Sunday Sermon Notes January 24th
Teaching Series - “Our Family Tree–Through the Bible in 2021"
Weekly Topic - “What Did You Say?”
Text - Genesis 11:1-9
Solomon understood something that the people of our story today did not, “The name of the Lord is a strong fortress; the godly run to him and are safe. 11 The rich think of their wealth as a strong defense; they imagine it to be a high wall of safety. 12 Haughtiness goes before destruction; humility precedes honor” (Proverbs 18:10-12). Today we are going to examine the story of the tower of Babel as found in Genesis 11.
For those of you familiar with this story, what happened during this point in history according to the Bible?
· The people decided to build a city and a great tower to reach into the heavens.
· God stopped the work by introducing a mix of languages; all the people up to this point after the flood had spoken one unified language.
· Because they could no longer communicate, the people chose to abandon the project and scattered throughout the lands.
Why would a unified work project by humanity cause such concern for God? That is one of the questions I hope to answer this morning.
BACK STORY - TRADITION OF NIMROD – Genesis 10:8-12
“Cush was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; that is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Uruk, Akkad and Kalneh, in Shinar. 11 From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah 12 and Resen, which is between Nineveh and Calah—which is the great city.”
These days, the name ‘Nimrod’ is more likely to illicit indignation from an individual deemed one than in days gone by. The original bearer of the name, Nimrod, was in fact a mighty hunter warrior…not the imbecile of our modern day association.
Jewish and Christian tradition have long held that Nimrod, the great-grandson of Noah, built the city and tower of Babel. Though the Bible does not implicitly say this, there are clues that appear to indicate that it was indeed Nimrod:
· He lived in the area and the first centre of his kingdom was Babylon in Shinar (Genesis 10:10). Shinar was the plain on which Babel was built (Genesis 11:2).
· His genealogy and greatness are also mentioned in 1 Chronicles 1:10 “Cush was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on earth.” His name and accomplishments were legendary, as is the story of Babel.
· The prophet Micah refers to Assyria, historically associated with the city and tower, also as the land of Nimrod (Micah 5:6).
But who was Nimrod? A warrior, king, tyrant or all of the above? The answer depends on who you ask. He was most certainly an influential man who wielded power. There is speculation that Nimrod lived his life in opposition to God; if he was in fact the king responsible for the construction of the tower of Babel, the story contained in Genesis 11 would appear to support this line of speculation.
Some scholars have suggested that the tower was an attempt to safeguard humanity from God. Can’t you just hear the challenge, ‘Try to cover the top of this tower with another flood if you can!” Rather than learning the lesson of obedience because of the flood, he may have been an individual who saw himself as acting out on the behalf of men in their striving against an unreasonable and controlling God.
Or perhaps he sought to build the tallest of towers in part to secure the favour of God; doesn’t the one closest to a deity have the exclusive ear of said deity. Some scholars believe that the tower was built like an Assyrian ziggurat, not only of architectural significance, but also religious, with a temple for worship at the top. If this was the case with the tower of Babel, however, it still doesn’t answer the question of which of the gods would be worshipped from its heights—Yahweh God or as some have suggested, Marduk, an ancient god of the Assyrians whose early history can be traced to the area inhabited by Nimrod.
We do not have proof positive that Nimrod was the influence behind the construction of the tower of Babel, but as he was the one credited with building the city of Babylon in the area of Shinar, also known as Babylonia, it is quite likely.
REJECTION OF GOD – Genesis 11:1-4a
“Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens…’”
These early people all spoke a single language, which would have made working together on a project of this magnitude feasible—a city and a tower to reach to the heavens. Modern day ruins of Assyrian ziggurats are impressive constructions still to this day…
· They were places of worship, built as the dwelling of a chosen god; they were not open to the public, but were only accessible by the priests.
· Ziggurats were constructed on a large base, with terraced levels, each successive one slightly smaller than the one below and finished with a flat top.
· Sunbaked bricks made up the core of the solid structure, with oven baked bricks forming the outside…making them waterproof. The outside was often glazed in different colours and kings sometimes had their names engraved on these glazed bricks.
· The ziggurats were often built as a part of a temple complex and would tower over everything else, hundreds of feet in the air.
Worship of Yahweh God was still a relatively simple affair, consisting of an animal killed and burnt up as a sacrifice on a stone altar. What was being proposed in Babel far surpassed what had been a part of Noah’s practice immediately after the flood. Their grand plan for the city and tower appears to challenge the requirements as set out by God and entirely disregards the practice of earlier generations.
We know what they wanted to build—a monument dedicated to themselves and whatever god they chose. The following verses serve to further illuminate the problem at Babel.
