This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Genesis 11:1-9
Sermon Prepared by Rev. Kenneth Benjamins, Brantford, Ontario
Dear congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
You would think that people would learn a lesson. I mean, consider it, just two chapters before our passage we have the story of the flood. People are living in sin and so God judges them. He sends the flood. He wipes out everything to make a brand new start! You would think that now people would learn their lesson! But do they? No! Noah and his family leave the ark. They begin to subdue the earth again. And before we know it we get the events in our text. Sin is on its merry way again! We have the story of the tower of Babel.
In that sense, you know what this story is all about? It is about how sinful people really are. By nature we are sinful! We are slow to understand God’s ways! We are slow to get it! We are slow to learn! And we are quick to forget God’s judgment!
It’s interesting. God sent the flood to wash the whole earth but there is one thing water cannot clean and that is our hearts! By nature we are sinful! The fact that people went on to build the tower of Babel so soon after the flood is proof of it.
Not that people cannot be industrious or ingenious. Oh for sure they can! Humankind was certainly industrious after the flood. We read about their ingenuity already in verse three. Says the Scriptures, “They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone and tar for mortar….” Apparently before the flood (or maybe for a time after the flood) people would build their houses and buildings out of stone, out of big rocks and boulders. But when they moved to the plain of Shinar they discovered the clever concept of making bricks. They would make forms of whatever size they wanted, fill them with cement, and make square blocks! This was ingenious! With bricks and mortar they could build houses, temples and buildings much faster, stronger, straighter -- not to mention safer. I would not be surprised if this discovery led to an economic boom in the plain of Shinar!
In their sin people can still be very industrious! People remain so today! I mean, look at what people are able to do today! We can build roads, hospitals, schools and amazing computers. We can find cures for all kinds of cancers. We can put satellites into space! We can do all kinds of ingenious things! But does any of this make people anymore righteous or holy before God? The answer is, “NO!” For whose glory do we make our roads, hospitals and satellites? It’s for ourselves! What our passage proves then is that humanity is indeed very sinful.
Let’s look at the opening verses of our scripture reading to see in what way humanity was sinful back then. We start right away at verse one, “Now the whole earth had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly. They used brick instead of stone and tar for mortar.’ Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’”
Notice the three big reasons why these people wanted to build this big city and tower. First, it was so that they would not be scattered over the face of the whole earth. I guess the idea behind the tower was so that they could see it from far away. Notice that this refusal to be scattered was in direct disobedience to the Lord’s command. God told Noah and his descendants (after they left the ark) to be fruitful, to increase in number and to fill the earth. But what do these people say? “No, we don’t want to. We want to do things our own way. We want to stay together.”
A second reason they wanted to build the big city and tower was so that they could reach into the heavens! Did you catch that in our text? The reason for the tower was to climb up to God! Notice what Babel actually means in the Akkadian language (which was probably close to the original language of that time). Babel means “gateway to God”. Yes, these folks figured that, because of the fall into sin, God and man were separated from each other--which caused a lot of bad things to happen--like the flood. And so what better way to fix the problem than to make a stairway to heaven, go right up to God, be in heaven with God, and talk things out! Do you see the arrogance of these people?
And a third reason to build the city and tower? They said to each other, “Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth…” What did these people want ultimately? They wanted to make a name for themselves! They wanted to pat themselves on the back and give all the glory to themselves! In this time, not long after the flood, we see the epitome of sin showing up all over again!
And is God happy about all of this? No way! We turn to verse five. Says our text, “But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them’….” It is clear that God is not impressed.
It is interesting how the beginning of that verse is worded. Verse five says, “But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building…” Here the people were trying to build a tower up to God. They must have thought that God was not that far away. Maybe just a little bit above the clouds? But notice the assumption of the book of Genesis. God is way up there! He’s way beyond us! Of course God is everywhere present, but His heavenly throne of glory is certainly very far away!
You almost picture God up in heaven looking way down towards the earth and He says, “Oh no, what are those sinful little human beings doing this time? Would you believe it? They are trying to build a little tower up to heaven, way down there in their sandbox! We’d better go down and take a look.” And so that is what God does. He comes down, looks at everything, and is convinced that in one language there is nothing impossible for these people to do--to bring total dishonor to God. And so God says, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other…”
It is interesting. In the beginning the people say, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly…Come, let us build ourselves a city…” And now here God says, “Come, let us mess everything up!” And that’s exactly what He does!
Actually, what judgment does He bring again? He does not send an earthquake. He does not send a big hurricane to blow everything away. No, he simply makes it so that the people cannot talk to each other anymore. He changes their language. That’s it! It’s simple, powerful and adequate! And the result is chaos and confusion. I’m sure there was a lot of fighting. In the end their pride is ruined, and their name is torn down. Babel gets a new meaning. In the Hebrew language Babel is very close to the word confusion and that is the name and reputation that the building project finally receives. That is their judgment: confusion! And the final result? The people disperse. They can’t talk to each other anymore and so they leave. They take their language groups with them. They begin to fill the earth as the LORD originally commanded. And that is where the story ends.
In light of the story’s conclusion, do you know what our passage is really all about? It’s about the failure of the sinful person who seeks to do all for his own glory. What do you think? Isn’t that the point of this story?
I pointed out earlier that this story tells us that people are extremely sinful. But is that all it tells us? No! It also tells us what happens to the sinful person who continues to live in sin! He is judged! His kingdom comes to ruins! This story tells us of the ultimate failure of the sinful person who lives for his own glory!
