Covenant Words
Covenant Words

Episode · 6 years ago

Tower of Babel

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Rev. Christopher Chelpka

A remain standing if you're able and give your attention to Genesis Chapter Eleven, Genesis Eleven, verses one through nine. Here now God's word and the great contrast between the pride of man and the Authority and sovereignty of God. Genesis Eleven. Now the whole Earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plane in the land of Shinar and settled there, and they said to one another, come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly, and they had brick for stone and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth. And Jehovah came down to see the city and the tower which the children of Man had built, and Jehovah said, Beho Old, they are one people and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do, and nothing that they will propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come let us go down, and they're confuse their language so that they may not understand one another's speech. So Jehovah dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore, its name was called Babel, because Jehovah confused the language of all the Earth, and from there Jehovah dispersed them over the...

...face of all the earth. You may be seated every day, each of us, to some degree or another, some of us more than others, are confronted with a reality that is in many ways ever present, and it's simply the one that's described here in genesis eleven, that we don't all speak the same language. Sometimes this happens on a very small scale, even between a husband and wife I've known each other for a long time, if they've grown up in different parts of the world or different parts of even this country, little words will occasionally slip in the or perhaps unknown before. This, of course, isn't any great challenge, but on a big level it is. There are many, many peoples in the world and many, many languages, and we struggle to communicate with one another. You see evidence of this in all kinds of ways. You see it at the airport when you are looking at signs. You see it when you're reading things or trying to read things, or visit another country or work on a project across our borders. Every day we're confronted with the reality of very the reality that we don't all speak the same language in our world. Now, as usual, we're tempted to think that this is just the way things are, but is it? Well, genesis eleven tells us that it's not. The truth is God is telling us this morning that this isn't just the way things are, as if they happened by chance. The division of our different languages has come because of a very particular moment in history. It has a particular cause. The the...

...division in our different languages and the divisions that it creates in our homes, in our neighborhoods and our country, in our world, they are from this very particular moment. Now, this is important to understand, because the way things played out in the past shapes how we understand it things, these events in the present and also in the future. So we're called to pay attention. We're called to understand this story, not only so that we might understand why things are, just to get some background, but so that we might understand something about God. God, after all, doesn't reveal his word to US just for pure knowledge sake, just to let us know because you were curious, how things happened, but to tell us something about ourselves, to tell us something about himself. So what happened? Well, story in genesis eleven is pretty straightforward. We read and verse one that the Earth had one language and the same words. You might translate this literally to say the Earth had one lip, there was one way of speaking. But the earth also had a problem, and we've known this ever since the earliest chapters of Genesis, and that problem is sin. We've seen how sin, from that very first sin of Adam and Eve, has spread throughout the generations over and over again, and not in any kind of subtle or small way either. Very first thing we see after the fall of Adam and Eve is their sons, one murdering the other, and other sins committed there. In fact, there's a number of things in this story that connects the sins that we see going on here with the sins of Cain. There's ways in which God is purposefully connecting us to those two to a cane in his line. You see it...

...in the way that people are migrating to the east. This often in genesis is a way of showing a separation from God. You see it in the way that they are building a city to establish themselves apart from God, the way that they are proud manufacturers. These are all ways that the Bible has characterized for us just recently in the earlier chapters, cane and his people. They were great city builders, manufacturers, people that established themselves in mighty and powerful ways in the earth. But they are also people who did this apart from the Lord, who separated themselves and cared not for God's judgment, as the line of lay mack, as the genealogy is given there. You are sorry, Kane. You remember that we come to laymk who takes on himself this authority of God to judge, to judge and to be even above judgment. All these things to remind you of the way in which the sins that we have here in in Genesis Eleven, God is specifically telling us that these people aren't just building something, they are doing it for a very particular and for a very sinful purpose. Genesis eleven we see that they have one language. They also have this same original sin and from that sin, mankind, humanity, decides to unite around a very specific project, and it has no other purpose except to establish man as autonomous over God. You hear it in their language and you see it in their actions. They say, come, let us build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves. You see their purpose here. They want to establish themselves, but notice who they are establishing themselves...

