Genesis 11 and a Tower

 

“Excuse me sir, I don’t mean to offend you in any way, but have you ever been told that you look like Stephen Harper?” Such was the question from a store clerk on a recent milk run to our local Mac’s store. And I had to answer that yes, in fact earlier this year someone had commented on how I remind them of our Prime Minister. I don’t mind, but I don’t really see it apart from glasses, greying hair, and the occasional attempt at musicianship. But suppose I were a look alike, might I go to the Prime Minister’s office and start making decisions that affect our nation? Of course not, such would make a mockery of our democratic system not to mention mess with my morning commute. We would not let it happen because the truth is that I am not the Prime Minister and because truth matters.

Truth matters when it comes to the identity of our Prime Minister, yet when it comes to the identity of God, it seems many would say truth does not matter. You will hear things like “all religions lead to God” or “all religions will take you to heaven,” or even “all religions are essentially the same”. But is this true? Logic will tell you that only the real Stephen Harper should be filling Stephen Harper’s shoes in the government, the differences between myself and Stephen Harper being great and going beyond merely shoe sizes. Study the religions in any depth and despite the appearance of commonality, the differences are great. Truth matters, God is who He is, we cannot simply make Him up, or recast him to suit ourselves. That would be idolatry.

 

But are not all religions ultimately worshipping the same God? That statement would only apply to monotheistic religions in the first place, but even among the monotheistic religions it would be an overly simplistic way of looking at it. Why? Suppose you were to describe my children to me and you remark upon how cute they are, and how full of life and energy. I would beam and say “yes,” but then you go on to say that you love their long black hair and brown eyes and how they each play the piano so well. By then I would figure out that you are not describing my children at all but must be mistaken on which children are mine. And so it is with religious ideas about God. Religions may start out with the intention of describing the one God that is, but they do not end up describing the same God. Someone is mistaken, and truth matters enough that we should figure out who.

So what has this to do with the Tower of Babel? In building the tower, which most scholars agree is a ziggurat, a common feature of Mesopotamian religion, the people are showing a great misunderstanding of who God is.* In Mesopotamian religions one would take care of the gods, and then the gods would be indebted to you, and so have to do something for you. The human mind backed by a religious zeal can be a dangerous thing and so God frustrates their plans:

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.” (Genesis 11:6-7 NIV)

God crashes their party and in effect says “you really don’t get me do you?” And so God lets confusion reign among the confused, their new misunderstanding of each other being symbolic of their misunderstanding of God. But then comes the good news in the very next chapter; God reveals Himself to Abram, and so begins God’s deliberate and gradual revelation of Himself to the Patriarchs, then to the nation Israel, then to the world through Jesus. In effect God is saying to us in Genesis 11 and 12 “You really don’t know me, but you will.” So let us pay attention to what He has revealed about Himself. After all, truth matters.

(*my thanks to John Walton in the NIV Application Commentary for steering me this direction in the understanding of this passage)

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