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Self Reliance and the Tower of Babel- Genesis 11

Updated: Feb 1, 2022

(This is the gist of a sermon i preached yesterday. You can watch it at:

Introduction – One of the dangers or snares for those who are trying to read the Old Testament perhaps for the first time, and who see God frequently having to correct, rebuke, discipline and/or punish individuals or peoples or nations is the danger of thinking God somehow never saw these twists and turns coming; that somehow these acts of rebellion caught God by surprise; and that His creation experiment with humanity was one failure after another.

I submit to you that the best defense against the lies of the evil one, is the truth. And the truth about God is He is a brilliant, strategic, long range planner; and He has sufficient power and resources at His disposal to accomplish those plans; and He is utterly faithful and committed to fulfill those plans, and He often uses the failures and even rebellion of man to fulfill His purposes and plans.

Here is God in His own words from Isaiah 46:9-11: “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure; Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.”

When Satan cunningly and successfully tempted God’s first created married couple, whom God had placed in a perfect environment, without sin or evil or cable TV or the internet, and who had for some period of time enjoyed daily fellowship and communion with their Creator, when the serpent tempted them to throw all of that away for a little temporary pleasure, God was not caught off guard. We do not know exactly when He created the angels, but we know He created them before He created humanity, and the rebellion of angels led by Satan also happened pre-Adam and Eve. God could have destroyed them all at that point. I would have. But God determined His purposes can best be served by their sticking around, even with their diabolical schemes and hatred of all things God.

When Cain killed his brother Abel and refused to repent, and went on and built a family and even a city in full independence from God and even defiance of God as we read about in Genesis chps. 4 & 5, God allowed this rebellion to continue so that subsequent generations could have a sharp contrast between the blessing of reliance upon God that we see in Eve, Abel, Seth, Enoch and Noah’s lives and the curse of God on Cain and those who followed in his way or path such as Lamech and Ham.

When society or humanity on the earth became so evil and wicked and corrupt that God was sorry He made them and determined to destroy them – all but Noah and his family that is, God was not admitting to a failed experiment with humanity. He was not paralyzed in some state of divine shock that things had gone so south. He was rather grieved at the desolation of individuals and marriages and families and clans and cities as a result of unrestrained sin, and the destructive lies of the evil one. He knew before the foundations of the earth this would happen and He knew how He was going to overcome sin and Satan and his demon hordes; He knew how He was going to defeat the pull and lure of the evil world system Satan had inspired. But knowing that did not lessen His grief at real lives and real families destroyed because of their rebellion and refusal to repent and turn to their Creator. God always knew He was going to raise up Noah and his family as we read about in chps 6-9. He knew that two of Noah’s three sons would do well and would fear God as their father did. But our triune God has emotions; and while He hates sin and the evil that arises from unrepentant sinners, thankfully He can at the same time grieve the misery unrepentant sinners bring upon their families and societies. And by directing His servants to record both man’s sin induced misery - in surprising detail at times, and God’s real grief at such, the rest of us hopefully can learn some important lessons about God, and avoid some tragic pitfalls from these historic records.

Well all of that brings us to chapter 11 of this most important foundational book of beginnings, and I would like to read the whole chapter, make a few comments and then lead us into a time of corporate communion or observance of the Lord’s supper.

1.“Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. 2 It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. 4 They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” 5 The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. 6 The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have [d]the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called [h]Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.

10 These are the records of the generations of Shem. Shem was one hundred years old, and became the father of Arpachshad two years after the flood; 11 and Shem lived five hundred years after he became the father of Arpachshad, and he had other sons and daughters.

12 Arpachshad lived thirty-five years, and became the father of Shelah; 13 and Arpachshad lived four hundred and three years after he became the father of Shelah, and he had other sons and daughters.

14 Shelah lived thirty years, and became the father of Eber; 15 and Shelah lived four hundred and three years after he became the father of Eber, and he had other sons and daughters.

16 Eber lived thirty-four years, and became the father of Peleg; 17 and Eber lived four hundred and thirty years after he became the father of Peleg, and he had other sons and daughters.

