let that be a stimulus to faith.
Let’s also remember that ‘our God reigns’, supreme over the affairs of men, and pray that He will fulfil His purposes in our lives.