What’s In a Name?
As most of you know I love genealogy and because of that I am fascinated with where names come from, both family names and place names. For instance, I was named Marc for the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius. My first middle name is Joseph and was named after my grandfather on my mother’s side. My second middle name is Jerome and was named after my father’s boss at the time of my birth. My mother’s first name is Elizabeth and she was named after her mother whose middle name was Elizabeth. I am not totally positive where my dad got his first name, Phillip, but his great-grandfather on his mother’s side was also named Phillip. I am also fascinated with where names of places come from. I grew up in and went to school in Temple Hills, MD which is named for a 19th century doctor named Edward Temple. When I met Judy, I was living in Fort Washington, MD which was named after a fort named for George Washington that was on the Potomac River. It was the only fort protecting Washington, DC in that area during the war of 1812.
Do you know where we get the name America? It is named after Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer who set forth the then revolutionary concept that the lands that Christopher Columbus sailed to in 1492 were part of a separate continent and wasn’t the West Indies. I looked up where we get some of the names for the states. Oregon comes from the Portuguese word for “cascades.” Texas comes from the Caddo Indian word for “friends” or “allies.” Virginia is named for England’s Queen Elizabeth I who was called the virgin queen. One of the more fascinating ones I came across was Idaho. In the mid 1800’s, mining lobbyist George M. Willing presented the name "Idaho" to congress for a new territory around Pike's Peak, claiming it was a Native American Shoshone phrase, supposedly meaning "Gem of the Mountains." But in reality he made the name up and by the time the deception was discovered, the name "Idaho" was already in common use.
Do you know where the name Pennsylvania came from? In 1681, King Charles II granted a land charter to William Penn to repay a debt owed to William's father, Admiral William Penn. William Penn, the son, wanted to name it New Wales but there were objections. He then tried to named it Sylvania which is Latin for “forest” or “woods” but the King named it Pennsylvania (literally "Penn's Woods") in honor of Admiral Penn. William Penn was embarrassed at the name fearing that people would think he had named it after himself, but King Charles would not rename the grant.
Adams County that our church is situated in was named after President John Adams. Gettysburg was name after James Getty. York Springs was once called Petersburg for the man who first built a cabin there, Peter Fleck or Thick. Bendersville was named for Henry Bender and Biglerville, was named for William Bigler, a governor of Pennsylvania. I found the origin of Mt. Holly Springs interesting. Holly was the name given to the gap through the mountains going towards Carlisle because there was a large holly bush or tree there. Arendtsville, or “John’s Pursuit” was named for John Arendt. Heidlersburg was named for John Heidler but at one time it was also called Starrytown named for Michael Starry who built the first house there. I also tried to look up where the name Idaville came from and found out it was once called Whitestown but there was no mention where the names originated. So I called Doris Hoffman thinking if anyone knew she would. Doris told me the reason our area was called Whitestown is because at the time all the houses were white. And the reason it is called Idaville is at that time there were a number of women named Ida including Doris’ grandmother. To me where names come from is fascinating.
In our passage this morning, which is the story of the Tower of Babel, we will see that names play an important part of the story in a couple of different ways. We learned a couple of weeks ago that Babel was part of the kingdom that Nimroad founded. Scholars believe that the city of Babel is where the later city of Babylon was also located. Babylon means, “the gate of the gods” and you may already know that Babel means “confusion.” We will also see that there is conflict between God giving the people their name and the people making a name for themselves. And finally we will notice that the name of God is not being held to the highest standard for which it should be and that brings us to our big idea that Moses, the author of Genesis, wants us to understand this morning which is “we must let God be God.”
Let’s pray and ask God for understanding as we study this passage. Dear Heavenly Father, open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to what you want to say to us through your word this morning. Give us supernatural insight from your Holy Spirit. May we learn more about you and allow you to be God in every aspect of our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Our first point is “construction” and is found in Genesis 11:1-5. Follow along as I read those verses. This is what God’s Word says: “Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.
