(Let’s hit the pause button on this study for a moment. I sense that I am losing my followers with this series, and honestly… I think it would lose me too, if it weren’t mine already. But for those few who are still with me, or who stumble on to this series of posts, I persevere with this largely because some of the deep bedrock of my faith is shaped with this kind of thinking especially as it pertains to the Tower of Babel. If my ministry and offerings on this blog have you puzzled, this series will, I hope, help iron a lot of it out. And besides, I find myself in argument with a number of religious leaders of our day in recent times, who I am convinced have not sufficiently pondered their positions vis-à-vis that tower. Thus I trudge on…)
I had hoped to get more feedback on the last post. In part, I am sure my offerings here offer new thoughts for most of us to consider, but I in no way have this business all ironed out. Therefore, I am hopeful that this series might attract others who have better clarity than me and thus might help me to shape my thoughts better too. The post before this one asks us to consider the Tower of Babel more carefully within the context of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. How do those chapters illuminate this story?
I am now ready to broaden that question to include the whole Bible. And for me, this is where it gets exciting. How does Genesis 11 inform the rest of the Bible, AND, conversely, how does the rest of the Bible inform Genesis 11? I expect that when we find key words and/or themes that pertain significantly to Genesis 11 in other passages, those words and themes will prompt us to juxtapose them all side by side and watch the sparks fly!
I will not be able to exhaust all of the passages of Scripture where this might be the case in this post. I must be selective for simplicity’s sake. So I have chosen three passages from the Bible over all to juxtapose BRIEFLY with Genesis 11: 1st The Exodus from Egypt (Exod. 1-12 (with particular attention to chapter 5)), 2nd Israel demands a king (I Sam. 8), and 3rd People hear the Gospel in their own language (Acts 2).
Bouncing sparks off Genesis 11
First we stop off in Exodus
This probably comes as a surprise to most Bible students, but have you ever noticed that the first time the word “bricks” appears in the Bible it is found in Genesis 11:3, and the second time the word is used we find it in Exodus 5:7-8? In the Genesis-11 narrative, “brick” is one of the few details offered in a story short on details! And the bricks wind up serving a rebellious cause in God’s creation. When we reach Exodus 5, God’s chosen people, the people through whom he promises to bless the world with his redemption, have become slaves to the neo-tower/empire, and their main job is serving that age-old rebellion making bricks! This use of “bricks” is no literary accident – not in the word of God! It powerfully links these two stories that now will bounce sparks in between and illuminate God’s mysterious acts in his creation.
This observation does far more, actually, than just link the two passages, but for simplicity’s sake I must leave it at that for present purposes. So, at the very least, it firmly establishes a solid link and strongly supports the idea that the Tower of Babel acts as a precursor to the Egyptian Empire (among others). Thus, at this point we can say that the few things we know to be true of that tower in Genesis 11 are true in some sense of the empire in Exodus (and others). Pharaoh (and presumably his subjects) are making a name for themselves (pride) in order to counteract chaotic forces that otherwise might disperse them over the face of the earth (security).
I do not claim for one moment that we will find a one-to-one correspondence for every point between these two passages. After all, if that were the case, we would merely be telling the same story twice. But there are similarities that are significant, and careful Bible students will want to pay attention in order to meditate on them. Likewise, there will be differences that we will want to note.
Let’s touch on some briefly.
In Genesis 11, the people fear drifting apart and dispersing over the face of the earth. Presumably, they will be vulnerable, humble, and insecure if they live this way. But if they work together in a unified way, they can instill pride and security in themselves and one another by building a city and tower. They will be kings of their domain ruling the way they see fit when they make a name for themselves. When God judges them, he confuses their languages, which has the effect of bringing their fears into reality. They are dispersed, the very thing they seek to avoid.
Compared with the Exodus, we can presume the Egyptians build their empire with the same motives – pride and security. Thus we can assume they have similar fears about vulnerability, humility, and insecurity. So far, so similar. But in contrast God does not judge them with confusing the languages. Instead he judges them with ten plagues. But here is the deep irony in it: He calls his chosen people, the slaves in Egypt’s brickyards, to head out into the wilderness and be with him there! This is the thing both the people of Shinar and the Egyptians see as a virtual death sentence! And based on the grumblings of the Hebrews, they think so too! This is the fear they are guarding against by building their empire!
We really must move on…
Let’s swing very briefly by I Samuel 8. Here we have come several generations after Moses and the Exodus and after the chosen people have entered and taken possession of the Promised Land when suddenly they come to Samuel (their current leader) demanding “a king like the nations” (I Sam. 8:5). And, of course, they get one. And if you read that chapter carefully, you find that the demand displeases Samuel, alright, but God (the same Creator from Genesis 1 – 11) tells Sam that these people are rejecting Him (God) from being their king – the very same thing the people on the plains of Shinar did when they sought to be kings and make a name for themselves rather than honor the name of God as they were created to do in Genesis 1!
This is a particularly tragic moment in Israel’s history. The people of God, the bearers of his image, his blessings, and his promises of redemption for all of creation are now acting just like the scoundrels who rebelled against God in Genesis 11. And sure enough, Sam warns against this demand, but God tells him to indulge their wishes anyway, and you can read of all the disasters that befall Israel as bad king after bad king takes the throne like the nations around them. They become practically as pagan as all their neighbors as they make a name for themselves and fear being dispersed all over the world.
And after many generations of such rebellion, God sends Israel into Exile too. Some go into Assyria – never to be heard from again. Some go into Babylon (an Empire whose name may have influenced the name of the tower in Genesis 11, btw), and there they find a strange land full of strange customs, strange religions, and yes… strange languages!
But we must move along briskly again…
Finally, we come to Acts 2. Here we find a really strong link to the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, but rather than it being an exact similarity, it is practically the polar opposite. In fact, if confusing the languages in Genesis 11 was a judgment curse, then hearing the Apostles preach, each in your native language, is a sure sign that God is now going to reverse the curse! And as we let more sparks bounce between these texts, it becomes clear, I really believe, that God wants us to read our Bibles this way!
Just look what has happened leading into this scene where the Apostles preach in the miraculous tongues. A New King has taken charge, and it’s God himself! He has come again at long last to claim his rightful place as Israel’s King despite his wayward people! And now some of them (in fact about 3,000) are seeing what we modern Bible readers have long missed! That moment when they speak in tongues by the power of the Holy Spirit acts like a bookend on the other end of a long sinful saga that reaches its apex in that Tower of Babel. And now, the people of God are called to gather in unity around making a name for Jesus, and thus finding vulnerability, humility, and security in him, and not some cheap imitation version found in “making a name for ourselves”.
I really must draw this post to a close here, but let me point out that as we have juxtaposed various passages with Genesis 11, we have come to far more depth of insight into that chapter as well. As we overlay it on the others like a lens to examine through, we find that the mere trivia we started with, no longer will do.
Please, please, please…
There is so much material I had to sacrifice in order to shorten this long post that I hope… I hope, if you are still reading here, that you will respond and engage in the comments.