The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. AMEN.
Genesis 11:1 “ Now all the earth used the same language and the same words. 2 And it came about, as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 Then they said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and fire them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. 4 And they said, ‘Come, let’s build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let’s make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of all the earth.’ 5 Now the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the men had built. 6 And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they have started to do, and now nothing which they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth; and they stopped building the city. 9 Therefore it was named Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” (NASB)
As you may know, the church calendar is divided into two parts. The first half of the church year calendar is about the Second Person of the Holy Trinity– Jesus Christ. The first half of the year the readings follow Jesus’s life from His advent and birth, to His death, resurrection, and ascension. In that sense this morning we move from the second Article of the Creed, which is about Jesus Christ to the Third Article of the Creed, which takes up the work on the Holy Spirit and the church.
Acts chapter two takes place in Jerusalem at the time of the Feast of Pentecost. Men, women, and children came from all parts of the Roman Empire to Jerusalem for the festival.
The word, Pentecost is from the Greek and means fifty. For the Jews, it meant 50 days, according to their tradition after the day when God gave Moses the two tablets of the Law on Mount Sinai. It was also the feast of the first crops of spring so people took their harvest sacrifices to the Temple to thank God for His blessings.
The people of the day were united in their celebration of the Feast of Pentecost, but they did not share a common language. Had not God dealt with that challenge that would have been a barrier to the job the apostles had been given to do on the first Christian Pentecost. It was given to the Holy Spirit to undo what had been done to humanity in the fall into sin at the tower of Babel.
Let’s begin in the beginning– Genesis 1 & 2. There we learn that God made human beings and made them male and female. News flash . . . human beings come in two basic models– male and female. Anything other than that is the result of sin, a broken mind, and depraved minds seeking to overthrow God and His created order, as the Epistle to the Romans teaches in chapter one.
Now God created mankind and our first parents by His Word and Spirit Genesis 1 records God saying, 26 “Let Us make mankind in Our image, according to Our likeness . . . 27 So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. . . . In Genesis 2:7 He tells us how he made man. [He] “formed the man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living person. . . 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 And the Lord God fashioned/made into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man,”
The Hebrew word here for “breath” is the same word that is used in the Old Testament for God’s Spirit, “ru‘ah.” God spoke His Word and sent His Spirit and made two human beings in His image; holy, innocent, and righteous. But in the fall into sin they lost their holiness, innocence, and righteousness and passed on their corrupted and sinful natures every human being who would come thereafter.
We don’t know exactly how much time transpired between Genesis 3 and Genesis 11, but some estimates place the Tower of Babel about 2,000 years after the fall. That’s 2,000 years of pro-creation. By Genesis 11 there are a lot of people living on the earth, but scripture tells us that they all “used the same (the one) language and the same words.” In Hebrew this is an unusual grammatical construction. One Hebrew scholar suggests that the construction of “one” with the word “words” suggests singleness of plan. They were of one mind about what they were going to do and why.
There is something intentional happening among the people in Genesis 11. They are using the gift of communication and the one language against God who gave created them, saved them, and endowed them with ability to communicate in the first place. Yet, Genesis 6:5 says “Every intent of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.”
God’s people were once again turning against Him. The first part of the plan required relocation. They had to move away from God and from the land of Ararat. Ararat was the land where Noah and the ark came to rest and where God gave the rainbow as a promise of grace. But they wanted nothing to do with God.
Verse 2 “It came about, as they journeyed/migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.” They left Ararat settled in Mesopotamia, which became Babylon.
They were not only leaving the place God had settled Noah and His off-spring, they were “uprooting” themselves and searching for a place to “plant” themselves apart from God.
V 4: “And they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let’s make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of all the earth.”
The people used the same words God had used in Genesis 1 & 2. God said to Himself. Humanity now says now says, “let us build ourselves . . . let us make a name for ourselves.” They are undoing the created order. They were tryiung to take God’s place. They wanted to make their own utopia. They wanted to make a “heaven” on earth where they governed themselves as their own gods.
