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  • Writer's pictureRev. Chris Brademeyer

What's with all the Confusion?

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Confusion

Pentecost – 5/19/2024

Genesis 11:1-9

Rev. Christopher W. Brademeyer

 

That portion from God’s holy Word for consideration this morning is our Old Testament reading from the book of Genesis in the eleventh chapter with special emphasis on verses six through nine which read as follows:

 

“And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.”[1]

 

Thus far the Scriptures.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The sin of Babel is one that has captivated theologians and parishioners alike for generations. This is easy enough to see: the events recorded here are interesting and a bit mystifying. The context here is very early on in the history recorded in the Holy Bible. God make the world, Adam fell into sin, bringing us with Him into sin and its wage, death. From Adam the Bible records that mankind fell into great sin and so deep was the sum of their transgressions against the Lord and their faithlessness that God sent the great flood, in which He preserved only faithful Noah and his sons and their wives. Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth had a number of children who became the founders of many nations. One of those nations included those who settled in Shinar, a land in the southern part of the Mesopotamia, which is now the southern part of Iraq where the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers empty into the Persian Gulf. Shinar was the sight of the first cities in recorded history, a fact that is noted in the Bible in Genesis 10:10, where cities were first founded by Nimrod, a great hunter and great-grandson by way of Ham.

                As an aside, you probably have heard the name Nimrod as an insult, a synonym of “stupid.” This, interestingly enough, was started by Bugs Bunny. He mockingly called Elmer Fudd, the hunter, “Nimrod” as a way of pointing out Fudd’s inadequacy as a sportsman. However, due to our limited biblical knowledge, people missed the biblical connection and just took the word as a term meaning “stupid” or “foolish.”

                The people of Shinar decided to get together and build a tower because they did not want to be dispersed on the face of the earth. Their attempt at building was to make a source of unity for themselves in the great tower, a project so full of human hubris and arrogance that it tried to reach even into heaven, the very realm of God. Now, we today will rightly see that it is impossible to build a tower to heaven since heaven is not actually above the clouds but is, in fact, outside of the created universe.

                We must point out that building things is not the problem. Building things and creating are not bad, in fact, our artistic ambitions and desire to add things to this world that are useful and valuable is good and god-pleasing so long as these efforts are for serving our neighbors. But this particular building project was not for serving the neighbor, but for building a way of aggrandizing these people. In other words, this tower was a monument to pride, self-importance, and the human desire to prove ourselves righteous. This led them to offend God. Remember, it was only a few generations prior that God became so fed up with sin that He flooded the earth in a just punishment for sin. And here, so shortly after this great event, these people sought to offend God again by trying to unite themselves on the basis of their own efforts.

                True unity is not to come from human enterprises, but from God in His Word. Specifically, true unity is found in common confession of the truth of Christ Jesus, who is our Savior and life. Unity built on Christ is a unity with a solid foundation that cannot be swept aside as other forms of unity might be. Yes, it is good to be united as a nation or community or cause, but if these forms of unity are founded on something other than Christ then they will eventually crumble because the foundation is not strong enough to endure challenge and hardship.

                This constitutes the first and foundational error of the Babel tower builders, but this error led to others, including the arrogant stance that they could invade heaven itself by their efforts and designs rather than hearing and heeding God and His design for including us human beings into His heavenly paradise. That is to say, the error with this is not that God did not want them or us to enter heaven, but that He wants to bring us there Himself by His own work, specifically the giving of His Son Jesus Christ. He does not want us to do so by our own efforts not because He is finicky and particular, but because our efforts will not actually accomplish this task!

                As a result of this, the Lord goes down to stop their building because “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”[2] That is to say, God wishes to stop their sin and ability to build great sins as a group. He is not worried about their innate capacity as human beings nor is He threatened by their ability and power. Instead, He, in His mercy, wants to keep them from pooling their resources for sin!

                In order to accomplish this end, God divides the languages of the earth and makes people unable to speak plainly to each other. This confusion ends the project and the people of Shinar scatter to other places. The interesting thing about our primary, spoken language is how it affects how we think and understand. It is much easier, for example, to understand something that you have a term to describe than something no one who speaks your language has ever seen. Further, without words to make concrete our thoughts we would be able to do precious little thinking about things. This linguistic, that is language, division also affects other things about culture and thinking that make communication difficult, hence the name for the place becoming “babel,” which means confusion.

                The reason for this is that God did not want these people to unite around sin, instead, He divided them to keep their ability to create grand monuments of sin to a minimum. In other words, this event was a way of preventing the great things that human beings might have done for sinful reasons. Confusion was the punishment for their collective sins against God and their hubris.

                This should seem distressingly familiar to you. We live in a land of confusion, to borrow a phrase from Phil Collins. And this confusion is not unrelated to our sin and the sins of us as a people.

                Now this event was undone in a way in the day of Pentecost, that is to say, the day the Lord Jesus gave the Holy Spirit, the Comforter to the Church. And the Spirit is poured out on all people of all nations who come to the Christian faith by the power of the Word of God. This is evidenced by the fact that the divided tongues of the people of the earth are no longer an impediment to the proclamation of Jesus Christ. The Spirit gave all those around on that day the ability to hear and understand the Word of God, a sort of overcoming of the barriers that language gives.

                This serves as a lesson against human arrogance and pride, particularly in corporate things. And it serves as a reminder of how our loving Father will restore a greater unity to us human beings through His Son and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the sin of the people of Shinar led them to try a build a unity and life for themselves, built on their own strength, evidenced by the grand monument that they were building. But we see in the giving the Holy Spirit something else, a granting of unity that transcends human strength and power, a true unity wrought in the blood of Jesus. And this unity lasts and endures precisely for that reason, because it is given in Christ by the Holy Spirit as our Lord has foretold.

                So, dear friends in Christ, we should take comfort in our unity, a unity that is not of this world. We are not alone; we are intimately tied with all Christians of all times and places into the one true Church. And this Church, this unity, will last as long as our Lord does, that is, it will last forever.

 

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


[1] Genesis 11:6-9 ESV

[2] Genesis 11:6b


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