The first thing we can notice is that the story of the Tower of Babel happens chronologically before the Table of Nations in chapter 10 that Pastor Stuart taught two weeks ago. We see the proof of this in 10:5, 20 and 31. Verse 5 is talking about Japheth’s descendants, “From these the coastlands of the nations were separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations.” Verse 20 is talking about Ham’s descendants, “These are the sons of Ham, according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, by their nations.” And verse 31 is talking about Shem’s descendants, “These are the sons of Shem, according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, according to their nations.” In chapter 11 the first thing we read is that the whole world still had one language and one common speech and when we read chapter 10 we see that has already changed.
God wants us to understand some important things from the way these chapters are ordered. First, he wants us to see the themes of mercy and judgment that are all through the first eleven chapters of Genesis. After Adam and Eve sinned he clothed them before banishing them from the garden. After Cain killed Abel, God put his mark on him so he would not be killed before he went out from the presence of God. God saves Noah and his family from the flood that was sent to judge the wickedness on the earth. God blesses Ham and his descendants to be “fruitful and multiply” even after he sins against his father Noah. This morning we again see these themes played out as God scatters the people across the face of the earth instead of destroying them. God is giving them an opportunity to repent and turn back to him. God continues to show mercy amidst judgment because his blessing to be “fruitful and multiply” is paramount.
Second, God is making a critical point to the first hearers of Genesis and to us today. If the Table of Nations had come after the Tower of Babel it would have been seen as a negative continuation of the Tower of Babel story. By putting the Tower of Babel story directly before the genealogy of Peleg and the call of his descendant Abraham it shows us two things. One, it reminds us that humanity after the flood is as sinful as before the flood. Two, it shows us that God’s solution is going to be in his covenant made with Abraham and his chosen people, Israel. God’s solution to humanity’s sinfulness is the person of Jesus Christ. This point would not have been made as clearly if the Table of Nations had come after the Tower of Babel and before the call of Abraham.
In verse 1, we see that the whole world had one language and a common speech meaning that everyone had the same vocabulary. This unified the people making communication and cooperation easier for them. In verse 2, we notice that the people journeyed east. There are two things to consider here. What does it mean to journey east? It reminds us of Adam and Eve and Cain and where they went after they sinned. Genesis 3:24, “So He (meaning God) drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.” And Genesis 4:16 says, “Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” Both Adam and Eve and Cain after their sin leave the presence of God and go east. Moving eastward seems to imply that it is away from the presence of the Lord. Our sin, especially unconfessed and unrepentant sin, takes us farther and farther away from God’s presence.
Second, who is journeying east? Is it everyone on earth or a smaller group of people? Commentators are split but I really don’t think it matters because the story is not necessarily about the people as much as it’s about the people’s hearts. But we can know of one person, specifically, who goes there. Again, two weeks ago, Pastor Stuart showed us that Nimrod, the son of Cush who was one of the sons of Ham, established eight cities, four in the land of Shinar and four in the land of Assyria. One of those cities in the land of Shinar was Babel, so we can know that at least Nimrod went east and we know he didn’t go alone.
This group of people come to the plain of Shinar, settled there and start to build a city and a tower. We are given insight into the building materials they used, which were bricks baked thoroughly and tar for mortar. It also states that they didn’t use stone. I find it interesting that we are specifically told about a certain type of material they did not use? I feel we need to go back to what the original hearers, the Israelites, would have thought. By the time Moses would have been recounting the book of Genesis to them they had already built some of the Egyptian pyramids while in slavery or heard stories from their parents about building them. We know that the pyramids were huge stone edifices not made of brick and tar. It kind of makes me wonder if Moses and the Israelites are sharing “an inside joke” here. Everyone knows that stone is better than baked bricks, right.
