The Cost of Misunderstanding God
April 11, 1999 Genesis 11:1-9
Scripture: Luke 14:25-35
Timeless Truth: The cost of misunderstanding God is confusion and scattering.
The gift of believing God is life and peace.
Lost in Translation: Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji jokes interpreted lost on media.
Real life messages lost in translation:
* In a Paris hotel elevator: Please leave your values at the front desk.
* In a Bucharest hotel lobby: The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.
* In a Hotel in Athens: Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 am daily.
* Outside a Hong Kong tailor shop: Ladies may have a fit upstairs.
* On the menu of a Swiss restaurant: Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.
The command of God to populate the earth: Gen. 1:28; 9:1,7
The flood, the dispersion, the table of nations.
I. The Resolution of Man to Sin Against God (vv. 1-4)
The major error was not the building of a city, but the attempt of the race to live in one city. It appears the human family was striving for unity, security, and social immortality (making a name) in defiance of God’s desire for them to fill the earth. Thus the basic characteristics of culture are seen here: underlying anxiety (fear of being separated and disconnected) and the desire for fame (a sense of security in a powerful reputation).
II. The Resolution of God to Judge Man’s Arrogance (vv. 5-7)
The judgment was not the destruction of the city but of the language that united the people. The text demonstrates that the present number of languages that form national barriers is a monument to sin. Note that God did not need to come down to look at their work (in fact his coming down implies prior knowledge). God must draw near, not because he is nearsighted, but because he dwells at such tremendous height and their work is so tiny. God’s movement must therefore be understood as a remarkable satire on man’s doing. No matter how high they towered, God still had to descend to see it. The tower that was to reach the heavens fell far short. The narrative is filled with condescension. God is God, the humans were mere earthlings. This work of the tower, according to Genesis, was terrestrial, not celestial. The potential for calamity is dangerous to the race, and God will prevent it. Man would nullify the purposes of God in favor of his own purposes which are within reach. Without God’s intervention they would be at liberty for every extravagance of their own confederation.
III. The Resolution of God to Prevent Recurrence (vv. 8-9)
Since the people’s purpose was to make a name for themselves and to achieve power through unity, the apostasy of the human spirit would shortly bring the race to the bring of another catastrophe of divine judgment like the flood. By frustrating their communication and dividing them into nations, it is evident that it is the will of God, so long as sin is present in the world, to employ nationalism in the reduction of sin. Because of their disobedience, their greatest fear came upon them – the place of unity became the place of dispersion. This gate of the gods fell far short of expectations, ending in confusion and chaos.
The city was in defiance of God’s command. There is nothing wrong with cities per se, just that at this time it was not God’s will. Why? We were to rule and subdue the earth – the whole earth - but man’s sin opposed God’s will. Man wanted to maintain unity and make a name for himself, that is to exalt himself. He wanted to place his security in his own efforts and not in God. But note that even though man was building a tower up to heaven, so to speak, God had to come down from heaven, so to speak, to see it. There is a limit to man’s greatness. This was no ivory tower that man wanted it to be, it was a mud-brick imitation. But this was the beginning of worshipping our own capabilities, or humanism. God wants himself to be our rallying point, not our own works. It is where man has tried to get his identity ever since – in what we can accomplish. I recall a statement my father urged me to put in my high school salutatorian address, “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” This is a totally humanistic statement when taken out of the context of God’s power. God’s judgment on this at Babel proves the extent of our capabilities if we would have had no sin. But we did have sin that we were willing to use in exalting ourselves above God and his will for us. So in the Christian context, doing what we do to exalt God, the more sanctified we become, the more and greater things we can accomplish. It is because we then do them for God and not for ourselves. Jesus said we would do things ‘greater than these’, speaking of miracles even after he is gone from earth (Jn. 14:12) – it is by faith that these things can be accomplished. And we know that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6) – he rewards us with success because he gets the glory. But like Adam and Eve who wanted the power to ‘know both good and evil’, all the capability we had for good may be turned toward evil in an effort to ‘become like God’. We can cry with Paul in Rom. 7:24 to be rescued from this body of death – and we can give thanks to God for our hope in Jesus Christ the Lord. All human