Throughout my adult lifetime, my husband has constantly pushed me to take different personality tests. Myer Briggs, enneagram, StengthFinder,…..I’ve taken them all!
Early on in our marriage, we owned a company together, and we actually went through our strength finders to see if we could work well together as we managed this company.
I’m sure you’ve all done some of this as well.
If you work for a company, you’ve more than likely been asked to do some sort of personality test so your boss can see how you function best. Or maybe even on your own, you’ve looked into the enneagram or some other test to simply get to know yourself better.
But here’s the thing about personality tests, regardless of what those tests tell you, they do no good unless you apply them to your life.
It doesn’t help to know I’m “ bold and creative, deconstructing and rebuilding ideas with great mental agility” if I hide in the shadows all the time.
Ultimately, God gave us all these gifts and created us for a purpose, and what we are going to see today in Genesis 11 is we have a choice whether to use our gifts to serve God and participate in his purpose or to use our gifts to lead ourselves and others to destruction.
Background to the Tower of Babel
Before we jump into Genesis 11 and the story of the Tower of Babel, it is important to understand what is happening in Genesis 10.
Genesis 10 is full of the genealogy of Noah. Noah had 3 sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. These are all important characters to know as we read Genesis 11. We especially want to focus on Ham’s grandson. He is a big player in the Tower of Babel, and Genesis 10 gives us a picture of what he is like.
Genesis 10:9-10 states, “Cush (who is Ham’s son) fathered Nimrod, who began to be powerful in the land. He was a powerful hunter in the sight of the Lord. That is why it is said,” Like Nimrod, a powerful hunter in the sight of the Lord”
And this next verse is important.
“His (Nimrod’s) kingdom started with Babylon….in the land of Shinar. From that land, he went to Assyria and built Nineveh….” Genesis 10:11
As we read the names of Nimrod’s kingdoms (Babylon, Assyria, Nineveh), we can get a picture of Nimrod and the type of kingdoms he will build. Remember, the Bible is one big story. Everything connects throughout scripture. All of these cities build by Nimrod are nations that are subject to God’s judgment later in scripture. They are seen as evil empires throughout the entire Old Testament.
Character Traits of Nimrod
Now, look back at the description of Nimrod in Genesis 10:8-10 and notice 2 character traits.
“He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; that is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.”
Derek Kidner in Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries points out these verses show us Nimrod is known for his
- Personal prowess (skill, expertise, bravery, hunter)
- Political power (he is who started these kingdoms)
Both of these character traits are things the world admires. In fact, notice even God recognized the skill. He was powerful “in the sight of the Lord.’
But yet the tragic irony is that the very skills God gave Nimrod, he uses to lead people away from God and into destruction. Nimrod used his God-given gifts to create the story we read in Genesis 11 about the tower of Babel.
We either use our gifts to advance God’s kingdom or advance our own kingdom.
Sometimes we are more like Nimrod than we would care to admit. We begin to understand ourselves better through these StrengthsFinder tests, but we forget these strengths are a gift from God.
We forget that we either use our gifts to advance God’s kingdom or advance our own kingdom.
Remember all these facts about Nimrod for a second. He was a gifted leader whose kingdoms included cities later subjected to God’s judgment.
Before we leave chapter 10 though, we need to see one more important statement. Genesis 10:25, when talking about one of the grandsons of Shem (Noah’s son) states, “ One was named Peleg, for during his days the earth was divided…” The earth simply means the inhabitants of the land.
And so chapter 10 has given us this great context.
- We have Nimrod,
- a powerful man creating kingdoms who do not honor the Lord
- the earth is divided.
So let’s put it all together.
“Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.”
Notice at this point, the people are not divided yet. They are still a unified people. And we see again as we saw in the description of Nimrod, they are moving Eastward to the plain of Shinar.
Do you see how genealogy and events go hand in hand? The genealogy gives us the context for the storyline.
The Larger Picture
Then we see the people moved eastward (11:2). According to The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, “As early as Genesis 3, the author has shown his interest in marking the directions of travel taken in man’s search for a home.”
This is a theme in Genesis helping us see when mankind is running from God’s blessing. Remember again, the Bible is one big story, and it all connects. The people reading this story would have been familiar with this idea of moving eastward showing man moving away from God’s presence. For example…..
Genesis 3:24 “drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed a Cherubim”.
Genesis 4:16 Cain refused God’s instruction to rule over his sin and so went from God’s presence and settled in the land of Nod to the East of Eden.
Later on, in Genesis in chapter 13, when Abraham and Lot needed to divide the land between them, Lot chooses the land eastward which later becomes Sodom and Gomorrah which we know is not a city seeking the presence of the Lord.
This Plain of Shinar that is Eastward draws this story of the Tower of Babel in chapter 11 into a larger picture at work in Genesis. This picture of God telling man how to follow him and mankind attempting to find goodness and power on his own.
God’s Command to His People
Make a Name For Themselves
“They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
Their reason to make the tower: “To make a name for themselves….otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth”.
They wanted to use their personality and the gifts God had given them to make a name for themselves.
Remember Nimrod. He had personal prowess and political power and used them to create his own kingdom.