It also reminds me of the story Jesus told in the NT about building your house on the rock as opposed to the sand. From the beginning of time, Babel or Babylon as it probably became, was not built on a firm foundation. It was built with brick and mortar not with stone. And we will see that it was built by people who were not following after God. It was built by people who wanted to follow their own will and not God’s will. It was built by people whose foundation was Ham’s character and not the character of God. It was built by people who wanted to make a name for themselves and not let God give them their name. It was built by people who did not want to let God be God but instead wanted to be their own god. (BIG IDEA)
Their plan was to build a city with a tower that would “reach into heaven.” And the reason for building the city and tower was to make a name for themselves. They felt that by doing this they would not be scattered over the face of the earth. Commentators are split on what exactly the tower was. It was either a tall skyscraper-like tower or a ziggurat, which was a pyramid-like structure. Again, I think about the context. They are not in Israel, but in Shinar, which was in the area known as Mesopotamia. In Israel there were watchtowers which were to provide an early warning system for invasions from their enemies. In Mesopotamian literature when they described a building whose top will “reach into heaven” almost every time it refers to a ziggurat. Ziggurats were solid terraced pyramids made up of successive receding stories or levels. Their main feature was a stairway or ramp that led to its top. (picture of ziggurat)
In Mesopotamia, towers had a religious function. At the top was a room for the patron god of the city that included a bed for the god to sleep in and a table filled with food for the god to eat. There would have been a temple next to the ziggurat where the people would have worshipped. The ziggurat was the place where the god would stay and then could come down the ramp to interact with the people if their worship pleased the god. Two interpretations are that they were building the tower for themselves to reach heaven and be like God or they were trying to humanize God by saying he had needs that man could meet thus making God in their own image. In either case, they were not letting God be God. (BIG IDEA)
Now if it was just a massive skyscraper the effect is the same. Once this huge structure was finished they would get the glory and the accolades for their awesome achievement. They would make a name for themselves among the peoples of the earth. Their reputation would be great but the motivation for doing so would be to honor and glorify themselves not God. They also seem concerned with being scattered over the face of the earth. This may have had something to do with wanting to be safe and secure but are not willing to rely on God for that. Such a massive, imposing structure would give others the impression that they shouldn’t be messed with or dominated. No matter what the tower was, their motivation for building it and the city was to make a name for themselves. Their motivation was not God-centered but self-centered.
Have you ever tried to make a name for yourself or tried to ensure your own safety and security apart from God? Have you ever done something that was all for your own glory and honor? Have you ever tried to ensure your safety and security leaving God totally out of the picture? In Genesis 12:2, the Lord says to Abraham: “I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.” If Abraham obeyed God’s will for his life, God would make Abraham’s name great. Abraham did not have to make a name for himself because God would do it for him. That brings us to our first next step, which is to “let God make a name for me through obedience to his will for my life and rely on him for my safety and security.”
Next we see that God comes down to see the tower and the city that the people had built. Again, I feel that Moses is sharing an “inside joke” with the first hearers. The plan was to build a city and a tower to “reach into heaven” but God has to come down to even be able to see it. Of course we know that God didn’t need to come down to see it but again I think Moses is making a point. The builders are called “sons of men '' which Hamilton says, “reduces these pretentious human beings to their real size. They are but mere earthlings.” For all of Nimrod's and his people's mighty deeds in building what was probably a magnificent city and massive tower, God was not impressed.
But even though God doesn’t seem to be impressed, he is not taking the implications of what they are doing lightly and we see that in our second point this morning, which is “confusion”, found in verses 6-9. This is what God’s Word says, “The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
God comes down to take a look at what the people have built and then he goes back to heaven and we see a conversation taking place. Some commentators think that God is talking to the angels here, but in the NASB the “us” is capitalized which seems to refer to the Trinity. We see the same language in Genesis 1:26. “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Also in the scriptures when God comes down out of heaven it seems to be a prelude to judgment like we will see with Sodom and Gomorrah, but he doesn’t enter into judgment rashly.
God declares that because they are one people and have the same language they can be unified as a community and would be able to accomplish any purposes they put their minds to. Those purposes could be for good or for bad as we see here with the people of Babel. We notice the same conversation happening after Adam and Eve sinned in the garden. Genesis 3:22 says, “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” The idea is “if they can do these things who knows where their actions will lead?” Job 42:2 says, “Then Job answered the Lord and said, “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” Job recognizes that God’s purposes are the only ones that should always be fulfilled not man’s. If all of man’s purposes are fulfilled then he becomes like God.
