I have studied the story of the tower of Babel before. To me it is a lesson about getting so ahead of oneself with one’s own abilities that you forget about God. It’s about being so full of yourself that you work for your own gain instead of for God’s glory. It is about pride before a fall. It is about human will mucking up the works.
I have also enjoyed dwelling on the story of Babel bookending with the story of the Pentecost in the New Testament. In both stories there was unity, but based on two different things. In the story of Babel they were unified in the task of building for themselves, whereas at the Pentecost, they were unified in building for God. In the story of Babel they were humanly confounded by speaking different languages, but during the Pentecost, when their focus was on God, they understood regardless of all speaking in different tongues because “the Spirit gave them utterance.”
Today I got something new from this text, which of course was there all along. Below is the bit from the King James version of the Bible, with the parts that stuck out to me today in bold:
“And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.
And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.” Genesis 11:1-9
What I realized today was that this story is also about fear and its effects. Their motive wasn’t just to “make us a name.” They were defensive and afraid. Those builders in Babel had a similar experience to Job who said, “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.” (Job 3:25) It wasn’t just that they were not after honoring God and giving Him glory, it was about that they were trusting in themselves to take care of themselves instead of trusting that God would fully care for them.
We often get what we defend against, by giving it so much thought that we realize it instead of cast if off. Like them, we get what we focus on.
We too have a choice. When we fear, are we busy taking human precautions against an eventuality we want to avert? Or is fear a cue to us we need to turn away from that fear and more fully trust God? How much better is it to lay that fear at God’s feet, totally let go if it, and snuggle up under His wing?
It is also interesting to note that this story of Babel comes directly after the story of Noah and the flood. God had just protected and preserved them through the obedience of one man doing God’s will by building a huge ark. So now they were quickly going to collectively ignore God and rely on themselves to build something to insure their future?
The moral? Turn to God each moment without fail. Work for His glory not your own. Let the Spirit give you utterance, and listen to what God is saying through others. Let God’s will be done, step by step, instead of your own human will, even if your don’t see the full picture. Trust God always, but especially when you are afraid, knowing He is omnipotent good, caring continually for you, and has your best interests in store for you. …Also… you can get something new from a Bible story you’ve read many times before!