The story of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) always stands out to me when I read it, but not for the reasons that perhaps most of us remember the story. We know that it is the occasion on which God confounded all the language of mankind so that they could not understand one another, resulting in their scattering to different places with their various new tongues and speech. This is certainly an interesting point of history, but the main lessons of this story have quite a different focus.
I think the statement that is at the heart of what this story is really all about is what one man says to his neighbor in verse 4 of the chapter:
“Let us make for ourselves a name.”
Here you have the sinful attitude of mankind revealed. What is wrong with building a grand city and tower? Perhaps we might first think and say that there is nothing wrong with this at all, and that might be correct in and of itself. But looking at the motive (which is always of essential significance in evaluating our hearts) of these men, we see immediately that they are seeking glory and honor and repute for themselves. This is inherently wrong.
And yet, doesn’t this spirit touch home a bit in your own heart and life? I know that it does too much in my own. Too often I think about building some sort of reputation for myself, and I bet that you do as well. Especially when you realize that this doesn’t have to come in some grandiose form of seeking national fame or anything like that (though it might). We can have the same self-centered motive in any of our more humble realms, such as in our workplace or field of industry, our family (immediate or broad), our circle of friends and acquaintances, the city or town in which we live, or within our church body. You can add any other realm that you are a part of. It is too easy to want to be respected and thought well of and known for something. This is a danger that I imagine we are all prone to, even if it be to various degrees.
We ought to examine our motives at all times to see if this spirit of pride is intermixed in our intentions. By God’s grace, we must ask His help to purify our hearts and do all that we do, not for ourselves, but for His name and kingdom. To God alone should all glory be, for He alone is worthy. I imagine you will agree with those words, but let us seek to practice that truth more wholly.
One related observation from the story of the tower of Babel is how the actions of these builders contradicted so plainly God’s intentions for them. God had instructed mankind to spread out and fill the whole earth. This was God’s plan for man, but these builders had intentionally decided to rebel against that directive. In similar vein to their statement we previously noted, they also continued to explain their intentions not to follow God’s plan:
“Let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
So there you have it, they are directly and intentionally setting themselves against God’s direct commands for their lives. These twin aspects of their attitude – seeking self-glory and rebelling against God’s will – are inseparable partners. How often do we exemplify that spirit?
Now, I didn’t have it in my mind when I began writing this blog, but I feel that I must take note of the comparison here between this passage and a common practice in today’s world. The command under examination here in this story is that to multiply and spread out to fill the earth. In place of wanting to fulfill this purpose, man chose to build his own kingdom.
Do we not so often do the same today when we prefer our careers and such over the building of our families? Why do mothers choose to work in jobs and careers outside of the home and, unavoidably, choose not to have very many children today? This is a radical departure from God’s plan. The same goes for fathers, as well, though to a lesser extent, perhaps. They too often focus more on their career than on raising a family, to be sure.
In the end, I cannot help but see the choice to have no or few children as a rebellion against God’s direction and command for all men to multiply and fill the earth. If this was a primary concern to us, rather than the building up of a name for ourselves through establishment, reputation, wealth, success, etc., mothers would forego the pursuing of careers in favor of having children according to God’s wise and loving granting of them. Fathers would focus more on raising a family than on their career trajectory, and together, couples would gladly choose to have as many children as God gives them. This is God’s natural plan, and I pray that you will consider whether it is not a matter of loving, joyful submission (or rebellion in the opposite case) to follow it with a willing heart.