Septuagesima Sunday February 20, 2000
Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
In the name of the triune God, whose will for us is always the best way to go, dear Christian friends, dear fellow redeemed.
Life can become a real battle of will, especially in the family. What the child wants for himself can be the exact opposite of the parent’s wishes for the child. You know from experience how this often plays out. You decide what’s right and good for your kids. But they don’t understand your decision. They feel deprived. They complain about the choice you made. And sometimes they force you to assert your authority as parents. You have to insist that they go to bed at a certain time, that they brush their teeth, that they do many other things that are good and necessary for their own welfare. In the battle of will between parents and children, it’s so important that the will of the parent prevail for the good of the child.
I find the relationship of parents and children to be a good picture of God’s relationship with us. He is our heavenly Father, and we are in many ways like children. We don’t see the big picture like He does. We don’t always know what’s good for us. Even as a loving father will intervene for the good of his sons and daughters, God will step into our life and assert His will for our own good. Like immature children, we don’t understand what the Lord is doing. We don’t like the restrictions that are placed upon us. We don’t like being told what to do. And so a battle of will takes place between us and our heavenly Father. Which brings me to the lesson of our text, a lesson that is so timeless, because the pattern keeps repeating itself. We have to learn this truth again and again. With the Tower of Babel as our example, we shall see that
Making the right choices—it’s a very important part of life, especially the Christian’s life. Where should the Christian live? What kind of person should he or she marry? What can they do to keep their spiritual life intact? To some degree we all have to make those decisions. The choices that we make really come down to one main question. What does God want me to do? How does God want you to handle this situation? If we always stopped to asked that question and then followed the right answer, our problems and level of frustration would taper off dramatically. We have to admit many of our troubles are self-inflicted. We bring the trouble on ourselves by insisting that we do it our way. Yes, in many respects we act like our ancestors did some 4000 years ago.
It’s really no surprise. Human nature has been the same since the fall into sin. Human nature will instinctively reject God’s will and pursue what we want to do instead. Our forefathers after the Flood are a good example. As a unified group, all of Noah’s descendants had migrated to the fertile plain of Shinar, in what is now modern-day Iraq. On the surface it sounds like a fairly innocent thing to do. But you need to understand something God said. God told Noah and his descendants, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (Gen. 9:1) God gave the order to spread out, to populate and settle the entire earth.
We need not examine why the command was given. God knew what He was doing. His desire to fill the earth was a good thing. The people would not suffer harm by doing what God said. But the command was brushed aside. They asserted their will over God’s will. If that wasn’t bad enough, they also got carried away by their own self-importance. They tried to promote their own glory, their own image and reputation. Listen to what they said: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” Instead of letting God become #1 in their life and determining the course that they should take, they wanted to claim that position for themselves. They set themselves up as their own lord and master.
Now that sounds familiar. People today seek their own glory. The famous Hollywood actor, the multimillionaire superstar athlete, the rich tycoon, the powerful people in top government positions, all seeking to promote themselves. We can think of many others who focus everything they have to pursue a dream or become the absolute best in their field of work. All these people should ask themselves: why am I doing this? Am I using my talents to serve God? Am I using my talents to serve my own ambitions?
Really, we should put the same question to ourselves. We can’t point a finger at the rich and famous without admitting that we’re just as guilty of self-seeking and self-promotion. It’s human nature to be that way. Had we been around at the Tower of Babel, we’d be part of the building crew. We’d be part of the rebellion. In fact, we may be guilty of building a “tower of Babel” in our life right now. Are we pursuing something that keeps us away from worship, prayer, and Bible study? Are we so focused on a certain goal or a certain activity that our time with God becomes less and less—less than what it should be? If so, here’s what is happening: we are asserting our will in conflict with God’s will.
It could be anything. A form of recreation, a person’s career, a habit, a business venture, a sport, a friend or loved one. Our human nature will latch onto anything or anyone and make that more important than the things that God wants us to do and the things that God wants us to be. But there’s a price to pay. Don’t think for a minute that God will sit by and let His will be trampled underfoot. He didn’t let our forefathers get away with what they were doing. Why wouldn’t He act the same toward us? Have you ever noticed how some of our plans are frustrated and thwarted by all kinds of events, things beyond our control, circumstances that we could never stop or change? Maybe there’s a good reason why. Maybe we have left God out of our plans. Maybe our choices have led us to act in disobedience to His will.
