Genesis 11:1-9 – 6 July 2014
There are some things in the bible which are not easy to understand.
We call them spiritual meat.
Every now and then, we need some spiritual meat.
Otherwise, we will not grow in our faith.
When preparing this sermon, I found Gen 11 extremely hard to explain.
I will try to keep things simple; but I certainly need you to listen attentively.
Today, we shall study the first 9 verses of Gen 11.
This is where we read of the origin of languages.
And reading these 9 verses in Gen 11, it appears that languages originated as a result of man’s sin.
So this morning, we shall meditate on this passage by asking 3 questions.
1) What is the sin committed in Gen 11? (v1-5)
2) What is the judgement from God in response to this sin? (v6-8)
3) How is this incident designed for the glory of Christ? (v9)
1) What is the sin committed in Gen 11? (v1-5)
V1 tells us that “..the whole earth had one language…”.
Sounds like a good thing isn’t it?
We will not need to do any translation anymore.
Students don’t have to study “mother-tongue” anymore….
Spreading the gospel will be so easy.
International trade & relations will be a breeze.
But what seems good in our eyes may not be so in the eyes of God.
There are many implications & reasons which we may never understand.
So, let’s see what happened here.
We are told in v2 that “..people migrated from the east…& settled in the land of Shinar…. “
In other words, there is what I call “a clustering effect”.
Nothing wrong with that so far…
V3 continued to tell us that they were planning to embark on a major construction effort as they clustered together.
And v4 tells us exactly what this construction project was all about.
V4 – “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.”
There are 4 key things we see in this verse:
1) The people wanted to build to build a city.
2) They wanted to build a tower in that city that reached to the heavens.
3) They wanted to make a name for themselves.
4) They did not want to be dispersed over the whole earth.
Now, what is wrong with these 4 things?
Let me read to you Gen 1:28.
“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful & multiply & fill the earth & subdue it & have dominion ….over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Now, what is the purpose for man to do be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth & subdue it?
Psa 72:19 – so that “… the whole earth be filled with His glory.”
God is glorified when mankind (as creatures of God) find their joy in knowing & praising Him.
God is glorified when mankind (as creatures of God) find their security in Him & Him only.
And as John Piper puts it “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
But what are the people doing here in Gen 11?
They wanted to build a city.
That’s a sign that they were building their own security.
Most of the cities have a wall around them.
And people felt secure when they stayed within that wall.
They wanted to build a tower in that city that reached to the heavens.
What is the purpose of doing this?
So that from far away, people will be able to see that tower.
And from far away, people will praise them for their great engineering feat.
And they will be famous as a people.
And as a people, they can have their own interest.
They are not interested in multiplying & filling the earth as the LORD has directed.
They are not interested in finding joy in knowing & praising God.
So the city and the tower were simply the outward expressions of the inward sins.
Dear friends, I want to tell you that these sins are our sins too – everyone of us!
We love having a sense of security, don’t we?
We want a property in our name, a bank account (with money in it of course) & a stable job.
And so for some people, career comes before God.
And career comes before children because raising children can be difficult & also expensive.
And we love human praise, everyone of us!
We want others to think that we are smart, pretty, handsome & agile – all at the same time.
We love to be associated with brand names.
But God’s will for mankind is NOT that we find our joy in being praised.
Rather, we should find our joy in knowing and praising God.
God’s will is NOT for us to find our security in building careers & houses.
Rather, we should find our hope & security in God whom we gladly obey.
And Jesus puts it this way, “seek ye first the kingdom of God & His righteousness and all these things (ie. whatever you need for life) will be added unto you.”
But the depraved human heart will always put man’s interest first in everything.
I will decide for myself what I think is best for me.
And this condition is in all fallen man, including you & I.
Do you know what God thinks about such behaviour?
Look at v5.
“And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.”
There is a tinge of what John Piper calls “holy scorn” in this verse.
The tower was “so tall” that God had to “come down” to see it.
He could not even see it from heaven.
He had to “come down” from heaven in order to see the city & the tower.
Of course, God can see everything everywhere.
This shows us how foolish we are to be proud of our “great achievements”.
As redeemed people, we need to remember that all that we have is totally by the grace of God.
That’s why the Apostle Paul told the Roman Christians not to “….think of themselves more highly than they ought…,
But instead, “…. to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”
So that was the sin of mankind in Gen 11.
Put very simply: A wrong sense of security, pride, self-seeking & exalting oneself to the place of God.
We come now to our second question for today –
2) What is the judgement of God in response to this sin?
God knew the immense potential of mankind.
Because they were made in His image.
They are creative, they are progressive & they can grow in knowledge.
But the danger is that they will use these abilities to sin instead of glorying God.
And the potential of this happening becomes greater when they congregate together.
That’s why God said in v6, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do; now nothing that they do will be withheld from them.”
Some of you may be wondering “what’s wrong with that?”
Let me give you two extreme illustrations to explain the issue behind what is conveyed in v6.
1 – The terrorists in Afghanistan have difficulties recruiting many followers because of language differences.
But if all terrorists in the world spoke the same language, their ability to unite for evil will be greatly magnified.
2 – There are many underground syndicates operating in the world today.
For example, there are those involved in human trafficking.
There is a brother in the KunMing Church who was once sold to some Eastern European Country.
By the grace of God, he managed to escape to England.
And through a Chinese ministry in Peter Masters Church, he came to the Lord.
There are also other syndicates involved with credit card fraud.
There are even mafias and extremist groups.
The ability of these groups to operate across countries is actually constrained by the use of different languages.
Hence we are told in v7 that God was the one who made different languages to exist.
V7 “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
Not only that, v8 tells us that God also “…dispersed them from there over the face of the earth..”
