Foundations - The Scattering of the Nations (Genesis 11:1-12:3)

Series: Foundations

Genesis 11:1-12:3 - Genesis is a book about beginnings. As Moses wrote down these pieces of information, he gave Israel the worldview they need to live different from the nations. In Genesis we have learned about who God is and that we can trust him, that we live in a world crafted by him, and that are made in his image to bring about the flourishing of this world for his glory. We learned that obedience to God is the key to usefulness, joy, and blessing. We have learned that all of us go back to Adam and Noah as well. But, the Satan is a real adversary set against us and leading us into sin in various ways - pride, anger, sex, violence, and more all to our destruction and all of us need for forgiveness. These are the foundational pieces of information that Israel, and us, need to understand the world and to make the right kind of decisions. These are the basis of the rest of the Bible.

Today we have one last lesson that gives us some final pieces for our worldview and they center around why the nations were rejected by God and why Israel is God’s chosen people.

The Rebellion (Genesis 11:1-4)

To begin, these chapters are not necessarily chronological. Chapter 11 seems to go back in time to explain the dispersion of the nations back in chapter 10. What was so critical that it led all the nations dividing according to language, land, and nation? The city and tower of Babel.

We’re introduced in this text to a time before the division, when everyone had the same language and words. The people come to a plain and use technology - the brick to make a city and a tower with its top in the heavens. But, notice their reasoning: First, it is so that they can make a name for themselves. They wanted glory. They are full of pride. They wanted to create a legacy. Second, it was to avoid being dispersed or scatted over the face of the whole earth. On the surface, we might think this isn’t that big of a problem, but this text is revealing some concerning things about the heart of man.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that they are disobeying the divine mandate. Earlier God had given directions for them to be fruitful and multiply. Specifically in Genesis 1:26-28, part of the command was to fill the earth and subdue it. They were to use their dominion to bring about the development of the world for the glory of God. However, instead of filling the earth with God’s glory, they united in one location to make a name for themselves. At the very core of this was pride and a heart that rebelled against the good commands of God.

Now, there’s more to be said about this tower. If you look at the biblical archaeology, they will tell you that this place existed in the area of Shinar or modern day Iraq. And further, they were not making just a single tall tower to reach a tremendous height. They were making what is called a ziggurat. Some of these buildings had various levels that led ultimately to the top where there was an altar. The ancient world had a concept that the “gods” dwelt upon the mountain. What seems to be happening is a religious act. They are making an access to the “gods”, a place where heaven and earth meet. But it’s not like God coming down on Mount Sinai, this is done through their achievement and for their glory.

A fundamental problem of humanity is the desire for personal glory without God and a rejection of the will of God. This is what all of us want. We want to secure fame and fortune. We want to be remembered. We don’t want to be forgotten. We don’t want to be just a number. What we do then is we leverage our God given ability and technology to serve our pride, and we disobey the deliberate instructions of God. We think we know better. We want it our way. We don’t want to listen to God. As we have seen, that is the road to ruin.

See, there was nothing wrong with the development of new technology, or collaboration. In fact, this is part of the great value that cities offer to us today. The gathering of people together can bring about new ideas, build relationships, and allow you privileges that you cannot have in the rural areas - like security, justice, etc.

But, when our citizenship is in Babel and we desire to make a name for ourselves in this world that kills cities. We do that through our jobs, our families, our positions in government, school, the church. We are bowing down to the gods around us - gods of power, sex, money, and more. We’re going to them for our identity.

But, in doing that, every evil thing comes from it - James 3:14-16, 4:1-10. All it leads to is separation, division, and confusion. We must realize, God is set against human pride. Why? Because it is poison to ourselves and leads to the destruction of God’s creation - murder, envy, quarreling, fighting, every evil thing. But God desires our spirit he made in us, the answer is humility and a genuine desire to seek God instead of being deceived and following ourselves.

The Response (Genesis 11:5-9)

Now, notice God’s response to all of these plans of humanity. First, God has to come down to see the city and the tower. Humanity has not secured what they wanted, God is transcendent. Man tries to go up, and God still has to come down. Second, God knows that this is just the beginning. If they keep going on this trajectory and working together like this, nothing will stop them from fulfilling what they come up with. The answer then is to come down and confuse their language so that they may not be able to understand. As a result of this the people are dispersed over the face of the whole earth.

Why did God doing this? This is God stepping in to save humanity from themselves. This is what God has been doing all through Genesis. Consider, Adam and Eve, with the command about the tree of life - God knows that this is not good for humanity. It’s the same thing that God did with Cain, or the flood. These are the words of a loving and all wise king that is making a decree for the benefit of his creation. We should read this just like the curses that have been given before, they are natural consequences that by design guide humanity back.

How does confusing our languages bring us back to God? Have you ever learned a language? I started learning seriously Spanish back when I was 30 years old. The way I have described the process is like being repeatedly punched in the face over and over. Why? Because at the very core of the process you are being humbled.

Once you begin a language you may think, “Oh, this will be easy.” Then almost immediately you are hit with the enormous gap between you and other people when you don’t speak the same language. Then, for you to go through this, you have to constantly admit you don’t know something someone else knows. You’re constantly humiliated by saying the wrong thing. You feel so wise in your own language and then you can’t even speak as well as a 5 year old.

