Because we are all sinful creatures we fail God and other people regularly. In those moments of failure we certainly deserve whatever condemnation and judgement might come our way, yet we can all recall times when God showed us His grace instead and gave us a fresh start. You may feel like you’ve blown it so badly that God will never take you back. But He stands ready right now to extend His grace and give you a new beginning!
Abandoning Our Towers of Significance
Every person ever born spends some portion of their life searching for significance, status, peace, identity, belonging, and a long list of things that they know are missing from deep within them. Sadly, we often try to build those things into our life through career advancement, relationships, pleasure, prominence and possessions, only to realize later that all the towers of significance we have constructed are empty. But there is one place where all of these things can be found in abundance, and you can discover that place today!
If you have your Bible, go ahead and open it to Genesis 9:1. That’s where we’ll be starting. We’ll be moving pretty quickly, making some progress in our study through the whole Bible and coming to a very familiar story today. If you’ve ever traveled the world and gone into different cultures, no doubt you have run into language barriers. They can be really frustrating if you are running late to catch a flight and you’re trying to communicate with somebody who doesn’t speak your language. You’re motioning with your hands and playing charades and, for some reason, we always speak louder. I remember in, I think it was 1982, I was making a trip through Europe, just a quick trip, and I was in Switzerland, trying to get directions somewhere. I was on the street corner, and there were a group of ladies, elderly ladies, and I stopped, and I was gesturing with my hands. This was before the days of cell phones, before the Internet, before you could look up anything instantly. There was a word I thought I knew, and I was trying to pronounce it, and they got this horrified look on their face. I remember this one woman wagged her finger at me like that. I still don’t know what I said to her, but apparently I insulted someone terribly.
Where did all this come from? Have you ever thought about that? Where in the world did all these different languages originate? We’re going to see that today as we continue our way through Genesis. But before we do that, we need to pick back up in Genesis 9:1, where we left off last week, and look at some details that led up to that point. A quick recap from last time: The flood is over. Noah and his family are out of the ark. They have built an altar to God to give Him thanks, to worship Him. We talked about how God has already, as we’ve seen through Genesis, man has messed up again and again and again, and they have to pay the price for their sin, but God continues to give them fresh beginnings, continues to give them restarts along the way. I hope maybe this past week, you took some time to pause and build an altar, so to speak, and give God thanks for some of the restarts that He’s given you in your life.
Here they are, they’ve been brought through the flood, saved by God’s mercy, and God is giving them a fresh start, a brand new beginning. Not because they’re perfect, not because they’re sinless, but simply because Hebrews 11:7 tells us that it was by faith. They believed, the same way you and I are saved: by faith. Part of this new beginning, we see there in Genesis 9:1, God repeated almost word for word, what He told Adam and Eve back in Genesis 1:28. He created them, and He told them what He’s telling Noah and his family, “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” As you read through the Bible, you see God’s command is always to go, to take His message to spread it to the ends of the earth. And you read through the Old Testament in the Psalms, and again, and again, they’re crying out that God’s name would be known to the ends of the earth.
God gives that command again here at this point of new beginning, except now because of sin, things have changed since Genesis 1. Here in Genesis 9:2, something really odd is introduced. You and I take this for granted, but this must have been a real shock for them, apparently. Verse 2 now says that animals will now fear man. That wasn’t the case before the flood. People get all worked up about how did Noah get all those animals in the ark? Critics have a coronary over that. You remember back in Genesis 2, where all the animals came before Adam, and Adam gave names to the animals? People say, “Well, how in the world did Adam do that?” Well, clearly, according to Genesis 9:2, prior to the flood, there was some remarkable relationship that man shared with the animals, even the wild animals. Wouldn’t that be great? “Hey, Dad, I’m gonna go hang out with the lions today for a little while.” That would be wonderful, but now because of sin, that all changes from that point on. Another thing we see in verse 3, it says that animals are now food for man. That wasn’t the case before the flood, apparently.
As we were going through Genesis 1 and 2, one of the things that I pointed out and kind of hammered on a lot was that all of creation, from plants, and shrubs, and trees, to the birds, and the animals, and the beasts of the field, and all of that, it went to a lot of trouble to tell us that they were created after their own kind, and they produced after their own kind. But when it came to man, they were described very differently.