That’s what’s going on in Genesis 11. That’s what a great many people in our day are trying to do as well. They want their utopia where they rule supreme and where even the most basic God given design in creation, male and female humanity is cast aside. And the primary weapon is language. . . right down to the pronouns.
They said “Let us make a name for ourselves.” That sentence describes the purpose of building. By means of a city and tower mankind tried to establish his identity by what he/mankind did, rather than by what God made the man and the woman to be in creation to each other and to Him and what He is restoring to humanity in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It’s a repeat of what happened in the Garden of Eden in the fall only on a grander scale. They want to be like God. Rather than calling upon the name of the Lord as was said of the people in Genesis 4:26, the people of Genesis 11 are about calling on and proclaim their own name.
But as mere mortals tried to reach up to heaven to show God they did not need Him but could ascend to heaven by their own deeds, Lord descended before they could ascend, but not for the purpose man had envisioned.
God said to Himself, 6 “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they have started to do, and now nothing which they plan to do will be impossible for them.” Left unchecked, there would be no limit to man’s arrogance. This kind of ambition always tries to overthrow God (renewing cells from stem research).
But before man was able to complete the city and tower God confuses the language. “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” God destroys the very foundation upon which their co-operation rested. Communication, language.
This is not only a punishment, it is preventative. God restricts man’s ability to unite under one purpose. He places a impediment to their success. Like restricting the life spam of a human being.
God also prevents the enmity between God and man from growing worse. “The Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth; and they stopped building the city. 9 Therefore it was named Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.”
Babel (Bab-ili) in Babylonian meant, “the gate of God.” The city and the tower were to be their gateway to heaven and to their newly acquired status as gods on the earth. But God put an end to that and He changed the name to “confusion.” The gate of God became the place of meaningless gibberish.
When mankind attempts to build contrary to the order of creation to replace the One true God, God will scatter it, will bring it to nothing. That’s why every system of utopia turns into tyranny. Every great achievement of mankind or an individual brings with it unintended consequences. All such things are bitter sweet and fleeting.
The works of mankind pass away. It’s in their nature. Ecclesiastes 1:2-3, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” Peter said it this way. 1 Peter 1:24-25 “All flesh is like grass, And all its glory is like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, 25 But the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word which was preached to you.”
In fact, Jesus tells us that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” Matthew 24:35. It is what God says and does that remains true, not man’s words and deeds.
It is God’s Word that brings us the person and work of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit as we see in Acts chapter 2 on the Day of the Christian Pentecost. “ 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with different tongues/languages, as the Spirit was giving them the ability to speak out. . . 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together and they were bewildered, because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. . . 8 And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?”
Nations rise and nations fall, but God builds a Church that lives forever. God the Father sent down to earth His Only Begotten Son to die for the sins of the world. On Pentecost He sent down the Holy Spirit in and with His words in fulfillment of what Jesus promised in John 14:26, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and remind you of all that I said to you.”
God does what man cannot. He breathes out His Holy Spirit and breathes in new life in the spiritually dead. He makes the man and the woman, the young and the old, the free man and slave, the rich and the poor alive in Christ. Thus the Church bears the true image of God’s righteousness and holiness once again (Eph 4:22–24).
By his Spirit, God builds you into the Church. God speaks to you in His Word (John 14:25) and forgives your sins (John 20:23). God has breathed his life into you (Titus 3:4–7) and marked you with His name (Matthew 28:19). God has called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified you into the Church, and He builds you and the Church on the Rock, the tested foundation that is Jesus Christ.
Those first Babylonians built their city and tower with bricks made of clay. God took clay and made Adam and breathed life into him. They were scattered and their work stopped. But Christ’s work. 1 Peter 2:4-7 4 “And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by people, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For this is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a choice stone, a precious cornerstone, And the one who believes in Him will not be put to shame.” 7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for unbelievers, “A stone which the builders rejected,
This became the chief cornerstone.”
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.