The Tower of Babel and Beyond!
The Tower of Babel and Beyond!
What would you have named this passage?
The title should be: "When God Comes Down!" That's a theme you can track right through the Bible. In fact, you could call it the loom on which the tapestry of salvation history is woven. “When God Comes Down” the Golden Thread is introduced, reintroduced, renewed and reclaimed. God Comes down at the start, the finish and repeatedly throughout human history to re-establish the Golden Thread of Scripture. To show us His glory - to show us that His Glory is His Love. Each time God Comes Down, He comes in all of His glory but humanity interprets His arrival through their muddy lenses. Let's take a look and let God clean our glasses bit by bit as he did in the Old and New Testaments. His presence becomes clearer and clearer, as I hope you will see!
The tower doesn't come down. God does.
As in many other places in scripture, God comes down and people are sent out.
Babel is one of TWO TIMES that God comes down and new languages follow. There’s a HUGE reenactment in the book of ACTS but we will get to that in a bit.
While the “Tower of Babel” story is primarily seen as God Coming Down with a curse to confuse and scatter people by mixing up their languages, it is equally, God Coming Down to remind people of His commission to spread throughout the world and then motivate them to do so by giving them the ability to speak a variety of languages.
This story is the introduction of a great Biblical theme: God is a God of many nations, many languages, and many people. In today’s lingo, God is a multicultural God!
In the Bible, what happens when God Comes down?
As Christians, we have it easy. To describe God all we have to do is look at Jesus. But OT people only had the faith stories handed down to them and the stories their neighbours told of foreign gods. Often the point of OT stories is to establish the difference between Yahweh and other gods rather than drill down into the true nature of Yahweh.
Does the "The Tower of Babel” sound like Jesus? No, not really.
So, what is it?
While it is clearly a testament of God’s judgement, it is also a retort to the Babylonian Creation Story (Enuma Elish).
City: Babylon was built in heaven by the gods as a celestial city. As an expression of pride, Babylon was then placed on Earth. The same phrasing/process of brick-making as in the EE is described in except that rather than the God’s building it “the people said to themselves let us build”. Babylon is a human city, not a godly city. The EE says the Babylonian God Marduk inscribed every brick with his own name. The Isrealite version of the story said, those bricks were made with human hands by people just like us!
Tower: The ziggurat, the step-like tower first erected in Babylon. This artificial mountain became the centre of worship in the city, a temple was built at the top of the tower. EE says its top is in the heavens (Place of Worship - For their God to come down). The isrealite rebuttle says, God did come down. But not to accept worship. He came down to disrupt false worship. He confused the people and sent them to the four corners of the Earth.
Pride: The Babylonians took great pride in their building skills. They boasted: their city was impregnable and ca;;ed their heavenly city, bāb-ili (“the gate of God”).
Humbling Hebrew: Babel (bāḇel) sounds similar to the verb confused (bālal). So Babili became babel - and then Babylon.
Q. “What happens to arrogant people when God shows up?”
A. God humbles them and sends them out.
Just like in the Garden of Eden and multiple other times in the Bible, when humans establish their arrogance and pride God establishes His judgement by humbling them and sending them out with something useful to do.
The builders of Babylon arrogantly imagined they had united the world under their rule. God stops activity in the city and tower by scattering the people across the earth. In its place - later in the same chapter - God calls Abram to start the family of faith through whom the nations would be blessed in God’s time and God’s love rather than by their own arrogance.
OT Golden thread: What happens ‘when God comes down’ in the OT?
God’s People: Israelites - Mountain () LOUD! SCARY! God is terrifying physically, spiritually and emotionally.
God’s Man: Moses - Law () God introduces Himself (Love!) God self-describes as loving, compassionate and generous.
God’s OT Gospel: Isaiah () Much of what was said about God before Jesus came was said best by Isaiah. And the Golden Thread of God Coming Down is no exception.