...against. This is not one city of man establishing itself over and against another city of Man. This is not one political body trying to establish itself and protect itself, to build a name for itself against another political body, another king. They are seeking to establish that the name for themselves over and against God. They are unified in this project. Mankind works together to create this city and to create this tower that they might have a name for themselves, which is to say apart from God. And they don't just want to build a tower to to watch out for things or for some kind of defense against other people. Know, they want to build a tower with its top in the heavens, lest we been dispersed over the face of the whole earth. So you see that they are unified not to protect themselves against one another but against God. They want to in some ways encroach up into the place where God is, says he dwells the heavens. They want to move beyond the place that they have been given up, up, up higher and higher, to move in a sense, into God's territory. Of course it's all God's territory, as will see in a moment. Well, this action is paralleled not only here but in in the ancient world, and many times we read that there was a we know that there is a Zigarott at Larsa and it was called the House of the link between Heaven and earth. There's a similar tower in Babylon that has a shrine painted at the very very top in blue. This way of sort of joining heaven and earth itself, of coming in...

...and even trying to be like God's well, for all this, and like came, they are judged by a worst migration. But also we see the way that God, like Cain, continues to propagate them in the world under his blessing. As with Caine, we see that their sin reaches and seeks for a kind of autonomy, but the Lord will not stand it. So this is the story that we have. This is the background, the the the background that explains the divisions that we have in the world, why languages are the way they are. Well, what are the lessons that we are to learn from this? Let me give you three brief ones. The first one is that God judges man's pride. God Judges Man's pride. This is the first lesson we see here. Now, though, it's true he willingly and mercifully allows man to live in rebellion against him under his covenant with Noah, that does not necessarily mean that he's going to withhold his hand from particular in individual acts of judgment on his people or on people, on groups of people, or even cities and nations. In other words, just because God has said that he will no longer flood the whole earth, judging the whole Earth again until that great and last Judgment Day when Jesus comes, it doesn't mean that he sort of holds back his hand from all judgments in particular. Just because he says that he will no longer wipe humanity off the face of the earth, it doesn't mean that he won't do this with particular people and individuals. That he won't see fit to judge the pride and sinfulness of Man.

You see that here in this chapter. These people on build themselves up, and it's true. God, by His mercy, preserves them. He allows them to continue on, he allows them to grow. He doesn't just squash them. And how he could? We read that they are building this great tower up into the heavens, and what is God do? He has to come down to see it. They think it's so big, but it's ads this the text presents it as if it's so puny that God has to descend down to the earth to see this little thing that they're building. And when he sees it, when he comes down, he there confuses their language. When you think about language, the complexity of it, the beauty of it, on the variety that we have. If you are a person who loves to to read poetry and literature, these kinds of things, you know how awesome and amazing language can be, and if you've had the opportunity to study and learn in a language that's not your own, this is even multiplied more. Well here, God creates these things, creates these languages and which people will use all over the face of the earth. There's a judgment in it, isn't there? There's also a mercy, as will come to see. But the point here, this particular lesson, is that God, UN is powerful to act that though man thinks he can make a name for himself, establish himself as autonomous over God, he cannot. You see that here. You see it in Daniel with Nebuchadnezzar, who goes out to his balcony, surveys his kingdom and says, look at everything that I've done, aren't I amazing good stuff? And what does God do? He turns him into...

...a beast who wanders around on the ground eating grass until he knows that God is King. He does this with Belta sharp. He does this with Sodom and Gomorrah later in Genesis. He does this over and over again Antonias and Sapphire in the New Testament, who think that they can lie to the Holy Spirit and deceive God, God strikes them dead on the spot. Just because God preserves the world in this a amazingly merciful way that he does, doesn't mean that people should live with complete should live in pride. It doesn't mean that we can go out into the world and say well, we can do whatever we want, because we can't. It's true, we do live in the world and have a certain measure of autonomy, but that autonomy, our freedom, is always lived out under and by the sovereign control of God. You are not your own. What you build, what you eat, what you make, what you have, he's only and always by God's will, and those who refuse to submit to this will certainly be judged on the last day. But God may not necessarily wait until then. He doesn't always, especially when the pride and arrogance reaches to such a height that he chooses to humble. The multiplicipity of languages that we have in the world today is a proof and reminder of that. That's our first lesson, that God does Judge Pride. The second lesson we have is that there are limits on man, there are limits on what a person can accomplish. Now, this seems it's...