language since Babel has become a language of disobedience. All nations and cultures are under the same curse as Babel. This is where all languages began. We might consider that languages change, but they change slowly. There has not been enough time for all the world’s languages to have been developed if it were not for this act of God. And there are different families of languages that do not trace back to a common root. There may have been a lingua franca or common language or trade language along with many different but similar dialects (like north and south), but I believe Babel had to happen. It was also the origin of cultures and, I believe, races as well. Some black people say that the racism problem is a white problem and that any racism we observe in them is but a reaction to ours, but I beg to differ. It is a human sin problem at all levels and locations. There is a major point of theology that is called the doctrine of sin. The easiest way to explain it is with a question. If you or I were Adam or Eve, would we have eaten the forbidden fruit? The answer is yes, because we are the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. Our sin is inherited. There is none righteous, no not one. But God’s plan goes further and deeper than judgment and dispersion. It goes the limit to redemption and restoration. Re-unification in the ultimate plan. The city is not the problem but the ultimate design. But in the meantime, God decided that, as good as unity and harmony are, division and separation are better than collective sin and apostasy. This is a case of God taking action against our inherent sinfulness. Our division has prompted more sinfulness, but it is a matter of God preventing and even greater sinfulness. It was an act of mercy as well as judgment. If they would have persisted in their plans, a more terrible judgment would have followed. Recall that this was not that far removed from the flood. Now we must do the best we can under his grace until the times are completed. There will be wars and racial problems and divisions because or our pride and misunderstandings. All cultures deteriorate and disintegrate due to the sin factors promoted by the dispersion. But there is a better day coming when we can all glorify God together under one roof – heaven, and the New Jerusalem.
Misunderstanding = disobedience: Gen. 3,11; Jer. 51:53; Lk. 1:51
The Tower of Babel The Tower of Discipleship
Gen. 11:1-9 Lk. 14:25-35
They were building the wrong tower.
The First Babylon The Last Babylon
Gen. 10:10-11 Rev. 18 (moral corruption 1-5)
The First Dictator The Last Dictator
Gen. 10:8-9 Rev. 13
The First Conference - Godhead The Second Conference - Godhead
Gen. 3:22 Gen. 11:7
The First Gate - Aging The Second Gate - Flooding
Gen. 3:23-24 Gen. 6:11-12
The Third Gate - Division The Fourth Gate - Life
Gen. 11:8-9 Mt. 7:13-14; Jn. 10:9-10; 14:6
(Babel means ‘gate of God’ but sounds like the word for ‘confusion’.)
The Last Gate - Eternal City
The Dispersion The Unification
Gen. 11:7-8 Acts 2:1-12
The Curse The Hope
Gen. 11:9 Zeph. 3:9-11; Rev. 5:9-10; 7:9-10
We as a human race are so sinful that the war in Kosovo is better than the extent of evil of which we are capable and willing without the division that caused the war in Kosovo.
Conclusion: Count the Cost
Babylon was the prototype of all nations, cities, and empires that despise God’s instructions and raise themselves in pride. There is a cost to opposing God. So it is with this story that the common history of all mankind comes to an abrupt end, which leaves the human race hopelessly scattered across the face of the entire earth. It is this that makes the present account so different from those preceding it: In each judgment there was a gracious provision for hope, but in this judgment there is none. It does not offer a token of grace, a promise of any blessing, a hope of salvation, or a way of escape. There is no clothing for the naked sinner, no protective mark for the fugitive, no rainbow in the dark sky. The primeval age ends with judgmental scattering and complete confusion. The blessing is not here, the world must await the new history. The story is more than an explanation of the scattering, it is an explanation of the problems due to the existence of nations. For the Israelites, the lesson was clear: If she was to survive as a nation, she must obey God’s will, for the nation that bristles with pride and refuses to obey will be scattered. If Israel would obey and submit to God’s will, then she would be the source of blessing to the world. Unfortunately, Israel also raised her head in pride and refused to obey the Lord God. Thus, she too was scattered across the face of the earth. This is just as theologically significant for them as for us. Great nations cannot defy God and long survive.
In 1981, the Italian shipbuilding firm Inter-Marine at Ameglia landed a contract from the Malaysian government worth four million British pounds! Though they usually built smaller vessels, Inter-Marine contracted to build a mine sweeper and three military launches. It was only after the work was completed that they remembered their shipyards were connected to the sea by the Magre River, and over the river hung the Colombiera Bridge. Not one of the four new vessels could pass beneath it.