LOOKING TO BECOME GREAT – Genesis 11:4b
“…so that we may make a name for ourselves…”
Earlier I read Solomon’s words from Proverbs, “the name of the Lord is a strong tower.” It appears that the people, under the persuasion of one of the greatest warriors of ancient times, chose to reject the name of the Lord in favour of creating a name for themselves. What did that mean exactly?
Did they desire to worship a god of their choosing rather than the one true God? Did they desire to demonstrate their prowess and superiority over the other peoples of the world with their impressive architecture? Did they want to make themselves equal to God—living on earth, but invading and conquering the heavens as well? We don’t know, but the Bible does make one thing clear. They wanted to set themselves apart from all others, to intimidate and showcase their superiority, in order to revel in their own greatness.
They were rejecting their identification with the name of the Lord, to make a name for themselves. They could now have direct access to the god of their choosing on their own terms because of their own great accomplishments.
MAINTAINING CONTROL – Genesis 11:4c
“…otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
What had God commanded? Fill the earth—multiply and relocate. Their concern that they would be scattered appears to be in direct conflict with God’s desire. Some have argued that this was the instruction being disregarded that caused God to act. They certainly had no desire to be scattered. Were they just one big happy family? I don’t think so.
I, for one, doubt this was God’s primary concern. As their population grew, they would have naturally spread out. This morning, I would suggest that it was something far more sinister that caused God to act. There is a question that begs asking, “Was the decision to stay put in one place, a decision made by all the people or just those in leadership? Who was in control?
During my research, I found a number of articles that viewed Nimrod as a tyrant king. It is thought that the work of building the great city and tower was not being done by an egalitarian society guided by democratic policies for governing, but by slaves who found themselves conquered by the ‘great warrior,’ who saw himself as equal to god. We can certainly find similar situations recorded in the Bible, throughout history and even in modern day totalitarian regimes. “Bigger is better,” yes? And “might makes right!” The Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans and other world conquerors know the truth of these principles. It is how the world gets things done. Enslavement by one group of people by another has a long history in the annals of humankind…as does the claim of being ‘gods’ by the so-called great men who lead these nations.
You’ll remember, too, that they were in the process of making a name for themselves. The last thing they wanted was to see their numbers dwindle, thereby making them vulnerable to being conquered by another group of people and in turn finding themselves enslaved. They were busy making plans to ensure their success and place in this world without any help from God.
Whatever the reason—refusal to scatter or the abuse of power—God chose to make it impossible for them to complete their plans.
REDIRECTION REQUIRED – Genesis 11:5-9
“But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”
Why would a unified work project by humanity cause such concern for God? What was the issue…their unity or something else? One thing is perfectly clear, they were making plans independently of God. And haven’t we learned enough from earlier stories in Genesis that humanity messes things up terribly when we try to chart our own course without God to guide us?
Immediately after the flood we read God’s assessment of sin-infected humankind, “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21). Our natural trajectory, apart from God, is the corruption of His Creation and of ourselves. God knew that if they were able to complete this project, their pride and independence would create a greater rift between Himself and His beloved humankind. Their downfall, sped along by unchecked pride and avarice, would come at lightning speed. He could not stand back and watch it happen, not so soon after He had hit the reset button with the flood.
And so God brings their work and their dreams of greatness to a crashing halt. He could have destroyed the tower, but instead He introduces confusion into their well-laid plans by making it impossible for them to communicate. Each person finds themselves speaking a different language from their neighbours and the building stops.
As a result, the original meaning of Babel, ‘gateway to heaven,’ came to mean something very different—'confusion.’ The people scattered, Nimrod goes on to build other cities, and once again, God has saved humankind from themselves.
How does this apply to me and you? What can we learn? Here are some questions for our consideration.
· What are you building for yourself today? What are your primary motivators in life? A great name? An impeccable reputation? A respected family? A financially secure future? A comfortable existence on this planet? Or does your heavenly bank account surpass that of your earthly one as you focus on storing up treasures in heaven?
· What are we building at Hope Chapel and in the Christian community? And what is our goal? Glory for God or acclamation for us? Lots of people attending? Polished programs? Financial stability? Modern facilities? Unfortunately, we don’t have to look very far to find examples of Christians who are building ‘towers’ in the name of God that bear far more resemblance to the tower of Babel—a name, greatness and security for themselves, all the while refusing to move out into the world to which we are told to go.
· What name serves as your tower? Are you relying on yourself for your own safety and security? Or do you say with Solomon, “The name of the Lord is a strong fortress; the godly run to him and are safe. 11 The rich think of their wealth as a strong defense; they imagine it to be a high wall of safety. 12 Haughtiness goes before destruction; humility precedes honor” (Proverbs 18:10-12).
Sunday, January 31, 2021- “Our Family Tree - Through the Bible in 2021"- Week #5 “The First of a Chosen People” (Genesis 12+13) - ONLINE Only – Communion & Sharing Sunday
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!