And notice that it was only when God did this that they “…ceased building the city.” – v8b.
In other words, this judgement from God controlled the spread of that particular sin.
God dispersed them all over so as to prevent them from uniting in God-belittling plans.
And what we now have is a world system where the pride of different nations restrains the pride of other nations.
Using a football analogy (since this is the World Cup season), we have different national teams playing against each other.
We don’t have a unified world team trying to go against God or attack the Church.
The “suspicions” that nations have of each other keeps their individual global agenda in check.
Yes, it was God’s judgement that resulted in languages.
But it was also His design that this judgement restrains evil in the world.
And this brings us to our final question for today.
3) How is this incident designed for the glory of Christ?
As Christians, we have the assurance that when God permits something to happen, He does so for a reason.
And that reason is part of a divine plan.
Sometimes God may help us understand that plan.
Other times, God does not reveal His reasons.
So, the languages & nations that exist in the world today are not an afterthought.
They are the judgment of God on sin.
But they are also designed for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Let me point out 3 ways in which I see how this incident in Gen 11 glorifies Christ.
First, the existence of languages protects Christians.
Some of us may think that the existence of languages and cultures hinders evangelism.
But God is more concerned about the dangers of human uniformity than He is about human diversity.
The existence of languages prevents the formation of a single anti-Christian state.
No single nation in the world is able to exterminate or wipe out Christians from the face of the earth.
In this way, the message of the Cross can continue to be preached everywhere.
And Christians can continue to be the salt of the earth & glorify Christ with our lives.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit reversed the effect at Babel during Pentecost to advance the gospel
After this incident at Babel, the word of God was received mainly through the nation of Israel.
It is not often that we read of a prophet like Jonah bringing God’s word to a city like the Nineveh.
Before ascending to heaven, Jesus said that “All authority in heaven & earth had been given to Him”.
And He asked His disciples to wait at Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
And Jews from other nations came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Pentecost in Act 2.
And these Jews were surprised to hear the disciples speaking in the languages of the countries they came from.
There was no need to translate the gospel into those languages.
God the Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to speak in those languages.
Christ was preached in different languages.
And the effect at Babel was reversed at Pentecost.
This showed that God was not limited by languages.
And it also showed that indeed Jesus had all authority in heaven & on earth.
His Spirit can convey the gospel in any language of the people He wanted to save.
And Christ is glorified when people in any language or race submit to Him as their LORD.
So what appeared to be once impossible for man, was now made possible by God.
How does this incident glorify Christ? – Thirdly, Human Pride is Destroyed
The tower that the people built in Gen 11 was called the “tower of Babel”.
The word “babel” in Hebrew occurred over 200 times in the Old Testament.
And very often, this word is translated as “Babylon”.
So Gen 11 is actually a reference to that city Babylon mentioned in Rev 14-19.
Now, is Babylon referring to a particular city or country that exists today?
I am not inclined to believe that.
Because the book of Revelation is book of symbols.
What we see instead are the characteristics of Babylon in every system & society in the world.
We may even see characteristics of Babylon in our own life.
Babylon is associated with all kinds of sins, especially human pride.
Babylon is called “….the Mother of Harlots & of the abomination of the earth” – Rev 17:5
Babylon is also drunk with the blood of Christian martyrs (Rev 17:6)
In other words, every Christian who resists association with Babylon will get bruised & even killed.
And the sins in Babylon pile up like a tower high into heaven as it glorifies itself in secular luxury – Rev 18:5.
This is just like the tower of Babel in Gen 11 trying to reach into heaven.
But just as the Tower of Babel was put to nothing instantly in Gen 11, the same will happen to Babylon.
“… Alas! …that great city Babylon! For in one hour your judgment has come.” – Rev 18:10
The pride of man will be eliminated from the earth & Babylon will be no more.
So Gen 11:1-9 is simply a foreshadow of the extensive effect of man’s pride & sins, especially towards the end times.
But ultimately, Babylon will be destroyed & Christ alone will reign as King.
Now, what do all these mean to us today?
This morning, some of you are still associated with Babylon.
You have not renounced sin.
You have not publicly associated yourself with Jesus Christ.
I need you to know that the destruction of Babylon will happen in an instant.
If you are associated with Babylon, you will be destroyed with it.
But Jesus says to you – “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…”
He wants us to find our joy, our hope, our security in God & God alone.
So I urge you to turn from Babylon.
Turn to Jesus who holds the keys to everlasting life.
Let me now speak to the Christians & with that I will close.
We have just linked an incident in Gen 11 to Acts 2 & then to Revelation 14-18.
Can you see the amazing unity of the bible in its message?
66 books written over 1,500 years from the old to new testament – all speaking about Jesus Christ!
This is the word of God, not the work of man!
If this is the word of God, have you spent time reading & studying it?
Is God’s word the first thing you read when you get up in the morning?
Do you read the bible more than any other media that exists today?
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, He told us that He could have called down 12 legions of angels to help Him.
But instead of doing that, He faced that temptation with no other weapon but the word of God.
Do you think you can face temptation in any other way?
You need to know that verses don’t just magically appear in our minds when we need them.
We need to be reading, memorising, listening to & absorbing God’s word in every possible way.
Jesus knew the right answer from God’s word, at the right time & for the right temptation.
We need to strive to know & do the same if we want to overcome temptation.
Only then can we, with authority & conviction, repel the approaches of Satan effectively.
Dear Christians, we are blessed with understanding of at least one language that the bible has been translated into.
I urge you to use this gift to read the bible and know God.
And God will review Himself to you.
For God says in Jer 29:13 “ And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”
And let us heed His word and seek Him with all our heart.