“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.” Genesis 11:4
What happened!?!? How did we get from God’s glorious creation and His marvelous Sabbath rest to these people laboring to gain their own fame and prevent their own dispersion by building this tower to the heavens? Sin happened. God creates this amazing universe, then creates man in His own image, and then man rebels against his Creator and ruins the whole creation. In fact, man’s sin was so pervasive that God had to judge the world He had made from water by sending a destructive deluge of water, a world wide flood. Everything that lived on the earth died in that flood, except for one family and the animals that they had brought onto the ark with them. God mercifully provided a narrow way of escape in order for life to continue on earth and in order for His redemptive purposes to be fulfilled.
This brief account of man’s widespread rebellion is a pivotal point in that redemption story. The fact is, when God saved Noah and his family, even though Noah was a righteous man who walked with God, he was still a sinner and so was his wife, and so were his sons and their wives and everyone who came after them. The flood didn’t wipe out sin from the earth. That’s not what the ark saved Noah’s family from. In order to wipe out sin from the earth, God would have had to wipe Noah’s family from the earth, too. And in order for Noah’s family to be rescued from sin, they would need a Savior, not an ark.
God had a plan to be worshipped by every tribe, of every nation, in every tongue. But here were all these rebels plotting against Him, laboring to build their brick tower into the heavens God had breathed out with a word, NOT to bring glory to their Creator, but to make a name for their own selves.
So God came down. He looked at their pathetic pile of bricks. And then He set about dividing them into tribe and nation and tongue. He confused their language so that there were suddenly many, and He dispersed these rebels over the face of the whole earth. You see there had to be many, in order for God to call one. And through that one nation, all nations would be blessed. But the people God chose to bring salvation through, just like Noah, needed salvation, too.
In the book of Nehemiah we’re given this glimpse of people once again at work with their bricks. But this time they’re not building a tower TO the heavens for their own namesake, they’re building a city FOR the God who made the heavens, for His own namesake.
“You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is in it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them, and the host of heaven worships you. You are the Lord, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans.” Nehemiah 9:6,7
What prompted this outburst of worship from these builders, so different from the haughty words of the Babel-ers? These people too, had gathered as one man. But they had gathered to hear the word of the Lord. And so Ezra had brought out the book. The people stood, and listened and understood, and the people wept. For God had come down on Mt. Sanai and had given them “right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments.” But they had sinned. Ezra 9:6 says that their iniquities, like a great pile of bricks, “had mounted up to the heavens.”
Isaiah 14:12,13 describes the fall of the “Day Star, son of Dawn,” who had said in his heart “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high.” This was the sin of the Babel-ers, the sin of the Garden—remember Satan’s words, “You will be like God,”—the sin of the Israelites, and the sin or our own heart to this day. The words of Obadiah 3,4 can be said of us all,
“The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’ Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord.”
It’s what we all deserve, to be thrust down from our self-exalting thrones—Eve, the Babel-ers, the Israelites—all of us. But listen! Listen to Nehemiah 9:16-23.
“But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!”
Even when we worship idols, God in His great mercy does not forsake. Instead He gives. He gives His good Spirit to instruct, manna to eat, water from a rock, He covers our nakedness, so that like the Israelites whom He multiplied like the stars of heaven, we lack nothing.
Oh friend. Bring out the book! Hear the words of the Lord. Listen and weep and mourn over your sin which has mounted to the heavens. And then like the builders of Nehemiah’s day, “Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting.” Say with every every tribe, of every nation, in every tongue, “Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.”