One of the things that we see now in Genesis 9:4-6 is this now comes up again. When God created Adam and Eve, He didn’t say they were created after their own kind. Do you remember what it said? He said they’re created in the image and likeness of God. I told you to hang on to that thought, because it would play out to be very, very important. Here is one of the first places we see this come up and the incredible significance of that. Right here in this moment, we see God clarifying to Noah and to his family for all future generations, the sanctity, the value, of human life. He values it here, clearly, far above all other life. He once again gives Adam and humans dominion over the animals. In one sentence, once again, God debunks the whole theory of evolution, that we all crawled out of the same swamp, and so there can be no differentiation between the value between me and a mosquito if that’s the case. God says, “No, it’s not the case. You have dominion over the animals, and human life is extremely valuable.”
It sort of culminates there in verse 6, and God says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” Why? Here it is: “for God made man in His own image.” This blood principle, which is so bizarre to someone who walks in to a church off the street, who’s never been in church before. I mean, just think about how odd this sounds. They come in and they hear Christians singing about “I’ve been washed in the blood,” and they go, “Whoa, what is this? What kind of strange cult is this?” Well, right here, and you can also go back to Genesis 4, where Cain killed Abel, and God said to Cain, “Your brother’s blood is crying out to Me from the ground.” There’s a little hint of the preciousness of human life and the significance of blood. And here, God begins to establish the principle of blood being required for the atonement for the forgiveness of sin. And this we’re going to see run throughout the rest of the Bible, that the life is in the blood, and therefore blood is required to make atonement for sin. Just tuck that away. We’re going to have a lot more to say about that in the coming months and decades as we go through this series.
Then if you look in Genesis 9:8-17, God now establishes a covenant with Noah. He establishes the covenant with Noah and his sons and then oddly enough, if you read that carefully, He also establishes it with all the animals, and by implication, with all future mankind, with all of us. David has already taught quite a bit on the covenants in recent months, so I’m not going to really dig deep into that. I would refer you to the messages online. They were covered very well and even again recently in the communion service just a few weeks ago. I would just refer you to that, rather than me covering that same ground again. Basically what God is saying here is, God promises to mankind and to all His creation, to all the animals, that He will never again flood the earth with water. Now, of course, we still see local floods today, and some of those are terrifying enough, aren’t they? To see entire houses being swept away by the power of water, and that’s just a tiny, little local flood. I can’t imagine the horror of the scale of a worldwide flood, but God promises here in these verses that He will never again flood the whole earth.
And of course, we know this part of Scripture well, that the sign that He gives to mankind is that whenever you see the bow in the clouds, whenever you see the rainbow in the clouds, that will be a reminder. Here’s the interesting thing: I missed this for years as well. If you read it carefully, it doesn’t say it’ll remind us. God says, “it will remind Me.” I find that really interesting. But the word “bow” used there is the word for a warrior’s bow. When a warrior was finished using his bow, he would hang it up, curved this way, up on a peg like this, in the shape of a rainbow. That was sort of a sign that the battle was over. He was laying down his bow. Someone suggested that maybe the shape of the bow is, in a sense, significant because God is saying, “I’m not going to fire My arrows of wrath at you anymore. Christ will come and He’ll take the arrows of wrath.” I might be going too deep, I don’t know. I think it’s a pretty sweet thing to think about, though.
So here’s Noah, this righteous man who walked with God, who obeyed God’s commands, even those ridiculous commands to build this impossible ark when there was no rain anywhere. He and his family have been spared from judgment. They have been brought through the flood; they’ve been given this new start; they’ve been given fresh blessings from God. They’ve been given a new covenant from God, and now the future spans wide open before them. These brand new, fresh, unblemished opportunities to walk with God and serve God, and what do you think the next thing would be that the Bible wants to tell us about Noah? Well, some time passes between verse 17 and verse 20, but go down to verse 20 and look. Verses 20 to 27 tell us that Noah got drunk. He laid around with no clothes on. His son Ham goes in and sees him that way. For us, we go everywhere, in the grocery store, magazine covers, we see half-nakedness. It’s everywhere. We’ve almost become numb to it. In this culture, it was not that way. When Ham saw his father that way, he was crossing boundaries that were just unthinkable.
Ham went out and he told his two brothers, Shem and Japheth. We don’t know all that went on, but the Bible does tell us here that when Noah woke up from this drunken sleep, he found out what Ham had done, and he curses Ham’s descendants. But he blesses Shem and Japheth because they had not disgraced their father the way Ham had done. Keep that in mind, because as we follow the family line out in the weeks to come, we’re going to see this very thing play out. As I mentioned weeks ago, the Messiah comes through the line of Shem. I’ll have a map for you the next time we move on down this line.
