Recently, as I was reading through Genesis, I noticed something that I never had before. We often talk about Genesis and the many events that took place that defined humanity (Creation, the Fall, the Flood, etc.).
One of the major themes in Genesis is man’s rebellion. And whether it is the pride of Adam and Eve wanting to be equal with God or it is Noah’s drunkenness, Genesis is, in many ways, a history about man’s will being in absolute opposition to God. The effects of the sinfulness of man run deep, and they reach a corporate pinnacle in chapter 11, when humanity comes together in their community and attempts to make a name for themselves by building a tower for all to see (v. 4). Their motivations were not only to make a name for themselves, but to have a public testimony to their greatness in the tower they were going to build. Additionally, they wanted to make sure that whatever they built made them look strong so that their community would not be threatened by outsiders, lest they be conquered and dispersed.
God, looking down from heaven, sees their desires and its selfish root and frustrates their plans by confusing their language. Thus, the place they had built came to be called “The Tower of Babel” (v. 9).
The reason this stood out to me was not because I learned something totally new about the people who built the tower. Instead, I was amazed at what happened next in God’s plan. God frustrated the plans of men at the Tower of Babel because their desire was to exalt themselves and make their name great. However, if you look at Genesis 12, the very next chapter, Moses records how it is after Babel that God looks down and chooses Abram out of Ur.
And look at what God promised Abram. “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and MAKE YOUR NAME GREAT, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (vv. 2-3). And later in Genesis 13, after Abram and Lot separated, God promises him, “I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted” (v. 16).
Weren’t these the same things that caused God to frustrate the plans of the tower-builders? They wanted to build up their community, they wanted strength, and they wanted to make their name great. God promised Abram that He would give him a great number of offspring, that He would hold a revered position of worldwide impact, and that He would make his name great. So, why would God want that for Abram and not for the tower-builders?
Was it because Abram was a perfect man? No. Throughout Abram’s life, he lied on multiple occasions and stepped ahead of God in a catastrophic way (Ishmael). And eventhough Abraham is mentioned in Hebrews 11 as an example of faith, we can be sure that God did not choose Abram because of his perfection, for “no one is righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10).
No, I think the reason God chose Abram to be great and not the tower-builders was because of their motivation. It was not based on morality, strength, ability, or anything else. They wanted to make their name great, but Abram’s success, because of his evident nothingness out of which God chose him, would be totally attributed to God.
That is what God wants. He was us, in our endeavours, in our successes and failures, in our pain and trials, and in our comfort and joy to make Him the stated reason for our life. After all, are we not the same as Abram. In us, is God not using the foolish things of the world to shame the wise and the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Cor. 1:27).
Even though my desires are tested throughout the week, in my sanctified mind I know that I would rather bear the name of Jesus and have His name be made great in my life than for me to make a name for myself and be forgotten, probably even while I am still alive and definitely after I am dead and gone.