The Tower Of Babel

May 11, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Genesis 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-13

1. For today's first recitation "The Story Of The Tower Of Babel" was read. Appearing at the forefront of the story are the persons who had immigrated to the plain of Shinar, that is, to Babylonia. They said, "Let's make bricks and bake them well." They had come to use brick instead of stone, and asphalt instead of plaster. With their newly acquired technology, they made a plan. "Hey, let's build a city with a tower that reaches up to the heavens and we'll become famous. And let's do it so we will never be scattered through out the lands," (verse four).

The Collaboration God Did Not Desire

2. First of all, let's consider "the construction plans of the city with a tower that reaches up to the heavens." What might this mean? They were wanting to build a high tower. It was a tower high enough to reach the heavens. "Heavens" refers to the divine region. They were about to build something high enough to reach into God's domain. For what purpose? The scripture says their purpose was to "become famous." Even though they made a claim "to become famous," what they were seeking here was not merely to become known by many people. We write the word "famous" with the characters meaning, "Have a name," but what is being used here is the expression "to build a name." It was for the purpose of getting to the point of having a special name, of getting to have a superior name above that of other people.

3. In sum, it means they were saying we want to become higher than anybody else, we want to be their superiors, we want to be looked up to by everyone else. When we reach as far as the heavens and reach God's domain, there are no higher persons than that, so we will be able to look down upon everyone else. But more, we'll not just look down on them all; our standing higher than everyone else is also for the purpose of ruling over them all. We'll not be told what to do by the people around us, but rather we want to tell them what to do and rule over them completely. For that reason, by building a high tower and displaying their power, they must become persons with a better name than other people. That is their purpose behind "the construction plans of the city with a tower that reaches up to the heavens."

4. And besides that they had an ulterior motive. They said, "And let's do it so we will never be scattered through out the lands." They claim their purpose in becoming persons on the ruling side and not on the side being ruled, and having a better name than everyone around them, and standing higher than anyone around them, is so that they "are never scattered." Taking action to place oneself higher than the rest and taking action to set oneself on display as being superior is frequently the flip side of fear, worry, and an inferiority complex. They were afraid. [Afraid] that we might be scattered by others stronger [than us]. [Afraid] that our own identities might end up lost for ever.

5. We can sympathize with their feelings on this. In a society where power does all the talking, the weak groups are usually threatened by the strong groups. When you're no match against your opponent, all you can do is run away. As a result, it happens that people are driven away and scattered from the places where they lived. Thus, they are robbed of their day to day lives, driven off, and begin to drift around wandering. This not only happened back in ancient societies but also happens in modern times.

6. In fact, the text states that they were "persons who had immigrated from the eastern parts." They may have been driven out from some eastern lands. Thus, in order to not be driven out again, in order not to be scattered out again, they must be on the ruling side. They must become superior to anyone else around them. They must display with true strength how that they are [indeed] superior.

7. In addition, aiming to be higher over others, to be somebody who is looked up to by others, to become someone who can look down on others, and even more, to get to stand on the ruling side over others, always [seems] to be appealing. It allures people. It gives them a single purpose. It does so all the more when there is worry and fear behind it. If we don't pull this off, we end up scattered. We'll lose our own identities. Fears such as that causes people to band together to work for a common cause. Furthermore, it does so all the more when anger and hatred are combined with it. Hatred causes people to band together.

8. Let's build a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens, the kind where the people around us will look up [to us]. Even more [importantly], let's build a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens, the kind where the people around us will feel threatened. We can imagine that they had probably functioned as one body for that purpose. They did. They banded together and went full speed ahead towards their objective so that nothing could stop their plans any more.

9. But yet the scripture tells us that, ultimately, those "construction plans of the city with a tall tower" finished in failure. The plan did not get set back by pressure from the surrounding peoples. Neither was it because they were weak and driven away by the neighboring people. As for whatever the cause of it, it says it was because their words became confused, their words stopped getting through to each other. The plan was not obstructed by some outside force, but collapsed internally. And even though it was supposed to be a plan for not being scattered about, in the end, these guys were meant to scatter.

10. Well, of great interest is the point where it is stated that this confusion was brought about by God. Please look beginning at verse five. "The Lord came down, he saw the city with the tower, which the children of men have built, and said, 'They are one people, since they all speak one language, they have begun to do such a thing. So, no matter what they plot to do, nothing can obstruct them. We will go down, and cause the confusion of their words immediately, let's put an end to it so that they will not be able to make out each other's words.' As the Lord scattered them from there into the whole world, they stopped the construction of this city. As a result of this, the name of this city was called Babel. For, the Lord caused confusion (Babel) of the words of all the lands there, and also, the Lord scattered them from there into the whole world," (verses five through eight).

