Great Moments in Bible History
Doesn’t God Like Unity?
A Tower with a Purpose
The area around Babylon was very flat. There were no great landmarks to arrest the eye of the traveler. But that would soon change. The people had begun work on a tower “with its top in the heavens” (Genesis 11:4). The traveler would be able to see it from miles away and would know they were approaching a truly great city.
What was the purpose for that tower? The builders stated the reason as they began their huge undertaking: “Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth .”
What a noble purpose! They wanted to keep everyone united. It would have worked, too, if God had not interfered.
But why was God displeased? Doesn’t He like unity? That depends on what kind of unity. Unity is strength. But that strength can be used for good or bad. Mere unity does not ensure God’s approval.
God had told the people, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). Now the people were united in building a tower so that they would not “be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” They were, in fact, united in rebellion against God.
So God decided to put a stop to such rebellious unity. He confused their language and they were scattered all over the earth. If they would not use their unity for good then God would rather have them disunited.
Do you suppose that might explain why the world today is so disunited?
A Worldwide Kingdom
The tower of Babel and the city that went with it was humanity’s first attempt to establish a worldwide kingdom. God Himself recognized how successful the attempt was. “And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6). But it was successful in the wrong way. It was a worldwide kingdom run by humans, not by God. As such, it was a powerful force for wickedness.
God had planned all along to establish a worldwide kingdom. But it was going to have God as its head, not humans. The people of Babel were in effect trying to preempt God. God, of course, was not going to allow some rebellious people to thwart His plans for the future. He put a stop to that kingdom before they even finished their tower.
The more I study this story the more impressed I become with the brilliant method God used to divide up that kingdom. He gave no command to those people (they would have simply ignored it). He used no physical force. He simply confused their language so that they could no longer understand one another. It was the people’s own choice to separate after that.
What a simple method! Yet how permanent it was. Because of the language differences humans would never again be able to establish a worldwide kingdom. Even today language differences remain a problem. In countries which have more than one language there are almost always political divisions along the lines of the language divisions.
But was God perhaps too brilliant? He had permanently divided the world. When the time came to establish His own worldwide kingdom those language divisions would still be there.
The problem did not seem to bother Jesus. “The kingdom of God is at hand,” He said (Mark 1:15). How was the problem going to be solved? Was there some great unifying force God was going to use which would be strong enough to overcome the strength of language divisions? Jesus apparently thought so. “There are some standing here,” He said, “who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 9:1). Yet those divisions were just as strong in Jesus’ day as they ever were. When Jesus was crucified, the title on His cross was written in three different languages.
Yet only a few weeks afterwards God established His kingdom. At the same time He showed that the language problem was nothing to Him. He poured out the Holy Spirit on the apostles and “each one was hearing them speak in his own language” (Acts 2:6). God had confused the languages when humans tried to build their own universal kingdom, so it was a simple matter for Him to unconfuse them when He wanted to establish His own kingdom.
Making a Name for Yourself
The people of Babel wanted to make a name for themselves. People today are no different. Movie stars and sports heroes are caught up with the goal of having a great name. Most people clearly approve. They know they will never have a name as famous as those people, but they love reading the latest news about their favorites.
What is it about fame that draws us to it so strongly? Ultimately it goes back to that first sin that Adam and Eve committed. God had created them to have lives centered on God, but they wanted the premier spot for themselves. “You will be like God,” promised the serpent (Genesis 3:5). And ever since then we humans have all tried to put meaning into our lives by making ourselves the center.
When God put a stop to Babel’s tower project He was actually doing those people a favor (though I doubt that many of them appreciated it). When we want to make a name for ourselves we are seeking something that will do a lot of harm to us. There are countless examples of people whose lives have been ruined by fame. God simply did not design us for a life centered on self.
After what we have learned about Babel’s mistake in seeking a name for themselves the story in the very next chapter comes as a big surprise. In that story God selected a man named Abram (later named Abraham) and made some amazing promises to him. “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2) The very thing God refused to the people of Babel He promised to Abraham—a great name! What is going on? I thought God didn’t want us to seek a name for ourselves. That is exactly right. God really doesn’t want us to seek a name for ourselves. What we need to seek is to obey God. If we do that God can give us a name without it damaging us.
This is similar to the matter of seeking to make ourselves happy. That is another pursuit that God did not design us for. People whose highest goal is their own happiness end up ruining their lives just like those whose goal is to become famous. The problem with those two goals is that they are both selfish. It is all about me. I want to be happy. I want to be famous. On the other hand, seeking to obey God is the opposite of being selfish. When a person lives an unselfish life God is able to give that person a name without it destroying them. He did that for Abraham. He is more famous today than any movie or sports star. God gave him more than anyone today is able to accomplish for themselves.
God does not promise to make everyone who obeys Him famous like He made Abraham. But He has made some great promises about our names. In the book of Revelation Jesus promised, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” (Revelation 3:5) That promise is far better than what the most famous person in this country has ever had.