The story of the tower of Babel is one of those stories often told in Sunday School. After a while it becomes so familiar that we easily read through it and think we know it all. Yet there is much here that is easily missed.
The story goes a bit like this: Noah’s descendents had multiplied, but seemingly stayed together. Now they are migrating east and settle in Shinar, most likely in current day Iraq. There they start building a city with a very high tower. So far so good, there is nothing sinful about cities or towers. The problem here is their motivation: “Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
Two things are wrong in that statement, the first one is probably very obvious, though certainly worth commenting on. They are falling into Adam’s original sin, ‘pride’. They want to do it themselves, instead of doing it with God: “Let us make a name for ourselves.” And they are capable of it, because in verse 6 God says: “This is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” God created people in His image, intending that working together, with each other and Him, nothing would be impossible for them. That had always been the plan. The problem was of course that without God the intent of their hearts was corrupted, selfish, greedy, evil. They were controlled by sin and self focussed, instead of being self-controlled and God focussed. Therefore, out of love for them and to prevent unimaginable evil, God confused their language and, making it nearly impossible for them to work together, enabled them to disperse over the face of the earth.
That brings us to the second thing that is wrong in the above statement: “Lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” I think that this is even more relevant to us that the above. Not because it is more important, but because this is even closer to our own tendencies. Let me explain.
Genesis 1:28 – ‘And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth …”’
Gen 9:1 – ‘And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”’
Both Adam and Eve, and Noah and his sons got the same command to fill the earth, and yet here is mankind aiming at just the opposite. I think it is a human tendency to want to keep things as they are. Change is hard, and it is comfortable to stay in the same place, with the same people, doing the same thing. It is important at this point to recognise that the command to go and fill the earth is not just a command, it is part of a blessing (both verses above can be read as “And God blessed them saying: …”). Noah’s descendants seemed to have lost sight of the fact that going and filling the earth is not something they would do for God’s benefit, but that it would be a blessing to them. (As usual God’s ‘command’ is motivated by love for humanity.)
It would be very easy to sit in judgement over them, but don’t we often do the same thing? The command/blessing to multiply and fill the earth is not just an old command from the Old Testament, it is very much at the core of God’s plan for this universe.
Matthew 28:18-19 – ‘And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …’
Acts 1:8 – ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”’
Even in the New Testament we are commanded to go, and again it is because of you that you are commanded this, because God loves you, cares for you, and wants the best for you. And yes going is difficult, and can be hard work. It involves leaving the comfort of the familiar, find new places, building new relationships, doing things differently, adapting and changing and reshaping. However it is a blessing. It is my experience that times of ‘going’ have always been times of increased intimacy with God, of new excitement, and receiving and being blessing (to you, to your family, and to the people you meet). Of course there are hard times, but even those things God turns for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Now going can mean different things for different people. It can mean literally going to the ends of the earth, it can mean going somewhere to be part of a new church plant (or for other reasons), it can mean multiplying your Life Group, it can mean going up to someone and sharing the gospel with them. That is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is meant to show you that ‘going’ is part of the Christian life, and though it often doesn’t feel like it, it is part of the blessing of God on your life. And if you hold on to that thought there is hope in ‘going’. It would be strange if it were not so, as life with God is marked by hope.
At the end of Genesis 11 we read the story of Terah, and his son Abram. Terah was willing to go, though he never got to his destination (Canaan), but instead got stuck on the way and eventually died away from his place of birth, and never having reached where he set out to go. His son however …, but that is the story for the next few chapters. Paul also knew the importance of going and of persevering:
2 Timothy 4:7 ESV – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
“I have kept the faith.” does not mean I still believe. It means that he had kept on doing what faith required of him, i.e. going.
So this is the lesson of Adam and Eve, Noah (and his descendants), Terah, Abram and Sarah, the early apostles, and Paul: go, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of God, making disciples wherever you go. And know you have been created in the image of God so nothing is impossible for you.