Remember your own giftings. Are you using them to create your own kingdom? Name for yourself?
The fact that the God of all of creation knew them individually and had given them a mission to scatter and fill the earth for his glory was not enough. They wanted to be significant in their own eyes as well.
Fearful of God’s Plan
But we also see in verse 4 that not only did they want to make a name for themselves, they were also fearful of God’s instructions to them.
God asked them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, but fear made them doubt God’s definition of goodness.
They doubted His plan was good, and they started to evaluate their own giftings to see how they could come up with a better plan.
I think we can admit we all fall into this trap at times.
We know the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to bring about changes to a situation BUT simply sitting and praying and trusting seems scary.
Wouldn’t it make MORE sense to march into the office, demand our way, or work all hours of the night to bring about our desired result?
I feel this deep in my soul. I’m currently building an online ministry. The professional opinions about how to do this are many.
I know God is in control and has the authority. I know He will bring about success if that is what he desires. I know I can submit all my requests to him and he will hear me.
The temptation to do the exact opposite is strong.
I hear “you need to grow your platform” and I begin to struggle with spending more time on social media “growing my platform” than simply sitting in the presence of Jesus trusting him.
I hear “if you work hard enough, you’ll succeed” and I start to remove all boundaries around my time and work in every free nook and cranny of my schedule in order to be successful.
See I have the natural gifts of teaching and I can work hard and fast to bring about creative solutions, and the temptations to simply grow my own company in my own strength and be successful is STRONG.
Instructions from God
The instructions from God are to “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
But being still is scary when you’re growing a business.
Or what about Matthew 6:33 which states, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”
Am I seeking first his kingdom when I fill every moment of time with seeking first my success?
I think you can relate to this as well. Think for just a moment,
What instructions is God giving you that you are fearful of? Where are you using your own giftings in your own strength to bring about what you think might be better than what God has planned?
Because remember Nimrod. Are you using your giftings to advance your own kingdom or God’s?
This tension between building our own kingdom and building God’s is strong.
But then we see the goodness of the Lord step in in Genesis 11:5-9.
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other. So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”
Here we see again God’s concern for his creation. Not as a rival but as a Father. God steps in. He “comes down” to discipline in the midst of man’s pride and fear in order to protect mankind.
God sees his creation choosing to run away from the plan that is best. And just like when our children go to touch a hot stove we step in and move their hand, we see God “come down” and stop his people from pursuing life apart from God.
Ultimately, because they refused to trust God, God had to step in and do what was best for mankind anyway. They just missed out on the blessing of obedience. Often it’s our choice whether we participate in the blessing or just the consequences of God’s plan in our life.
Connecting the Dots
And so we come back around to Genesis 10:25 “...and the earth was divided”.
The Tower of Babel shows us a picture of what it looks like for people to use their giftings to create a name for themselves.
But right after this story, we see what “the earth was divided” means.
The tower of Babel is sandwiched between 2 genealogies. The one in chapter 10 is where we get Nimrod, the founder of the kingdoms who later fall under the judgment of God.
And the genealogy that begins in chapter 10 with Peleg, the grandson of Shem (Noah’s other son), and concludes in chapter 11, is where we get Abraham, the father of Israel.
John Sailhamer in his commentary over Genesis states, “So there are two great lines of the descendants…One ends in Babylon, the other in the Promised Land.”
One part of humanity who states “come let us make a name for ourselves….”
Another part of humanity who looks to God and waits for Him to state, “I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great.”
And now two great lines of humanity exist.
One line of humanity who strives to use their own giftings to make a name for themselves apart from God, and one who strives to submit their own giftings to God so that God can make a name for Himself through them.
We see this division between mankind in these chapters and are left with the question, which part of the division am I on?
Do you tend to be like the people building the Tower of Babel who let their fears and insecurities dictate their life choices? Are you focused on using your own effort to make your life better, more significant, and more important? Or are you simply compromising on what God is calling you to do?
do you fight to be like Abraham who has no clue what his next steps are going to be but trusts God to make his name great? Submitting his skills and giftings to God and trusting and following God’s plan even when it doesn’t make sense.
In Deuteronomy 30:15-19, Moses tells the Israelite people “ See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction….Now choose life”
Letting God build or building on your own.
The choice is ours.
Because just like God came down to rescue the people building the Tower of Babel from their own sin and from building their own kingdom. He has done the same for us.
In John 6:38 Jesus tells us “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”
Jesus came down to do the will of God the Father, to offer salvation, and to rescue us from the sin driving us to build our own kingdom.
Jesus has “come down” and took our sins upon himself. He has offered a way for you to have a relationship with God and quit striving to build your own kingdom.
Jesus has “come down” and given you a better path. One that leads to life and a relationship with God.
But we must choose which path we will walk. The path where we use our gifts to serve God and participate in his purpose or the path that will use our gifts to lead ourselves and others to destruction.
Will you choose to walk the way of Nimrod or Abraham?
And like Moses, I beg you “now choose life”.
You Might Also Enjoy:
- Gifts from God: A lesson from 1 Peter
- Understanding the Lanuage of the book of Ezekiel
- The Book of Deuteronomy: Learning to Trust God