Hope After Babel
1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 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. 4 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.” 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the LORD said, “Behold, 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 propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
Today lets bring the tower of Babel scene back to our topic of redeeming work. We’ve seen that this text not only says a lot about the human condition but it also gives a warning to the people of Israel to not pursue God’s presence on their own terms and for their own benefit, but on God’s terms and for the glory of his name. This is similar to Genesis chapter 3.
The setting of Genesis 3 is in a garden—a kind of primordial setting. Here in chapter 11 the humans have expanded their culture. The city, as opposed to the garden, is a place where, as Andy Crouch says “culture reaches critical mass.” They’ve acted upon the creation mandate to multiply and to make something of the creation. But they are still doing the same thing that Eve did in chapter 3. They are attempting to rule and order creation not as God would have them but in their own way and their own timing. They are making bricks, building ziggurats, cooperating with one another to build these cultural artifacts to bring God’s presence here. Instead through the story of Abraham we see God taking the initiative to build a culture through the covenant community of Israel—a culture that will bear his name, follow his way, and ultimately bring his presence.
Again, building culture, building cities as epicenters of culture, is not a bad thing. In Rev. 21 we see the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven, not a garden. God created a garden in the beginning. In the end it will be a city, the city that God inspired and called his people to build, will represent God’s presence coming to earth in its fullness. Then God’s dwelling place will be on earth, with humanity. This represents humans fulfilling the cultural mandate from Genesis 1 and 2. So Babel is not a prohibition on humans to build culture, bricks, towers, cities, etc, but a prohibition to build these without regard for the glory of God and following the way and plan of God.
This event at Babel finds it’s future reversal at Pentecost in Acts 2. In Acts 2 we see the Holy Spirit falling upon the believers in Jerusalem. Those inhabited with the Spirit of God speak in various tongues, here other languages that they didn’t know, and everyone hears Jews praising God in their own language, even tho the speaker doesn’t know that language. It is a full reversal of the Babel incident. God sends his presence (the Holy Spirit), in his timing (after Jesus), in his way (a sound of wind with tongues of fire resting on them) to his people (the church). In doing this he reverses the punishment dealt out at Babel. People gathered from all over the world in Jerusalem at Pentecost to praise God, hear the praises of God spoken in their native languages. God is uniting their languages yet again.
This is a taste of what will come in the end. In the church era the Spirit of God inhabits believing communities all over the world. When Christ returns and establishes his kingdom in full the presence of God will inhabit all the earth in full and the language barrier will no longer divide humanity.
For additional content in this series I thought it would be a good time to hear from some people in our church about their work and what they do outside of church. Its good to hear how people in different field have used their work to participate with Christ’s in his redemptive work in creation. This week is more the theology behind work so we didn’t have a lot of stories. In the following weeks I’ll share more of those. But I thought part of my conversation with Bevin Dawson fit well here. Bevin is out connection director at church but also an electrician by trade who has rehabbed not only our church building but the new loop building downtown as well. So here is a little bit of my conversation with Bevin
ff to 5:23 for additional content
Today I want to encourage you to fine hope in the big story of Scripture. God has reversed Babel in his time, according to his plan. One day he will redeem all of creation and he invites us to take part in this process. When we view our work in light of this big picture, this grand plan of God that he is working out throughout all of history, we can view our work for the joy that it is—a participation with God in the redemption of all creation. In this view the struggles of our day to day kinda don’t mean as much and we can work in hope and peace.
For our additional content in this series we will be hearing from some people in our church about their work and how they can view their work as participating with Christ in his redemption of all creation. Today we will hear a part of Bevin’s story.
ff to 5:23 for part of Bevin’s story.