Ever since Adam and Eve were tempted to be like God (Gen. 3:5), all subsequent people seem bent to trod down the same path. They want to prove they are holy. They want to show others that they are set apart. In Genesis 11, we read the epitome of the ridiculous notion that Mankind can reach God at Ground Zero of a place called the Tower of Babel.
At the Tower of Babel, Mankind attempts to reach God through their efforts and ingenuity. The people spoke in only one language (Gen. 11:1). Their desire was to maintain security, so they built a city in order not to be “dispersed over the face of the earth” (Gen. 11:4). Their desire was to be praised, so they built a tower to the heaven in order to “make a name for themselves” (Gen. 11:4). They desired to be comfortable and known. Instead of listening to God, they wanted to be God. If they could only build this tower high enough, they could reach the heights of heaven, storm the castle gates, and take over ownership and become the masters of their own fates.
The build was impressive. It was very high. Their skills and knowledge had increased vastly so that this tower was ever growing taller. For all its height and majesty, God still had to humble himself to see such a tiny, insignificant, pathetic structure. “And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built” (Gen. 11:5).
For all their work to exalt themselves to the place of divinity, God still had to humble himself to behold their best, collaborative efforts.
They wanted to stay at home, and yet God wanted them to leave home so all nations could be blessed (Gen. 12:1-4). God wanted the entire world to behold his glory, and yet they wanted to build a monument to themselves. Therefore, God separates the nations at Babel and makes their speech like “babble.” Confusing their speech, the workers were unable to coordinate the building of the structure anymore. Frustration and confusion grew among one another, and God “dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city” (Gen. 11:8).
What Man was unable to accomplish, God would bring about. He scattered the people into nations and different tongues because they wanted to glorify themselves. The “city” left incomplete by those limited builders will be finished one day by the Master Architect.
God is preparing the “holy city, new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2). This city will not be reached because Man was able to reach God. This city will be reached because God came down to Man as “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This Word came to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
While the nations were once scattered and languages once divided, God sent his Spirit “to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the nations gathered in the city of Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost, and a gift came down from heaven to allow each person to hear the gospel message proclaimed “in his own language” (Acts 2:6). This gospel message will make it to every nation (Matt. 28:19) before the end comes (Matt. 24:14) in order that heaven be filled “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9).
And when that happens, Mankind will not desire to sin like Cain, disobey like Noah, or exalt themselves like the builders of Babel. Instead of being known for making a name for themselves, Mankind will be known for falling “on their faces before the throne” and worshiping God by saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Rev. 7:11-12). There will be no temple to build in this city, “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk” (Rev. 21:22-24).
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.
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