18 Peleg lived thirty years, and became the father of Reu; 19 and Peleg lived two hundred and nine years after he became the father of Reu, and he had other sons and daughters.

20 Reu lived thirty-two years, and became the father of Serug; 21 and Reu lived two hundred and seven years after he became the father of Serug, and he had other sons and daughters.

22 Serug lived thirty years, and became the father of Nahor; 23 and Serug lived two hundred years after he became the father of Nahor, and he had other sons and daughters.

24 Nahor lived twenty-nine years, and became the father of Terah; 25 and Nahor lived one hundred and nineteen years after he became the father of Terah, and he had other sons and daughters.

26 Terah lived seventy years, and became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran.

27 Now these are the records of the generations of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran; and Haran became the father of Lot.28 Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29 Abram and Nahor took wives for themselves. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Sarai was barren; she had no child.

31 Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans in order to enter the land of Canaan; and they went as far as Haran, and settled there. 32 The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.

One of the subtle schemes of Satan is he knows some of what God is about and he will seek to offer a God less substitute at every opportunity. He is a master at seeking to counterfeit or replicate or replace or pre-empt what God is intending to do on the earth. He is a master at trying to get earthlings to pursue something God wants, but without God in the mix.

You see when God inspired Moses or whoever wrote the book of Genesis, He made sure that the said author revealed God as One God, but multiple persons within that Godhead. For instance, in Genesis 1:1 we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Apparently only one God operating here. Then in Gen. 1:26 we read, “Then God said, Let Us make man in Our image, according to Ourlikeness….” And then we find in our passage today - Gen. 11:7 these words, “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language…”

Gradually as God saw fit, He revealed Himself to His people as the triune God that He is. And gradually and very intentionally God revealed that part of being made in His image and likeness is that of being able to operate in oneness in a marriage and in a family and in an extended family and even in a nation like Israel. God has always been after oneness and unity in the people He relates to because it mirrors the oneness of the Godhead. God has always been after oneness in His creation because it results in His blessing and is something that brings Him glory because only God can develop the character in husbands and wives; and families and the people of Israel and the church and other nations that enables oneness and unity to come forth.

And may I say that in God’s mind, I believe before He created anything, He deemed that the more diverse the married couple, or family or extended family or city or nation or church – the more diverse the better because again only He amidst such diversity can bring about unity or oneness, and He delights in doing so.

I know we all have a tendency to either not read at all or at best scan genealogies in the Bible. But did any of you happen to notice that in the records of the generations or descendants of Noah as found in chapter 10 of Genesis, not only were individuals mentioned, but also nations and kingdoms and cities and ethnic groups like the Philistines and Canaanites, and diverse languages as seen in vs. 5, 20 and vs. 31. These were all listed so we could see that this diversity of ethnicity and language, etc., that we see on the earth today - - this diversity was in the heart and mind of God way before the people of Shinar decided to build their own godless empire in the land of Shinar that was later called Babel.

So why did the living God come down and disrupt what these folk were building? Well at least a couple of reasons can be noted. First of all what command of God was first given to Adam and Eve and then to Noah and his sons? Gen. 1:28 “God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…..” Gen. 9:1 “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. Knowing what we know about how these true stories in Genesis were orally passed down from generation to generation, it is very reasonable to deduct that these people in Shinar knew of these commands, but they chose to ignore them.

God has always been after His earth being filled with different looking and different speaking ethnic groups. When He created the climate and geography of Brazil and Australia and France and Hong Kong and Los Osos He already had in mind the kind of peoples He wanted to form in those cities and nations. When He said to fill the earth to these ancient peoples, He meant for them to fill the earth.

This group of people who landed in Shinar decided they were there to stay and would never leave. So that’s the first reason why God chose to disrupt their plans and purposes.

The second reason is because of their self reliance or refusal to rely on and look to God. vs. 4 – “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name,….” (my emphasis). Because they rejected God and chose to live life without Him and thus did not have the assurance and peace that comes with His presence and protection, they out of fear of potential enemies, took things into their own hands, and tried to build a fortress that would inspire fear and dread in those enemies.

