And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. — Genesis 11:4
Art Blank grew up in a small, one-bedroom apartment in Queens, New York. He reflects that he first realized he was a self-starter when playing outfield in a baseball game. He wanted to be the catcher instead so he could have a part in every play! His drive carried over into his school years. In college, in addition to being president of his senior class, Art launched his own landscaping company, a laundry business, and even found time to babysit on the side. A few years later, after he was unceremoniously fired from his place of employment, he and a friend mapped out a business plan on a paper napkin in their favorite coffee shop. They had almost no capital, but a lot of enthusiasm. Today their national chain — the Home Depot — has more than two thousand stores bringing in billions of dollars in annual profits!
Art, along with others who have achieved success in entrepreneurial ventures, is recognized for his accomplishments. The fact is, most of us admire ambition. We respect those who have the internal drive that results in accomplishment. We honor those who press ahead in spite of obstacles to achieve a dream. That is natural and appropriate. However, if industry and ambition are based on wrong motives, they can become an addiction — an all-consuming focus squarely rooted in self. That’s what happened at Babel.
The people whose story is recorded in today’s text had a dream. The vision that drove them to stir the mortar and pull bricks from the kiln was a tower. The thought that motivated them as they shouldered their load of bricks upward, one step at a time, was a structure that would be a great human achievement, a wonder of the world. Sadly, they had no intent to glorify God. Their efforts were not rooted in a desire to find Him, but to build a monument to themselves. Note how many times the phrase “Let us . . .” appears in the first four verses of this passage. Clearly, their purpose was to make a name for themselves. They had ambition and industry, but their motives were wrong.
In a society that honors achievement, there is a danger of slipping into a “Babel” mentality. While we are probably not out building towers in our backyards, it pays to observe carefully what motivates our investment of energy and attention. Monuments can come in many forms. If our time and energy are spent to define our identity or support our self-worth, we are in danger of falling into the same trap that brought about the ruin of Babel.
Today, what “towers” are we building? What consumes our time and attention, and what is our motivation? The human attitudes portrayed in this account, and God’s response to them, offer a warning that we must take to heart. Let’s make sure our efforts center on the glory of God and promotion of Him, and not on ourselves.
This passage opens with the statement that the whole earth was bound together by one language. One hundred years had passed since the end of the Flood. Noah’s family had been divided into tribes, or colonies, to settle in different directions, thus replenishing the other regions of the earth. However, as the population increased, they all migrated together. It appears their journey took them down Mount Ararat, then along the plains of the Euphrates River, and finally to the land of Shinar — which was probably in modern-day Southern Mesopotamia, near where Babylon would be built later.
Verses 3-4 relate that these new inhabitants of Shinar proposed an action that was in opposition to the will of God (see Genesis 9:1). They desired fame and security, and purposed to achieve these goals through their own efforts. God was left out of their plans. Verses 5-7 describe how God took notice of these rebellious actions and made an evaluation. In verses 8-9, the method He used to bring their efforts to an end is detailed.
The tower built at Babel is thought to have been a ziggurat — a pyramid-like structure built in successive levels that were recessed so one could walk to the top on “steps.” Usually the top was a special shrine dedicated to a god or goddess.
It is likely that the incidents chronicled in chapter 11 actually preceded those in chapter 10, and that the scattering described in chapter 10 was the consequence of God’s judgment at Babel. Some commentators suggest that the sequence in Genesis was so arranged to lead into the genealogy of Shem, which in turn leads into the genealogy of Abraham. This would make the arrangement literary rather than chronological.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
I. The early history of the human race
F. The scattering of mankind (11:1-9)
1. The plan (11:1-4)
2. The confusion (11:5-9)
Let’s learn a lesson from the people of Babel. We must guard against ever thinking our ways are better than God’s ways!