The Tower of Babel Part 2 of 2
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
The early Babylonians had burdened themselves with a wrong set of values. They were living in a world of fantasy; of make-believe. It’s a bit like a visit to Disney World. Yes, it’s colorful and pleasurable for a day’s outing, if you like that sort of thing. But, it’s all staged and managed. The sun shines forever, smiles never dim and the music never stops. It’s ironic that Disney’s research and development division is called “Imagineering”.It’s a matter of “follow that dream”, but in reality, it’s an act. I understand that those who go on the ride called “The Space Mountain” get the feeling that they’re falling uncontrollably through space, but in fact, the ride is highly controlled and the wall is just a meter away! It’s total illusion.
The reality of earth is different. When Jesus came to earth as a human being He entered life in all its brokenness and suffering. He not only encountered evil, but He actually overcame it. He did more than merely express sympathy with those who were suffering, because their world was such an awful place to live in. He didn’t just make them feel good, just like a visit to Disney World, but instead, He changed things. He took action that brought about a real change in their situation. The storm was calmed. Devils were expelled; disease was cured and even death was defeated. Jesus never invites people to enter a runaway world, where we simply pretend that the harsh realities of life don’t matter. He goes right into the thick of all the ugliness and pain of our lives and meets it head-on.
We’re living in a world in which Satan has taken over God’s role as the rightful king of creation. The evil one has brought the human race into subjection by cunning deception. He lied to our first parents when he said, “You will be like God” (Gen 3:4). The builders of the Tower of Babel followed in their footsteps. Their motivation was “so that we may make a name for ourselves...” They were out to build a reputation for themselves, and to be lords of the earth.
Why was their ambition doomed to failure? It was an expression of pride, but pride goes before a fall. Sinful man isn’t capable of “making a name”. It’s only God who can do that.
Sin’s great trick is to create in our minds a false impression that we can distance ourselves from God. Not, of course, to forget Him entirely, but to keep Him in His place as a kind of chaplain. He is fine if all He’s allowed to do is merely give approval to our schemes and rubber-stamp our decisions. But that’s what God won’t do!
The early Babylonians ambition of “making a name” for themselves was to “build ourselves a city”, but it was only a day-dream. From the second generation onwards of the human family, mankind had been moving this way. Due to their sinful nature, they were outwardly self-confident, and they were basically insecure. They wanted to create a city that would be a gateway to an earthly paradise.
On the surface, the great cities of the world express the glory and power of the world - but it’s a fallen world. J B Priestley wrote a powerful play called, “They Came to a City” in which he described the disappointment of those who entered it. The city’s impressive buildings, dedicated to commerce and the arts, honor human genius and human beauty. They look fine on the glossy pages of books that tourists take home for their coffee tables. But those outward images don’t tell the whole story. They are all part of the “Babylon” of this world.
Behind the gleaming buildings is the decay and squalor of a shantytown made of plastic and cardboard shacks, with chaos, violence and drug abuse. What an illustration of people who have been misled by the devil into accepting his values, rather than the claims of Christ! This was revealed in the name they gave it, “Babel”, meaning “the gate of the gods”.
The people of Babel thought their extravagant project of a city “with a tower that reaches to the heavens” would ensure the preservation of their identity and control their fortunes. They were sadly mistaken, as they hadn’t reckoned on the all-seeing eye of the Creator.
The writer of Genesis tells us “But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building.” The whole scheme was a shambles. There’s a pleasant irony here. The Tower isn’t the gate of the gods: it’s so small that God has to come down to see it!
And as for the building materials themselves, there’s a mocking reference to them: “They used bricks instead of stone, and tar instead of mortar.” The Mesopotamian plain lacks the stone deposits the Egyptians used effectively for their timeless pyramid monuments. The very materials the Babylonians used were bound to decay. Just think what the summer temperatures of 120 degrees would do to tar! No wonder there’s nothing left of the Tower today! This serves as a reminder that when technology ceases to be our servant, it quickly becomes our master, and human communities and human values are all too often the casualties.
There’s a hint of mockery in God’s description of the Babylonians feeble attempt to scale the heavens: “They have begun to do this; then nothing they plan will be impossible for them.”
It’s true to say “Man proposes but God disposes!” Psalm 2 asks, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? ...” The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them’ (1,3). That’s how He reacted to the Babylonians feeble attempt to dethrone Him. God saw that He was no longer the center of their lives and in judgment, He declared that, as the apostle Paul would write to the Romans: “Since they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind” (1:28).
Isn’t that just what’s happening in society today? If it lives without God as the center, there’s no central binding force at all. If it breaks the bounds of God-given order, the results are only disintegration and frustration. ”Come,” said God, “let us go down and confuse the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”
And what was the result? “They stopped building the city.” From this point on in the Bible, Babylon represents the anti-God world system which, in its pride and arrogance, leads man to think that he can dethrone God and has no need of His laws and commandments. We see it rearing its ugly head in Daniel, where the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is brought crashing down by the rock “not cut with human hands” (2:34) symbolizing the kingdom of God.
We have a picture in Revelation of God’s final judgment upon Babylon and the anti-God culture she represents: “Woe! Woe! O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!” (18:10). What a sad end - and yet it’s not the end because God hadn’t finished with His damaged creation. God’s grace wasn’t exhausted. In His mercy, He chose Abraham, through whom He would start the process of accomplishing His saving purpose for mankind, ultimately through the Cross of His Son and our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The curse of Babel, the confusion of language, which has made communication so difficult for the peoples of the world, was wonderfully and dramatically reversed on the Day of Pentecost. God graciously enabled the Spirit-filled disciples “to speak in other tongues”, a supernatural ability to speak in recognizable languages to the multi-ethnic crowd in Jerusalem. This foreshadows the great day when the redeemed, drawn “from every nation, tribe, people and language”, will stand before God’s throne in heaven and acknowledge in praise,“Salvation belongs to our God.” But until that great day, let’s not forget the lessons of the Tower of Babel.