The Tower of Babel
by Rev Jacky Quarmby 7 January 2022
We are continuing our journey through the Book of Genesis. Noah’s three sons, Ham, Shem and Japheth, left the ark with their wives and before too long they had sons and daughters of their own. And generations later their descendants had spread from what we now call Israel in the west to Iraq in the east, from Turkey in the North to Saudi Arabia in the South. Well, the descendants of Noah were not much better than the people who had lived before him. They were still going their own way. They were still full of their own self-importance.
And so the story goes, things rather came to a head when the people who lived in Babylonia (now Iraq) decided they would build an incredible city with a huge tower that reached up to the heavens. Why did they want to build a tower? The Bible tells us. They wanted to make a name for themselves and they did not want to be scattered over the face of the earth.
What we’re seeing is what happens when a community of people loses its centre. The people had turned away from God. God was no longer the centre of their community. So what was there now to hold them together? What was there now to give them meaning and purpose? The community had no identity. It was going nowhere. It was at risk of breaking apart for lack of direction. What were they to do?
Well, they could have turned back to God. But someone had a better idea. Let’s build a city. In other words, let’s get excited about a building project, that will keep people united. And as a bonus, think of the glory we’ll get when it's built - how impressed our neighbours will be. And while we’re at it let’s build a tower – a huge tower that reaches up to the heavens - so we can make it very clear that we do not need God at all. Our achievements have made God redundant.
So they started building a city and an enormous tower and so the story goes, God came down to have a look at all the activity and became concerned about how much they were able to achieve. “If they can do all this,” God said, “Then one day there will be no limit to what they are able to do.” And so he confused their language and scattered the people across the earth. And that city, which they stopped building was called “Babel” (or Babylon) because Babel sounds like the Hebrew word for “confusion”.
The Tower of Babel is a story about the human desire to stand in the place of God and how the result of that desire is the breakdown in community, an inability to understand one another, division and ultimately conflict.
But by the grace of God, this is not the end of the story for humankind. On the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down in power on the disciples, the language barrier was overcome. Everyone could suddenly understand each other. The scattered people from around the world were in that moment united and as one they heard the disciples proclaim that Jesus was Lord.
It was a complete reversal of what happened in the story of Babel. Then, human beings attempted to climb up to heaven and seize for themselves the power of God. At Pentecost, God came down to earth and poured out His power on all the believers, a free gift to all who would receive it – a free gift to all those willing to put God and his son Jesus in the centre of their lives, where God belongs.
What a gracious and wonderful God – and what an amazing gift.
Song: Teach me to dance
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Come Holy Spirit, Burning Power of God
Cleanse us and purify us
Come Holy Spirit, Life giving Power of God
Direct us and empower us
Come Holy Spirit, Uniting Power of God
Make us one with each other and with You
Holy Spirit of God, enter our lives
Set us on fire for Jesus,
So that we may light up the world in his name. Amen