It’s incredibly effective to humble humans while at the same time motivating them to spread into the world. It is a constant reminder that you don’t know everything and a driving force back to God because you’re asking “Why do we have this problem?” It’s because of our sin and pride. We need God. He knows everything and by comparison, we know nothing.

The Rescue (Genesis 11:10-12:3)

So we have a loving, but extremely powerful divine judgment laid out by God that completely reshapes the world. As a result of this, the people are divided and they go out and express the potential that God wrapped up in humanity. All of the different languages, nations, cultures, and more, are wonderful evidence of the power and wisdom God put in man.

However, there is more to this story and we need to read this story correctly. Later in Deuteronomy we have two very important texts where Moses reflects on these events. Deuteronomy 4:19-20 speaks about the uniqueness of what God has done with Israel by revealing himself in fire on the mountain and they are not to go into idolatry. God gave over the nations to their idols - when? At Babel. Deuteronomy 32:7-9 makes it even more clear, this is when God gave the nations their inheritance - the false gods, the demons (32:17) and that Israel was his chosen people. This is explaining the story, as we said, the nations rejected God. So the response is that God rejects the nations and is now is going to work through Israel - who he gives exceptional grace and commission to be a light to the nations. (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)

Despite the fact that God has rejected the nations, God is set on redeeming them and bring them back. The rest of this chapter follows that trajectory by giving us the generations of Shem and specifically it lines out the descendants that lead straight to Abraham. We have the story of Abraham making his way ultimately to the promised land. But Genesis 12:1-3 are words that God said back when Abraham was in Ur (Genesis 15:7, Nehemiah 9:7, Acts 7:2-4).

What does God promise to Abraham? It is the reversal of Babylon. We don’t have the names of anyone who built the tower. But, Abraham’s name is remembered all over the world. What a contrast between “let us make a name for ourselves” and “I will bless you and make your name great.” Why? It’s because Abraham has radical faith and obedience unlike the Babylonians.

This is so important that God has set Abraham as the channel for the blessings of all the world and the way they respond to him will be determine if they are blessed or cursed. If humanity blesses Abraham, God blesses them, but if they dishonor Abraham, God will curse them. These give us the options direction we want to go in our lives - blessing or cursing? Do I want a name on God’s terms or do I want to make a name for myself? That’s the choices.

What was Abraham looking for when he went out? What was he promised? God wants someone who will trust him, walk with him, and ultimately obey his will - that’s Abraham’s story. Abraham believed God and he obeyed him. He was going to receive a land of inheritance. He lived as a foreigner and stranger for years. God intervened to give him a child by a miracle. And what was he looking for? A city! Hebrews 11:10, 15-16. He wanted what God promised.

Now, this is fascinating. Abraham had seen a city that had the goal of making a name for themselves and encompassed idolatry and rebellion. But, God is not saying the building of a city was the wrong. It was the wrong kind of city. Instead of a city with a tower of human achievement that led up to an idol’s altar. Instead, God wants a city where his throne was in the middle and he would be glorified. All the potential of human beings would point to His glory.

That’s the city we are called to - Hebrews 12:22. It is called here the heavenly Jerusalem. Why? Babylon signifies confusion, it’s where there was division. Jerusalem means city of Shalom or Peace. Shalom speaks to wholeness, health, peace, prosperity. That’s the city with God on the throne. This is the choice - do I want the city of Babylon or do I want the city of Jerusalem?

None of can access this through our own human achievements - Babylon shows us that. It has to be God coming down and saving us. That’s exactly what Jesus did. Hebrews 13:10-14. He left heaven and became a man. He came to the earthly Jerusalem, was rejected, and crucified for our sins. Humanity conspired again against God and his anointed (Psalm 2). He was thrown out of the city of God on earth so that we could be accepted into the heavenly city. Through that, he crushes our love for the cities made by man that are full of their glory, built on violence, oppression, prejudice, greed, and more. So now, we seek the city that is to come.

God went through all of these because he is intent on rescuing the nations and uniting them in Jesus. Acts 2 is the reversal of Babylon and replacement with Jerusalem. This is where the gospel was first preached and God miraculous transcended the language barriers to bring this message to humanity. It is a message that brings all nations into the body of Christ.

And further, what does the Bible end with? Revelation 21:22-27 It ends with the ultimate destruction of Babylon and the Satan that deceived the nations. God’s heavenly city comes down out of heaven to the new heavens and new earth. All things are made new. The nations walk in its light and the kings of their earth bring their glory in. The glory of God gives the light and the lamp is the Lamb. All the ungodly will not experience God’s hope and glory. Only the names of the righteous are there and they are remembered.

But notice also Revelation 22:1-5 - the tree of life, God’s garden has been taken to the city. The tree has been regained, humanity dwells with God and his name is on their foreheads. They reign with God forever and ever. The eden mandate is brought forward to its fulfillment.

Will you accept the invitation? Put your true citizenship there, you will live as an exile here serving for the benefit of the cities we are a part of now, but never trying to receive your name from them because your name is given by God. You can live a life of hope and joy as you seek Jerusalem, the true city and presence of God.