God hates self reliance. He hates it when a people try to do life without Him because He knows the misery and relational fallout that will kick in. And He knows in higher levels of governing eventual oppression and injustice will inevitably take root. When He warns in Psalm 37, “fret not, it leads to evil doing”, He knows that when the leaders of a people fret and worry about not having enough money to support their licentious and opulent lifestyles, and when they fret about not having enough money to protect them from their enemies (even their political opponents); God knows that widows and unborn babies and free and unbiased media, and political opponents etc., etc., all become casualties of such fear, which leads to control, suppression and all kinds of other evils.

Ever so often I hear people who are trying to justify their self reliance and rejection of God and His good purposes for them - - I hear them say something like, “Well what about all the killing done in the name of religion?” Now in no way am I going to try to defend any murder done in the name of religion. But do you know how many people were actually killed in say the Salem witch trials in our nation in the late 1600’s? Fewer than 25! What about the Spanish Inquisition, which in reality was about a lot more than just religion? About 10,000. They say up to 100,000 might have died in jails due to malnutrition and illness. Now, do you know how many people have been murdered in secular and godless societies? Under Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and MaoZedong alone, all who pursued a religion free utopia, more than 148 million of their own people were murdered by their political and military leaders.

The scary reality of cities and nations that reject Him is if God does not intervene, unrestrained evil will eventually win the day.

God had great and good and kind purposes for the peoples of the earth being spread out throughout the earth. This people in Shinar, because they did not know God and His goodness, geared their whole existence and lifestyle so they would not “…be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” Vs. 4

Did you know that there are approximately 17,431 distinct ethnic or people groups on the planet today? Did you know that there are approximately 6,500 distinct languages spoken on the planet today? Did you know that when Jesus commanded His disciples, which includes us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,….” (Matthew 28:20) - the Greek words for “nation” is “ethne”, which really refers more to ethnic groupings than political lines or politically drawn nations. Did you know that Jesus Christ is building His church through the efforts of evangelists and missionaries in more and more of these ethnic groups to the point that we now only have about 7,300 that do not have a church or a regular gathering of believers in their own language and culture? Did you know that of the 7,000 or so languages known on the earth, 3,300 or so have the scriptures in their languages? And efforts are daily being made to close this gap further. Some of the most thrilling books I have ever read were accounts of those harrowing missionary efforts helping the unreached peoples of the world come to know our blessed Savior Jesus Christ.

For those of us who have had the privilege of worshipping this great Savior in other nations with other ethnicities, and who have been able to witness the powerful effects of the good news of Jesus Christ in their marriages, families and societies, clearly God receives great glory and great pleasure when this picture we have of heaven in the book of Revelation plays out in the now among the peoples of the earth. The apostle John seeing this picture of heaven in the future wrote - - “…I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…” Rev. 7:9

Only the living God through the cross of Jesus Christ and His cleansing blood can bring born again Jews and born again Muslims together in and around Israel, which He is doing today - - who grew up hating each other, and enable them to live in oneness and unity. The apostle Paul in his epistle to the church in Ephesus, reminded those new Gentile Christians that Jesus died for this multi ethnic oneness, and I quote from Ephesians 2:13, “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.

When a person anywhere on this planet recognizes they are estranged from God because of personal sin and rebellion; and when that person recognizes and confesses that only Jesus Christ can break that estrangement and bring them into an eternal relationship with the living God; and when that person places their full trust in Jesus to make them a forever child of God – forgiving and cleansing them by His precious blood; that person is immediately supernaturally placed into a world wide spiritual family of diverse skin color and diverse culture and diverse language but increasing oneness in Christ. The apostle Paul, who laid down his life to take this wonderful news where it had never yet been heard, celebrated and proclaimed our oneness and unity amidst diversity in this way, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism…” Ephesians 4:4,5

God being one has always wanted oneness for His people. But that oneness can only come as we resist self reliance like the plague; and pursue oneness in His way and for His glory.

As our communion elements are being passed out, I’d like for us to worship our Savior for His precious blood spilled for every tribe, tongue, people and nation.

I’d like for us to pray against this destructive self reliance in our own lives and marriages and families. I’d like us to pray against the rejection of God and His benevolent rule - - and the arrogance and racism that it breeds in the nations.

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