A Tower To Heaven (Part 1)
The story of post-flood humankind continues into Genesis 11, wherein man is described as being settled in one area and using the same language. Like the generations that follow, and the generations before, these people have a tendency and a desire to congregate. But the account of the people of “Babel” teaches us the dangers of pride, self-centeredness and the arrogance of mankind when it comes to its achievements.
“Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the earth” (11:4). Man has always had a strong desire to build great things, to push the limits, to take glory in his own accomplishments – this all translates into pride and arrogance. “The elements of the story are timelessly characteristic of the spirit of the world. The project is typically grandiose; men describe it excitedly to one another as if it were the ultimate achievement… At the same time they betray their insecurity as they crowd themselves to preserve their identity and control their fortunes” (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary: Genesis, Kidner, 109). They wanted to build a monument that did not require them to go beyond their comfort zone. The “tower to heaven” was, in this sense, a monument to their cowardice. Many of man’s pursuits are the same way, though. We want to “accomplish” great things without actually confronting the really important problems. It is easy to put hunger, disease, and political unrest on the backburner while a nation is excited about the Olympics. We can talk all day long about sending humans to Mars, but that adventure (and the untold billions of dollars it will cost) does not actually solve any of humanity’s current problems. Some of the most gleaming and glistening cities are also some of the most godless. The sights and sounds become a smokescreen for the spiritual malaise that exists there (Nineveh, Babylon, Rome, etc.). In the end, these projects (which are not inherently sinful) prove themselves to be hollow pursuits.
Beyond that, we also have to wonder why these people wanted to build such a city. “And let us make for ourselves a name” is the explanation they give in 11:4. The word “name” here most likely indicates a reputation, which is consistent with the disposition of these people. The desire to make a name for oneself still exists today! Parents are constantly pressuring their children to be the “best” at something or to be as competitive as possible. At the office, many men and women today see the “corporate” culture as “dog eat dog.” In sports, in the arts, in music and in just about every facet of life, people are constantly trying to achieve personal fame and glory. But where is God in all of this pursuit? Where is the emphasis being placed; on self or the Almighty? Personal fame ends up hurting us in the eternal scheme of things – God does not care how famous a person is, He cares how faithful he is!
Ironically, it is the pursuit of fame and fortune that often ends up destroying a person – fame and fortune that are, in reality, fleeting:
Solomon lamented that his wealth would one day be given to another man (Ecclesiastes 2:18-21).
He also realized that no matter how many palaces he had built, forests he had planted, or monuments he had erected, nobody would remember anything substantive about him in succeeding generations (Ecclesiastes 1:11).
Even people who accomplish great feats or who have amazing physical abilities eventually fade from memory, or go totally unrewarded (Ecclesiastes 9:11-18).
The tower is a classic example of the way people spend tremendous amounts of time and energy on the wrong kind of project – a project that is basically meaningless. What kind of towers are you building? At work, at home, in our community? Where is your energy going? We are reminded in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not vain in the Lord.”