What is the Bible by Rob Bell – Part 5
Part 5: Tower
Week 2 of my series on the Bible-ready to keeping going? Because we’re just getting started. Having spent a little time on floods and fish, let’s turn our energies to a tower and a son.
In Genesis 11 we read the story of the tower of Babel-the one in which people decide they’re going to build a tower that reaches to heaven
so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth
but God comes and inspects what they’re doing and decides that if they can do this
nothing they plan to do will impossible for them
and so God decides
Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.
End of story.
Now I’m assuming by now that you approach a story like this looking for details, hints, anything to help you better understand what was going on at this time in history so that you can answer those compelling questions that you’d ask about anything in the Bible
why would people find this story important and worth passing on?
Glad you asked.
First, who built Babel?
If we go back one chapter we read that
Cush was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD…The first centers of kingdom were Babylon(also known as Babel), Uruk, Akkad…
What else do we know about Nimrod?
(Besides being one of the best Green Day albums? I couldn’t resist that one.) The name Nimrod comes from the Hebrew root word rebel. Interesting.
Why does this matter?
Because by the time you get to story about the tower of Babel, what we know is that it’s being built by a very, very violent and powerful warrior who is also building lots of other cities and that his name is connected with the idea of rebelling. This called empire building. It’s what happens when someone, or a group of people, use military might and economic dominance to crush anything-and anyone-in the way of their plans.
Are there any other details we may have missed in our earlier readings of this story?
Yes. What was it exactly they said to each other about how they were building the tower? (I couldn’t have answered that question either without rereading the text.)
The text reads
they said to each other “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.
These details are huge. They used brick instead of stone. Have you tried to build something tall out of stone? It’s next to impossible. Why? Because stones are of all different shapes and sizes and they’re hard to stack on top of each other. Total hassle.
But this is a story about bricks. Someone invented the brick. You can make bricks the same size, the same shape, you can make bricks to exact specifications for whatever it is you are trying to build. Like a tower.
If you’d been building things with stone for, like, forever, and then you started using bricks, what questions would you immediately have?
Probably questions along the lines of
these bricks are amazing, they make all kinds of building possible that wasn’t possible before-just how big could we make something with these new bricks?
But in the story it isn’t just bricks they’re building with, they’re also using tar for mortar. Mortar is like cement, helping the bricks stick together.
What’s another name for these details about the brick and mortar?
Technology! This is a story about, among other things, technology. Someone invented something new-brick and mortar-which allowed people to make and do things they hadn’t been able to do before.
And what does that have to do with Nimrod?
This is a story about what happens when a powerful warrior who’s building an empire gets his hands on new technology and begins to use it to set himself up as a god, crushing everybody and everything in his path.
And what does that tell us about the world the author of this story was living in?
This was a new phenomenon. People were spreading and scattering and settling in new places and some were gaining more and more power and influence which affected everybody else. (Whenever you hear someone say that corporations and banks on Wall Street have gotten too powerful you are hearing echoes of the same sentiment, thousands of years later…) The story reflects a growing awareness and concern that there is a higher good for humanity than the strong dominating the weak, the powerful crushing the powerless, the proud raising themselves up to godlike status. Imagine building little walls out of stone your entire life and then making a trip to Babel and seeing people starting work on a tower made of bricks. It may have been awe-inspiring, but we can also assume that it would have been terrifying. If somebody can do that, what else can they do? Or to put more of an edge on it what couldn’t they do? (Imagine if other countries had nuclear bombs but your country didn’t. And imagine what it would be like to not have nuclear bombs, but to know that one of those countries that did have nuclear bombs had actually used their nuclear bombs in recent history, dropping those bombs on actual cities that people lived in. Terrifying.)
What does this story tell us about what it means to be human?
We have tremendous power and ability as humans. We can invent things and build things and dream things up and then make them. It’s extraordinary, and it’s to be celebrated and enjoyed (Say it with me now: HD Flatscreen. Chipotle. Almond Surfboards. Anything made by Apple. Clarks Desert Boots. Rickenbacker guitars. I could go on. So could you.). We also have the tremendous capacity to use our energies and minds and power and abilities to further our own purposes and greed and empire building at the expense of those around us, making the world less and less a peaceful home where everybody is thriving.
Is there more?
Yes. Perhaps the real power of the story is the haunting warning it brings that when we make it all about ourselves and our accumulation and our ego and our power and our desire to rule-when we become too full of ourselves, too obsessed with our own importance, too fixated on elevating ourselves to the top of the top of the tower we’re building (and we all know that towers come in all shapes and sizes), God (or whatever word you have for it) has endless, clever, and unexpected ways of scrambling our efforts, thwarting our plans, and sometimes even confusing our language so we…babel.
Next – What is the Bible? PArt 6: Son