Mans' Monument to Himself: The Tower of Babel
Babel and the Sin of Pride
David McPherson, of the Maranatha Bible Church in New Orleans, tells the true story of a U.S. Air Force transport plane that was flying over Alaska in the mid-1950s. In the plane were a captain and 5 crew members.
Suddenly the plane entered an unusually fierce snowstorm which was threatening the aircraft and the lives of the crew. The navigator contacted the base which told him that they were several hundred miles off course. Correct coordinates were then given to this man who continued to insist that his own calculations could not be that far off.
Soon the plane began to run low on fuel and the men decided to abandon the aircraft for the safety of the ground. They parachuted out, one by one. However, the temperatures on the ground were -70 degrees Fahrenheit with wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour. Unfortunately, the men were all frozen to death within minutes of hitting the ground. Also, as a result of the navigator's pride, there were 5 other people who went to their death's during the 3 days it took to recover the bodies of the stranded men.
McPherson then goes on to tell us this about the story:
"Proverbs 12:15 tells us that "the way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise." The results may not always be so dramatic, but we must all be careful to seek the counsel of God and wise individuals before making decisions of lasting significance."
The navigator, rather than putting the interest of the crew ahead of his own, pridefully needed to be right, even if he wasn't. How could he, a superbly trained navigator, be wrong? Yet he was deadly wrong. His pride, in the long run, destroyed him and many others.
Unfortunately, mankind, since Adam and Eve have always suffered from the sin of pride that seeks to put self-interest ahead of the plans and interests of God and others. And it always has, and always will fail.
Such is the account of the Tower of Babel. In the biblical account, the wickedness which had lead to the Great Flood had destroyed most of humanity. Now, once again people began to multiply and to forget about the God who created them. Instead of acknowledging Him, they decided to set up a City and a Great Tower that was a monument to their own ingenuity and power.
From this account, we must learn some vital lessons or be forever destined to repeat the mistakes of history.
I. The Biblical Account
The Account of the Tower of Babel is found in Genesis 11:1-9. Here it is in its entirety, taken from the New American Standard Version of the Bible:
"Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly." And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.
The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The Lord said, "Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language so that they will not understand one another's speech." So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth, and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth, and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth."
II. Historical Context and Clarifying Facts
Now let us look at the historical context of this story and clarify some things that need to be understood. Most scholars believe that the Tower of Babel was a Ziggurat which is a rectangular stepped tower or pyramid that was sometimes surmounted by a temple. Ziggurats were structures usually built to honor the gods and were popular around the late 3rd Millennium B.C. Its' purpose was to get the temple closer to the heavens and provide access to it from the ground by way of the steps. The Mesopotamians believed that these pyramid temples connected heaven and earth.
The City of 'Babel', later called Babylon, is the most famous city in Mesopotamia and is located in modern day Iraq. The name is thought to derive from the Akkadian language and is said to mean 'Gate of God, or Gate of the Gods.' Of course, the biblical account indicates that the term originally came from the confusion of tongues that took place during Genesis 11. The Hebrew word 'bavel' means 'confusion.'
As we can see from the biblical text, when the people began to repopulate the earth, after the flood, they were of one language. A number of them decided to settle in the land of Shinar, which is one of the cities of ancient Babylon founded by King Nimrod, according to Genesis 10:9-10. And, once there, they wanted to make a huge tower that would reach to heaven. This tower in ancient Mesopotamia would be built on the Eastern bank of the Euphrates River.
Their reasoning for this tower was that they wanted to make a name for themselves and prevent the people from being scattered. Genesis 11:4 tells us:
"Then they said, "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 earth."
Obviously, their intentions were not for the glory of God but for the glory of themselves and to make sure that their purposes on earth were fulfilled.
It is interesting that we sometimes look at ancient men and women and see them as primitive and somehow not as intelligent as we are today. That is not how it appears if you look at the actual records, however. They certainly were intelligent enough to build great man-made structures without the aide of modern-day cranes and equipment. And the Bible indicates that God didn't think that they were less capable people than we are, for he said:
"If as one people with one language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them." (11:6).
Of course, mankind, with the introduction of modern technology, has certainly continued to prove these words to be correct. Sadly, with that technology, we have become increasingly more arrogant and prideful.
