Text: 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, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 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.
The child opens a gift and finds a box full of Legos. They see all of those blocks of different colors and sizes. Now, the question arises. “What am I going to build with these Legos? Will I follow one of the examples that come with the Legos? Will I build something that comes to my mind?” The possibilities are limitless. Sometimes, that becomes an almost impossible question to answer. What am I going to build? This morning, as we study our text, we find a group of people with a building project. They knew exactly what they were going to build. As we consider their construction, it gives us the opportunity to ask this question: WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BUILD? 1. People Want To Build Monuments To Themselves. 2. God Wants To Build His Church.
Our text follows the account of the great flood. After God spared Noah and his family from the flood waters, the ark that was carrying them and the animals came to rest on Mount Ararat. In thanksgiving, Noah offered a sacrifice to God. God came to Noah and blessed him. He made a promise to mankind that he would never again destroy the world with a flood. God, also, gave Noah and his family a command: “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1)
Many biblical scholars place the events of our text about one hundred years after the flood. Our text begins by saying, “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.” (Verse 1) The people of the day enjoyed a common speech and vocabulary. This common speech produced a great unity among the people. After some time, we are told, “As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” (Verse 2) They moved from the region around Mount Ararat to the plain in Shinar, which is thought to be in modern day Iraq. Once they got there, they embarked on a building project. “They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. (Verse 3). Lacking stone and mortar, they used the resources available to them. They undertook a massive building project. “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens.” (Verse 4) They planned on building a city with a tall tower that could be seen from miles away.
At first, we might respect their ingenuity in carrying out a massive building project. However, their purpose in this building project was anything but respectable. It was, in fact, sinful. “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’” (Verse 4) What was their purpose in building this city with its tower? It wasn’t to give glory to God. Rather, they did it to make a name for themselves. Here, we see humanism at its ugliest. They wanted to replace God at the center of their lives. This city was to be a lasting monument to themselves.
Furthermore, we see the people acting in complete defiance to God. God had clearly given the command that the people were to spread out over the entire earth. One would think that, having seen God’s judgment in the flood and his grace in sparing Noah and his family, the people would want to obey God’s command to fill the earth. However, they were going to make this city, and especially its tower, as a rallying point. They said, “Otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (Verse 4) We will always stay together in sight of the tower. Can you believe the arrogance of these people in building a monument to themselves, completely dismissing God and disregarding his commands?
Yet, have things really changed all that much since then? Humanity continues in its quest to make a name for itself, trying to completely disregard God. We see this in the teaching of evolution. It teaches that there was no Creator. Everything happened by chance. They try to sound so educated with all of their various eras of time. They say that they are being scientific by using things like Carbon-14 dating to tell you the age of various fossils. However, what are they really trying to do? If you say that there is no God who made all things, then it also follows that there is no God to whom you are accountable. You are the ultimate decider of what is right and wrong. You have no responsibility other than to make sure that you and yours are taken care of. Evolution is one example of monuments that humanity tries to build to itself.
This text also gives us the opportunity to look at our lives and see the monuments we are building to ourselves. Perhaps, one way that we can see this is to look at how we would like to be remembered. Do we want to be remembered as a smart businessman, who always seems to come out on top? What am I willing to do, so that happens? Do I want to be remembered as a helpful person, who was always willing to lend a helping hand? Do I ever do things so that people will notice just how helpful I am or do I do things so that other people owe me when I need help? Ultimately, every time we sin, we are building a monument to ourselves. When we sin, we are disregarding God’s command, trying to take him out of our lives and replacing him with our sinful wants and desires. While the world may praise us for our achievements, if they are done contrary to God’s will, they are a sinful monument to ourselves.
Our text continues with the Lord taking note of what these people were doing. He 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.” (Verse 6) He saw their evil intent in their building project. He saw that this group of people banding together would only increase their wickedness. In order to stop them from carrying this out to its completion, he said, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” (Verse 7) As a result, “So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 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.” (Verses 8&9) In spite of the people’s intentions, the Lord was going to see to it that his will of them going out and filling the earth was going to be fulfilled. People of the various languages banded together and moved away from each other.
