Genesis 11-The Cycle of Hubris, the Full Circle of Language

Genesis 11:1-9

Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. 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, 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 left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused[a] the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

the easiest story of genesis

The Tower of Babel is perhaps one of the simplest reads of Genesis not only for how succinct the story is, but also for how overt its message is. The Tower of Babel is a construction of human hubris, the endeavor for humanity to build the unbreakable, to sail the unsinkable, to reach the heights of God once more. This endeavor perhaps was reminiscent of the temptation sold to Eve: the reaching out for something higher–godhood–on one’s own.

The immediate lesson here is that sainthood, godhood, human perfection cannot be a solitary or solely human endeavor. We can’t become god-like on our own accord, not without the invitation of God. Sometimes we seek to conquer our addictions, fulfill our dreams, or even become saint-like or prophetic without God’s synergy. Funny how after all things are created new this is the first temptation: the universe is created, Eve’s first temptation is to become like God, the world is recreated through the flood, and humanity seeks to become like God.

That being said, perhaps there’s something commendable about this endeavor of humanity versus its predecessor. We read before how in Noah’s time humanity was violent, cruel, and held nothing but evil in their hearts. I imagine a child who does not seek the competence, patience, or creativity to build together a masterpiece of building blocks or Legos, but rather enjoys knocking it all down. Perhaps there’s some hope knowing humanity now chooses to band together instead of war, to build instead of destroy.

That being said, what we will find in this story is that good intentions and virtues are not enough to ascend these righteous and godly heights, and through the punishment we will see what was intended for humanity all along.

the Failsafe Against the Second Flood

Think of an apocalyptical movie or show, and think of how a group of survivors initially band together. The world they knew is destroyed, but they have an idea what they’d like their new world–city or town–to be like. This is the story of the Flood and of the Tower of Babel.

Humanity is inclined to start a better world than the last, and as we mentioned, there is perhaps more virtue here than there was in the former generation from Noah’s time. The post-apocalyptical world is going to create something, to unite humanity, to be reborn out of the crisis. The rebirth is noble.

But this Tower of Babel is misguided.

There’s something symbolic about the building of a tower and reaching the heights of heavens versus building a city, a fortress, a garden. Anything but a tower is still easily destroyed, could be washed away, wouldn’t survive another flood. We ought to assume that Noah shared the covenant of God with his offspring, assuring them no future flood would come. Still, humanity builds something tall, fortified, and high so as to not worry about another flood again. It’s fair to assume that these are generations of people after Noah, and so the possibility that this act is done out of trauma doesn’t hold much weight. They know about the flood, and instead of doing right by God, they decide to build something just incase they fall out of favor with Him.

This is a misguided fear of God, one that runs away from Him rather than runs to Him–not unlike Adam and Eve hiding in the garden. Combined with this improper fear is this hubris that humanity can build something to reach God, to build something to withstand against God’s power. To top the whole calamity of the project is the ancestral pride and curiosity to become like God, without God’s synergy.

utopia, the anathema

It would be hubris for us to think that the Tower of Babel is limited to the times of Genesis. Wasn’t it humanity that build the Titanic and said, “not even God can sink this ship”? And what of our incessant desire to conquer death, to pour all our resources and hope into the possibility we can live forever and allow our loved ones to do so as well? I am reminded of the projects of the Soviets, of their space adventure resulting in the claim “we did not see God in the heavens”, their endeavor to immortalize their hero Lenin by spending millions of dollars to create a cryo-genic grave for his body, or their own Tower of Babel that sought to become the tallest skyscraper of civilization.

The towers we build today sometimes come in the shape of skyscrapers, and sometimes they come in the shape of technology and structure. But worse than all these inventions of Babel is the Tower of Utopia, of ideology.

The Tower of Babel represents not only mankind’s hubris fear of a second flood, but also the dream of a new city in man’s image, a perfect creation after a time of crisis. The city of Babel that would naturally form around this tower would require a specific and structured governance in order to keep the people united in their cause and their city/tower intact. What would follow is a society in man’s image, a utopia, an idealistic governance to endure all time with well-thought philosophy and proper leadership. This would lead to a time of happiness, of fairness, of prosperity.

Do we not stake our happiness, our fairness, our prosperity into our own particular flavor of politics, into our own subscribed philosophy, ideology, or world view? Today’s political turmoil is no different than that of France’s or Russia’s, a tumultuous time of division marked by indignation–and what is indignation/anger but a byproduct of fear. We dream of what our society ought to look like, as though it will abate the flood of old we have all heard of, to protect us from further calamity. We design a new vision for our country with the intent to ascend humanity, to progress into a moral high ground, without the guidance or synergy of God.

