The last few Sundays I have been going up to a town in Iowa about an hour and a half north of Council Bluffs with one of my Youth Minister roommates. It’s a nice drive up because it’s all interstate and if we carpool we can have some good conversation. The drive is even more relaxed on the way home right now because it’s dark. Something you should probably know about me is that I love driving at night. With the right kind of music it just feels like I’ve been separated from the rest of the world and it’s just me, God and my thoughts.
Tonight I was driving home by myself. My friend had to preach at the church where he is the youth pastor this morning so he just stayed there and I drove up and met him there. Of course, I had to drive myself back too which didn’t bother me a bit. I left the church before my friend did because he had to drive one of the kids home. So, I hopped back on the interstate and drove, reflecting on conversations and other things that been floating around in my mind. It was about twenty minutes into the drive when I noticed a familiar set of headlights. They were the headlights of a Mercury Saturn, my friend’s car. He had somehow caught up with me. Eventually he passed me. As he did this I started to get a sense of urgency, that I needed to speed up and catch my friend. It seemed so important that he not beat me home.
What was so urgent?
In the story of Genesis in the 11th chapter the writer tells us the story of the earth at a point where everyone spoke the same language.
The entire world.
The same language. Imagine.
These people were speaking in the same language to each other after settling in a land called Shinar. And we are brought into one of their conversations about what they should do after having settled in this land. They decide they are going to build a city for themselves. That seems logical, doesn’t it? Once you find a place to settle in, you build a city and live there. This is something that people have been doing for a really long time, so there’s nothing questionable about this idea to us. And then they decide to build a tower “with its top in the heavens”.
So, the people decide to build a city and in this city they will build a really tall tower. Again I don’t think we can find any real fault in the way their thought process is designing and molding the world around them. Building is an act of creation, an ability given to us by God when he built us. The people in Genesis are only using their God-given abilities in exercising their right to build a city and a tower if they want to. But we see later in the story that God interrupted their construction and disrupted their ability to speak the same language and scatters them across the face of the earth.
Why would God ruin the plans and radically alter the lives of everyone on earth over the construction of a city?
If I’m really honest with myself, I just didn’t want my friend to beat me home. The only urgency I felt was the thought that, perhaps, I would get a hard time from my roommate because he left the church after I did and still managed to beat me home. I could hear him in my head telling this story to all the other guys in the house and then them giving me a hard time because I drive pretty close to the speed limit and I’m not rebellious enough to go more than five over. The scene played inside my head and I really just wanted to jam on the gas and show my friend who was the coolest between the two of us. I would not be bested by anyone because we all know it’s always a race when you’re driving home in a separate cars.
I realize how silly this sounds. But these are thoughts that go through my head.
I bring it up for a reason though. Why did I think it was so important for me to beat my friend home?
Why did the people in Genesis 11 want to build their city and their tall tower?
The writer of Genesis provides us with a statement from the people, “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,” (Genesis 11:4 ESV).
They build the city and the tower because they wanted to make a name for themselves and God scattered them.
I realize that, at the heart of the matter, I wanted to beat my friend home to make a name for myself.
We can really get a perspective on these issues by looking at what God has to say about the whole thing:
And Yahweh 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. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
(Genesis 11:6-7 ESV)
God sees the heart of the people and makes a decision. They have become capable of building a city, doing what they say they are going to do without faltering. But this isn’t the real reason he is scattering them. They wish to make a name for themselves by tacking their name on to this huge thing they are trying to accomplish. God knows they will finish the city and say they did a good job, the will pat each other on the back and thank each other for all their hard work and all their effort. Maybe there will be parties and one of those ribbon-cutting ceremonies in honor of this great metropolis and people will climb this tower that they built and have great pride in their work.
God says something is missing in this equation.
So, the text says God comes down, confuses their languages and scatters them from their city and tower. It is interesting that God had to come down to the tower.
Wasn’t it supposed to have its top in the heavens? That sounds like it would be tall to me.
God still had to come down to see the city and the tower.
If God had to come all the way down to terra firma to see this city built on pride and scatter its inhabitants then I would hate to see what he would do with a radar gun. Because, in the end, the people had to suffer consequences for their self-seeking behavior and I would have mine as well. Thankfully, I felt convicted of this after thinking about it.
And then I slowed down.
And maybe you should too. Ease off the gas a little when you’re doing anything that can be recognized as great at any level. Don’t get excited and put the pedal to the floor and rush into your own glory because it won’t get you anywhere. Just think about who knew you before you were born and who made you, who rescued you from yourself and a life lived only for the simple reason of serving your own wants and desires or what the Preacher calls “striving after the wind’ because it’s all meaningless without God.