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The Tower of Babel

August 7th, 2018

Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top (will reach) into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:4)

Failure and judgment are the themes of this passage, but there is also a wonderful balance to this event in the book of Acts. If we bring the entire biblical record into the picture we see how all people of the earth are united in Christ. But first let’s examine this event.

The failure of human government: This project was a government project for that day. The government of humanity, such as it was, determined what was best for society and that they would solidify their power through this project and in its completion, as a matter of grandeur. Homes became secondary, personal rights and goals became insignificant, instead they worked for the grandeur of the project. Whenever government replaces the family, society is in danger.

The failure of human religion: The project combined government with religion. The issue of pride, assuming that they could ascend into heaven, is one interpretation. Another possibility is that this was a tower built to worship other gods, and not the LORD. God had blocked the entrance back into the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:24), but this was an effort to go around the limitations, to disperse with sacrifice, to find divinity without God. Whenever religion is mandated and controlled, whenever the cross is neglected but access to divinity is claimed, faith is in danger.

The judgment of God: God saw the evil for what it was: an oppressive, one-party religious system, whose goals and doctrine would be determined by only a few. In the name of religion and in a lust for power and grandeur, they presumed they had all the answers. We have seen such systems on earth often, and they are always abusive, persecuting the innocent and depriving anyone of the right of free thought who they feel might threaten them. In one way, whether through direct intervention, or another, by indirectly letting pride divide up the people as it always does, God took credit for dispersing them.

God preferred to confuse and disperse them, for their false belief would bind all people to spiritual blindness and enslavement and judgment. From God’s perspective it is better to allow for freedom and the possibility of belief in some, than for oppressive order and the certain deception of all. I sat with a Roman Catholic not long ago who held his rosary beads and moved his lips as he pushed them through his fingers. The conversation later came around as to why there are so many protestant churches, and I saw in his questions the remnant of the thinking of the builders of the Tower of Babel.

In history the Roman Catholic Church became the Pontiffs’ church, not the people’s church, and the leadership preferred a monopolized religion of complete control, in which dissenters were ruthlessly persecuted. The Pontiffs and Bishops preferred a unified closed system, and in that system, with no accountability to anyone, they had replaced the gospel with the sacraments, Christ with Mary, repentance and faith with good works and acts of penance, and closed the Bible to the people. That the Catholic Church has changed in recent years is some good and encouraging news, but it changed as a result of the influence of the Protestant Reformation. On their own, with no outside influences, closed and oppressive systems do not change – North Korean and Burma are cases in point.

The redemption through Christ: Contrast the tower builders with Noah’s and Abel’s worship. They humbly bowed before God and offered sacrifices for their sins, prefiguring the sacrifice of Christ. We must let God save us His way, and not seek our own way. But in Christ what pride had separated, God brings together. In Acts 2 we have the historical account of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church on the Day of Pentecost. The languages that were confused at Babel are now united in Christ. At Pentecost a multilingual crowd all understood the gospel, and I believe it was a miracle of having one language again, miraculously given by the Spirit (Acts 2:8). And in Acts we read that the disciples were not afraid to be dispersed, rather in obedience to the Lord’s command they went out into the whole world to tell the story of salvation.

The application of this passage for us is that we must come to God through Christ and only through Him. But in Him is the power of God to bring humanity together again, united under His Headship. We come to Him through our individual faith, free-willingly, not forced, coerced, or because it is politically mandated. As Isaac Watts wrote in When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: “Forbid it Lord that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God. All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.”

What makes a church great, or a Christian movement great, is not the size and number of its adherents, not the pomp and grandeur of its buildings, and not the beauty and impressiveness of its public meetings, whether speakers, musicians, or rituals, and certainly not its power over others. Our greatness is only found in Christ, and bowing our hearts to worship Him, humbly repenting of our sins, serving Him in the world, that is what makes a church great.