...like such a simple thing to state. We all know this, right. You all know that you are limited, that you can't accomplish everything that you perhaps would like or think you can do, and yet we fight against this all the time. We push ourselves constantly past what we can eat, past what we can sleep past what we can love. We strive to do more than we're able individually and as a society. We are constantly told, and we tell others and we tell ourselves, that we can have it all, that we can reach any goal that we set our minds to if we simply work hard enough and have enough faith and and push and push and push. But it's simply not true. I tell you this now and of course you're going to agree with me, but it's just going to be a matter of moments before you begin planning and striving and moving beyond all natural limits again. But we do have limits. Genesis eleven reminds us of that. We have limits, of course, in our own nature, by nature, in the way that God made us, but we also have limits that God has superimposed, we might say, even on top of our nature, things that go beyond our nature. There isn't any particular natural real reason, in other words, that we have different languages. It's not a necessity built into who we are as part of the image of God or as part of our biological makeup. And yet that is a limit that we all and all face and always will face. God has superimposed this and other limits on us, I'm some which are expressly given here in scripture like this one, and sometimes others. I'm we have, for example, King David, who was anointed by God...

...to be king over Israel, who was, I'm, given authority and given promises, and yet was being chased around in the Wilderness and hiding in caves and being pursued like a dog. He had limits by the Providence of God. He could not do certain things, and David had to accept that, and God honors him for accepting that, for holding back his hand from killing Saul when he had opportunities, for not rushing to take the throne but waiting for God to do what he would do. These things that we consider here from genesis eleven, in other words, these limitations of language, as one example, but others as well, are human are creaturely limitations. These are all reminders that we need to be cautious in our optimism or, even better, we need to be humble. We need to be humble and what we can do and what we can accomplish doesn't mean we need to be negative or we need to despair or we need to cut each other down. We just need to be humble and accept and be thankful even for the limits that God has placed on us, and that takes us to lesson three. God is not only judges mankind in limiting us in this way, with languages in particular, but there's also a mercy in it. It may feel frustrating, I'm sure. I'm sure it certainly did for these people on the planes of Shinar to have your language confused. All of a sudden you're working with one guy in the one one moment making bricks, putting together the project, talking about architecture plans, and the next minute babble. It may feel frustrating like that now if you're working on a business deal, you're trying to communicate with someone,...

...or your wanting to go overseas for work or for missions and you can't speak the same language. For those of you have been in those kinds of experiences, you know it's isolating, it can feel lonely, it can be very difficult and frustrating. Sometimes can cost you money, time energy. But though it maybe feel frustrate, it may have a certain amount of frustration to it to have human flourishing in our lives limited by God. There are also we have to recognize is a mercy in it. God wants us to see in genesis eleven that he limits our capabilities not only as an act of judgment but also as an act of mercy. He restrains our freedom in order to restrain our sin. You might think of it this way. How far would we go in our sin if we could do all that we wanted to do, if we could do everything that we set our minds on? How far would we go? How many evil things, how many evil possibilities, would be opened up to us? We read that God confused their language so that they would not be able to do the things that they might be able to do otherwise. We God speaks with hyperbole, of course, when he says that nothing will be impossible for them. But there's this extent in which man can go very, very, very far, too amazing heights of evil, if he wants. And we've seen this, haven't we, even in just the last century or so, how mankind, when he works together and when he's at his most efficient and most thoughtful and exercising his mind in the best...