11. God himself had obstructed their plan. What could this mean? It [seems] to be saying that God is not pleased with this manner of collaboration. God is not pleased with [people] banding together and working in order to become beings who are looked up to by others and in order to display forth power, [God is not pleased with people] banding together and working in order to rule over others. God is not pleased when [people] band together for a common cause motivated by an inferiority complex behind it, when [people] band together for a common cause motivated by fear and worry, when [people] band together for a common cause motivated by anger and hatred. Why [is God not pleased with that]? Because such banding together often brings misery to the people around them. Because it causes the people to suffer. Because it is the source of curses.

12. We don't have time for a list of examples of this. From situations at the national level to small, private groups, humankind, in some form or other has always been looking for "a city with a tall tower." And the church is no exception either. When we desire for ourselves a church like that of "a city with a tall tower," the church is no longer a bringer of salvation, but becomes an entity that brings misery and destruction around it.

13. God is not pleased with such banding together for a common cause. Therefore, God himself obstructs it. We know that the banding together, which has come from human beings, often collapses internally and not due to some outside pressure. Its collapse occurs due to the confusion of words. The words no longer get through to each other. In the narrative we read for today it makes the point that they started to speak "different languages" so that they couldn't make each other out. However, their words not getting through was not necessarily just a case of speaking different languages. There are a number of times when the communication of one's intentions becomes impossible even though one is all the while speaking the same language. Confusion comes up. Misunderstanding comes up. Then, elbows are no longer joined, people split, people scatter. The scripture puts it like this, "The Lord scattered them from there into the whole world." The Lord did it. [He did it] totally because of humankind.

The Collaboration The Lord Desires

14. But, the story does not end there. What God truly desires is neither to cause confusion nor to scatter. That's not [what God desires], he truly desires that humankind become one. The collaboration that God desires is not about becoming one in order to stand higher than all the rest, it is not about becoming one in order to display one's power, it is not about becoming one in order to rule over others, it is not about becoming one and being driven by fear and worry, it is not about becoming one by anger and hatred. God desires that we become one but not by those methods.

15. What points this out is another passage of scripture that we read today. It is the passage that tells us about what happened during the Pentecost Festival about two thousand years ago. The scripture says, "The day of the Pentecost Festival had come, when the group was assembled having become as one, all of a sudden, a sound like a fierce wind was blowing in was heard from heaven, and it reverberated within the house in which they were sitting. And tongues like flames appeared split, and rested upon each person. Whereupon, the group was filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in words of other countries as the 'spirit' caused them to speak," (Acts 2:1-4).

16. Like that narrative of the Tower of Babel, all of a sudden, they began to speak in "words of other countries." They began to speak to each other with different languages. But, it was collaboration and not the confusion of Babel that was there. People had been assembled there. The people who had looked at the way they were acting became amazed and said the following words. Please look beginning with verse seven. "Are not all these persons talking from Galilee? Why are we each hearing [it in] the words from our home towns in which we were born? Among us are persons from Parthia, Media, and Elam, and also there are inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene. Also, there are as many travelers from Rome, even Jews, as there are converts to Judaism, and even though there are persons who have come from Crete and Arabia, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God," (verses seven through eleven).

17. What is seen there in that is not a collaboration for humanity to display its might. Not hardly, rather they became one there to praise "the mighty acts of God." To go even further, "the mighty acts of God" could be defined as God's work of salvation that he did through the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They became one while speaking of the salvation that comes from Jesus Christ. They did not become one while around a tall tower that came from human hands, but they did become one while around Jesus who humbled himself and hung even upon a cross. They refused to become one in order to rule over those around them, [but] they became one in order to serve this world. They did not become one through human pride or fear or anger, [but] having sought in prayer they became one through the Spirit of God given to them.

18. Thus began the history of the church and the history of the mission. In the flow of these histories [one will find] even Shoei Church. Thus then, let us not seek a church like that of "a city with a tower that reaches unto the heavens," but let us seek the kind of church like that of the disciples on that day of Pentecost, when they were made one through the Spirit of God, when they were made one while they were praising the mighty acts of God. Shall we not?