“God keeps giving humans the chance to do the right thing in this world, and humans keep ruining it. We live in a good world, that we have turned bad.”
We want to look into the story of the Tower of Babel today, which was the last story you saw on the video. I showed the video from the beginning, though, because there is really one story being told and I wanted you to have the context for the story.
I’ll pick up the story with Noah. You remember, God destroyed the earth in a great flood, but he preserved humanity and animals through the man Noah, his 3 sons, and all 4 of their wives. They had 2 of every land animal and bird on this great boat with them and so on and so forth. Then the land dries up and Noah and his family begin to reproduce on the earth again.
Genesis 10 recounts for us the way that the early nations were formed through Noah’s sons and how they spread throughout all the land. Our story starts with Noah’s great grandson, named Nimrod. Nimrod was multiplying and spreading out and filling the earth just like all of his cousins. And Nimrod built his nation in a land called Shinar.
That’s where the story of the tower of Babel takes place. We are told:
The beginning of [Nimrod’s] kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. ~Genesis 10:10, ESV
A cold read of the story of The Tower of Babel makes it seem like all the people on the earth were in one place. But, by the time the city of Babel comes on the scene, there are already four cities—or at least villages of some kind—in the land of Shinar. And that only accounts for the nations that came from Nimrod, only one of Noah’s many great grandsons. By the time the land of Shinar was even a land, Noah’s grandchildren had spread all over the map.
That’s what Moses recorded at the end of the record of Noah’s family tree. He writes:
These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood. ~Genesis 10:32, ESV
So, then as we begin the chapter 11, we get a context for what is happening.
Now the whole earth—[all the dispersed nations]—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. ~Genesis 11:1–2, ESV
The people were spreading out allover the world, but as Nimrod’s family came from the east, they settled in the land of Shinar and set up their nation in that place.
Now, Nimrod is the Father of this nation. But, Nimrod isn’t your average Joe. When you look at the descendants of Noah from Genesis 10, no one gets a whole lot of description. For the most part, Genesis 10 is just the names of the people and the names of the places the people spread out to.
But, it says this about Nimrod—and it’s no accident:
Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” ~Genesis 10:8–9, ESV
Actually, many of your Bible’s have a footnote on verse 8. The English Standard Version of the Bible reads, “he was the first on earth to be a mighty man.”
But, the footnote suggests an alternate reading much more like the Holman Christian Standard Bible for those of you with that translation. It says, “He began to be a mighty man upon the earth.”
So, which is right?
You might say, ‘Who cares?’
Well, I care. Because Nimrod wasn’t the first mighty man. This is a very specific word. The Hebrew word for ‘mighty man’ is gibborim. And it shows up in Genesis 6:4, many years before the flood even occured.
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the [gibborim] mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. ~Genesis 6:4, ESV
Nimrod wasn’t the first mighty man, the first gibborim. He became a gibborim. He became a might man like the mighty men of old, the men of renown.
We talked at greater length last week about the giants of the ancient times. You can get the transcript and the audio on our website.
But, here we see that they are mighty men; massive men. Giants, with great strength who led armies and boasted in their bloodshed. God wiped them out with the flood, but now, they are back.
As the video pointed out, many people don’t believe the gibborim, the mighty men, are actually giants, but that it just has to refer to a person who is a powerful warrior. As far as we can tell, the Hebrews believed Nimrod to be a giant as far back as the 3rd century, BC. But, take it however you want. The fact of the matter is, Nimrod was operating in the pattern of the mighty men even if he wasn’t actually a giant. Because, just like the mighty men of old, Nimrod was…
Working Against God
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. ~Genesis 11:1–2, ESV
Shinar is a name that the ancients gave to the region we today call Mesopotamia, which means that they were settling, more or less in and around the area that God promised to Abraham and which we refer to as the nation of Israel…but, that comes much later.
So they settle in Shinar…
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.” ~Genesis 11:3–4, ESV
So, all the other nations are being formed around the world as the tribes that came out of Noah spread out and begin to build cities and all that. The people are doing exactly what the Lord commanded Noah to do when he left the Ark, incidentally.
And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. ~Genesis 9:1, ESV
And they’re doing a pretty good job. A moderate estimate of the world population at the time of Babel is a little under a million people. So, the nations are doing exactly what God said to do.
But, notice the problem with the thinking of people of Babel. They say, ‘Lest we be dispersed,’ ‘let’s build a city.’ In other words, they make a decision here to work against God’s decree. They worked against God’s plan to fill the earth.
