Sunday School 09 29 2013



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Scattering the Nations”
Lesson Text: Genesis 11:1-9
Background Scripture: Genesis 11:1-9
Devotional Reading: 2 Chronicles 34:22-28
Genesis 11:1-9 (KJV)
1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
To discover the origin of the many different languages of the world.
To see that trying to alter God’s plans has no hope of success.
To submit to God’s will for our lives and to obey His Word.
A Tale of Two Towers
John Tower served as a United States senator from Texas for nearly 24 years. After leaving the Senate, Tower continued to be involved in American politics until his death in a plane crash in 1991. In contrast with his last name, John Tower stood only 5'5" tall. "My name is Tower," he would tell people, "but I don't."
Today's text tells about the attempt to build the Tower of Babel—a project undertaken by people who wanted to "tower" over everyone, including God. Because of their misplaced motivation, God brought judgment on them and abruptly halted their efforts. As a result, their tower—didn't.
Time: The dawn of human history
Place: Southern Mesopotamia
Some refer to the first 11 chapters of Genesis as primeval history. This means that Genesis 1-11 records events that happened in the earliest ages of history. It should be emphasized that these events are indeed history—they are not to be placed in the realm of myth or fiction. Certainly, the testimonies of Jesus and the New Testament writers are crucial here; all of them treat the Old Testament record with the utmost respect and assume the historicity of any event to which they refer. These include events in Genesis 1-11 (see Matthew 24:37-39; Romans 5:12-14; 1 Corinthians 15:45; 2 Corinthians 11:3; and 1 Peter 3:18-20).
Genesis 10, which immediately precedes the lesson text, includes what is called the table of nations. This describes where the families of the sons of Noah settled after the flood. The chapter concludes with this statement: “These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood” (Genesis 10:32). Verses 5, 20, and 31 reveal more than one language being spoken by these descendants. The account of the Tower of Babel (the current lesson text) tells how this dividing of humanity in terms of languages occurred.
We cannot know with certainty how many years passed between Noah's flood and the point where Genesis 11 begins. Time is not Scripture's primary concern here (which is often true within these early chapters of Genesis). The focus is more on people, especially their relationship with God. That focus lets us see the blessings that accompany obedience and the discipline that accompanies disobedience.
After reading the account of the flood in the previous chapters of Genesis, one is led to ask, "Will people change after such a severe act of judgment? Will anything be different?" One would think that mankind would have never forgotten the impressive lesson of the flood. However, the flood destroyed only sinful men, not sinful nature, a fact of which 9:20-29 is a grim reminder of man’s disrespectful manner. Thus, even at this point it is clear that while sin has been judged, it has not been eliminated.
THE SETTING (Genesis 11:1-2)
1. In retrospect, why would God have to intervene with the “language” of the people? (Genesis 11:1)
As we learned in last week’s lesson, once the flood was over, God promised never again to destroy all life with a catastrophic deluge of water (see 8:21-22; 9:11, 15). This promise, though, did not mean the Creator would forego ever again intervening to deal with human sin. The episode involving the tower of Babel recorded in chapter 11 shows us a unique example of divine judgment on widespread-rebellion. Specifically, the Lord confused human language and scattered the human race across the face of the planet. Before this, as verse 1 notes, every one spoke a common “language” and vocabulary. Furthermore, it would not be until the day of Pentecost thousands of years later that God began to reverse the confusion that occurred at the tower of Babel. Whereas then God scattered the human race over all the earth, on the day of Pentecost, He brought all sorts of different people back together to hear the message of salvation proclaimed by Peter and the rest of the apostles (see Acts 2:4-11).
2. Where did Noah’s descendants arrive (Genesis 11:2)?
With the passage of time, the descendants of Noah grew in number. This was a fulfillment of God’s pronouncement of blessings on Noah and his family, in which the Creator directed humanity to “be fruitful, and multiply” (Gen. 9:1; see 1:28). Verses 1-9 of chapter 11 focus on one group of people who settled in a plain in “Shinar” (v. 2). In ancient Near Eastern texts, Shinar was referred to as Sumer, an area in Mesopotamia that is now part of modern-day southern Iraq.  The region was known for its rich alluvial soil, abundant wildlife, and mineral deposits found in the neighboring mountains.
What Do You Think?
If offered a chance to relocate (better job, etc.), how do you know if it's God's will to do so?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Providing for your family | Opportunities for Christian witness
Opportunity to be involved with a strong church or to help a struggling one |Other
THE SCHEME (Genesis 11:3-4)
3. What indicated the people were planning to stay put? (Genesis 11:3)
After having decided to settle in Shinar, the people determine to build permanent structures in which to live. The phrase Go to means something like "Come on."
