Now that we have wrapped up our series through 1 Corinthians we are beginning a new series this week. With school commencing about this time and people are settling down back into their normal patterns of life, we like to take this time every year to go through the basic values of the church. So if you’re new to Refuge City Church, hopefully this series will help you understand why we exist and what our vision is in the City of Dayton. If you’ve been with us for a considerable amount of time, I hope that this series will be a good refresher for you, and I hope it will strengthen our unified mission as a church.
So the title for the series is appropriately called the “blueprint series”. So if you caught our vision statement from earlier, our vision encompasses three main themes, the glory of God, the city of God, and the mission of God. And so this morning we are going to be discussing the Glory of God. God’s glory is a term we use a lot in the church, and there is so much that can be discussed on the topic, so to narrow our focus a bit, we are going to be looking at one of my favorite narratives in the book of Genesis which is the story of the Tower of Babel. This story takes place in the book of Genesis chapter 11 and comes just after the story of Noah and the great flood. Because the story isn’t too long, I’d like to go ahead and read through the story with you all so that we have a framework for what we will be discussing. So if you have a Bible, feel free to open to Genesis chapter 11, which is toward the very front of your Bible, and we’ll read starting in verse 1:
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 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 the whole earth.” 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
So the main theme from the story we just read that I want us to see is that God’s main concern for His people is His glory. The story opens up in the first verse by telling us that the whole earth had one language. Now this would make sense because if this story takes place not long after Noah and the flood, and entire human race began again from the family of Noah, then everyone would be descendants from Noah and have the same language. And verse two tells us that the descendants came to the land of Shinar and decided to settle there. So thus far in the story we notice something about these people; they all speak the same language and they found a place that seems to be pleasurable to inhabit. It seems at this point that God has been very generous to these people. Remember, not long before God wiped out almost the entire human population except for one family, so to see these people find land to settle and live is both a grace to them and reassurance that God will continue to preserve life after the flood.
When we read this story in light of the context of what had just occurred, God’s power and wrath is still lingering in our minds. We see the incredible insignificance of mankind compared to God when He floods the whole earth, so we would expect that the people at this point in chapter 11 are thankful just to be alive, but the story doesn’t quite turn out that way.
The life of these people who settled in Shinar seems pretty good. Everyone has the same language which probably means that they were a unified people. They just settled in a land that seems like a comfortable place to live and grow, and what becomes their main concern?
First we see that these people want to build a great city, and one of the reasons why they want to build a great city is because they want to make a name for themselves. Notice how at this point in the story these people are not given a name. They are just referred to as “people” who settle in the land of Shinar and we have no other way to identify them. And so these people have come upon opportune circumstances and so they want to make a name for themselves by building a tall tower with bricks, which in my opinion was failed from the beginning anyway. And it is here that the first red flag is raised. Verse 4 doesn’t just say that they want to build a tall tower, but they want to build a tower that reaches the heavens. And the significance of this statement directly parallels the story that took place in the garden of Eden all the way back in the first few chapters of Genesis.
If you remember the story of Adam and Eve, the first humans on earth, God places them in the garden and gives them everything they need. God gives them protection, He gives them food, and His presence is even with them. It seems that there is nothing either of them should have desired because everything they needed was provided in abundance. But if you know the story, what happens in chapter 3? Adam and Eve succumb to the temptation of the serpent and in a desire to be like God they disobey Him and the world becomes overcome by sin. In the garden it was the desire to rival God and challenge His position and authority that ultimately results in punishment for mankind.
And what have we seen in this story? We see a group of people, who have survived the flood and seem to have everything they need. And even in the comforts of their life, what do they do? They decide to challenge God’s position. Matthew Henry in his commentary on the book of Genesis says,
“It seems designed for an affront to God himself; for they would build a tower whose top might reach to heaven, which bespeaks a defiance of God, or at least a rivalship with him. They would be like the Most High, or would come as near him as they could, not in holiness but in height. They forgot their place, and, scorning to creep on the earth, resolved to climb to heaven, not by the door or ladder, but some other way.”
