Genesis 11:1-4 - A Review
Greetings, everybody! God’s rich peace to you in the One who was, and is, and is to come, and welcome to another daily session of EDiBS. Today is Wednesday (NOTE: today is Thursday, 10 September 2020. This is an archival study session.), and at this middle point in our week together we’re opening our Bibles up to the 11th chapter of Genesis…the final chapter in this first portion of our series on the first book of the Bible. I’m so glad that you’re here, and my prayer is that our Lord will strengthen your heart and quiet you with His love today. Take a moment, find your spot, and then join me for a word of prayer.
Lord Jesus, you said to us that you would give us peace – peace not like the world knows or can give, but peace that comes from you and is not of this world. We desire that peace today with such longing. Have mercy and pour into our lives through and through, in our hearts and our minds, that perfect and abiding heavenly peace. Do so as you teach us today by your Word and Spirit. In your precious name we pray, amen.
As we get started today, Genesis 11 begins with one of the most well-known narratives of Old Testament history. Our focus: a people, a city, and a tower.
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 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 whole earth.”
During my childhood it was Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, those brightly-colored multi-shaped wooden blocks, and erector sets. By the time my kids came along, Legos had become the big thing. Today it seems to be a mixture of old and new, with Legos still holding court but all those other sets holding their own kind of sway. Regardless of the age or era, however, one thing common to almost every child in his or her growing up years is building — and usually, the bigger the better.
As a kid, I was always fascinated with the account that we have today in God’s Word. What did that tower look like? How tall did they get it before God put the kibosh on everything and scattered the people? What on earth possessed them to try something so foolish? And yet, even with all those thoughts running through my head, I have to admit that my biggest and most consuming thought of all was, “Man, how cool it would be to go to the top!”
And that, of course, is today’s problem in a nutshell!
As we come to the events before us in the text here at the beginning of Genesis 11, we’re probably abut 100 years or so post-Flood on the timeline. We can’t be completely certain of the date, but if we plot things out and assume that what occurred here happened around the time of Peleg’s birth, we’re in that 100-year ballpark. What’s the setting? The ever-multiplying descendants from the ark, slowly migrating west, have stopped on a plain in the land of Shinar — the land which will become known as Babylon — and have made a momentous decision. They have, all together as one unified human race, decided that in this place they will come together to build a great city and an even greater tower, stretching all the way to the heavens. They’re serious too…no regular sun-dried brick or stacked stone here like would typically be used; only bricks that have been fired and then set with mortar. It’s the strongest way to build… heavy duty stuff. The plans here are for permanence.
The stated reasons for this are made clear for us in the text. First, we’re told that they want to make a name for themselves. Essentially, they want to declare their significance and importance as inhabitants of the earth. They want to assert their self-perceived sense of power. They’re desiring a place in which they can fashion their own fame. There’s a self-glory here.
But hold on a minute. Don’t buy all the swagger hook line and sinker, and why? Because when we look at the second part of their stated reason for building this great monument to self, we’re told that they’re staking their claim here and putting down roots because they don’t want to be dispersed over the face of the whole earth. Ohhhh. So that’s it. And “it” changes everything.
Let’s ask ourselves a few questions today. First, who is distinctly not mentioned anywhere in these first four verses of the chapter? God is not mentioned. Tuck that into your hat for a moment and we’ll come back to it. Second, why the insistence on building with such strong materials? Perhaps to protect against attack…but who would attack them? Humanity is presently all together as one. Third, if these people are intent on making a name for themselves, for whom are they making it? Again, humanity is presently all together as one. And finally, if these people are so great as they say, so self-reliant and capable, why would they fear being dispersed over the face of the earth?
The answer to every one of these questions goes back the fact that God is not mentioned here. God is not mentioned here because the people are in rebellion against Him. It’s not just that they’ve shrugged off His command from chapter 9 to spread across the earth and resettle it — which in itself is an act of willful disobedience — but in the years following the Flood, they’ve gone their own way and sought once again to excommunicate the Lord from every aspect of their lives. This planned public works project of wonderful buildings and parks and malls and trendy restaurants and whatever else they have in mind — including that really big tower that will reach to the heavens — is an intentional thumbing of the nose at the One who created them. They are desiring to replace Almighty God with themselves.
And yet if you read the text well, what you will clearly see permeating the whole thing is fear: fear that in spite of this grand plan to glorify themselves, in spite of the grand plan to exceed the standards of every existing building code once construction starts, and in spite of their perceived idea that there is power in numbers and that their unity as one people with one language will thwart God’s divine will, God will still somehow come onto the scene and thwart their will instead. They say they’re preparing to make a name for themselves. But their actions show that what they’re really preparing for, even if they don’t quite realize it yet, is a holy siege — one that will break them and bring an end to their folly.
As we wrap things up for the day, the opening of this chapter shows us the continuation of a pattern that we’ve seen throughout our look at Genesis. The same arrogant pride that inspired Adam and Eve to want to be like God back in chapter 3 and the same godlessness that propelled Cain to build his city back in chapter 4 and the same evil that gripped “every intention of the thoughts of man’s heart continually” prior to God’s sending of the Great Deluge in chapter 6 is once again in evidence here. Here we have a people who are filled with enmity toward God, whose stated purpose is to glorify themselves. What will come of it all? When we come back next time we’ll talk about it! Thanks for your time today everyone; Christ’s joy and peace to you and yours, and I’ll look forward to seeing you again soon.