What is interesting to note is the name of God that is used in our text. One might expect that you would see the name “God” used here. When this name is used, it highlights God’s power. After describing the people’s wickedness, you might expect to see God in his power raining down fire and brimstone. Instead, we see the name “LORD.” This name highlights God in his love and mercy. In his love for the people, he did not allow them to continue in their wickedness. Instead, he intervenes in their lives. He does not want them to completely disregard him. Instead, he shows love to them and spares them. He, also, did this so that the promise that he made to the world after the fall into sin would be carried out. There would be no one who still believed in the true God. The line of the Savior would be disrupted. So, in what appears to the naked eye as something cruel, ultimately was to their benefit.
How thankful we are that the LORD has also dealt with us in mercy, in spite of the sinful monuments that we have built in our lives. He could have completely obliterated us at the first signs of building these monuments. Instead, he chose to deal with us in love. This is not to say that there was no punishment for our sinful actions, thoughts, or words. However, instead of punishing us for our sins, God chose to punish his Son in our place. Even though Jesus never built any monuments to himself, but continually gave all glory to his Father, he took the full brunt of his Father’s anger against sin upon himself. He was punished so that we would never have to face the fire and brimstone of hell. By his resurrection, we have the assurance that all has been paid for. When we are brought to faith, we are adopted into his family. Eternal life is ours.
Now, having seen the judgment of God and his immeasurable grace, what kind of monument do we want to build? We want to be involved with a building project that pleases God. What is the monument that God wants to build? We get a glimpse of this building project on Pentecost. What was one of the signs that the promised Holy Spirit had come upon Jesus’ disciples? It was the ability to speak in the various languages. People from all over the world were in Jerusalem for the festival. When they gathered in the temple to find out what was going on, they found these men speaking in languages that they could all understand. As Peter preached his sermon that day, there were people who could tell them plainly what Peter was saying. They heard about Jesus and what he had done to rescue the world lost in sin. The power of the Holy Spirit is seen plainly as 3,000 people were brought to faith and baptized. Pentecost undid what happened at Babel. Though the various languages remained, the message was the same. Jesus Christ is the Savior of all. The monument that God wants to build is his church. He wants more and more people to be a part of this magnificent building that will last for all eternity.
When you were brought to faith, you became a part of this building. As the apostle Peter wrote, “As you come to [Jesus], the living Stone — rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him — you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house.” (1 Peter 2:4&5) God lovingly chose you and placed you carefully into this structure. Every time a person is brought to faith, another stone is placed into God’s Church. We pray that this structure might continue to grow and grow.
God also allows us to assist in this building project. Parents and grandparents, there are those little stones running around your house. Having had them baptized and brought into the Church, you have the opportunity to help cement their place there by continuing to remind them about Jesus’ love for them. We can continue to do this, even when they aren’t so small. We have opportunity to tell others about Jesus. It might be a friend, a neighbor, or someone at work. We have the opportunity to reach out to people who are not like us, rather than looking down on them because they are different. They, too, are souls that Jesus came to the earth to rescue. We, also, have joined together with other Christians to send missionaries around the world with the message of salvation through Christ. We support them and pray for them as they arduously learn a foreign language so that they might tell them about what Jesus has done for them. We thank God for every single stone that has been added and will be added to the Church, the monument that rises to glorify God for time and for eternity. May God bless our efforts in this building project.
It is natural to build monuments to great men who have had a lasting impact on our country. We might think of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., which honors our first president. Visitors flock to the Black Hills to gaze at Mount Rushmore, with the four presidents depicted there. We have Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, which is dedicated to those men and women who gave their lives in service to our country. Can you imagine the arrogance in building a monument to yourself? There are many that have, such as the pharaohs in ancient Egypt. Unfortunately, we have also built monuments to ourselves. We thank God that he did not deal with us in anger and destroy us along with those sinful monuments. Instead, he chose to love us and sent his Son to rescue us. Now, we pray that God’s monument, the Church, would continue to grow until the last stone is placed there and the end of time comes. Finally, to God be all the glory for this magnificent monument and for making us a part of it. Amen.
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