God’s plan from the beginning with Adam and Eve was to build a world-wide Kingdom to glorify Him and for people to find enjoyment with Him, and Nimrod is working directly opposite to God’s plan.
And it’s not just that Nimrod’s tribes didn’t want to disperse on the earth. They said, “Let us make a name for ourselves.” It’s not just that they didn’t want to disperse; Nimrod wanted his name to be great on the earth.
Do you see the issue?
God said “Make my name great on the earth,” and Nimrod said, “No, I want to make my name great.”
God said “Build my Kingdom on the earth,” and Nimrod said, “No I want to build my Kingdom.”
Nimrod isn’t just working against God; he’s working in spite of God. That’s what the story of Babel is about. And that’s a scary place to be. Jesus said,
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. ~Matthew 12:30, ESV
I don’t know if Jesus was thinking about Babel when he said that, but it’s interesting because Babel was working against God and God scattered them.
“God keeps giving humans the chance to do the right thing in this world, and humans keep ruining it. We live in a good world, that we have turned bad.”
The people of Babel didn’t learn from Cain. They didn’t learn from the story of Noah. Noah didn’t learn from the countless people before Him who chose to rebel against God’s purposes. And that’s what these stories are for. We are supposed to learn from the past so that we can make wise decisions.
The Apostle Paul, writing about these stories and many others says this:
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. ~Romans 15:4, ESV
The scriptures, the Bible, are given to us to instruct us on our mission to make His name great—not my name, not your name, not even Sonrise Church, but Jesus. And the Bible was given to us to instruct us to build God’s Kingdom, not the Kingdom of man.
Unfortunately, I think I’m a little bit too much like Nimrod, though. My Mom will tell you, everything I ever learned, I learned three times the hard way. Maybe you can relate.
Here we see a lesson being learned the hard way as…
God Thwarts Nimrod’s Plan
The people in the land of Shinar said:
…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. ~Genesis 11:4b–6, ESV
When God casts judgment on a people group, he waits until there is no hope left. When God flooded the earth,
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. ~Genesis 6:5, ESV
When God destroyed Sodom—which was after Babel. Sorry for going out of order. When God destroyed Sodom, he was certain that there was no one righteous left in the city.
And when God thwarted Nimrod’s plan at Babel, He made sure that there was no hope for them. He let them go on about their business until He saw that, “nothing that they propose[d] to do w[ould] now be impossible for them.”
Babel had become a very powerful nation with ample resources and they were going to show the world how great they were at any cost. So, let’s zoom in on the Babel campaign.
What was the plan to make Babel great?
The first thing they did was…
(1) Define an Objective
You might think the objective was to build a tower. But, that’s not forward thinking enough. The tower is secondary in the story. It’s the means, not the end. The tower is the means to accomplishing the objective.
The objective is the unification of the people. The people wanted to come together, make lives together, create culture together.
They traveled to Shinar together.
They planned together. They said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks,’ and, ‘Let us build ourselves a city.’ They were great at working together and planning together. They wanted a culture of unity and togetherness.
And they all had one language, which is an essential element of culture. People don’t share culture because they share language. But, people never share culture unless they share language. Language is the most critical element of culture which all other distinctives of a culture are built upon.
For example, you will never have a culturally distinctive cuisine unless there is first a common language. We wouldn’t have something we call, ‘Mexican food’ if Mexicans didn’t, for the most part, all speak Spanish. And that would be tragic.
You wouldn’t have culturally distinctive holidays and traditions if there wasn’t a common language. I mean, imagine celebrating Independence day. Now, what would happen if the people in the US didn’t unify for the most part on the English language. If we didn’t agree on language, the United states would still just be the states. We would still be colonies, fighting for unity within our colonies—a dutch colony over here and a french colony over there. Language is foundational to creating culture.
This is why here at Sonrise—you may have noticed this—we have an ongoing discussion, usually behind the scenes, about what terms we call things. We call this room the auditorium. When we pass the baskets at the end of service, we call it our collection. We call our small groups, life groups.
All of those terms are intentionally pointing to a unified mission for the church. You might not have realized that. We ask our leaders and volunteers to use these terms as consistently as possible, because unifying our language is foundational to unifying our mission.
In other words, the words we choose speak volumes about the mission of Sonrise Church. And when we slip up and use the wrong term for things—which we all do, even though we try real hard—it actually communicates disunity rather than unity.
Here’s an example and then we’ll get back to Babel. If we call this room the sanctuary, it communicates that the room is a place for refuge. The word sanctuary means, ‘holy place’ and it carries the connotation of safety and refuge. Now, we choose to call this room, the auditorium, which means it is a, “Building for public gatherings” (Dictionary.com).