Why in the world would the Bible drop this in here, right in the middle of this beautiful scene? I say that with quotes. It must have also been somewhat terrifying to step off the ark and be the only humans on the earth. But they’ve been given this beautiful new hope, and wouldn’t you think that right before verses 28 and 29, where it gives us Noah’s epitaph, so to speak, that after the flood, he lived another 350 years, and like it said back in Genesis 5, when we looked at that so called boring list of names, and at the end of every one of them, what did it say? “And he died.” What does it say about good old Noah here? “And he died.”
Wouldn’t you think that between all the faithfulness we’ve seen in Noah and the “and he died” statements, wouldn’t you think the Bible would just kind of cover this one up, and just let it go and say, “Man, Noah was God’s man.” To me, it’s one of the beauties of inspiration of the Bible, because if people were making this up and trying to create this hero, they wouldn’t put this in. You see this throughout the Bible with Noah, with Abraham, with David. The list just goes on. What God is reminding us is, “Hey,”—like I told you when we studied Esther—”don’t make the mistake of looking at these people in the Bible as heroes.” They’re not heroes. God is the hero in every story. These are just people, broken people like you and me who God moved through in remarkable ways.
So what should that say to us? It should say that you are not in a different category than anyone named in the Bible. We’ve got to be so careful with this. I sometimes read articles or stories or whatever about the the heroes of the Bible, and I just cringe. I know what they mean, I understand, but it’s just wrong. Noah wasn’t a hero. Abraham’s not a hero. David’s not a hero. Paul’s not a hero. You’re not heroes. God takes broken, bent, ruined lives, and He restores them, and He lives His life through that person. He receives the glory because He is the hero. You and I aren’t.
That statement should not put us down. It should fill us with excitement and anticipation because we are the broken tools on the shelf of the garage, and instead of collecting dust and cobwebs, God is the one who comes in and says, “Look at there, I can use this one.” If you’ve been sitting around looking at your present situation or dwelling on your past and thinking, “Boy, if the story were wrote about me, it wouldn’t be pretty,” I send you to Genesis 9, and I could refer you to a lot more chapters of broken people who God used. So you know what, let me just tell you in love, get over it. God wants to use you with all your mess, all your stuff, you’re a perfect candidate.
I skipped over Genesis 9:18-19 on purpose because they tie directly into chapter 10. So go back and look at verse 18. It sort of drops in this little reminder for us of the names of Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and it does that because it’s getting ready to map out for us in chapter 10 all the nations of the earth and how every nation on earth can trace their heritage back to one of these three boys right here. The sons are named there in verse 18 and then verse 19 says, “These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.”
Now, let’s turn to Genesis 10:1. You’ve never covered a chapter in the Bible as quickly as we’re about to here. I did read all of Genesis 5, but I’ll let you off the hook on this one. Genesis 10:1: “These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood.” Now look down at the very last verse of chapter 10, verse 32: “These are the families”—or the clans—”of the sons of Noah, according to their generations, in their nations; and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.” In between those two verses—and we’ll come back to these later when we talk about Abraham—what you have is the beginnings of the genealogies of all the people on the face of the earth today. From there, you can actually map out where Ham’s line dispersed to, Shem’s line, and Japheth’s line, and you can see it. Ham’s line mostly went to Africa, Shem’s to the Middle East area, and Japheth’s ended up in Asia and parts of Europe. You can map that out, and you can actually see it taking place.
You just read chapter 10 of Genesis. We will come back to that. Now turn over to chapter 11 because I want to tie all this in, and I want you to see what happens here next. Again, I’m going to do a quick deal on chapter 11 here, but again, I’m going to tie back into this with the story of Abraham because it’s critically important that these pieces snap together. Genesis 11:1, “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words”—or the same speech. “And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar”—which is modern day Iraq—”and they settled there. And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and tar”—or bitumen—”for mortar.” Now, verse 4, watch this carefully. Here we go. Verse 4: “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 dispersed over the face of the whole earth.'”