Utopia, ideology, is a bad word. It is the ever repeating cycle of one or many men determining they themselves have the wisdom to provide a perfect world, a perfect nation, a perfect people. If we only endeavored to look at the sins of our ancestors, from Babel to Marxism, we might see how short-lived these endeavors are, how our aim is at something so temporary, something that seemingly does not even last a single generation. We are Sisyphus, rolling an impossible boulder on our own up the mountain just for it to roll back down on the wayside, but the only difference is that we lack Sisyphus’ awareness how futile the act is.

Babel & Pentecost

The punishment of the story is fairly tame: the tower falls, and the people develop new languages. I would dare to imagine because humanity had the virtue of wanting to build and unite that God was perhaps more merciful to us in that moment, and yet the punishment is still rather severe when we consider who the Son of God Is.

We spoke previously how life-giving, creative, and powerful our words are. Words are a subset of language, and we find now that humanity has been confounded in their words, in the creation of new languages. The punishment distances humanity a little more from the Son of God, who is the Word of God. Perhaps this distance would incline humanity to get to know their creator a little more, to draw near to the Word of God instead of build something without Him.

That being said, I believe this punishment was a perfect ground-laying for the real Tower that God wanted to see built: the cathedral, the Church.

The miraculous loss of a common tongue is undone when we fast forward to the New Testament, to the Acts of the Apostles. Pentecost is the promise fulfilled by the Word of God, that a comforter would arrive to miraculously bestow grace and ability upon the Apostles to fulfill the great commission: to preach the Gospel, the Good News. The Flood of Christ’s Crucifixion has subsided, and humanity is able to build their new Tower with God’s synergy, and the ability to speak to all peoples is restored.

The Tower of Babel and Pentecost are foils to one another. Humanity working alone vs humanity’s synergy with God. An unhealthily fear of God restored to a healthy fear of God, and more than that a love for God, a reliance upon Him. The confounding of languages to the ability to speak ALL languages. The Tower that is toppled that sought to reach heaven vs the height of the Church, a new Tower with assured height to the heavens.

The last neat foil to these two stories is how the Tower of Babel anticipated another flood with its height and build. Still, we can imagine God’s power being able to overpower a tower, the surge of the flood to topple the structure, the height not being able to escape the depth of the ocean. That being said, the Church, often compared to a boat or a ship, can withstand any Flood, will always be buoyant enough to stay above death and chaos.

The Tower of Babel is an age old tale of what we see repeated in history over and over again. Humanity trusts in its own philosophy, wisdom, and machination. We do this in fear of another flood, though that flood can go by the name of any crisis, any tribulation, any war or dark period of history. We build so as to keep that part of history behind us, but ultimately this endeavor will collapse in a short period of time. For any lasting change we want to see in the world and for each other, for any intention to escape another flood, we must put ourselves in synergy with God, a much simpler task that need only require humility and the right-minded petition: Lord, have mercy.

Today, consider the following.

  • What structures do I find myself placing the most amount of structure or faith in?
  • What worldview or ideology to I subscribe to. How powerful is that belief? Is it something that can survive 100 years, 200 years, 1000 years?
  • What “Flood” am I afraid of encountering or afraid for our society to encounter?
  • How can I ask for humility today?
  • How can I be a part of building God’s Ark?

Genesis 8: What To Do After A Crisis

Genesis 8:1-20

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. 2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. 3 The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, 4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5 The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

6 After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark 7 and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 

What to do when the storm is over

Noah and his family have endured a lot.

They have separated themselves from their neighbors–for better or for worse–and likely felt loneliness either from their different way of life or for their call to this holy task of building an ark. They have been stuck over a month on a boat, tossed and turned by a storm, enduring the sounds and smells of their animal companions. There is nothing but water around them, and as the storm raged there is no sunlight.

When things begin to clear up, they are met with uncertainty, sending out birds to find hope of dry land. It takes multiple attempts before they have any reassurance that there will be normalcy. But finally they come out of the Ark, inhabit earth again, and what is the first thing Noah does?

He gives thanks. He makes a sacrifice to God.

What a strange gesture.

We are to believe that the only animals left on the earth belong to the Ark, and so a sacrifice of animals is a strain to say the least on the circle of life. Noah gives this animal back to God as a token of trust and gratitude, of consecrating new ground: the new earth baptized.