...ways, can create some of the most evil and dangerous and horrific kinds of places and lives. Murdering millions and millions of people, Unrestrained Power, lust, greed. How far would we go in our sin if we could do all that we wanted to do? Examples are everywhere. It's by the grace of God that he limits us, that he restrains us by putting the sun down at night and telling us to go to bed, by keeping us from being constantly energetic, from being able to communicate at all times in an every way. How many terrible evils, how many prideful towers, could humanity manufacture if it could finally be all by itself with its sin? Now, sometimes God does give us over to our sin, and the results are repulsive. We should be grateful for the limits that he does place on us. Well, these three lessons that God judges our pride, that there is mercy in his limiting us and that there are indeed limits on man. We are faced with a choice. How will we respond to this? These lessons will lead to one of two responses. Sometimes they're both found in a single person. The first is that we rail against this reality, we fight against it, we knock against the boundaries that have been set. I've noticed how we've been. Some of you know looking for our cat and we've gone to different shelters and I've noticed how different animals will react differently to their cages that they're in.

Some sit quietly or seem to be rather content within the environment, even though it's difficult. Others knock and rub against the cage and push and cry. Others are scared. All kinds of different reactions. and the animals, and you see that in people too, and the boundaries that God places on us our lives. Some people hit them again and again and again and again, and it doesn't matter how strong those limits are, how unmoving they will be, they will keep going and going and going and going until they collapse or die. Others learn to be content. This is the other option. Instead of banging and yelling and crying and screaming and trying and trying to fight against God and his universe, against his immutable will, they accept it, pay submit to it. Many people do, and it is a great blessing that they do. They realize that they are not God, that they will not be able to do all that they set their heart to do, and then, in some ways that's even a really good thing. But neither of these two options really lead to anywhere wonderful, anywhere really filled with blessing or anything really worth hoping in to. A bare kind of submission to God's moral order, to the universe and and structures that he's placed in society is a good thing, better than hitting that those boundaries, painting those bars again and again, but that kind of bare submission, though it will create something of a better life for you, is, is in many ways limited. The...

Bible, however, in the following chapters, offers a third option, a third option that is more than just submitting to the way things are, but actually hoping in something greater, seeing and accepting from God a gift of something that's beyond just being purse are just persevering in the world as it is, but actually entering into a new world that is much better than a world that we live in. A third option for those who know that true submission to God only comes when we completely surrender ourselves to his will and to His grace. A third option which would recognize is that true submission and blessing and and a life that is filled with blessing and not just being preserved, happens when God comes down, not just in temporal judgment and temporal mercy, but comes down to bring final judgment and consummated grace. This is what God does when he sends his son. God gives us more than the Tower of Babel. This is, after all, just the beginning of the Bible, just the beginning even of Genesis. In fact, in just at the next chapter, Chapter Twelve, God is going to start making some amazing promises that begin to fulfill the early promises he made to Adam and Eve. Listen to the beginning of Genesis twelve. After a genealogy that ends at this man called Abram, we read that Jehovah says to him, go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you, and I will make you a great nation and I will bless you and I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing, and I will...

...bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the Earth shall be blessed. So in a way, God takes the Tower of Babel and he spins it like a top, scatters the people across the earth, but then he comes to this single man, Abraham, eventually called Abraham, and in him and in those promises he begins to gather together a people again. In you, all the families, all the nations of the earth will be blessed. I will make you, Abram, a great name for yourself. You hear this gift that God is giving him. Abraham isn't crawling up into the heavens to get himself something. God is descending on to the earth to give something, and all this blessing that is being poured out on Abraham pulls in God pulls in many, many people. These promises that are made to Abraham will become fulfilled in Jesus, when Jesus comes down out of the heavens, out of his dwelling place with God, and as God gathers to himself people from all over the world, Jews gentiles. Going back to Daniel, we read there in one of the prophecies that after these great kingdoms come the four great beasts and the four kings who shall arise out of the Earth. The Saints of the most high shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever and ever. This great kingdom that's coming, this thing that man wants, power and honor and greatness, will come to him, but not in his autonomy. It will be...

...given to him by the Great King. Under him and through him and by him, God will make this covenant that will do more than preserve the world. He will create and establish something new, a kingdom in which man will live not apart from God but with God and therefore full of blessing, not just in a temporal way, but eternally, a kingdom that is, Daniel says, is established forever. And this third option is the best option, obviously, and it's the only eternal and lasting one. And this is where, as we live our lives in this world, we must direct our deepest feelings. Our greatest hopes, are our greatest desires. The unity that we want with one another can be achieved, but not on our own, but in Christ.

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