Let us pray: Dear Lord, once long ago You had to confuse human language in order to prevent us from making monuments to our own power instead of bowing to Your power. And then on Pentecost You showed Your almighty power in bringing us back together under the truth of salvation in Christ alone. Today, teach us to humbly bow before the power of the Spirit, to hold our inner arrogance in check, and to use language to build up souls for You instead of monuments to ourselves. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM THE SPIRIT FROM ON HIGH!
TEXT: Genesis 11: 1-9
Fellow Redeemed Sinners United Under the Umbrella of the Spirit’s Power:
If memory serves correct, in over 26 years of preaching I’ve never sermonized on this lesson. So, I guess it’s time I do! The reason this lesson falls on Pentecost should be obvious to all. That is, one of the great wonders of Pentecost—the Spirit’s gift to the disciples to speak in foreign languages about the fabulous news of salvation in Christ—that gift was necessary all because so long ago God had confused human language and set about creating those “foreign tongues.” The disunity that people had brought upon themselves then was now changed into and under the unity with God that came through Christ.
And so by having the tower of Babel first, followed by the story of Pentecost, God’s oneness and singular purpose for His people—salvation—is fully revealed.
Moses, the great prophet, trained as an Egyptian prince, who had the best of educations in his day, is the author of these words from Genesis. Obviously he was inspired by God to write them. Obviously they contain the facts that God wants us to know. And obviously they also leave a lot of facts out which God doesn’t want us to know. So, instead of asking a lot of superfluous questions about this lesson, let’s dwell on the Godly truth therein.
Some commentators who closely examine the genealogies in the Old Testament set the date for this story about 100-150 years after the flood. They have even calculated, based on the dates when people died and how many children couples would naturally produce during that span of time; well, those commentators say the world’s population would have been a bit in excess of 30,000.
Some things we do not have to speculate about. 1. After the Flood, God told Noah and his family to move out from Mt. Ararat and replenish the earth by scattering themselves abroad. The Hebrew text makes it clear that this was not done—they disobeyed His command. Instead they stayed together until they finally settled in the Fertile Crescent around the area known as Babylon. 2. In ancient times, this area’s dirt was described as “200 times” the fertility of other places. To an agrarian people this was all-important to survive and flourish. 3. Here the group literally “sat down” or established roots and began to grow exponentially. They got fat and happy and complacent with life. 4. They all had one common speech, or spoke one language. From the modern day study of languages, we know that this meant they all thought in the same way and formulated ideas and goals in similar fashion. Unlike today, there was no celebration of diversity because it meant slower progression for the group. In a sense they were much like a hive of worker bees all laboring toward the same thing instead of arguing and fighting at cross-purposes.
“They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a same for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’”
One intriguing issue is that reference to a city. Since the Flood had destroyed all cities, where did they get the idea for one? It must have come down to them via oral history of human life on earth before the Great Flood. Likewise the concept of a tower. Since the whole group lived together and did not need a tower for defense against enemies—they had none—it, too, must have been an idea that came from their ancient past. Contrary to artists who depict Sunday School drawings, the concept behind the tower wasn’t to build it so high that they could thereby enter God’s heavenly kingdom. No, “the heavens” literally means “the stuff way above your head,” or the sky. In short, these worker bees were all about building monuments to themselves instead of honoring God Almighty. That tower was an ego trip. It was designed to tangibly feed their pride. Does any of this sound familiar today?
In this endeavor they were very adept. They didn’t use irregular stone which was in short supply there, no, they used mud brick, baked and burned until it was rock hard. And they also used tar, an oil product—think of the oil wells there today—as their mortar. So, a city and a tower sprang up over time and humans congratulated themselves at achieving fame all on their own. Yes, the truth of mankinds dependence upon God was rapidly receding.
Throughout the Bible God is often spoken of as leaving men alone for a while. It’s spoken of that way to remind us that we’re not as important as we think we are and God also lets the natural order He established run its course. But finally, “The Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 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. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’”
Think of a giant grandfather clock with multiple gears interlocking, moving together and marking time. As long as each gear and each gear tooth moves toward that common purpose, together, amazing things get done. But as soon as even one gear tooth seizes up, the whole machine stops. Now think of the interconnectedness of computers, servers, routers, the electrical grid, phone lines, cable lines, etc. Together, speaking one common mathematical language, great things are accomplished. But mess up just one component and it all fails, or at best, limps along. Together humans can accomplish amazing things. Divided humans limp along. If they are together under God and under Christ, wonders are created. If they are together ruled by their pride, selfishness and arrogance, God is dethroned from their lives. For then they begin to think: I don’t need God….
So, the Trinity, note the “let us go down”, somehow confuses their common language. It could have been by impairing their hearing of each other, or by changing the formation of how they made words; it could have been instantaneous, or even gradual. But, in any case, people spoke and their neighbor couldn’t understand. It all sounded like silly babbling, hence the “tower of Babel.” And with this problem division occurred, their city life was in upheaval, and they were forced to go abroad with their clans in order to survive. I’m reminded of the Proverbs passage: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” They had trusted in themselves instead of God. They had leaned on their own innate ability and strength instead of God’s. And God put them in their place. And so diverse peoples came to be. Diverse languages came to be. Diverse cultures came to be.
This diversity of thought was not a blessing but a bane. Humans used it to harden their hearts against God Almighty and go their own way. They dreamed up false gods and false religions. Their whole concept of religion became appeasing a “god” created in their own image. But God is still gracious and compassionate. He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” And so, He sent His Son into this world to suffer, die, and rise to life for the sins of all people. He sought to give us eternal peace with Him because we could not create even external peace with anyone—including ourselves. He also sought to make us one with Him, not based on human pride, but based on Godly love made ours through faith in Jesus. And so, Pentecost came. The Spirit sought to convey oneness with God to us through the common language of the cross and by means of preaching it in foreign languages to those pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem to mark the harvest festival that fabulous day. And in the process, God has shown us that unity of faith, unity of salvation, unity of love and respect for Him trumps all human diversity. So, I guess you could say that Pentecost clearly teaches us that: UNITY IN THE SPIRIT CEMENTS THE BOND OF ETERNAL PEACE. Yes, God rebuilds us in His Church. We’re the living stones of His living temple with Christ being the chief cornerstone. And the mortar used to bind us together is the power of Spirit Who uses and applies Jesus’ love into our hearts. Now that’s a fitting monument to our living, loving, Lord! Amen