Here is the first implication: consecration. Noah gives nature back to God in sacrifice, consecrating over a precious and limited commodity to God. Noah plants a spiritual flag in the earth through this sacrifice, claiming it as God’s earth. The stewardship man abused in previous generations is restored in a way as humanity realizes this is not a playground to make amuck of, but a precious gift that we are honored to enjoy that will be expected to be given back into God’s hands. 

The other implication of this sacrifice is trust. As mentioned, Noah is endangering new life through this sacrifice as it comes at a cost. Perhaps that burnt offering was supposed to be their next meal, or their livestock they would have raised to sustain themselves with. Noah and his family are sure to be no strangers of scarcity after seeing all things perish by the deluge, and perhaps they have considered another flood could come, or perhaps even a drought. The sacrifice is a leap of faith by Noah, a bold gesture that communicates to God: this is yours, I’m giving it back knowing full well that I might need it, but I trust you’ll take care of me.

The last piece of this sacrifice is the gesture of gratitude. Noah easily could have become bitter by this whole operation, said no to God outright, tore his clothes for all that he had to endure and for knowing what kind of destruction lays all around him. Instead, Noah gives thanks to God. Perhaps this thanksgiving was for being spared, or for giving creation a second chance. After the turmoil, however, Noah does not walk away feeling entitled or jaded, but rather chooses to be grateful through an act of sacrifice.

do we have a responsibility to sacrifice?

What bearing does this simple act have upon us?

As mentioned before, we all will encounter our own storms, our own deluge, our own floods. Sickness, loss, trials, suffering, whatever it may be, we all will find life tests us in different ways. When we are so fortunate, so blessed, to come out of said circumstances and find dry, stable ground again, the question must be posed to us: what are you going to do with this?

Too often I’ve met individuals who walk away from their malady, giving little consideration as to any change or feeling they ought to feel leaving the clinic, the hospital, their sickness. Should one just carry on, back to normal? Or shouldn’t we give pause to how to consecrate the new ground of our new life? Shouldn’t we, after enduring such a storm, learn or endeavor to trust having come out alive and well? Shouldn’t we lift our eyes, our hearts, and hands in thanksgiving to God, rising up to acknowledge what He has done, and give testimony to the blessings in our life?

Today, consider the following:

  • When you experienced a particularly “flood-like” trial, what did you do after going through it? Was it something self-serving or negative? Was it something gracious or positive?
  • Who are those you can trust? Who are those you can’t? Do you find yourself beholden to a schedule or routine? What is your relationship with the word control?
  • What are your first thoughts or actions when you first wake up? Where is your attention? What are five things you can be grateful for any given morning, and how d you put this gratitude into a habit?
  • What is something you can “set aside” for God and understand your role as steward? 

Genesis 7-Life is Full of Floods

Genesis 7:1-10

The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.

Humanity’s poor trajectory

In the last reflection, we spent some time discussing the cyclical nature of violence. Humanity seemed to calcify into a feedback loop of cruelty which attributed to wickedness. Then the flood came. Humanity was destined to self-immolate itself, and instead God washed it all out, quickening the process in a kind of baptism. The world would be made anew, and hopefully humanity would have a fresh start to repent, to be clean, just like any bath or baptism.

But this is not what I’d like to spend too much time focusing on in this chapter of Genesis. We have read about the conditions leading up to the flood, and we will read what takes place after, but for now I think it important to give some credence to the thing that saved humanity from the flood: the Ark.

The Ark is a vessel, and vessels are more remarkable than what we give them credit for. Imagine how long it took for us to discover the principles of buoyancy, and imagine having to describe this principle to a child. I once taught a Bible Lesson on the concept and found myself so ignorant and speechless, unable to convey something we take for granted.

The great reset

Water is a symbol of death and chaos. We typically think of it as life because we need it, but drinking from the ocean doesn’t bring life, and being stuck underneath it for any extended period of time drowns us. The sea is a tumultuous thing, seemingly with a life of its own, and the waves we admire and surf upon from the beach or an entirely different thing when we are rocked upon them by them on a boat.

