Genesis 11:4, 8 – “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of he whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built…So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.”
Prior to the call of Abraham in Genesis 12, we see the familiar account of the tower of Babel. The people shared one language and one common goal: to find significance in their own achievements. That they were building a city in the first place shows their lack of concern for God’s command to Noah and his sons to fill the earth. But, God saw their proud desire to make a name for themselves and granted them infamy instead. He confused their language and scattered them in accordance with His own sovereign plan. Their punishment was exactly what they had sought to avoid, but the Lord alone will be exalted (Isaiah 2:17).
It’s not difficult to see, as we look at scripture, and at history, that Genesis 11 can give us much more than an origin story when high schoolers are complaining about studying Latin, Spanish, French, or Chinese. From Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation in Daniel 4 to the sinking of the Titanic, God constantly reminds us that we are not sovereign over our own lives. However, like Percy Shelley’s Ozymandias, we continue to say “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” and end up finding our lives a “colossal wreck.”
I went to work in an almost completely empty multi-million dollar building this week. Some of you will work virtually for more than a year. All of us to varying levels felt our lives come to a crashing halt in March. Health, security, and freedom that had been assumed suddenly became an uncertainty. If nothing else, COVID-19 has given us an extended opportunity to examine our hearts. What tower have you been building in your own life? Perhaps it’s wealth or academic accomplishment or children that behave perfectly. Consider that the Lord who makes well-being and creates calamity (Isaiah 45:7) might be using the present trials to mercifully reveal to you where you have replaced Him with things that cannot save or satisfy.
Brothers and sisters, when you do find and tear down these high places in your heart, rejoice, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). When the temptation to rely on your own plan returns, remember the faithful example of Abraham, who “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10)
Thankfully, we see a hopeful thematic reversal from Genesis 11 in Acts 2, verses 5-11: “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?…we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.’” The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost provides not only clarity where there was once confusion, but also hope for the displaced: “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:39)
Beloved, hold fast to this promise! Remember your citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20). And though the days are uncertain, walk with confidence in the Lord your God, who “works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)