The bricks to be used for construction have to be burned (or baked)—perhaps in a kiln or oven of some kind. Stone would be cheaper to use since stones do not have to be fabricated as bricks must be. But if no stone quarry is nearby and clay is available, the people will have to adopt a more expensive brick-making process.
The fact that they are willing to do so shows their determination.
The word slime may be confusing to us at first since we naturally do not connect that term with building materials! It probably refers to bitumen, a tarry substance used as an adhesive or sealant (see also Genesis 14:10; Exodus 2:3) that will serve as a binder between the bricks.
Generally speaking, there was nothing inherently wrong with creating a place to live, except that in this case, the people at Shinar were deliberately disobeying God’s command to repopulate the planet (as we will see in verse 4).
4. What were the goals of the people in building “a city and a tower” (Genesis 11:4)?
Now the people's goals become more specific and loftier (taking it to another level) again using the words “Go to” (or ‘Come on,’) “let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven.” Note that this tower was not used for worship, but as a rallying point and a symbol of their fame. Their desire to “make us a name” suggests the sinful desire to obtain increased fame and enduring significance. The builders of Babel expressed their evil intention in pride. Specifically, they decided to adorn their city with a colossal tower that would impress others. The structure would also give the inhabitants ample reason to remain where they were and avoid the risk of being “scattered” all over the world. They obviously rebelled against God’s demand that they scatter and fill the earth with people (c.f. Gen. 9:1).
What Do You Think?
How do people attempt to "make a name" for themselves today? Under what circumstances, if any, can this be a good thing to do?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Proverbs 3:4; 29:23 | John 3:30 | Romans 12:16 | Galatians 6:4
THE SOVEREIGN GOD (Genesis 11:5-9)
5. What was God’s reaction to the “children of men” and the tower? (Genesis 11:5)
Much as God came "walking in the garden" to confront Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8), here God is described as coming down to see what these builders are up to. The language used is probably an ironic (and darkly humorous) way of pointing out the futility of the people's efforts: here they are desiring to build "a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven" (v. 4), yet the fact that the Lord comes down to observe their vain undertaking reveals that the tower isn't high enough!
The phrase children of men may be viewed from a couple of angles. It may describe who these self-important individuals really are: despite their high and haughty aims, they are still "children of men," nothing more. If taken in a literal sense as "sons of Adam," then perhaps the message is that these individuals, who desire to be so independent, are in reality acting no differently from their first ancestor. Adam did not escape the consequences of disobeying God, and neither will these people.
6. What would be the consequences if the Lord allowed the building of the tower to continue? (Genesis 11: 6)
The idea of being of "one language, and of one speech" (Genesis 11:1) may appear to be a plus at first since this can promote unity of purpose and cooperation. But the Lord sees the situation quite differently. If the unified people are allowed to engage in such a defiant act of self-important disobedience, then nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
This language in verse 6 is similar to the way the Lord described His concern over humanity's having access to the tree of life after the first sin was committed: "Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever" (Genesis 3:22)—then came eviction from the garden. God was concerned about the consequences of humans in a sinful condition having the potential of living forever in that condition.
The issue is much the same here at Babel: that unrestrained human freedom would have devastating consequences. Unity of purpose may seem an ideal goal, but if that unity is devoid of reverence for God and His authority, then the results will be disastrous. "All things are possible for man," some may arrogantly claim, but history has repeatedly illustrated that these "things" often are the most repulsive, barbaric acts imaginable. We can only wonder how many times God has looked at humanity's so-called "proud achievements" and simply shaken His head in sorrow at what amounts to nothing more than Babel revisited.
What Do You Think?
What are some ways we can use our freedom to glorify God?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Regarding freedom of speech | Regarding freedom of thought | Regarding freedom of behavior | Regarding freedom of movement | Regarding freedom of association
7. How did God counter the plans of the people? (Genesis 11:7)
God frames His counter plan in language similar to what the builders themselves have used. Man had arrogantly asserted, “Go to” (or ‘Come on,’) “let us make us a name” (v. 4). Now God responds, “Go to” (or ‘Come on,’) “let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech” (v. 7).
The “us” in the Lord's case is most likely a reference to the triunity of God (cf. Genesis 3:22).