At first glance, we read this and we think, “Well, what’s the big deal? You’ve got people coming together. They want to build a city, and they want to build a big tower in the city. Doesn’t seem like any problem to me. It seems pretty normal.” But I want you to highlight some things in verse 4 that are little tip-offs for us in our walk with God. Verse 4: the first thing to underline or highlight is “in the heavens.” We want to build a tower with its top “in the heavens.” Then the second thing is “make a name for ourselves.” So, what are they doing here? Well, first of all, they want to build a tower to the heavens, so you can write the word “significance” next to that. They want to achieve a certain status. They want to do something that matters, something that’s very visible to everyone. And then they want to make a name for themselves. They want to be somebody. They want to be known. They want to have connections. There’s none of that going on in our world today, is there?
The interesting fact is, God had already given them both of these things all the way back in the Garden of Eden. He had already given mankind these things when He created him. We got our significance from Him when we were made in His image. It’s another reason why I keep stressing this point. It’s so important as we live our lives even today. We got our significance from God, all that we would ever need because we were made in His image. Our value is not determined by what we do, how we look, how much money we have, who our friends are. Our value is determined by one thing, and that is we are made in His image, and we have infinite worth in Him. God has already given us a great name because we were created as sons and daughters of God, the King of kings. We bear His name, but since they had rejected God, they now felt this terrible emptiness inside because God created them with something that they simply didn’t have anymore.
It’s like in the Garden of Eden, one of the things I stressed again was the very last verse of chapter 2. It says, “Adam and Eve were naked, and they felt no shame.” And you go, “What a weird verse.” And then you get to chapter 3, and they sin and suddenly they felt shame because they were naked. You go, “What happened?” It’s because prior to sin they were naked, but they were clothed in the righteousness of God. When they sinned, sin stripped them of that, and they became aware that they were missing something. That problem still exists here with them, and it has bled through to all of us today and all of mankind. Sin had stripped them of the significance, the value, the meaning that God had given to them. So now they’re having to look elsewhere to try and find things to fill that aching void. You need to always remember, folks, sin will always convince you to find in something or someone else what you should have found in God. That’s why it says this tower reached up to the heavens. They’re trying to get back what they once had in God.
There’s some wonderful reading on this topic that has been put together. Many years ago, I don’t remember what year it was, probably close to 30 years ago, I began reading some things on this. It tied so many pieces together for me in my own journey, where I began to realize, I looked at some of the searches in my own life that I had been on. I grew up in a wonderful Christian home, I knew the truth from the time I was born and yet, I still was searching for pieces. Every search that I went on, I thought I was searching for things, or relationships, or status. All of those searches were actually searches for God.
G.K. Chesterton said this: “Even when a man knocks at the door of a brothel, he is actually searching for God.” That may take a couple hours or a couple days to land, but when the truth of that statement hits you, it’ll hit you hard. Because all of the emptiness that we are trying to fill is ultimately an emptiness put there by sin, and we try to fill it in 100 different ways. We medicate. We become a workaholic so we don’t have to see our family. We shop and overspend. We do all kinds of things to try and fill that ache inside. Every search for pleasure, for peace, for satisfaction, for joy, for meaning, for value, for love, for belonging, for significance, they’re all searches for God.
I remember as a boy, gosh, this came back to me just like an avalanche when I was thinking through these verses. It’s so hard for me to put this into words, because it sounds so silly, and I feel awkward as a grown man standing up here trying to put this into words for you, but maybe you can relate somehow. I remember as a boy, I think maybe eight or nine, we had just moved from Australia to South Africa, and it was about that time that I really just began sensing, I don’t even know how to say it, maybe just a longing inside of me. I lacked nothing at home as far as relationship with my parents. I felt safe and none of that was missing, but there was this odd ache in me even as a boy. I remember there were so many nights I would lay my head on my pillow in the darkness, and I would just lay there for what felt like hours, I know it wasn’t, but I would just lay there and I would think, “What am I feeling? I feel like I need to go home. Like I am home but I’m not home.” It was like there was a thread connecting me to somewhere else, and it pulled me, it tugged every once in a while. This is odd to say, but I’ve never felt like I belong here.
Then years later, I read this by C.S. Lewis. Blew me out of the water. He said, “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard.” That nailed me there. That’s what I went through my childhood feeling, like there’s a song I know but I can’t place it. I kept hearing it. He said, it’s “the echo of a tune we have not heard, its news from a country we have not yet visited.”
