by Marcia Lee Laycock
It’s an old story, one taught to children in Sunday School because it’s all about obedience. After the flood God gave the people who stepped out of the ark a command: “multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” (Gen. 9:7). He wanted them to scatter. But some decided it was a better idea to stay together and build a fortified city and a tower that “reaches to the heavens … (Gen 11:4).
They decided their plan was superior to God’s. They did it to keep themselves safe, perhaps thinking a city and a tower would save them from another flood, even though God had promised never to flood the earth again. And they did it “so that we may make a name for ourselves…” (Gen 4b).
In his commentary on Genisis 11, Matthew Henry states: “These Babel-builders put themselves to a great deal of foolish expense to make themselves a name; but they could not gain even this point, for we do not find in any history the name of so much as one … Philo Judaeus says, They engraved every one his name upon a brick, in perpetuam rei memoriam-as a perpetual memorial; yet neither did this serve their purpose.” Henry calls the tower of Babel, a “presumptuous, provoking design.”
As I read those words my conscience was pricked just a little. I realized I’m too much like those Babel-builders in wanting to make a name for myself. With every book I’ve written I confess I’ve thought, maybe this one will make it onto a best-seller’s list. Maybe this one will make me known.
It’s a common failing, and a very old one, according to the scriptures. We all want to make a name for ourselves. God’s intent is that we make His name known. That’s why He told the descendants of Noah to scatter and multiply, so that God’s glory would be revealed, His promises remembered, His plan for humanity accomplished.
God foiled the plan of those early inhabitants of the earth by confounding their language. He will foil any of our plans that are not according to His will. He does it because, as Matthew Henry says, “It is just with God to bury those names in the dust which are raised by sin.” God’s justice prevents us from the chaos that would result from our own impudence. He knows all of our failings, our inclinations to foolishness like carving our names in a brick and believing it will last forever.
As I ponder these things my prayer is that I will be obedient to the calling God has put on my heart, that I allow Him to direct not only my work but my life. I pray one more thing Matthew Henry said will stay with me – “What a difference there is between men’s building and God’s; when men build their Babel, brick and slime are their best materials; but, when God builds his Jerusalem, he lays even the foundations of it with sapphires, and all its borders with pleasant stones, Isa. 54:11, 12; Rev. 21:19.
Lord save us all from presumptuous provoking designs.