(Warning: long post ahead!)
I read a story a few weeks ago. I shared it with our group in Belfast.
Genesis 11:1-9…At one time, the whole Earth spoke the same language. It so happened that as they moved out of the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled down. They said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and fire them well.” They used brick for stone and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower that reaches Heaven. Let’s make ourselves famous so we won’t be scattered here and there across the Earth.” God came down to look over the city and the tower those people had built. God took one look and said, “One people, one language; why, this is only a first step. No telling what they’ll come up with next—they’ll stop at nothing! Come, we’ll go down and garble their speech so they won’t understand each other.” Then God scattered them from there all over the world. And they had to quit building the city. That’s how it came to be called Babel, because there God turned their language into “babble.” From there God scattered them all over the world.
This seems like kind of a weird story to include in the thing Moses was telling to some wandering slaves. The clue to this story actually comes to us in the chapter before.
Genesis 10:7-10…The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, Sabteca.
The sons of Raamah: Sheba, Dedan. Cush also had Nimrod. He was the first great warrior on Earth. He was a great hunter before God. There was a saying, “Like Nimrod, a great hunter before God.”His kingdom got its start with Babel; then Erech, Akkad, and Calneh in the country of Shinar.
Ancient rabbis said that Nimrod name comes from a Hebrew verb meaning “let us revolt.” He was said to be a mighty hunter in the sight of the Lord, but the language has a dark meaning.
A warrior king.
Kings were hunters. In a world where civilization is scarce and animal threats are real, people who can organize hunting parties and defend people are leaders.
Ancient rabbis write in the Midrash, that the tower was to be the pinnacle of achievement for a tyrannical leader who instilled in his people a set of disturbing values.
This ruler, Nimrod, had achieved his position of worldwide dictator through might and violence. He wanted to build the tower so that he, rather than God, could have total control of Heaven and Earth.
The construction of this tower reflected a distorted value system: it was said that if a worker fell off the tower, people hardly noticed, but if a brick fell, everyone wept.
So intent were they upon accomplishing their purpose that they would not permit a woman to interrupt her work of brick making when the hour of birth came upon her. Molding bricks, she gave birth to her child, and tying it round her body in a sheet, she went on molding bricks.
As Moses recount the story of the Tower of Babel, these wandering slaves can’t help but remember Egypt.
In Egypt, they made bricks.
In Egypt, they were expected to care more about finishing the job then others.
In Egypt, they were slaves.
In Egypt, there was a tyrant.
In Egypt, they built towers to reach the heavens.
As they remembered Egypt, Moses would speak of a new city and of a new way of life.
Well Babel was one city; the Moses spoke of a place where God lived among the people. He told them that they could be different. They didn’t have to be slaves any more. Later Jewish writers continued to write about this city…
They spoke of a place where the lion would lay down with the lamb.
They spoke of a place where the nations gathered not to war but to feasts.
They spoke of a city where justice won.
They spoke of a city where life not death was found.
They spoke of a city without tyrants and bullies.
Jesus, thousands of years after the story of Babel is told to these traveling Jews, begins to speak of a different kingdom. In fact, he traveled around telling people a new kingdom had arrived. His original message according to Mark was “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here”. He used parables and all different kinds of opportunities to explain to people what this kingdom was like.
“The kingdom of God is a revolutionary, countercultural movement proclaiming a ceaseless rebellion against the tyrannical trinity of money, sex, and power.”-Brian McLaren
A kingdom of money, sex, and power//
//Or a kingdom of generosity, self-control, and of humility.
We live in a world that constantly devalues humanity.
We sell sex (mostly online). We buy sex (mostly on tv and in pop culture).
We kill people (mostly with our words).We pass laws that make it easier to kill people.
We rob people. We cheat people. We buy into our cultures values.
Stuff. Sex. Power. Money.