The Tower of Babel
Open Your Bible
Genesis 11:1-32, Genesis 12:1-9, Psalm 2:1-12, Luke 1:51
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.