This week I am preparing to preach on Genesis chapter 11. I am planning to focus on the first 9 verses which detail an interesting account of the famed Tower of Babel. On the surface a modern reader may wonder what the problem with this account is. After all, what is so wrong about being unified around a tower and a city. Wasn’t mankind supposed to take dominion of the earth? And isn’t part of taking dominion and displaying God’s image using the intellect and resources at our disposal to build amazing things? And wouldn’t so many of our problems be solved if we could all just understand one another better?
Well, you don’t have to dig very deep to learn that the people who built this tower and city were not simply trying to find their way in a hostile environment. They were actively trying to throw off the shackles of God’s command to be fruitful and multiply and to spread out and “teem” on the earth. These people were hell bent on doing things their own way. This is signaled to us in what they built, a tower, and what they wanted to create, a name for themselves.
First the tower in the ancient world was likely a ziggurat. These were temples whereby humanity believed themselves to be accessing the realm of the gods. In building this tower to reach to the heaven mankind was trying to access and control God on their terms. They not only disregarded his commands to spread out and fill the earth, they thought that through their own strength they could access God and perhaps even storm the gates of heaven. This really was an echo of the original fall. In that fall Adam and Eve grasped at the ability to define good and evil on their terms. In this tower account, mankind grasped at the ability to be gods again by trying to access God’s throne. God decided that the unity of mankind in this case would only lead him to more and more rebellion and therefore more and more ruin. Not that God was threatened by such puny creatures, God just knew that they would spiral into all sorts of evil if they remained united in their rebellion. So, even in God’s judgment, we see that God was really showing these rebels mercy. Instead of destruction all they receive is dispersal.
And second, we see in the people’s desire to “make a name for ourselves,” another rejection of their creator and His ways. You see, this concept of a name was very significant. It meant glory, honor, and fame. All things that belong to God but things that we seem to always be attempting to get on our own terms. The ultimate name, the name that is above every name has been given to Jesus because at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God. We see right after the tower of Babel narrative another account that includes a name. When God called Abram, a no name from Ur, God promised him many things but not least of this was the promise to make his name great. God would grant Abram a name that Abram did not earn but one that God gave him because He is a gracious God. Oh, and what name did the men of the tower attain? Babel, a name that means confusion because it never fails that when man exalts himself, God will bring him low.
So what’s in a name? Everything!