Ah, the Tower of Babel. When we read that story in Genesis, we smile to ourselves and think (somewhat pridefully), “Silly ancient humans. Did they really think that they were going to be able to make it to heaven by building a tower? Didn’t they know that God doesn’t live ‘up there’?”
Of course when we say this, we don’t realize that we’re often building our own little ‘Towers of Babel’ each day.
Genesis 11 tells the story of humanity’s outright pride and rebellion against God. The problem isn’t that all of humanity is working together (unity is a good thing). The problem isn’t that they are all working on building some sweet tower (creativity is a good thing). The problem is the motive behind their work. They were building a testament to their own greatness, trying to make much of themselves. Just look at the wording:
‘Come, let us’ (v. 3). ‘Come, let us’ (v. 4). ‘Let us make a name for ourselves’ (v. 4).
The people building the Tower of Babel were intent on ‘making a name for themselves, and the best way to do that, they thought, was by building a tower that reached the heavens.
But no matter how hard they tried, even if they wouldn’t have been stopped and scattered by God–even if they had worked on the Tower of Babel for thousands of years and humanity was still working on it today–it would fail. Humanity will never be able to ‘make a name for themselves.’ See, what does this text say about God? The language is ironically similar. After describing what humanity was saying and doing, the text says:
‘The LORD came down to see’ (v. 5). ‘Come let us go down’ (v. 7).
Humanity is building a tower to the heavens to show how great we are. And God has to come down to even see what’s going on!
Today is no different. As the world becomes smaller and smaller through technology, our egos get bigger and bigger. Yet no matter how much you try to build your name up, you’re going to fail. In the end, if you spend the next 60 years trying to build your own little Tower of Babel (your own little testament to your greatness), you are going to be devastated when death comes. Because then you’ll see that your grandiose kingdom is so insignificant that God has to come down to see what’s going on.
To prove my point, answer these questions: What is your dad’s name? Grandfather’s name? Great Grandfather’s name? Great Great Grandfather’s name? Great Great Great Grandfather’s name? If you actually know the name of your Great Great Great Grandfather, what was he known for? What was he like?
See your Tower of Babel is going to come crashing down someday. It may be within the next generation. It may be two generations. For the very few, it may be ten or a hundred or even a thousand generations. But in the grand scope of eternity, who is going to really care about Alexander the Great or Hammurabi?
If you devote your time and energy to your own kingdom, to making your own name great, you will fail. Now look back at Genesis, this time at 12:2.
You see, you’ll never make your own name great. But God can. The contrast is so strong: here are the people of Babel pouring all they have into making their name great, and yet Abram is focused on God. And God makes his name great. You want to know how to become great? Make his name great. And he will return the favor–not in the way the world expects–but you will be great in his eyes. And being great in his eyes is infinitely more important and significant than being great in the world’s eyes.
UPDATE: I found this article today that speaks on this same issue.