Day 8

The Tower of Babel

from the Genesis reading plan


Genesis 11:1-32, Genesis 12:1-9, Psalm 2:1-12, Luke 1:51

BY Bailey Gillespie

My dad is a talented woodworker, and one year he built my brother and me an elaborate treehouse in our backyard. It was the talk of the town. There was a fire escape pole, a sandbox, a gymnastics bar, and a slide. He built it so high it just fit within coding limits established by the California building department. While it may seem like his motivation was a defiance of building permits, it was really an extravagant gesture of love. He wanted our treehouse to be as big and awesome as a treehouse could be.

In Genesis 11, the motivation for building a really tall tower wasn’t quite as pure. After settling in Shinar, the people were afraid of being scattered throughout the earth (Genesis 11:2). Although God’s command to be fruitful and multiply implies expansion into surrounding lands, the people liked it right where they were. They didn’t want to leave and, instead, decided to construct a tower to “make a name” for themselves (v.4). They likely built a ziggurat—a temple that was supposed to bridge the gap between heaven and earth, a place where they believed they could communicate with the gods. This was a way for them to claim the territory as their own and, hopefully, avoid being scattered.

In contrast with this story, when Abram received God’s call of pilgrimage to a new land, he responded by building a stone altar (Genesis 12:1–7). Unlike the tower, this wasn’t a symbol of human achievement or possessiveness. It was an offering to the Lord. Although we find countless biblical characters building things—arks, walls, altars, towers—the inner motivation behind these outward acts is different in each case. Some are born out of self-protection. Others out of worship.

It’s so easy to become possessive, isn’t it? We find something we want, plant a flag in the ground, and we don’t let go. Understandably, we all long for something—a patch of land, a community, a reputation. But our desires can become all-consuming and corrupt when left unchecked. Suddenly, instead of surrendering those desires to God out of obedience, we fight tooth and nail to keep them.

Whatever we’re building, may we work more from a desire to offer it all as worship to God than to protect our own self-interests.

Post Comments (51)

51 thoughts on "The Tower of Babel"

  1. Ayla Nichols says:

    Thank you for the explanation! I was very confused as to why God was unhappy with them building the temple. I didn’t see that they were building it out of ill-intentions. Now that I understood the true meaning of the scripture I can better apply it to my life and be more aware when I begin to “build things out of possessiveness or as a symbol of human achievement”.

    1. Carolyn Loper says:

      Me too

  2. Jane K says:

    I needed this today! The motivation behind my outward acts are often self-protection. May I learn ways of worship instead of self-protection. Forgive me Father for all the ways of self-protection I run to and all the ways of worship I run from.

    1. Suzie McRae says:

      ❤️

  3. Allison Sherwood says:

    I love this! It is always good to check our hearts and make sure if the desires of our hearts – no matter how good the thing is – comes from a motivation to love and serve God more! Amen!

  4. Annette Kendall says:

    As I’ve been spending time in the word and prayer this morning, the old hymn “turn your eyes on Jesus” has been stuck in my mind. It’s a great companion for today’s reading.

    1. Traci Gendron says:

      ❤️

  5. Andrea Lopez says:

    Whatever it is I’m building may I offer it all as worship to God rather than using it to protect my self interest. So powerful!!

  6. Carol says:

    Well said Tracie! Worship is the key. More of Him, less of us.

  7. Tracie Nall says:

    I am ashamed to admit that I have been a believer and Jesus follower for over 20 years yet never looked at these two chapter of scripture laid parallel to each other in comparison and contrast. I have studied each of them in depth individually but never in conjunction with the other. So, my mind is blown today! Love that Gods Word is alive and we can never reach the depth of its understanding or its Author!
    I am convicted today about “making a name” for myself, the many ways some of them subtle some of them overt that I build for myself a way to reach the heavens rather than bowing low and calling on the One name worthy! I love that both passages involved building, one a tower the other an altar. One simply designed to reach gods, the other designed to worship!
    I pray today I can focus on making His name great rather than building a name for myself.

    1. Mary Pitner says:

      I am continually amazed at all the connections in Scripture that are given to me the more I study!

  8. Elizabeth Amrien says:

    I am not a Bible scholar by any stretch, but I don’t think the Tower of Babel is about the tower or the building project necessarily. Humans have always built these monuments, and I am not sure God has any problem with them, even when they are monuments to human achievements, not to Him. Building seems to be a way in which we participate in creation. I think God can sanctify these monuments, too, over time. When Norte Dame was burning last spring, it truly felt to me that a portal between heaven and earth was closing.

    I believe (I am always open to being corrected) this story is a rebuke of the collective. I think the concept of “subsidiarity” has is roots in this story, that is, the governing principle that things ought to be handled at the lowest or least centralized level possible. If something is best dealt with at level of family, or school board, or local community, no reason to bump it up to county, state, federal government.

    It seems God favors intermediary groupings (family and nation) over individual (it is not good for man to be alone) and larger collective. These units should not be misconstrued however along ethnic or even cultural lines! The boundaries of the tribe are clearly permeable (cf the story of Ruth, Jesus’ radical redefinition of family, etc.).

    It may be there is an impetus in us to come together, but it seems the proper (divine) institution for that would be the Church. So maybe God thwarts the efforts when we are doing it wrong. You could argue the Reformation was a redux of the Babble story if the RC church was getting it wrong.

    I don’t know … It does help me to trust God though when things seem to be taking a turn for the worse.

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