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 (53)

53 thoughts on "The Tower of Babel"

  1. Kathy says:

    I’m thankful for the reminder laid out here in God’s Word that obedience matters…we saw it in Noah (“Noah did all that God commanded”), and now with the Tower of Babel, we see people motivated by self-gratification/preservation rather than simple obedience to God’s instruction. Paul wrote to the Philippians that “God is at work within us helping us to want what He wants and to helping us to do it” (my paraphrase of Philippians 2:13). So even when what God commands looks too big or weird or whatever- He’ll help me with that!
    I am praying for you Diana Fleenor. I know He will give clarity for your situation. My husband and I are not currently attending a church body ( i.e. meeting in a formal church setting) for various reasons at this time. However, we are meeting with a group of fellow believers in a Bible Study and prayer time. He may have something likewise different for you. Whatever He has I know that He knows your situation and He will show you ;)

  2. Terri says:

    This brings to my thoughts should we build statues of war heroes and presidents. Should we only remember stories of great battles from the perspective of how God moved in them?

  3. Jennifer Anapol says:

    I have never thought about the story of the Tower of Babel this way. I too can relate to the people’s desire to stay where they are and “get comfortable”. I feel that way all the time. God is continually reminding me that this isn’t my home. Whatever we are building, we have to make sure it is for the Lord. It’s so awesome that Abraham obeyed God and went where he was calling him to go. He didn’t even know exactly where that would be. He didn’t allow the comfort he had for his homeland keep him from following after God.

  4. Deja Gibson says:

    Lord, I ask that you help me to see the things that I’m building out of self-Interest, so that I may address my motives and stop building those things. My desire is to worship you only. To build/ create/desire things that I offer to you as worship. ❤️

  5. Susan Crosby says:

    Like the people in Babel I like to surround myself with other believers and go to comfortable places. Where am I sharing the gospel? Thought provoking. Also God chose Abraham for His plan. Unlike the folks from Babel Abraham was obedient. And though Abraham strayed from the plan at times he proved himself righteous and God’s promises to him were kept. Am I obedient when it suits me or in the difficult times as well?

  6. Diana Fleenor says:

    ELIZABETH AMRIEN, I join you in saying that I am not a biblical scholar. As I read your thoughts that you are not sure God has a problem with humans building monuments to human achievements, I wondered why you think this. I mean what biblical support might you be able to give to this belief? I’ve come to understand how important it is to question our beliefs to see if they are rooted in human opinion or in God’s word. We are so prone to belief something because of the influence of human opinion and I need to constantly remember that our opinions are tainted by our sinful nature.

    In regard to the concept of “the governing principle that things ought to be handled at the lowest or least centralized level possible,” it is a good idea to explore by studying the whole of God’s word. However, I don’t see the case for this principle clearly shown in this particular passage. At least I don’t see it. But, as you admitted yourself, I’m open to correction and am praying for clarity:)

    1. Elizabeth Amrien says:

      Hi Diana, I am not prepared to defend my remarks, precisely because I am not a scholar or teacher and cannot do so with any authority. The principle of subsidiarity has deep roots in Catholic tradition, but I don’t know the scriptural basis for it. I think there is a strong case to be made that the Tower of Babel account is a rebuke of collectivism, but I leave it to people smarter than me to make it. As for human monuments, many take my breath away. Not just the sanctified places, the great cathedrals, but the New York City skyline. I don’t believe God blesses it all necessarily, but I am not sure he frowns on these achievements either. So I don’t believe what God was thwarting in the Tower of Babel story was the building project, but the aspirations underlying it of a kind of global government. I could be wrong … just sharing my thoughts.

  7. Diana Fleenor says:

    When I wrote out thoughts about today’s Scriptures before reading the devotion, I was thinking more in the lines of pride as being the people’s motivation. But, in the devotion, Bailey brings out the motive of self-protection and self-interest and the desire not to be scattered. This, I believe, is the Lord answering my question regarding my motives as I seek community in the church. It’s a struggle for me to clearly see if my motives are purely to obey the Lord in the command to “not give up meeting together.”

    My circumstances make gathering with the saints very difficult. I have a health issue of which exposure to many things most people tolerate without much problem causes me debilitating symptoms. I must make hard decisions to address what is actually wise in attempting to join my church face-to-face. I admit that my motives over the years of being homebound have not been always pure. Yet, it can seem that my longing for community can also be considered self-focused by others when I am seeking the Lord for a right motive. I would appreciate prayer for a clear view of my own motives, because I agree with the psalmist when he says, “Who can discern his own errors?”

  8. Lisa Z says:

    Dear Daddy, please help me keep You as my motivation for all I do. Help me question my reasons for building whatever I am building. Help me trust fully i. You so I may let go of everything else. Thank You for calling me to be Your daughter. Help me embrace this role so I shine Your light!

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