Second, we see that these people were afraid. They were afraid to be scattered around the earth, so they desired to build a city that would keep them together. Both their desire to make a name for themself and their fear of being dispersed from the land both point to their sinful desire to be autonomous. I imagine these people had migrated for a reason, perhaps because their former home became uninhabitable, or their safety was threatened, and so when they arrive to this new land it seems as though they do not trust God with their future, perhaps from previous difficult circumstances, or perhaps because of their pride, so they decide to try and become God to protect themselves and make their name great. A theme we identify in these first few verses is that our heart naturally desires sinful autonomy.
Up until this point in the story we can see how this attitude is not going to play out well for these people. God has just destroyed the earth because the inhabitants were unfaithful to Him, so we may be enticed to think there is little hope for these people. But if we begin to examine our own lives, we will likely find similarities in the way we think and act too. We have the luxury of reading this story from the point of view of an author who is trying to make light of their disobedience, so for our lives we need to examine our intentions and our behaviors and bring to light where we may be seeking to rival God as well.
As Matthew Henry stated in his quote I just read, as humans we have the tendency to try and climb to heaven, where God is, by means other than that which God has planned. We set our salvation on thinking that if we just have the next thing in life, then we will be safe and happy. I know that when I was in college I kept thinking that if I just could graduate and get a good job, then I would feel fulfilled and content. And now that I have graduated and am working I have the tendency to think if I only could get a few more years of experience, then I would be content. And the reality is that we are constantly chasing this dream of paradise that doesn’t actually exist. We want to be God by escaping the challenges of life and be autonomous, but in reality, this is the most dangerous thing we could strive for because distancing ourselves from God will only leave us in a place of eternal discomfort and loneliness.
Moving on to verses 5-7 we see God enter the story and what we learn about God from these verses is that God is jealous for our worship. After the people of Shinar set their minds on building this great tower, God comes to see what they are up to. I love how this story so innocently mentions God coming down to check on these people. It reminds me of when I was a kid and my brother and I would be in the house doing something we weren’t supposed to do and my mom would be upstairs and know we were up to no good, so she would come down and walk over to us and if we tried to hide that fact that we were being disobedient and asked her what she was doing she would innocently reply, “I’m just seeing what you’re up to”. That’s how I envision the narrative at this point; God, knowing these people are up to no good, has decided to come down and the people are caught red handed in an act of disobedience.
Now, these three verses help us to draw out some truths about the nature of God. First we see in this text that God is holy, which means He is set apart from the rest of creation. The people in Shinar are trying to build a tower to heaven to display their dominance, but this tells us that God comes down from the heavens. The dichotomy of the position of the people and God illustrates the difference in authority. God is much more powerful and righteous than the men on earth. God even makes light of the difference between Him and these humans by calling them “children of man”. This can be taken as identifying these people as sinful, puny people, descendants of Adam who disobeyed God for trying to be like Him and Adam’s utter dependence on God became entirely evident after the Fall.
We also see that God is the great judge. When God enters the story He acts as the judge over the people. He sees the actions of these men and He not only judges the intentions of their heart, but He chooses to act in response to their rebellion. Interestingly enough, God says that nothing these men propose to do will be impossible for them if they all have one language. K.A. Matthews says in his commentary on Genesis, “In both instances it can hardly be that the heavens trembled because the “advancement” of mankind in any way threatened celestial rule. But, on the contrary, God was troubled over the injurious consequences that would fall upon the human family if left unchecked.”
So it wasn’t that God felt threatened that these people would mutiny against Him and take His throne in heaven, but God knew that the consequences of their sin would lead to even greater devastation for them. So it wasn’t that God confused their speech out of fear for His own sake, but God confused their language to prevent them from greater damage that may be done. This is paralleled in the story of Adam and Eve again. After Adam and Eve disobey God, their hearts become tainted by sin and so as both punishment and protection, God casts them out of the garden of Eden to prevent them from eating of the Tree of Life. Both God’s wrath is shown and His mercy in His decision to confuse the language of these people.
