Genesis 11:1-9 Acts 2:1-4
The Tower Of Babel

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. What we read for today is the passage of scripture known as "The Story Of The Tower Of Babel." The people on stage in [our] story are those who moved to the plains of Shinar from the east. They said, "Let's make bricks and bake them hard." They started to use brick instead of rock and bitumen instead of plaster. So, with the technology newly available to them, they schemed out something first thing. "Hmm, let's become famous by building a city with a tower that reaches up to heaven, and let's do [it] so that we will never be scattered through out the land," (verse four).

The Building Plan For The City With A Tower That Reaches Unto The Heavens

2. Let's consider "the building plan for the city with a tower that reaches as far as the heavens." That tower must have been high. That tower must have reached the heavens. The heavens is of the realm of God. It points to the fact that they are reaching up into God's territory. Put it this way, they were seeking to be equal with God. The scripture says, the purpose of the construction of that tower was to become "famous." As far as getting "famous," what they were seeking here was not merely to become [well] known by many people. We write being "famous" as "having a name," but the expression being used here is "to make a name." When humans try to get a great "name" they seek for the power that comes along with that great "name" and to have power to rule over [others]. In order to have absolute power to rule over [others], one must reach up to God's domain. One must become like the gods. "The tower that reaches to heaven" -- It is a symbol of the absolute rule over [others] for which human beings never stop seeking. Those persons belonging to the city with the tower that reaches up to the sky will thus become a people on the side that rules like the gods.

3. Why did they seek power? Why did they seek to become the people on the ruling side? This is what they said, "And let's do [it] so that we will never be scattered through out the land." Well, how is the "seeking for power to rule over [others]" connected to "not ever being scattered?" We should be able to think about two things at least about this text.

4. The first thing given consideration is they "needed to guard themselves in order not to be scattered [or dispersed]." In ancient times power did the talking, (No wait, it is still the same in modern societies as well), the weak were always threatened by the strong. The weak have always been exposed to the risk of destruction. To escape danger, often times it would become necessary to abandon their current location and disperse to another location. One needed to be strong to not get to the point of being driven out by dispersion. As long as one is the ruler, one would never be driven off. For that reason, one needed a "name" against which no one could threaten.

5. Then second, as we know quite well, the seeking of power to rule over others can become a driving force to unite a people. Becoming strong, having power, becoming the rulers - these are highly irresistible objectives. The seeking of them often becomes "the great high ideal." Then, with this ideal before them, so many times human beings unite in total purpose and cooperation. For this purpose, a person will happily sacrifice one's own self and is able to work uniting one's own strength with that of others. When the implementation of this ideal is before them, it is no longer them there trying to make a case for themselves with "I [need to do this], I [need to do that]." "The individual" starts to exist for "the whole" in facing the implementation of the ideal. Can we not just picture the image of people working that way as truly one body?

God [As The] Scatterer, [The Driver Into Foreign Places]

6. But though, in this story, the construction plans for the city with the tall tower [that they had in mind] ended up wasted. The construction of the ideal city from which they would never be driven, never got accomplished, but was frustrated along the way, and [their] great ideal collapsed pitifully. Then, only confusion was left behind there [for them]. These are the particulars from "The Story Of The Tower Of Babel."

7. Then, when we read this story, we should not see it as some old fable because this is something that humans have done over and over in history, and even now it is being done still. From the national level to small private groups, people will always seek "a town with a tall tower" in some form or another. By [doing] that, they seek to acquire a powerful name [for themselves], to have power to influence, and to have power to rule. For that reason, in many cases they are willing and ready to become one. The church is often times not an exception to this. We are so ready to aim for the kind of church that is like "the city with the tower reaching to heaven."

8. But, any arrangements like theirs will soon come to ruin. This collapse, as we see in this story, begins internally. This collapse takes place through the confusion of languages and speech. Their words weren't coming across to the other person. In this story, it turned out to be a story where they stated speaking different languages. But, the reason their words didn't communicate was not necessarily just a case of speaking in a foreign language. While speaking the same language, it is not rare that the communication of ideas and intentions are not even possible then. With that thought in mind, what is written here [in this text] is not a far away tale by any means. If you've noticed, when you'd expect [something] to be "a city with a tower that reaches to heaven," [you'll find] there is "a city of Babel" where the speech of each person makes no sense to the other.

9. Well, we need to read it close that this internal based division and confusion was not because of human foolishness alone but happened by divine intervention. The Bible reads like this on that; please look at verses five and following. "The Lord came down, he saw the city with the tower that the sons of men built and said, 'They are one people, and because they speak one language, they have begun to act like this. Whatever they scheme up like this cannot be prevented. Let's go down and confuse their speech right away, and make it so that they will not understand each other's speech.'," (verses five through seven).

10. Humanity seeks to become one. We consider that good. But, the Bible doesn't just say it is. No, instead, the Bible sees seeking to be rulers over others, to become one, to push so much that one is not hindered by anything any more as [all] very dreadful things to do. They are so dreadful to the point that God must intervene directly and block them. In reality such awful acts have been repeated in history. Therefore, in order to abort such awful schemes, God brings on confusion and division.

11. Please observe in particular here that the text says, "Let us go down and cause confusion on their speech immediately." Just as in the case of the creation of humanity in Genesis chapter one, even though God is just one and only one, the expression of "We ..." is used. In other words, it is deliberately written as if it was a decision from a conference. What is being expressed here by this is God's plan which is based on deep deliberation and care. Disagreements, division, aborting their plans, collapse -- These look awful in human eyes. But, in this there is God's deep will and plan. "The Lord" will scatter and drive [them] away. "For, the Lord scattered them from there unto the whole earth," (verse nine), says the scripture.

God The Gatherer, [The Re-Assembler Of The People]

12. But, that's not the end of the story. The final word is not that God had brought on the confusion and the dispersion; for, the God who scatters is also the God who gathers.

13. We read another passage of scripture today. It is the passage that tells us about what happened at Pentecost two thousand years ago. The Bible says, "The day of the Pentecost Festival had come, and when they were gathered as one group, all of a sudden, the sound like that of a severe wind blowing in was heard from heaven, and it reverberated in the house where they were sitting. Then tongues like fire appeared split in parts and rested on each person. Thereupon, the group was filled with the Holy Spirit. just as 'the spirit' made them speak, they spoke in the languages of other lands," (Acts 2:1-4).

14. The event described here is what we could call a great big demonstration from God, announcing the inauguration of the mission of the church. All of a sudden, they began to speak "in the languages of other lands." What might this be showing [us]? It shows that the church didn't remain in Judea, but would soon carry out the message of the gospel to Samaria and beyond that to the ends of the earth. The church will be going out to foreign countries with various different languages and cultures, and through the working of the Holy Spirit a complete reversal will truly take place from what happened at the tower of Babel.

15. With this story, people began to speak different languages because God intervened. On the day of Pentecost too, the people gathered there began speaking different languages. But, this was not so that they wouldn't understand each other or be scattered. The church born by the Spirit of God is being sent into the nations that speak different languages and is being used to gather the people scattered throughout the world. Humans want to gather at the tower of Babel. But, the Spirit of God gathers the people around the Lord's table for communion. This is to say that he gathers the people under the crucified Christ. Humans prefer to gather at the highest points. But, the Spirit of God has started to gather the people under Him who has descended to the lowest [of points]. People prefer to gather on the ruling side [with the authority of this world]. But, the Spirit of God is gathering people to make them servants. That is the exact work of the [church] mission as per the workings of the Holy Spirit, which began at the time of the Pentecost festival. We too are being gathered unto Christ by this very same working of the Holy Spirit.

 
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