God's words “let us” in Genesis 1:26 included granting dominion to humans; now, however, the same words serve to restrict humans' dominion, particularly their self-centered schemes in rebellion against God. With conversation stymied, the people's efforts to complete their city and tower will come to nothing (as we will see in verses 8, 9).
What Do You Think?
What more can you or your church do to bridge language barriers for Christ?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Concerning those in your community who do not speak English | Concerning the training of missionaries | Concerning support for Bible translation efforts | Other
8. What was the result of confounding the people’s language? (Genesis 11:8)
God, as the sovereign Lord of the cosmos, prevented the completion of the building project by scattering the people at Shinar (Gen. 11:8). Scripture does not give the details concerning how this came about. Presumably, the inability of Noah’s descendants to communicate effectively with one another brought about intensified frustration and failure. The city that had begun with such enthusiasm and fervor remains unfinished.
What Do You Think?
What lessons did you learn from a time when God closed a door on an unfinished plan or project?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
A church building project | A business venture | A service opportunity
A family or group event | A personal goal | Other
9. What was the name given to the place the tower was built? Why? (Genesis 11:9)
There appears to be a twofold play on words here involving the name Babel. First, Babel means "gate of God" in the language of the ancient Babylonians. But this city hardly lives up to such a presumptuous label! Instead of reaching "unto heaven" (v. 4), the builders have become scattered upon the face of all the earth. Instead of making a name for themselves as they originally intended (v. 4), they have become humiliated.
The other play on words involves the Hebrew word translated as “confound” This sounds very much like the name Babel and is an apt description of what has occurred as a result of God's intervention. (Of course, English gives us a similarly sounding word, babble, which implies confusion or nonsense.) Perhaps the intended lesson of this double meaning is that no matter how one looks at this endeavor, Babel means "confusion, failure, and frustration."
The fact that the Lord scattered them upon the face of all the earth (v. 9) puts back in motion His original intention for humanity.
1. Unity of purpose is to be commended when it is in tune with God’s will. (Genesis 11:1-2)
2. Never start a building project without the chief corner stone. (Genesis 11:3-4; Ephesians 2:20)
3. Can God look down and approve of the works of your hands? (Genesis 11:5-6)
4. Be thankful when God steps in to re-direct you in the path He has for you. (Genesis 11:7-9)
Humanity's "Bridges to Nowhere"
The phrase bridge to nowhere was used in the U.S. presidential campaign of 2008 to mock a "pork barrel" project: a bridge to be constructed primarily for the purpose of bringing dollars into a certain congressional district regardless of the need for the bridge. An Internet search reveals that at least 11 bridges, primarily in the U.S., have been given this negative label. Sometimes bridges were built with all good intentions, but lack of forethought resulted in an unused or unusable bridge for one reason or another.
Genesis 1-11 records earliest humanity's bridges to nowhere in relation to God, and the lesson text sketches one of those. The people intended their tower to bridge the gap between earth and Heaven, but God intervened to ensure that the effort went nowhere. But God didn't just put a stop to faulty plans; He replaced those plans with a better one.
God's "Bridge to Somewhere"
Genesis 1-11 is rich with descriptions of God's actions to put humanity back on the right path. God's path is the path to somewhere important: an eternal, sin-free fellowship with Him. Perhaps you have seen artistic depictions of a canyon with the words "sinful people" on one side and "Holy God" on the other side. The two sides in such depictions are separated by the chasm of sin and death, but the chasm is bridged by the cross of Christ (John 3:16; 5:24; Hebrews 2:14, 15; 1 Peter 2:24; etc.).
Many Bible students have noted how the events that transpired on the Day of Pentecost served to reverse what occurred at Babel. Babel involved a confusion of language. But at Pentecost the gift of tongues (or languages) on those speaking brought about an amazing unity. Each person present could hear proclaimed in his or her native language "the wonderful works of God" (Acts 2:11). Many languages were present at Pentecost, yet God brought about a unity that those at Babel could not achieve because their plans were divorced from God's plans.
Paul Kissling sees what happened in Jerusalem at Pentecost as a "down payment on the reversal of the curse of Babel." The complete reversal will occur in the new Jerusalem, a place where a unity will be demonstrated that those at Babel could not have imagined. John pictures it for us in Revelation 7:9, 10: "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, ... and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb."
Babel—and all undertakings similar to it—will be long forgotten.
Heavenly Father, we pray for the nations of our world to humble themselves before You. May we set the example as we remember that You resist the proud but give grace unto the humble (James 4:6), in Jesus' name, amen.
We can reach Heaven only on God's terms.


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