For the first time it has occurred to me that the story of the Tower of Babel falls in the midst of information about Noah and his descendants. The ark, which contained God’s few remaining faithful had found its way safely to a new world. The scripture describes all the members of the community in detail. But, the genealogy is disrupted with the story of the Tower of Babel. Immediately following the story we return to genealogy. In the very next chapter God says to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”
It seems odd that God would be telling the faithful to leave the land they recently landed on. They had weathered the storm and survived. Now God is sending them away. They had barely put their stakes in. Why would God want them to hit the road so soon?
I believe the story of the Tower of Babel answers that question. This was a community of people who all spoke the same language. They were a cozy, comfortable group where everyone was related. But, unfortunately their coziness caused them to become too proud, too self-serving and too much alike. Feeling good about themselves, they proceeded to build a tower, “to make a name for themselves.”
The tower offended God because the tower symbolized pride, exclusiveness and isolation. By erecting the tower the people were not fulfilling God’s purpose for them to inhabit the world. Instead, they were creating their own little private world that would keep them from stretching themselves or building relationships with people who were different. Since they were obsessed with the tower it kept them from venturing out in faith. Consequently God confused their speech. From then on they could no longer understand each other.
As far as God was concerned the tower was idolatrous. There was nothing wrong with trying to reach the heavens. That wasn’t the point. The tower was offensive to God since God was never consulted in the construction nor thanked for providing the materials to build it. Here was a community of people who had survived the great flood, and already they had forgot who brought them to the new land in the first place.
Had they build a tower to the glory of God, God would have been pleased. But, this was a structure that had no connection to God. It symbolized the arrogance of humankind in that they had no need for God.
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Building towers is not good for the soul. Our souls need relationships, openness to growth and mobility. We need to speak many languages, not just one.
Do you know what a numismatist is? A numismatic is one who collects coins. Coin collecting is one of my hobbies. In the last few years I have learned many new words like, double-die, flying eagle, slider or weenie. If you are a numismatic you will understand what these words mean, otherwise they are totally foreign to you.
Learning these words has been an interesting adventure. I have met people I never knew. I have traveled to some new places. It has also become fun for my family, especially my grandchildren. Mostly, I find myself watching less television. I have discovered, however that coin collecting, like anything, has its own language. You can’t connect with other numismatics until you are able to speak the language.
What is a weenie? A weenie is one who is obsessed with a particular series of coins. For example, one who collects only Indian Head Cents could be called a “weenie.”
Noah’s descendants who migrated to Shinar were weenies. They were obsessed with one thing; building a tower. All their efforts, resources and energy was consumed with the tower they were building as a monument to themselves.
We may not be building towers, but we do build empires. This is a society that consumes things and acquires stuff. We are also turf conscious. The towers we build are in the form of fences, storage and space. I’m speaking figuratively not literally. In other words we build fences by resisting the opportunity to get to know people around us. We stockpile resources to give us a sense of security. We need more space to keep strangers at a distance.
Tower building prevents us from venturing out, taking risks or breaking away from our comfort zones. Instead of living in faith we live in fear; afraid to meet new people, resisting opportunities that stretch us, and living in our own little worlds that we have created, thus forgetting the creator
Jenny Lind was known as “The Swedish Nightingale.” She was a very successful opera singer. She became very wealthy, a true artist in her field. But, in the pinnacle of her career she left the stage never to return.
People wondered why she gave up such fame and fortune. But Lind left it all and moved into a little house by the sea. One day a friend found her on the beach. She was reading her Bible and glancing at the sunset. “How is it that you abandoned the stage at the height of your success?” her friend asked.
She responded by saying, “When every day it made me think less of this (laying her finger on her Bible) and nothing at all of that (pointing to the sunset), what else could I do?” (from God’s Little Lessons on Life for Women, Honor Books, Tulsa, OK)
Jenny Lind was caring for her soul. She realized there is much more to life than a career, fortune and fame. One can be close to God without building a giant tower to the heavens.
We also care for our soul by living outside the box. We will never be challenged as long as we stay within our comfort zones.
A young man was trying to earn a living in his hometown of Kansas City. He was striving to succeed as an illustrator. He approached every newspaper and magazine in the city to try and sell his cartoons. But each editor, turned him down, telling him he should pursue another kind of work.
One day a minister hired him part-time to do advertising for his church. It was not exactly the opportunity of a lifetime but his efforts to sell his cartoons was going nowhere. He started working from a small shed behind the church, making drawings and idly sketching any object that caught his eye.
One of the objects he drew was a mouse, scampering near the shed. Eventually the drawing of the mouse led the young artist to create one of the most famous cartoon characters in the world. Walt Disney created “Mickey Mouse.” (from God’s Little Lessons on Life for Dad, Honor Books, Tulsa, OK)
Our souls can be transformed when we are willing to live outside the box and go where we have never been before. Staying put, spinning our wheels and remaining in familiar territory holds us back.
God wants God’s people to scatter. “Go,” he told Abram, and inhabit the earth. All the world needs faith. God doesn’t want us to dig in and build walls around our lives. God wants us to keep moving.
Why did God confuse the language of the tower builders? Because they needed to communicate with people they did not know. They needed to learn to speak all the languages of the universe, especially the language of love, the language of growth and the language of faith.