The pride of man
“Let’s build a great city with a tower that reaches to the skies––a monument to our greatness! This will bring us together and keep us from scattering all over the world.“ – Genesis 11:4 NLT
Chapter ten chronicles the multiplication of Noah’s descendants after the flood. We are given a genealogical record of the offspring of Ham, Shem, and Japheth, the sons of Noah. From these three men “the nations were separated on the earth after the flood” (Genesis 10:32 NASB) – which was in keeping with God’s command given to Noah and his sons immediately after the flood: “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1 NIV). From all indications, they were doing just that. They were multiplying and filling the earth. But chapter 11 presents an interesting parenthesis in the story. In the midst of all the multiplying it seems that mankind decided to take matters into its own hands – literally. Rather than honor God by obediently filling the earth, they decided to stay in one spot, build a great city, and bring glory and honor to themselves. There seems to be nothing inherently wrong with them building a city. But there WAS something wrong in the motive behind it. They wanted to make a name for themselves. That phrase in the Hebrew has to do with reputation, fame, and glory. In other words, they wanted to do something that would make them famous. Not only that, but they wanted to build “a tower whose top will reach into heaven.” This wasn’t going to be just any tower, but a tower that would form as a link into heaven – the very dwelling place of God. Their ambition was great, and so was their pride. Their intent was evil. Matthew Henry has this to say about these people in his commentary:
It seems designed for an affront to God himself; for they would build a tower whose top might reach to heaven, which bespeaks a defiance of God, or at least a rivalship with him. They would be like the Most High, or would come as near him as they could, not in holiness but in height. They forgot their place, and, scorning to creep on the earth, resolved to climb to heaven, not by the door or ladder, but some other way. They hoped hereby to make themselves a name; they would do something to be talked of now, and to give posterity to know that there had been such men as they in the world. Rather than die and leave no memorandum behind them, they would leave this monument of their pride, and ambition, and folly. – Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible
To this day, mankind has a propensity to try and be like god. We want to be famous. We want to achieve. We want to accomplish great things. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with ambition or achievement. But when we allow what we can do, either individually or collectively, to become a means by which we defy God or attempt to replace God in our lives, we are walking on very thin ice. God had told Noah and his sons to multiply and fill the earth, not build monuments to their own ingenuity and creativity. God had not put men on the earth to make themselves famous, but to make Him famous. This was never meant to be about us, but about Him. But we are always trying to make it about us. Each of us spends a great deal of time trying to build a “tower whose top will reach into heaven.” We want to be noticed. We want to experience some degree of fame. Just look at all the reality TV shows that have become so popular. Everyone seems to want to be a celebrity of some sort. Achievement has become a fixation. Our own glory has become more important than God’s. We worry more about what others think of us, than Him.
Spared by God from the destruction He brought on the entire earth, the descendants of Noah soon forgot about the grace they had received from God and became obsessed with their own plan for power, prominence, and position. But God will not be mocked. He will not be disobeyed. He will not share His glory with anyone. So He came down and threw a monkey-wrench into their plans. Now, instead of them enjoying the convenience of a common language, they would find themselves speaking a variety of confusing tongues. “In that way, the LORD scattered them all over the earth; and that ended the building of the city” (Genesis 11:8 NLT). Construction stopped. But sadly, the rebellion didn’t. To this day we see that men have never really stopped trying to build their tower to heaven. Pride is a powerful thing. Power is an intoxicating thing. Man is always trying to build a monument to his own greatness. But in the end, God will be the only one to receive glory.
Father, You alone deserve glory and honor. You created us. You sustain us. You spare us from Your divine judgment every day. But we somehow think that we are greater than we really are. We read our own press clippings and buy into the idea that we are really something special. But without You we are nothing. Our power is pitiful. Our achievements are miniscule. But our pride is immeasurable. Forgive us for attempting to build towers to heaven. Forgive me for trying to make myself famous, when only You deserve fame and glory. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men