Gleanings from Genesis

First Things

August 25th, 2014

And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2:25

The creation story ends with human life, male and female, created, brought into intimacy with God and into community with one another. The order of this account is beautiful and peaceful as well. Because we are made in God’s image, we human have godly ambitions, and though sin has marred us we still have within us a desire to know what we are made for, how we were made to function. We are not able to cope with the sheer idea of purpose – raw, formless, unattached to any means to function. We need some forms, institutions, concrete matters to see our duties clearly. And these God simply and beautifully supplies in this second chapter of Genesis.

This is not all that is said in the Bible about duty, but the simplicity of these first matters is beautiful in and of itself. Life in today’s world is too fast, too complicated, and too overwhelming for us, and within each of us there is the longing for something more simple, plain, concrete, clear, and this chapter provides it. It puts first things first – and I do mean “things” and not just ideas, concrete matters of life.

A job to do: We are bored without some purpose to give our time and energies to. We need rest but we need work more. God placed Adam in the garden to tend it and take care of it. The oldest profession is not prostitution but farming, or gardening. This is not just to sit and harvest without thought, to lazily pick the fruit that plants bear on their own. Rather it is to be actively engaged in helping and supervising the natural life of the plants. We also in our lives today need jobs to do, specific forms of work, and in this work to take pleasure.

Ecclesiastes 3:22 says, “So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot.” Work does not demean us, rather it gives us dignity and significance. To find a job that God has led us to, that He has provided for us, that He has gifted us to do, that lays not just within our abilities but also within our interests and even our passions is a precious thing. Even more so if we can see that this job, this specific work benefits others, blesses the creation of God, helps provide needed commodities to those around us – food, life, enjoyment, education, health, protection, etc.

A family to enjoy: The initial marriage was one of love and support. The absence of shame refers not only to their physical condition, but to their conversation and life together. It never entered Adam nor Eve’s heads at first that the other would say anything unkind, that there would be any basis of rejection, that Adam would complain that Eve had let herself get a bit flabby, or that Eve would find a basis of rejection for Adam. In their love was acceptance, peace, harmony, and mutual support for what God had given them to do.

The sheer harmony of everything God created is seen in these early chapters, and we are wise if we take this lesson to heart. In this world our lives can so easily spin out of control, overly busy, distracted, harassed, pressured, and worn out. We need to return to these simpler days of our race.

A question we might ask is whether God intended Adam only to work and Eve to tend to the family matters. But the answer of the text is that Eve was Adam’s helper in all that he did – and this role was not a belittling of womanhood, rather simply the statement that she shared Adam’s work and purpose. And, despite the biological differences between the sexes, Adam also was concerned with what happened at home. They were a team together and derived support and strength from one another.

God to worship: The early forms of worship were different from our forms today. Since the advent of sin now we worship God through the sacrifice, through the promise of the Redeemer and our Redemption before Christ, and in the observance and celebration of His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection since He has come.

The early days of human life, however, were not like ours and their worship took the form of simple relationship. Though we now approach God through Christ our Savior, the outcome of the grace we receive today is similar to what Adam and Eve enjoyed in the days of innocence – intimacy with God.

So we may add prayer to this list of forms – work, marriage and family, prayer – that are given to us. In prayer we affirm our need of God and our trust that He cares for us. In our fallen-ness we have complicated prayer because of our senses of guilt and shame, our fears and worries, and prayer for us lifts our spirits as we pour out our hearts to God. But still the beautiful simplicity of the form of prayer, the celebration of relationship and the expression of intimacy with God, reveal to us the first things of life.

I will stop here, though perhaps we could add schedule for the week also seems to have been instituted by God, though there is some question about that, whether it came here or later on under the Mosaic Covenant. Too often our schedules terrorize us, and here in Genesis 2 there is no command to observe or not observe the Sabbath. No starting times or quitting times; it is all in harmonious balance.

So let me invite you to return to the simpler things of life – see yourself as God’s special creation and let these early forms help you in your balancing your life. Work. Family. Prayer. There is a sacredness about all three of these.

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