Do you ever feel that? Do you ever feel just out of place here? The things on this earth, they’re wonderful, we should enjoy them. God put us here, He created all this for our pleasure, for our joy. What a great God. But the things of this earth are not the things in which we can or will ever find meaning, or significance, or purpose, or value. Never, not in a relationship, not in a career, not in possessions, nothing. I die inside a little bit when I hear someone say, “I’m just waiting to find that person who will make me happy.” They don’t exist. I’m sorry to rain on your parade, young people looking for love, but they don’t exist. That person doesn’t exist. Instead, if you would change your life to understand that every tower that you’ve ever built was simply an attempt to find something that God had originally designed for you to find in Him, things will begin to fall into place and make sense.
Every pursuit is ultimately a pursuit for Him, whether we know it or not. By all outward appearances, these people in Genesis 11 were doing what was perfectly harmless and perfectly normal, but God knew the motives of their heart. Verse 5 says, “And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the children of men had built,” and by the way, “came down there” is a play on words in Hebrew. These guys are trying to build a tower up to the heavens to God, but it’s like God is saying, “You know, they’re not even close, and they’re never going to get close, so let’s just go down and see what the little fellows are up to. Verse 6: “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 now nothing they propose to do will be impossible for them.'” God’s not saying, “Oh, I’m afraid these people are going to come and overtake Me.” That’s not it at all. He’s saying, “Now that they have begun this process of trying to rise up to try to reach Me, to even overtake Me, now that that’s in their heart, there will be absolutely no end to the evil and corruption that will take place through them.”
There’s nothing wrong with achieving things. There’s nothing wrong with passionately pursuing things. We ought to, but it’s our motives for doing them, it’s how we achieve them that matters. When we try to achieve things for our own purposes in our own strength for our own glory, that’s when it’s wrong. So I point you back to verse 4 where I had you underline those things: “Let us build ourselves a city,” “let us make a name for ourselves.” That is step one to all sin: “How will this benefit me?”
There’s a very simple way to remember the danger of sin. You can share this with your kids. Sin is spelled s-i-n, and what is at the very center of sin? “I” Sin always starts with what I want to do instead of what God wants to do. This is exactly how Satan became Satan. Satan didn’t become Satan by performing some dark magic arts. Isaiah 14:13, speaking to Satan: “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God; I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”’ He was doing the very thing that we so often do ourselves, even in good pursuits, even in ministry. We can do good things for the wrong purposes, to get that pat on the back, so we can have all eyes on us.
I was telling Jim Reader this week, I was telling him when we met, I’m so tired of hearing the sound of my own voice up here. If I could do this job without ever being seen by anyone, it would be the one of the best days of my life. I don’t need to be up here. I don’t want to be up here, and I hope God will always keep that in my heart because this is a danger, this is a dangerous spot right here because it can consume a person, and it can become all about pride. It can become all about people seeing what I’m doing.
I want to say as we close, folks, we’ve got to be constantly on alert. We’ve got to keep a watch over our heart. Your heart will jump out of a blind alley when you least expect it, and it will take you down. It’s very possible to be a straight A student and to do it all in your own strength for your own glory. It’s very possible to build a solid, upstanding career but to do it all in your own strength and for your own praise and recognition. Good things I’m talking about, even those can be done for the wrong reasons, for me, for I, so that you can ascend.
So God comes and He confuses their languages. You can read in the rest of this chapter, verses 7, 8, and 9. He confuses their languages. Can you imagine that moment, people hanging off this tower and Joe says to Bill, “Hey, throw me a brick.” All of a sudden, no one understands anybody else. It must have been chaos. And the interesting thing is, God doesn’t destroy this tower. He leaves it standing as a reminder, I think, to those people and to future generations of what will become of those who try to ascend in pride.
I wonder if there are any ragged towers in your life, any things you look back on in your past that you were doing for the wrong reasons, and God came down and He frustrated your plans. And in the moment, you were so upset about that and you thought, “God, You’re being so unfair.” But I want to tell you, God does those things in our life not to harm us but because He loves us, and He wants to set us back on the right path and say, “Oh buddy, by the way, as you’re walking on the right path, pause once in a while and look back over your shoulder at that tower on the horizon that you left, and remember that’s not the way to live your life. You surrender and submit yourself humbly to Me, and let Me build My towers through you. Don’t you build your towers.”
Today as we leave, I would encourage you to just take this before God in your own way and say, “God, if I right now am in the process of constructing my own towers, I’m going my own way because I want to ascend, I want to climb, I want my name to be known”— whatever that piece is for you—”God, would You show me what I need to do instead?” Just submit that to Him, and see what God will do in your life. Let’s pray.