The Babel of Unity


Most Christians know that God desires unity. We’ve also likely experienced the effects of disunity on individual as well as group effectiveness. So we get the basic concept that unity is good, and disunity is bad. Right?

Then enters the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. The people build this tower, working together in unity with one language, only to discover that God is displeased. Why? What about their unity upset God?

Here’s the point… While God does desire unity among believers, he does not want it at the expense of our obedience to Him.

To help understand this truth, let’s consider the following points from the story:

  1. The people settled in one place when they knew God wanted them to spread out and populate the earth.
  2. The people focused on “building a name” for themselves rather than on obeying God.
  3. Left alone, the people only focused inwardly rather than on God’s bigger purposes.
  4. The people were led astray by ungodly leaders.

In that basic outline of the story, I see my own struggle with remembering what God desires of me and with keeping His will as my focus at all times. And this struggle is not because God’s directives are too big or overwhelming. It’s because I’m an imperfect human being with a part of me that wants to go and do and be all on my own. I want to say and do what I want when I want, and I sometimes balk at this idea of obedience to anyone else’s way.

Reading stories like the Tower of Babel, along with the many others in the Old Testament, I realize how much human nature does not change. In these stories, I see how my life might play out should I continue to settle where I want, build a name for myself, and focus inwardly. So it helps me tremendously to think through these stories, ones I’ve heard and read many times during and since my childhood days in Sunday school, and draw lessons to help me avoid the same mistakes others have made.

With that, consider the following application points drawn from the Old Testament story of The Tower of Babel.

  1. Arrogance and pride lead to thinking we can match and even exceed God’s wisdom. (Proverbs 16:18)
  2. Desire for self-sufficiency leads to rebellion. (Isaiah 65:2)
  3. Building anything through relying on our own efforts rather than on God alone is futile. (Psalm 62:5-8)
  4. Be careful of following others into disobedience. (James 4:4)
  5. God will step in to diffuse rebellion. (Genesis 11:5-9)

When I think of the times in my life when I lost my focus on God, I usually (always?) replaced that focus with selfishness and independence. I also stopped moving forward, and I planted my feet in order to establish myself. I looked to my own wisdom and ability to achieve success, and I simply followed the whims of my fickle emotions.

Let’s be clear on one point, though: God always intervenes when his people head down the path of disobedience. The problem is, we don’t always notice his activity because we’re too inwardly focused. And the more we ignore Him, the less sensitive we become to His voice, and the more blind we are to our arrant ways. Eventually, God simply leaves us to our own devices (Romans 1:24).

BUT, if we listen to His still, small voice, and if we acknowledge our wrong ways and simply, as Bob Newhart says, “Stop it!”, we can avoid the confusion that comes into our lives when we take the path lined with arrogance, pride and rebellion. When we turn our focus back toward God, we’ll experience a rushing return of his grace and mercy, and his blessings once again will begin to flow in our lives.

But don’t take my word for it, take God’s word for it.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

DISCUSSION: Can you think of additional application from the story of the Tower of Babel?

 For another take on the story of The Tower of Babel, see Loren Pinilis’ post “Why God May Oppose Your New Year’s Resolutions.”

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21 Replies to “The Babel of Unity”

  1. Great message. Jesus preached against the arrogance of the religious leadership because they took great pride in Herod's Temple and its glory and gold. They stood on the steps and decided who could enter and could not, and set up traditions and rules and laws that defined who was to be worthy, yet were blind, deaf, and lame themselves – walking like dead men unaware how far they were from God, yet claiming they were the righteous of God. How many churches today stand at the door and say y'all come and wonder why churches are not busting at the seams? Do we have a language problem in the church that keeps us divided? What causes the language problem? God or the hearts of men?

    Your article stoked the fires, comparing Babel to Jerusalem, to the Churches today?

    1. Thanks Coach… for everything 🙂 Great connection to the temple in Jesus' day too. The questions you ask are so very relevant to much of what I'm hearing from a variety of sources about struggles in today's church about unity, connectedness and the like. Now that the fire is stoked, I look forward to hearing what you discover.