This brings us to our final theme which is God is for His glory, which is for our good. In verses 8-9 God takes action against these people by confusing their language and scattering them all over the face of the earth. Like I stated before, God’s decision to take such action was a demonstration of both punishment and protection. The action to disperse these people prevented them from becoming entirely self-absorbed. Not only does God take action in a way that prevents the people from growing in their own infatuation with themselves, but God fixes the problem in a miraculous way that demonstrates His power. These people, who all spoke the same language, all of a sudden couldn’t understand each other - a miraculous sign that points directly to the incredible power of God.
And you have to love the irony in this story. These people set out to #1 make a name for themselves and #2 keep from being scattered. And what is the result of their desired autonomy in the end? The text tells us that they indeed are dispersed all over the face of the earth, but they did end up making a name for themselves. But the name of the city they attempted to build is referred to as Babel, a humiliating name to commemorate the failed attempts of people to be like God. In their efforts to become autonomous and be their own god they ended up with the exact opposite. Their plans were foiled at the hand of God and their efforts amounted to nothing in the end.
Although I have a tendency to chuckle when I read the end of this story because all this work that these people set forth to accomplish came to nothing, part of me begins to feel uneasy as well. I think we all can identify a time in our lives when we worked incredibly hard for our own autonomy and to make a name for ourselves. During this Olympic season I thought about all the athletes who have dedicated their whole lives to being the best at their sport. Training night and day, all the time and energy given to being the best, and so many of them fail to reach the top of the podium. And even more still fail to even make it to the opening ceremonies. We all have our own tower of babel stories too. Whether they are great endeavors like building a tower to the sky or even small ones that we give our lives to everyday, we all find ourselves worshipping our own plans and desires and not God’s. And as you’ve probably experienced, when God does intervene it often hurts. When God takes away the things that we worship and give our lives to it is painful, but it is both a discipline and a protection to keep us from heading down a path that will leave us in total despair. And in these times when our hopes seem broken, when the things that we have given our lives to are now in shambles, we can thank God that we can place our hope in someone who won’t let us down.
Unlike the people who tried to build to Tower of Babel, Jesus Christ came to this earth not to make a name himself, but to point people toward the father. In John 5:30 Jesus says, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just , because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” All throughout the Bible we see men who try desperately to build their own stairway to the heavens and make a great name for themselves, but Jesus is described as the better Adam, who resisted the temptation to challenge the authority of the Father, but willingly submit to God’s will and worship God alone. As all of these men tried to get from earth to heaven by their own means, Jesus came down from heaven to the earth and humble himself and show mankind the true path to God. Jesus, despite his fear, was obedient to Father to the point of being beaten and killed. We are sometimes punished for the wrongdoing we commit, but Christ was punished even though He has done no wrong. At the cross Jesus took the punishment we deserved for worshipping ourselves rather than God, and He became a sacrifice for us so that we in turn, are given access to the Father in heaven.
Whereas the worship of autonomy resulted in division with the people of Babel, by the cross, Christ reconciled His people to be united under the worship of God. Take a look forward at the very end of the Bible in Revelation 21:1-2 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
Genesis 11 is the story about a people who tried to build a city to reach the heavens out of a worship of themselves, but by the cross of Christ, Revelation 21 tells us about the City of God that is to come. A city that man doesn’t reach by His own ambition, but a city from God that prepared for His people. What an incredible comparison! God’s desire for us is to live in a city, not one that is focused on our own achievements or our own securities, but a city that is fixated on the worship of God. A city with people that don’t desire to make a name for themselves, but a desire to make famous the name of God.
So that is our passion and our desire at this church. We desire to be a people that bring the glory of God to this city. We want to be walking down the streets of Dayton and hear people talking about God, we want to visit the coffee shops and bars and hear praises to God in their music, we want to visit the art galleries and see on display people’s expression of their relationship with the Father in heaven. And we recognize that God has placed this church in this city for a purpose. God has ordained us to take up a great calling and work toward the fulfillment of that vision. So if that idea excites you, we ask you to join us in both prayer and action to bring gospel restoration to this city. If that is not a desire of your heart then I would challenge you to think through what city you desire to build? The City of Babel or the City of God?