Have you ever made poor decisions in your life? Have you ever chased dreams, only to be met with failure or disappointment? If you’re human, then you probably answered yes to one of these questions and can even think of specific instances where this was the case; I know I can. There can be many reasons why our decisions and aspirations didn’t quite turn out the way we had hoped, but right now, I’d like to focus on just one of those reasons: leaving God out. In my last post, I looked at the story of Abram’s call in Genesis 12 and used it to help guide my decision-making process. In this post, I’m going to take a step back in two ways. First I’m going to go back to Genesis 11. Second, I’m going to show what happens when the principles I mentioned from Genesis 12 are not followed. What is the outcome when God is not part of our decision-making process? Here, we get to see the other side of the coin. It’s the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. You might think this story is completely unrelated to the story of Abram’s call in Genesis 12 but a closer study will hopefully reveal a different picture. It’s not an example for us to follow, but rather one from which we should take warning.

In Genesis 11:1-4, we read, “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone and tar for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let’s build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’”

One of the first things to notice here is that God is nowhere to be found. The people are the ones doing the talking, not God. The people are the ones doing the directing, not God. And to top it all off, their intent was to “reach the heavens,” ironically without God. It was a show of independence. They didn’t think they needed God and they were quite united in their efforts. Notice the phrase “Come, let’s…”, which we see twice in these verses. Their plans were self-devised, self-directed, and self-exalting. Now contrast this with the story of Abram in Genesis 12, where God is doing the talking, God is doing the directing and God is doing the exalting. Abram is merely obeying God and trusting Him in faith. Submitting ourselves to the authority and direction of God is way better than working tirelessly in vain. The Bible reminds us that unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain (Psalm 127:1).

So we see that the people decided to build this great city without God, but what was the driving force behind their desire to build this city? We find it at the end of this passage: “so that we may … not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Beneath the surface of their actions was fear. This was the root cause. They were afraid of being scattered and came to the conclusion that they needed to build a great city where they could feel safe and have the ability to defend themselves. Their desire for safety was a good one but God’s command to Noah’s offspring in Genesis 9:1 was to “increase in number and fill the earth.” God didn’t want them to settle in one place, but instead, He wanted them to spread out. Safety in that situation can only come from trusting God. But rather than being filled with faith, they were filled with fear and chose to take matters into their own hands. A life without God often leads to fear-driven choices. Now contrast this with Genesis 12, where Abram walked in obedience to God. He left his place of comfort. He left all that he knew, in accordance with God’s command. Notice that he went right in the direction of fear! Rather than being filled with fear, however, he was filled with faith in the only One who can provide true safety and security. Following God’s direction can be scary at times, but He wants us to trust in Him like Abraham did. He won’t leave us nor forsake us. He is looking out for our good.

Now what did the people hope to achieve by making this great city? We see the answer at the end of the selected passage, “so that we may make a name for ourselves.” Their motivation was fame and power. Notice the progression here. They left God out of their decision-making. That led to a choice made out of fear. And when they operated out of fear, their desires became self-seeking. Rather than desiring to exalt God, they wanted to exalt themselves. They wanted their names to live on forever through their works. But there’s something very interesting about this story of the Tower of Babel. Not a single person is named and even the collective group of people aren’t given a name! They are anonymous. So much for making a name for themselves! The only name of a person mentioned in this story is the name of the Lord, whose name is above all names. Now contrast this with Genesis 12 where God says to Abram, “I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.” All Abram had to do was obey God to experience His blessing and to also be a blessing to others. We know the whole story; he did obey God, and to this day, his name is known throughout the world. And what’s more, it was from the line of Abram that Jesus, the One from whom all blessings flow, came into this world!

So what finally happened in this story? The Lord showed up and we see a sudden turn of events. Remember their self-directed plans to build a great city and a tall tower? They fell apart because the Lord confused their language. In Genesis 11:7 God says, “Come, let’s go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” One word from God was all it took. The people sure were united in their efforts to build the city but no amount of human unity could withstand the will and power of God Almighty. Remember their fear of being scattered? Those very fears materialized and the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth (Genesis 11:8). Remember those dreams of making a name for themselves - becoming famous? Rather than becoming famous for their achievements, they became anonymously infamous for their failure. We read in Genesis 11:9, “That is why it was called Babel - because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world.” Finally, a name, Babel, is given in this story to associate with these people but it’s not the name they wanted. Instead of being associated with greatness, they became associated with confusion. It’s a sad end for the people who walked in disobedience to God.

As you reflect on this story, take some time to think about the times in your life when your decisions didn’t quite turn out the way you expected. Where was God in your decision making process?

Lord, let me never forget to bring you into every decision of my life! I don’t want to be driven by fear and selfish ambition. I want to be driven by a desire to exalt your Name in all that I do.