“...no eye has seen any God except you who acts on behalf of the one who waits for him.” And wait they did. After being set free from Babylon there are some 400 years of waiting. Waiting for the Golden Thread to continue. Waiting for God to come down.
NT Golden Thread: What happens when God Comes down in the New Testament? (by the way, it's new!)
Jesus: God Came Down!
Jesus is the best picture of God in the Bible.
Jesus said, “God is Love.” He lived showing it, died declaring it and was raised again proving it once-and-for-all – God is Love!
We humans are really slow to let the true nature of God to sink in. 4000 years between the Garden and the Incarnation. We want an authoritarian taskmaster. But, He's not. GOD IS LIKE JESUS. It wasn’t until after the resurrection and a bit of time to think things through that believers began to understand the Love of God - and even then, it was through a glass darkly!
Pentecost: The Spirit Came Down!
At Pentecost, God underlined the linguistic diversity that He introduced at Babel. Everyone in the crowd was able to understand the disciples speaking in his or her own language. The first miracle that the Holy Spirit did was to make it possible for the story of Jesus to be understood in many languages all at once. The Triune relational God did nor force conformity on his followers by making them all hear his message in one language, He encouraged diversity by allowing them to hear in their own language. From even before the Christian church was called Christian, it was multicultural and multilingual. – Eddie Arthur, Babel, Pentecost and the Blessing of Diversity
The miracle was not in the ears of the hearers, (as some have unaccountably supposed,) but in the mouth of the speakers. And this family praising God together, with the tongues of all the world, was earnest that the whole world should in due time praise God in their various tongues. – John Wesley
Luke writes the story as it happens: An angel visits Cornelius, Peter’s blanket vision, Men to Peter’s door, Peter to Cornelius’ crowd, Peter to Apostles
Both Peter and Cornelius tell their side of the story to each other
Why repeat tellings? For the listener/reader to GET IT!
You may be Purified Peter on the rooftop, a secular friend in the house of Cornelius, or a church leader protecting the faith.
Wherever you stand, Luke writes 10 & 11 to declare:
When God comes down, He sends us out. Our mission isn’t to judge the people we encounter as worthy or unworthy but to share the God who embraces all languages, tribes and people and calls every human to give life a fresh start in the waters of baptism. Everything else comes in time - God’s time!
Beyond multilingual and multicultural… God is out to save everyone!
The Gospel was and IS extremely inclusive!
Shocking example of how far God is willing to go with inclusivity:
Philip chases the Eunuch ()
Come back to the desert road with me, to consider what happened next.
The Ethiopian Eunuch climbs back into his chariot, still soaked in the waters of baptism. He leans forward and knocks on the front wall. The driver prods the horses and the journey resumes. As the chariot returns to the rhythmic sway of travel familiar only to the wealthy, the Queen of Ethiopia's Eunuch dries his hands carefully and returns to his place in the scroll of Isaiah. He's found Jesus, the God who forgives sins – what else might he discover?
He begins to read aloud, taking care to pronounce each Hebrew word correctly. Just two short chapters later – a few turns of the scroll – he stutters to a stop. Can this really be here? In the middle of an ancient Scroll? How? It is, clearly, a personal letter written directly to the Eunuch. He reads on, under his breath rather reading aloud, unsure what Isaiah will say next. Moments later, his excitement of discovery too high to keep to himself, He leans forward and knocks on the wall bringing the horses to a stop.
Stepping out of the chariot, the Eunuch takes the scroll and rests it on the side of the driver's bench. "You've got to hear this," he says, "but first I need to tell you everything Philip told me before you saw him Baptise me."
After sharing the gospel of Jesus about the forgiveness of sin and conquering of death, the Eunuch says to the driver, "So, I kept reading and listen to this!"
Tightening up the scroll, the Eunuch wipes tears from his eyes and looks up at the driver.
The driver is crying too. "That's about us, isn't it?" The driver says, "I mean, it must be, right?"
And that is what happens When God Comes Down.