Text: Genesis 11:1-32
A small Italian town called Pisa is known for one thing: a leaning tower.
By the amount of tourists who visit it each year, you’d think people would also be lined up to see my uneven picture frames, wayward laundry piles, and imbalanced packed lunches. But the appeal remains alone with the story of the tower.
From the beginning, Pisa was an overlooked seaport town hoping to wrap its arms around affection and achievement. But 1173 was a good year to be a Pisan; a successful attack on the city of Palermo lead to treasure galore and instant power. The only appropriate way to celebrate was to build, build, build—because now, they could show off! Right away, they began laying the foundation for a cathedral, baptistery, cemetery, and bell tower. Together, the complex would be known as the Field of Miracles.
What came to pass wasn’t the miracle they’d hoped for. Beneath the surface of their constructed celebration, the soil was shifting. Eight stories and a destabilized foundation later, the tower was more than leaning; it was falling about two millimeters per year.
When we pridefully build our own towers on shifting sand, why are we surprised when they lean and fall?
Our sinful selves made our mission clear in the Garden of Eden: we want to gobble glory.
In light of God’s creation of the world, it only makes sense that we’d try to steal the show and make ourselves the stars, engineering structures in the image of our too-tall pride. And so, the Tower of Babylon was built.
“Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky. Let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
When I read their repeated use of let us, I can’t help but see the bricks I’ve laid with my own voice, saying, “Let me!”
Let me control the day.
Let me hear the praise.
Let me dethrone you, God, so I can enthrone myself instead.
What the builders of the Tower of Babylon didn’t know is that it, too, was leaning—away from the God who loved them. They’d joined together, speaking the same language with a pride-laced tone at a glory-hungry volume, anxious to remain unified and in control. But God saw the way sin shifted their spirits. He watched as their pride climbed with the height of the newly constructed tower. He noted the unstable foundation and slight tilt, and He was the only one to foresee the impending fall. In His infinite mercy, He confused their language, scattering them all over the earth.
In His infinite mercy, He separated them from each other to draw them to Himself.
“Come, let Us go down there and confuse their language so that they will not understand one another’s speech. So from there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth, and they stopped building the city.”
- Genesis 11:7-8
The scatter sets them right-side up to see the City was already being built. He allowed them to lose their homelands so they would find refuge in His. What the builders saw as a separation from their people, God saw as preparation for our separation from sin. He uses the split to propel us toward the unity on the Cross.
If we continue reading in Genesis 11, we see the beginning of this movement: Because of the scatter, Abram’s family moved from Ur to Haran, the place where he would later hear God’s call to pack his bags for the Promised Land.
In His kindness, God divorces us from our desire to be separate from Him and marries our sin to the unity of grace. This is the gospel.
May we lean into the existing tower of the Almighty instead of laying bricks on our own. Amen.