Sunday, January 9, 2011

Genesis 11 - The Tower to Heaven

LINK: Genesis 11

by Pieter Brueghel the Elder c1563 Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (public domain from

I went to get out The Story of Painting by Sister Wendy Beckett this morning so that I could look at the famous Tower of Babel painting by the Flemish painter, Pieter Brueghel, as I meditated on Genesis 11, and what do you know? I opened right to it. Out of all 763 pages, I picked this one. I do not think that was an accident but Providence!


The time frame in this chapter is within the genealogy of chapter 10. The land of Shinar was mentioned in relation to Nimrod yesterday. It is also called Mesopotamia or the "Fertile Crescent," This land was later known as Baylonia and is now modern day Iraq.

Mud and tar were used instead of stone. Archaeological evidence shows that stones were not readily available in Mesopotamia. With these bricks, they decided to make a tower that reached toward heaven. The tower of Babel was probably a stair-stepped pyramid called a ziggurat. Other Mesopotamian ziggurats were given names demonstrating that they were also meant to be a "staircase" to heaven. They were names like "The House of the Link between Heaven and Earth" (at Larsa) and "The House of the Seven Guides of Heaven and Earth" (at Borsippa). The tallest known ziggurat was only about 300 feet high which is pretty far from heaven. By comparison, the Empire State Building is 1250 feet tall.

What was the motivation? They wanted to make a name for themselves. The word "name" in Hebrew means "reputation, fame, renown." We saw the word when referring to the Nephilim in 6:4. God had specifically told them to spread out and fill up the earth after they exited from the ark (9:1), but they wanted the opposite. They did not want to be scattered (11:4). They wanted concentrated power. This was in direct disobedience to God's command.  Here we go again! So, God's judgement was to confuse their languages so they would do what He wanted them to do in the first place! He was in charge, not man. The city was called Babel meaning "confusion," and this is what would later be called Babylon.

The second half of this chapter is a continuation of the line of Shem through Peleg. Genesis 10:25 says, "for in his days the earth was divided" indicating Peleg was after Babel. It leads us to Abram who is the next person in this great story. He was in Ur of the Chaldeans which is believed to be about 220 miles southeast of Baghdad. It is thought that the time from the flood to Abram was 352 years, and the date of Abram's birth was 2166 B.C. 


I never really understood when I was younger what the big deal was about the people making a tower and a name for themselves. Now I understand that pride underlies "making a name" for oneself. Perhaps I should tell you a little story. . .

In 1981, I was offered a position at a nursing facility in Zaire. I would be the nutrition educator for nurses who would go out and do community health projects. In addition, I was to be the dorm mom/discipler, living "with them" daily. I thought, "WOW! This is what I have always dreamed of. It is an opportunity for life-to-life discipling and for using my college education!" I was so pumped.

I had to pray about it though. I asked God for a "promise." He gave it to me in the vision of the GREAT TREE in Daniel 4:10-12:
. . . behold there was a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. (Hey, I'm tall. I thought this had to be my promise.)
The tree grew large and became strong
And its height reached to the sky, (scary how much this sounds like the Tower of Babel)
And it was visible to the end of the whole earth.
Its foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant,
And in it was food for all, (That is me. I'm a nutritionist, get it?)
The beasts of the field found shade under it,
And the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches, (I would have all those nurses in my branches.)
And all living creatures fed themselves from it. (Nutrition and discipling were the combination of physical and spiritual nourishment I was looking for in a ministry!)
I thought I had found my promise. No joke! I was so arrogant and ignorant of the context of that Scripture that I just took it as my promise without reading the rest of the chapter! (My husband, George, just leaned over to me right now to say, "Great individual verses, Carol; but bad theology!")

I had my promise, and I was ready to go, but my discipler gently suggested that I take a year before I go so I could get more training in discipling. I was only 22 years old. So, I took her advice and decided I would go for "just a year" to the University of Oregon Navigator ministry and live in the training home with the new staff woman there. It was a great opportunity. So, I went.

And boy, did God ever have some training for me!

Suffice it to say that the year was one of the hardest and most humbling of my entire life, culminating in a nervous breakdown. God had to rip at the core of my arrogance and pride. It may have been the most humbling experience, but it was also the best thing that has ever happened to me. God loved me enough to humble me. I am so grateful.

In the course of that time, I started really learning what the Old Testament said (remember from my story I was more a "New Testament" gal) and read the remainder of Daniel 4 about that "Great Tree":
An angelic watcher descended from heaven and shouted:
"Chop down that tree and cut off its branches,
Strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit;
Let the beasts flee from under it
And the birds from it branches. . ." 
Why did God do that to King Nebuchadnezzar?  

He did it . . .
". . . in order that the living may know
that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind,
And bestows it on whom He wishes
And sets over it the lowliest of men." (Daniel 4:14-18)
I was prideful. I was doing things for my own glory, and God was gracious enough to "chop my tree" down to size to show me Himself, just as He showed King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon after his kingdom was removed and then restored. I can agree with "Neb" when he said:
"I praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride." (Daniel 4:37)
So, this really was my "promise" even though it was incorrectly interpreted and applied originally!

Two different stories out of Babylon with the same root issue: PRIDE. Amazing. Praise God for His ability to continue to chop away at my tree (or tower) one branch (or brick) at a time. May He do that in all of us for His glory!


Ask God to show you where the towers of pride are in your life that are keeping you from giving Him all the glory. I also recommend the book Praying God's Word by Beth Moore. She has a chapter on "Overcoming Pride" that is excellent (and convicting) to pray through! There is also a cell phone app from this book that I like to pray through when I am on the go. 


Lord, we worship You as the God of all the earth. We bow down in humble adoration and praise and acknowledge that You are LORD of heaven and earth. We praise You that You are able to "humble those who walk in pride," and I ask that, by way of application, You speak to all of us who are reading through Your Word, that You root out the pride in our lives so that only Your name will be glorified. We ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.
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