We also have our own Tower of Babel, of sorts, in the form of an International Space Station. This Space Station is an artificial satellite in low-Earth orbit. Its first component was launched in 1998 and its first long-term residents arrived in 2000. It has been continuously inhabited since that time.
Not that any of these technological advances are bad in and of themselves. They should actually be expected from human beings created in the image of Almighty God. However, these improvements have taken us, as a people, farther away from our creator and not closer to Him. Science and technology have generally made men see themselves as their own gods without a need for the God of the Bible.
And so it was at the Tower of Babel. Mankind acknowledged many gods but really didn't think that they needed any of them. And that included the one true God. So the Lord confused their speech, which effectively put an end to their cooperation in completing the tower.
And so they left their great man-made project and eventually were scattered over the face of the Earth. This, by the way, is what God told Noah and his sons to do in the first place in Genesis 9:1.
It is apparent that this great structure of man's arrogance remained for a while. Scripture doesn't say that the tower was destroyed. Although in other extra-biblical Jewish writings some have said that God overturned the tower with a great wind. And in the Midrash, which is the Jewish verse-by-verse explanation and amplification of a passage, it said that that the top of the tower was burnt, the bottom was swallowed, and the middle was left standing to erode over time.
Others have suggested that Alexander the Great tried to rebuild what was left of the structure before he died. It was, unfortunately, stopped by his untimely young death and the ruins were destroyed in the attempted reconstruction.
However, no matter what eventually happened to the great structure, if will forever be a monument to mans' pride and his desire to denounce Gods' authority over him. Also, it appears to be the final straw that leads to God choosing of one man, Abram, out of all humanity, to build for himself a special people through which He could bring salvation to the world. For we see chapter 11 ending with the genealogy of Shem, one of the three sons of Noah through which Abram was descended (10-32). And we have Abram, who later was called Abraham, mentioned for the first time in this passage as well.
III. Lessons from the Tower of Babel
There is much that we can learn from this account of Scripture, recorded so long ago. The good thing is that man, created in the image of God, can do great things when they put their minds together and work as one. The sadness in this is that they often leave out God in the process. And we have seen from so much history how destructive people can be if the Lord is not involved.
Just as their ingenuity knows no bounds, so also does their wickedness and cruelty. And sometimes God has to break them up in order to keep them from destroying His plans for the human race. I think we clearly saw that by the appearance of Adolf Hitler and the rise and ultimate defeat of the Nazi party in Germany during World War II.
However, with the Lord, we have great potential to do good in this world as well. Over and over again in Scripture, we see the unity of the Body of Christ talked about by the Apostle Paul (I Corinthians 12; Galatians 3:28; Ephesian 4:11-13). None of us are capable of doing everything. However, all of us play a part in fulfilling Gods' plan for humanity. And together we can accomplish the seemingly impossible.
But, in order for this to happen, the ugly sin of pride has to be subdued and eradicated from our lives. We have to not care who gets the credit for a job well done.
It was one of the Founding Fathers of our country, Benjamin Franklin, who once wisely said:
"There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive. Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility."
While that may be true, it is also true that there is no one passion, other than pride, that if subdued and finally thrown out of our lives, will make us more like Jesus Christ. For it was His humility and love that lead Him to accomplish His greatest mission on this earth, the Salvation of the world. (Philippians 2:1-11). And we are called to have that same mind of humility which our Lord had.
It was the former President of CBS News, David Rhodes who once stated:
"Pride is the dandelion of the soul. Its root goes deep; only a little left behind sprouts again. Its seeds lodge in the tiniest encouraging cracks. And it flourishes in good soil: The danger of pride is that it feeds on goodness."
Just because we are Christians doesn't mean that we are immune to the sin of pride which lead to the failed project called the Tower of Babel. And, just as they did, we are capable of leaving God out of key places in our lives. As a matter of fact, it is a tool that Satan uses again and again to destroy Gods' people. Therefore, we have to be ever vigilant to keep it from becoming a problem in our personal lives.
The wonderful news is, however, that: "Greater is He who is in us than He who is in the world!" (I John 4:4). We have the Holy Spirit living in us and the Word of God for Him to use to guide us. We are not without power to overcome this dreaded sin of pride.
With that in mind, let us vow anew today that God will have first place in our lives and that we will live to do His bidding and not our own. Without Him, we can do nothing of significance. But with Him, we can change this world for the better. It is our choice. May we choose wisely!
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© 2019 Jeff Shirley