  2. I got stopped at this statement: While God does desire unity among believers, he does not want it at the expense of our obedience to Him. That statement alone was worth the price of admission. 🙂 I firmly believe that is absolutely, 100% true.
    My recent post Plunge

    1. Obedience is better than sacrifice, right? (1 Samuel 15:22) And unity definitely requires sacrifice. Haven't studied out this Scripture in 1 Samuel, but it came to mind when I wrote this. I just see too many people (and I've done it myself) stick to their guns regarding unity and totally disobey God at the same time. How does this happen so easily?

  3. I would venture a guess on this Kari but I think some of the issue is our desire to be liked. To go along with things instead of standing up for or against something rubs some the wrong way. So compromise truth for the sake of unity.
    My recent post Plunge

    1. The desire to be liked. The desire for immediate validation. The desire to avoid confrontation. At least, those are the reasons I have compromised obedience for unity at some point.

  4. Kari, God being a God of order put an order in learning any new language, even those not yet written down. Our mouth and tongue, throat that God created, all can make certain sounds, no matter the language. Now we may not use all the sounds in our language but our mouth can make them. For each sound there is an international alphabet that language learners use to write down the sounds. There is an order to learning a new language and it's God's order. He would have never left all those language groups out there without a way to hear the gospel in their own language. Even in the tower of babel God showed grace to those He scattered.
    My recent post The Spirits Never Loved Us

  5. Kari, excellent piece. As I was reading your application points, it kind of struck me that our society is often divided between those who believe in rugged individualism vs. collectivism. As the Tower of Babel suggests, both philosophies tend to leave God out of the picture. We can be disobedient by going our own way, and we can be disobedient by following the crowd.
    My recent post High Point Hike #6 – Brasstown Bald, Georgia

    1. Thanks, Chris. Your point is an excellent one. People do tend to operate in those two extremes. I tend toward individualism and have to really keep it in check. Knowing God's Word is crucial for existing where He wants us and not in either extreme.

        1. I am glad he does too. It is exactly what I need to get back on track. So glad he pursues me that way. Interestingly, he often brings me that humility by working through other people and showing me how much I need fellowship, unity, etc.

  6. Thanks for the shout-out, Kari!
    Babel is a reminder to me that building legacies to make my name great is not what I should spend my life doing. And that's so easy for me to slip into. It also reminds me that God will cause my efforts to fail, so perhaps failure is a cause to examine my initial motives.
    My recent post Rescheduling without God

    1. You're welcome, Loren. We seem to be on the same wavelength lately, don't we? It IS so easy to slip into the "Babel mindset," and we must remain diligent to keep it from creeping in. Doesn't tend to happen all at once but gradually over time almost imperceptibly. Your last sentence really hit me, and I'm going to spend some Bible study time on it tomorrow: When we fail, we should spend time examining our initial motives to determine if perhaps they needed to fail. I haven't quite got my thoughts around it yet, but I think the point you're making is significant.

  7. What a great post! The people of Babel were trying to do what they wanted to do while forsaking God's plan (point #1 from the story). We can often try doing what we want or thing is best for our life while it not being what God is calling or telling us to do. When this happens God kindly redirects us toward the right path.

  8. WOW! you Amaze me Kari! I had not thought of this story in years or from this perspective. Thanks. Yes, when we try to do our own thing God does have His ways of correcting us, and they may not be to our liking, but they will be for our good if we honor Him and make the changes.

  9. I think society leads us to think that unity is great and that we should all get along. This should never be at the expense of our beliefs or what God teaches. There will always be strife when good butts up against evil. While we may be criticized for not getting in line we have to always know who we are following.
    I wish there was more peace in the world but not peace at the expense of having not standards to live by nor letting people do whatever they want. That peace leads to destruction.
    We often need to rock the boat to wake others up and even ourselves.

    1. Well said Mark. We must stick to our convictions and do what we know pleases God. That often means rocking the boat with people. Jesus was a perfect example of this in action.

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