Water is a fitting symbol in this story to illustrate what can and will happen for all of us. Perhaps we will not live through a literal deluge or tempest that will take out everything we know, love, and found comfort in, but we will all experience a surge, a storm, a long period where we feel robbed of sunlight and hope. The flood might be a break-up, a death, a dire consequence, physical or mental malady, the list is inexhaustible. Not to make these experiences of sufferings a kind of utility, but much like the flood, such deluges and tempests will put an end to old cycles and habits, washes out the sullen dirt of our sins, and the salt of the rising sea is akin to our tears of repentance. What I have noticed in suffering is that a change can emerge, a new human is born, priorities shift, and there is a sense of a “fresh start” that happens when one enters, dwells within, or exits such trying times.

a foundation, a boat

Nonetheless, suffering is trying, and sometimes the waters of life do seem to rise up above our heads without respite. Not everyone makes it out of grief and sickness unscathed or transformed. Too often the suffering multiplies as the misery is taken out on others or ourselves, quickening our own demise.

Such was the case for mankind, a boat is required of us. Our boats in life come in many forms. Sometimes its people. Sometimes its work or a vocation. Sometimes its a dream or personal goal. Having worked with individual suffering from depression especially after loss, I have seen many kinds of boats built/prepared for such types of floods, and the two qualities of these boats seems to remain constant: transcendent and everlasting.

Too often we fail to consider our purpose or inappropriately assign our purpose to tangible things that will not last forever: affluence, comforts, people, a job, etc. Too often we stake our happiness or confidence within ourselves, our dream of becoming something without any consideration that we on our own perhaps are insufficient and not built to stand alone. What is left when nothing outside or in is sufficient to hold us up in these storms is the only thing that is transcendent and everlasting: God & His Church.

The Church is often described in nautical terms, involving rules called by a “rudder” and a sanctuary wherein the people gather together in a “nave”. But the Church is not merely the rules and the books, not merely the place to worship; it is those elements, and MORE. It is those who are with us rowing on earth, and those who are spiritually rowing from us–the saints and the blessed reposed–that have gone before us. Prayer is the mast, and the virtues are the floor boards. This is our only hope to brave the storm as we are told, for in faith and in the Lord is our only chance at miraculous buoyancy.

And yet, we see many faithful people crumble under grief, walk away from hope after sickness. It’s painful to see when strong men and women of faith crumble under these pressures as it hurts our own sense of hope, that people we might regard as stronger than us falter to the storms of life.

A judgement call should not be made in regards to “did they really believe” or “were they really good people”. Instead of prescribing to anyone how to “make right” in the face of a storm, I think we ought to stay with Noah and his Ark, and realize the answer to any storm is rather simple.

It is a kind of obedience, a deliberation, a labor, and a perseverance. Noah followed God’s orders to build an Ark when there was no sign for a storm–he prepared for it. Noah had to do quite a bit of work creating such a marvelous piece of technology, a feat that could withstand against nature. Noah had to endure the long days and nights of constant clouds and downpour, perhaps battling seasonal affection disorder to some degree, stuck up in the smelly confines of a rickety, feces ridden boat.

What kept noah afloat

I think it important to keep these virtues in mind that Noah exhibited in the face of total catastrophe, but even more than that I think we ought to take some stake in his primary action: building.

Noah built himself a structure to the right dimensions that he was given. He didn’t try to make the boat on his own, but rather rose to God’s challenge to make this giant thing. How often do we receive instructions from our leaders, our pastors and priests, our friends and family to rise to a challenge of goodness, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and we find ourselves short of said instructions. How often do we piece together this boat of ours, putting off the work of responsibility, mercy, and prayer until we find ourselves in a storm with a half-made boat? How often do we overlook the pitch needed to plug the holes, forget to consider our own weaknesses, personal flaws, ticks and neuroticisms without any careful introspection or quiet contemplation?

What is guaranteed in life is that each of us will be met with a storm, of one kind or another. We should consider this our warning and give some thought as to what we have already built for ourselves to withstand the deluge, what we can do to keep reinforcing its hull, and if the thing is really sea-worthy.

Today, consider the following

  • When have I been in a time of great sorrow or suffering? What did I do to get through it? Was that helpful?
  • When have I seen someone else in such a time of great sorrow or suffering? What I do? What didn’t I do? What do I imagine I’d like someone to do for me in such a scenario?
  • What habits, rituals, schedules have I laid out for myself that help me grow into a better person?
  • What is one quality of myself that could be “washed out” before life takes me by storm? What are some reasonable steps I could lay out to scrub that out?
  • What is my life’s vessel? What is my purpose? Will it stand against a flood? Will it float?

I’d like to thank Dr. Jordan Peterson for instilling a great deal of inspiration in this reflection of the Flood. You can watch his lecture on the Flood on Youtube.