The Psalm writer put it this way: “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain.” (Ps. 127:1) Listen also to the Proverbs: “There are many plans in a man’s heart; nevertheless the Lord’s counsel, that will stand.” (Prov. 19:21) Those passages confront us with the insurmountable fact that God will get His way in our life. If He has decided that a certain event will happen or that a certain event will not happen, then that’s the way it will be, in spite of any effort on our part to the contrary. Look what happened in our text. God confused the language of the people. They couldn’t understand each other. With no ability to communicate, the building project came to a halt, and the people moved away. Their will was overruled. God’s will was carried out. He got them to fill the earth, even though they had planned to stay in one place.
Surely we don’t want to repeat the history of our ancestors. Let’s stop building our own “towers of Babel,” before God stops it for us. Let’s stop insisting on our way and let God have His way. When you look at the big picture, you’ll agree His way is better. His way leads to blessing instead of frustration. His way avoids the consequences of sin. His way is good for our spiritual life. There should be no doubt that His way is right. The question is: what way does God want us to go? You don’t have to wonder about the answer. God spells it out in His Word. God’s will is done according to His promises.
The Tower of Babel story occurs shortly after the Flood. Let’s recall the reason why God sent the Flood in the first place. Gen. 6 says: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” The world had become so corrupt that only eight believers were left. Out of how many billions of people, only eight who repented of their sins and trusted in the one true God. So God sent the Flood to get rid of moral pollution. God gave the earth a much-needed bath. God sent the Flood to start over with Noah and his family. But shortly thereafter, the descendants of Noah were showing the same bad signs of corruption, rebellion, and waywardness. You can tell by the comment God made. The LORD said in our text, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.” As though God was saying to Himself, “Oh no, here we go again.”
But remember. God had made a promise to spare the world of any further destruction. God had to keep the promise, yet remain faithful to His own sense of holiness. He handled the problem by stopping the will of the people from going any further. By confusing the language, stopping the construction of the tower, and spreading the people out, God was able to curb and control the waywardness of sinful man. They were not allowed to reach the same level of wickedness that their ancestors had reached before the Flood. We could say that God took drastic measures to solve a drastic problem, while at the same time keeping the promise He had made.
Well, the pattern repeats itself centuries later. God is still performing His will according to His promises. He promised to make atonement for our sins, remove the sin from our record, and make us acceptable in His sight. So He sent Jesus as our Savior and sacrificed Him instead of us. In eternity He chose us to become His people. So He sent the Holy Spirit to put faith into your heart. And as far as day to day events go, we have God’s promise that He is there, still in control, even in the midst of all our troubles. Even when those troubles are self-inflicted. We make a mess in our life. But God takes the mess and makes it work out for our good, just like He promised in Romans: “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
We don’t know the exact reason for every change in our life or every turn of events. But we do know this. God gets His way. Sometimes it happens in spite of ourselves, as an overrule of the plans that we have made. In every case God is acting according to His promises. He especially carries out His will for the good of His people.
We might be tempted to think of God as some kind of dictator, as though He asserted His will only for the sake of being in charge. But that’s not the way God is. He’s more like a merciful King, a loving Father. Yes, He’s in charge. We must respect His power and authority, for they are absolute. But the goodness and mercy of God are the driving force behind His actions toward us. Every move that He makes has our best interests in mind. When He scattered the people at the Tower of Babel, He was doing what was best for everybody. He kept His promise and spared the world from judgment. Also remember that the Tower of Babel is not some isolated event. It fits the overall plan to save the world. God scattered the people to create the nations. He then used one nation to save all the other nations from sin and death.
God had His way at the Tower of Babel, and the result was good for you. So also, when God acts today and orchestrates the events in our life, He is still working to accomplish something good. He’s setting us up for some kind of benefit. If we’re on the wrong track, it’s not a bad thing when frustration and troubles set in. God is derailing us from the wrong course, so that we don’t head any further into danger. He intentionally gets in the way, so that we don’t harm ourselves, especially the welfare of our souls. God will strive to “herd” us back to the right course, His course which always leads to blessing.
As believers who live in a sinful world and a dangerous world, we have to understand the role that we play in our life. Our life is like a journey in a car. But we don’t sit in the driver seat. We’re in the passenger seat. God must take the wheel and steer the course in our life. If we make His will our will, if we let His direction become our direction, look what happens. The destination is sure, because God does the driving. The journey is more pleasant. There are fewer bumps in the road and fewer break-downs. If we get off course—and we do—He gets us back on track, sometimes in spite of ourselves, yet always according to His promises and always with our best interests in mind. He will bring us back to Himself. So let’s stop taking the wheel in our life and give it back to God, with the confidence that He will bring us along to the right place, especially the place where He wants us to be forever. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.