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:
- The people settled in one place when they knew God wanted them to spread out and populate the earth.
- The people focused on “building a name” for themselves rather than on obeying God.
- Left alone, the people only focused inwardly rather than on God’s bigger purposes.
- 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.
- Arrogance and pride lead to thinking we can match and even exceed God’s wisdom. (Proverbs 16:18)
- Desire for self-sufficiency leads to rebellion. (Isaiah 65:2)
- Building anything through relying on our own efforts rather than on God alone is futile. (Psalm 62:5-8)
- Be careful of following others into disobedience. (James 4:4)
- 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.”