So, which is better? Which is right?
Neither is better or right, honestly. I hope that our church building is a place of safety. And I hope that it is a place for the public to gather to worship Christ. Both are good.
But, what is our mission, when it comes to this room?
The Westminster shorter catechism works well here. It says that,
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. ~Westminster Shorter Catechism
And when I think about what we use this room for, I think it’s closest to say that our goal or our mission for this room is to worship God, to bring Him glory and to enjoy the presence of God in our gathering, and to enjoy the fellowship of God’s people.
So, sanctuary or auditorium?
Auditorium. The language speaks to the mission and common language is foundational for culture. If we all use different terms, then we all communicate—especially to guests and the public—that we are not unified about what we do in here on a Sunday morning.
So, the people of Babel unified under their common language and the then started to…
(1) Make a Plan
It was a relatively simple plan, but it was a good plan.
The plan was to make a tower. That’s why we usually call this story The Tower of Babel.
Obviously, the plan is a bit more complicated. We see in the story that they had to make bricks and they had to bake them and they had to harvest bituemen, which is like tar. There’s lots of jobs. And, man, I’ll tell you, this tower was big. It reached to the heavens. So it took a lot of people.
(Now be careful with that. That is reached to the heavens just means that it was super tall, reaching up to the heavens or the skies. They weren’t trying to get to heaven. God and heaven weren’t on the top of their priority list, if you recall.)
I imagine that if you were a traveler from another country and you came into the land and you passed by the quarries and you said to a man, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ The man would say, ‘I’m building a tower!’ And then you come by an open pit oozing with black tar. And there’s a man there filling a large clay pot with the tar and you ask, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ He’ll exclaim, ‘I’m building a tower.’ And then you get to the center of the city and you find some other people laying the bricks with the tar and you say to them, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ And they tell you the same thing, ‘We are building a tower.’
And then at some point you travel to another nation and you’re talking to the people there and they ask you about your travels. And you tell them about Babel, and you’re like, ‘You’re not going to believe what these people are doing. They’re all building a tower.’
That’s unity in mission.
Can you imagine if every person here at Sonrise, if you were approached by someone in the community around us, and they ask, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing over there at Sonrise?’ What if every one of us could answer distinctively the same way? What if every one of us answered, ‘Oh, we’re caring for the people of East Palmdale?’
Honestly, it’s proved to be entirely too long, but that’s what our mission statement on the website and on your bulletins is all about. GLORIFYing God, by GATHERing to experience God’s goodness, GROWing in faith and love, GIVing of ourselves—our wealth, our time, our resources—and GOing to share Jesus, his goodness, love, mercy, and care with the city around us.
Our missions statement needs revision because it’s entirely too long. The people of Babel had it nailed down, though. Their mission was simple. We’re building a tower. And when someone said, ‘Hey, you know what we should do?’ I imagine everyone in the camp would ask, ‘Does it help us build the tower?’ And if the answer was, ‘Yes’ it was in. And if the answer was ‘No’ it was out. Because it was simple. They were building a tower.
Now, how do you get an entire nation to work together to build a tower?
That can’t be an easy thing to do. Well, you have to…
(3) Cast a Vision—a big vision
You know the saying. Nothing is free. Anyone who says anything else is selling something. Nothing is free. People don’t just build towers any more than people give up time and wealth to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, house the homeless, counsel the weary, have patience for addicts, and give good news to the hopeless.
People don’t just do stuff unless they know there is a reward.
Those of you here at Sonrise who are a part of that work to care for the people of East Palmdale, you know you await a reward. You know that there is no price to high for you to pay, because you await an unimaginable reward in eternity with Christ.
And the people of the Shinar valley, the people of Babel were awaiting a reward. It was a reward of pride, of self-sufficiency, of self-worth. The slogan of Babel was, ‘Let’s Make Babel Great!’ They said, ‘Let us make a name for ourselves.’
Babel wanted to be a great nation among the nations. They wanted other nations to stand in awe of them and tremble in fear of them. And in so doing, they created a culture of pride, and of arrogance.
I hope at this point you see the problem. The tower that Babel was building was a place of worship. In a very practical sense, it was probably a place they gathered to worship false gods. But, it was definitely a place that they gathered to worship themselves.
And we do this. We don’t build towers.
But, we build bars where we bury our worries in a bottle, because we refuse to lay them at Jesus’ feet.
We build shopping malls where we gather to covet and envy the blessings in the world, because we refuse to believe in the sufficiency of God’s blessings.
We build banks, where we endlessly borrow what we have not earned, because we refuse to be satisfied with God’s provisions today.
