Devotional & Reflection

Week 1, Jan 2002

Genesis 11:1-9: Tower Of Power
By Pang Hee Hung, Director & Trainer, Ezra Resources

Gen 11:4 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

This is a time of the year whereby many write their resolutions and plans for the year. "I will achieve _____;" or "I will save / make $_____;" or "I will be No. 1 in _____." Such resolutions and plans fall into only two categories. Either they are in line with our human will or they are in line with God's will.

Some "I will" statements clearly reflect the human will as in the case of the Babylonian king who said in Isa 14:13 -14 "I will ascend to heaven;... v14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High." Other "I will" statements please God e.g. Ps 22:22 "I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you."

Genesis presents a contrast of two paths: the path that follows God's leading brings blessings, while the path that follows man's leading brings curses. The author uses a move "eastward" to symbolize a move away from God. E.g. Adam & Eve were made to settle in a land east of the garden (Gen 3:24); Cain settled in land east of Eden (4:16); Lot moved eastward (13:11); and in this passage, Gen 11:2, the men moved eastward (Sailhamer, "Genesis," in Expositor's Bible Commentary). They founded and settled in Shinar, first called Sumer, then Akkad and then Babylonia (Hamilton, Genesis, NICOT). Humankind's search for what is "good" rather than depend on the good provided by God led them to Babylon and Sodom.

In this week's passage, the men were building a tower, which is equivalent to a modern skyscraper. The tower reaches to the heavens (like the Babylonian king's "I will ascend to heaven"). They exude arrogant self-confidence as they plunged into their self-aggrandizing, monumental project of titanic proportions. Their humanistic and proud ways are confirmed in Gen 11:4 as they built the tower to make a name for themselves. Clearly their motivations are not in line with God's ways. And God had to rescue them from total ruin if they had achieved their own plans by scattering them. There is nothing wrong with finding, planning and settling into a new place or project. In fact, the end of this chapter (11:31) contrasts with the beginning (11:2). Terah's family settled in Canaan and they were in God's plan of redemption and blessing.

As I reflect on this passage, sometimes I can't help but wonder how easily we allow ourselves to strive for power and to make ourselves recognized regardless of our vocation, whether as full time ministers or people working in the marketplace. We want to take credit for the things we do. We want power. We want to be in control. We want to be seen contributing or accomplishing this and that. We want to be the fastest growing, the highest, the biggest, the most profitable etc.. If these are not achieved, we justify and use our reason and human intellect to devise another humanistic strategy. We live in a modernistic culture, influenced by Renaissance humanism and the Enlightenment. We believe that man is rational, capable of presenting a strategic, scientific and technique solution to every problem. We believe that the new is somehow better; bigger is better; more efficiency is better. "If we just work at it with enough intelligence, or long enough: "We can do it, if we will"" (Guder, Missional Church, p. 29). And often God rescues us from our autonomous self by disallowing us to achieve these humanistic resolutions, goals or vision.

1. How have we made plans and visions apart from God and His ways?
2. Reflect on some of our failures. Were they failures caused by the fallen nature of humankind and ourselves or were the failures allowed by God?

Tools For Reflection:
As we read a passage, reflect on the nature of man - aspects of his fallenness or goodness and our responsibility. Reflect also on the nature of God. How does His grace reverse our fallen situation?
Be careful too not to fall into the trap of taking an unbalanced position, uninformed by the whole of the scripture. E.g. Just because the people moved and settled in Shinar does not mean that it is wrong to move and settle. It is also not wrong to plan - although we will not be blessed if we plan apart from God.