This is also the sense we get when we hear the word Babel or its closest equivalent--Babylon in the rest of Scripture. Did you know that Babylon comes from Babel? Yes! And what do Babylon and Babel always signify? In the end, they signify total failure, chaos, confusion and judgment! That sense is also in the book of Revelation. In Revelation Babylon is the name given to the kingdom of the Antichrist. And what is the sure outcome of that Babylon? Failure, chaos, confusion, disaster and judgment! And so that is what the story of the tower of Babel is all about: the ultimate failure of sinful man.
Yes, dear friends, if your agenda in life is only to make a prideful name for yourself, maybe you should read our passage one more time.
Congregation, note something else about our passage. After the story of our text is over there is no sign of hope or redemption. Did you notice that? The people come together to build a city. God comes along and judges them. The people disperse. And that is it. That’s the end of the story. The other stories of judgment in Genesis don’t end that way. You get the story of Cain. Cain kills his brother Abel. God judges Cain. But there is a hopeful conclusion. God provides Adam and Eve with a new son, Seth. You get the story of the flood. The people are evil. God judges the world with the flood. But there is a hopeful conclusion. God sends the rainbow as a sign of His faithful promise. There is no such ‘positive’ conclusion to tower of Babel. The people build a tower, God disperses them…and all we get next is the table of nations after Shem, followed by the story of Abraham in Genesis chapter 12.
Why is this? Well, maybe in a round about way, the Lord is saying, “Hey, dear Bible readers, you just keep your eyes open now. You just keep reading. You read the story of Abraham and you follow his descendants and see where that leads you…” Yes, where does it lead you? It leads you to the greatest hope and the greatest redemption that there is: Jesus Christ. He is the focus of the Bible. Everything comes together in Him!
In that sense, when we look at our passage in the light of Jesus Christ, we are able to see a whole new perspective of what the story of the tower of Babel is all about! I said earlier that this story is about how sinful people are. I also said it’s about what happens to sinful people; they are judged! But there is more to this story and it comes down to this: God! He destroys the kingdoms of sinful humanity… so that He might build His own Kingdom! The Kingdom, the city, the community, the “tower” of our Lord Jesus Christ! That is what this story is ultimately all about!
We must not misunderstand our passage. God was not out just to judge people and send people away to be isolated and alone. No, His ultimate goal is always to unite them, to pull them together into a harmonious whole. That is always His desire! But what He wants is a united people connected in Him, who long to live for His praise and glory! Yes, even in the dispersion after the failure of Babel, that was still God’s plan and desire. And you know what? Such a plan and desire came in Jesus Christ! That’s right! In our passage God destroys the kingdom of sinful man so that He might build the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Congregation, consider with me the Kingdom, the tower that God has build for His people. In the fullness of time God sent His Son Jesus Christ. He died on the cross to pay for our sin and He rose from the dead. Removing our sin, He draws God and humanity back together again. That’s right! In Jesus Christ, we find the gateway to God.
God’s Kingdom is able to unite! Look what happens at Pentecost. At Pentecost God pours out the Holy Spirit on His people. They preach the gospel in different languages and tongues. By the Spirit’s power the gospel is able to go over all language barriers and over all continents to unite God’s people into one whole-- the church and Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ!
All of this happens in fulfillment to promises. Already in Genesis 12 God came to Abraham and said, “Abraham, it is through you and your descendants that all the world (the dispersed world) will be blessed!” Well, that blessing has come! God has given us the Kingdom and community of our Savior Jesus Christ. And now here we are today sitting in His assembly. And what is our hope today? What is our hope? This: someday God will give us the fullness of the Kingdom of heaven!
You know, it’s ironic. In Genesis sinful people try to build a tower up to heaven. But in the book of Revelation God sends heaven down upon the earth! And what a gracious Kingdom is described for us there! In Revelation 21 this city, this New Jerusalem, is described as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. In Revelation 21 the measurements of this city are also given. It’s huge: 1400 miles long, 1400 miles wide, and 1400 miles high! A tower! The tower of God given to those who live by faith in Jesus Christ to the glory of God.
Here is the summary of today’s message. Congregation, what is the story of our passage all about? People are sinful. They remain so today. And sinful people are brought to confusion. They will be judged! But for those who put to death the old self, those who come to Jesus Christ, who rest in Him, who live for His praise and glory in everything they do and say, God builds a city for them! A city where righteousness dwells. A city where there is care, unity, and laughter. A city that will go into eternity for the praise of our God in Jesus. To God be the glory! Amen!
Order of Worship
Call to Worship: Psalm 95:6-7
Silent Prayer concluded with “Lord, Listen to Your Children …” PsH # 625
Votum: “Our help is in the name of the Lord who has made the heavens and the earth.”
Prayer for God’s Greeting: “May grace, mercy and peace be ours from God the Father and the Son and The Holy Spirit. Amen”
Opening Hymn: “Now With Joyful Exaltation” PsH # 95
SERVICE OF RECONCILIATION
Prayer of Confession
Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 130: 7-8
God’s Will for our Lives: The 10 Commandments
Hymn: “When We Walk With the Lord” PsH # 548
WE HEAR THE WORD
Hymn of Preparation: “Break Now the Bread of Life” PsH #282
Scripture Reading: Genesis 11: 1-9
Sermon: “The Tower Of God”
Prayer of Application: “Father, we thank you for your Word. Forgive us for our “towers of Babel,” our pride. We thank you that in Jesus Christ you are building a much better city! May we live our lives for your praise and glory. May your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In Christ we pray. Amen”
WE RESPOND TO SERVE
Hymn of Response: “Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns” PsH #539
Prayer for God’s Blessing: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen”
Closing Hymn: “Now Blessed Be the Lord Our God” PsH #630