We build social institutions and write laws, where we work so hard to keep people out of poverty and out of harms way—and those can be good things—but many of us work so hard at these things, because we refuse to believe in the sufficiency of Jesus’s work, Jesus’s death, to cover our shame and guilt, our brokenness and unfaithfulness.
So we work in hopes that our efforts will be sufficient for God.
But they won’t.
The chief end of man is not to make our own names great. It’s not to say, ‘Look how hard I worked.’ I worded so hard God let me into heaven—that’s how great I am. It’s not to work to save ourselves.
Neither is the chief end of man to enjoy the spoils of our labor. Our mission is not to die happy or die wealthy. Our mission is not to leave a personal legacy.
Our mission is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Babel was trying to make a name for themselves, but God was making a name for Himself. Babel was supposed to be proclaiming the name that is above all names, Yahweh, the Lord most high, King of Kings, Lord of Lords. But, Babel said forget about God; look what we can do!
Let’s just be vulnerable for a minute and relate with Babel. How much of your life really reflects the greatness of God?
As I look at my life, the answer is clear to me: not enough.
Are you building your own city or are you building God’s city?
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. ~Matthew 5:14, ESV
When you leave the front door of your house, you are a city. You cannot be hidden. Jesus’s point was that godly people are lights to the world. Godly people are like a city on the hill that everyone sees. Godly people reflect the light of Christ out into the world.
But, listen, everyone is a building a city. And everyone is a light leading to something.
In your life, are you building a city that says, ‘Great is the Lord God?’ Or are you building a city that says, ‘Great are the pleasures of the world?’
Does your life light the path leading to eternal life in Christ? Or does your life light the path leading to destruction?
Do you see the seriousness of Babel’s sin?
They were trying to outshine the one who spoke light into being in the beginning. They thought they could be brighter than the giver of light, the author of life, the one who separated the light from the darkness and commanded the sun, moon, and stars into their place in the heavens.
They created a culture of ‘Look how great we are.’ and ‘Look how small God is.’ So God said,
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. ~Genesis 11:7–9, ESV
Look, I don’t know if this happened gradually over time, or if two men were laying bricks next to each other and all of the sudden they could no longer communicate. It doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that God couldn’t tolerate the idolatry of this city. He couldn’t tolerate a people who made themselves out to be greater than God. God could not tolerate a people so committed to their own damnation.
God kept giving humans the chance to do the right thing in this world, and the humans kept ruining it. God created a good world, that humanity turned bad.
So, he confused their language. And the confusion destroyed their culture. And they abandoned the city and the tower they had built in it.
And they went back to the mission that God gave to Adam. They went back to the mission God gave to Noah. They went back to the mission of mankind. They spread out and began again to fill the earth, to be fruitful and to multiply and to have dominion upon all the earth.
You see, when God confused their language…
God Did What He Was Already Doing
God did what He was Already Doing. He was creating a people for His glory. Half of that mission was,
Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth. ~Genesis 1:28, ESV
And half of that was this:
…Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…You shall love your neighbor as yourself… ~Mark 12:29–31, ESV
God wants humanity to fill the earth and to love Him by loving others. Humankind needs to spread all over the whole globe and then love each other as an expression of our love for God. Here in East Palmdale, we need to go to our literal neighbors and be agents of grace, love, and mercy in their lives as an expression of our love for God.
And here’s the beautiful thing about this story. See, God created unique cultures by confusing the languages of the people. If not for Babel, there would be one language on earth and there would be far less cultural differences. God created cultural diversity, but the Gospel—the good news that Jesus died to reconcile the brokenness of this world and return worship to Christ—the Gospel works in spite of cultural diversity.
In other words, cultural diversity serves God’s mission to make the name of the Lord great on the earth and to build God’s Kingdom.
When there is a single culture, the culture works against God’s purposes.
When humankind was unifying under sin, God said let’s divide humankind so they can reunify under Christ.
Who has had broken a bone?
I broke my hand twice, but that’s not a real bone. When you break a real bone, you have to go to the doctors and have it set. Sometimes they have to put in metal pins and put a cast on it so that the bones line up and stay aligned while it heals. Because if a bone heals incorrectly, it has to be broken again in order to come back together the right way.
Having one culture would have been great, but the people at Babel messed it up. And God had to break that culture so that He can set the bone, set the culture under Jesus Christ. He had to kill culture so he could create a Kingdom culture.
You might also like:
Service Times and Location
Sunday Service: 10am
Address: 2751 E Ave R, Palmdale, CA 93550 (Click for Directions)
Phone: (661) 878-8316