I grew up hearing the story of “The Tower of Babel”.
Here is how it went…
Humans refused to multiply and spread over the earth. They decided to build a tower to reach to God. Because of this, God confused them by giving them different languages and spread them out across the earth.
This is a common Sunday school story, but I believe there is more to it. Why is this short account (Genesis 11:1-9) important and placed where it is in Genesis? As I began to dig into this question, I began to find out answers that can challenge us now as the church in 2019.
We have to start by giving context at a much higher level.
I hold the view that Genesis was purposefully compiled while the Jewish people were in captivity in Babylon (Moses may have written a portion or all of it).
It was compiled:
- To give a creation account that was similar to the Babylonian creation account (the Enuma Elish), but painted God as not violent and greater than Babylon’s God’s.
- To use a seven-period building and consecration account for creation that they would have understood as God creating a space to dwell. When the Jewish people of that time would have read the creation account, they would have understood that it was following that same patterns of a builder building a house to live in. (Watch this video to learn more: Click Here)
- As a parallel to Israel’s story. The Israelites were given a promised land to live in, tend to, and God’s presence was with them in the temple in their land. They disobeyed God, were cast out of the promised land, and sent east to Babylon. When they read that Adam and Even had a Garden to tend to, disobeyed God, and were sent out east of the garden, they would have thought, “Adam and Eve’s story mirrors our story.”
When we look at the first couple of chapters of Genesis we see that being in the presence of God, wanting to be in the presence of God, or the fear of being sent out of the presence of God was a huge theme.
“8 …and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”
“14 …and I will be hidden from your presence;”
“16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”
Actually, the theme of God wanting to dwell with His people and establish sacred space to dwell in is a major theme throughout the entire Bible, and God does this in His way and on His own terms.
Creation -> Covenant -> Tabernacle -> Temple ->
Incarnation -> Believers as Temples -> New Heavens & Earth
The tower of Babel fits into this! As we study ancient Mesopotamian culture (Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, Elamites, Eblaites, and Babylonians), we learn a lot about the religious views and worshipping patterns of the people. They would build temples called “Ziggurats” to be places that they believed that a deity would come down to dwell.
Their view of these deities would be almost a co-dependent relationship. They believed these deities needed and/or wanted their offerings and Ziggurats. In exchange, these deities would bless the people in the land that they were being housed in. This is why Genesis 11:4 says, “…so that we may make a name for ourselves”. They wanted to be blessed and to be known. This was their motivation behind building this “tower”, according to the text.
Remember that a theme of the Bible is God’s desire to make His dwelling place with His people, but He does it on His own terms and not ours, and true worship is about making God’s name great and not ours.
This is why “The Tower of Babel” account is placed where it is in Genesis. The very next chapter is the start of a covenant conversation that God had with Abraham where God began to form a worshipping people and continued making His dwelling among His people according to His own terms.
I believe that the church today often falls into the same tendencies as the people who built “The Tower of Babel”.
Speaking primarily to church leaders:
While doing religious busy work, we often hope that God will pour out His blessing on us and our church community so that we will be known.
How often do we buy into the fact that we feel that we have to be like Pastor ______ (insert celebrity pastor here) because they are selling the books and have the big churches that are known?
It seems that every church with a modern rock band is putting out an album and/or want to become famous. Worship has become a music genre where a church’s brand can be marketed, as opposed to a holy moment of giving worth to Jesus as king. Many of these projects, events, and initiatives are often started without really seeking the Lord through prayer, or we pray after we pull the trigger in hopes that God will bless our work.
I am only speaking because I have been in full-time ministry for nine years and have been guilty of these mindsets!
Many of these things are not wrong in and of themselves (don’t hear what I am not saying), but I am asking that we step back and really evaluate why we are doing what we are doing.
-Do we have a co-dependent mindset and think that God will bless us as “we” work towards building “His” church, and think that He needs us for this work?
-Are we seeking for our name or the name of our church’s brand to be known?
-Are we wanting God to bless us so we can be great, or are we letting God be God, and for Him to do what He wants to do in His way and timing?