Here, at Idaville Church, we want to and need to be unified. And in that unity we need to purpose to do what is right, by living holy lives, by keeping and following God’s decrees found in his Word and by doing his will and not our own. If we want our church to be relevant in this community, if we want to be able to make disciples who make disciples, we must all covenant together to allow God to give us our name and not try to make a name for ourselves. We must let God be God. (BIG IDEA)
God’s judgment plan is decided. He confuses their language so that they can’t communicate with each other and he scatters them over all the earth. Both these things kept the people from completing the city. We see the irony in that by scattering the people, the very thing they wanted to make sure didn’t happen, is the very thing that God did to them. By confusing their language the people would not be able to further cooperate in their selfish plans. Their sin was the same sin as in the garden. Their desires became more important than God’s desires for themselves and their will took precedence over doing the will of God. But we see the grace of God as he spares their lives giving them an opportunity to repent and return to him.
Finally, we see the name of the city and how it got its name. The name of the city is Babel which sounds like the Hebrew word meaning “confusion.” This same word also sounds like the Hebrew word for Babylon. I mentioned earlier that Babylon means “gate of the gods.” I like what Weirsbe says, “Because of God’s judgment the “gate of the gods” became the “door to confusion.” God is not the author of confusion (as it says in 1 Cor. 14:33) but in the world God sometimes uses confusion to humble people and keep them from uniting against his will.” The place was called Babel because it was where God confused the language of the whole earth causing the people to be scattered across the face of the earth. They were no longer unified and of one purpose going against God’s will and pursuing their own way.
It is telling that the two post-Flood stories involve sin and disgrace and that Ham is directly or indirectly involved in both. God wants the Israelites, to remember that they need to be on guard to not follow the ways of their ungodly neighbors. In the Promised Land they would be influenced by the Canaanite culture around them. And then in exile in Babylon and Assyria they would be influenced by those cultures as well. I don’t think it a coincidence that all three of those peoples are connected to Ham and his descendants. God wanted them to remember who they are: they are a chosen and holy people, a royal priesthood, and children of God. This should also remind us that as Christians we are all those things and that we are to be in the world but not of it. We are to resist the devil and flee from him. This reminds me of the verse we memorized together back in January, Leviticus 20:26, “You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.”
My conclusion comes from Walton’s commentary. The people of Babel had a distorted view of God and what their relationship to him was to look like. Our story this morning represents a constant movement away from God in all areas of human conduct. Walton asserts that humanity is already morally and socially destitute and now are on a path to becoming theologically destitute as well. The people of Babel were either trying to be like God or diluting God by believing he had needs and those needs can be met by man. The definition of paganism is the degradation of deity and the view that God is limited and we can make him do what we want when we want him to do it. We do this when we forget or discount the character, the transcendence and the sovereignty of God. We do this when we make God in our own image. The gods that the people of Babel and the Babylonians worshipped were capricious, immoral, unethical, unfair and dishonest because they were all those things. What follows is that we don’t know what God expects from us because those expectations change with the wind just like man does.
But we follow a God that does tell us exactly what he expects and desires from us and what his will is for us and those things have never changed and will never change. I mentioned that Chapters 9-11 show us the continuity of grace, mercy, judgment and covenant. The first eleven chapters of Genesis has shown us the need for covenant. The covenant that God gave to Noah and will give to Abraham was his revelation to his people of how they were to live just like God’s word is for us today. God’s revelation to his people was the first step to his redemption plan for mankind.
What does this mean for us today? We can see that the corruption of the deity God is prevalent in our culture today? I don’t think we can miss it unless we have our heads in the sand. God is not treated with the awe, holy fear and respect that he deserves. God’s Word is not considered absolute truth in our culture today. We want to set ourselves up as god in our own eyes or we want a god that we can manage. We don’t want to let God be God.
There are three ways that we dilute the deity of God today individually and corporately. One is by redistributing his power. That is when we rely on other things besides God. People rely on what they think has power. That might be money, or people, or possessions, or the government, technology or ourselves, etc. In church history, God’s power has been redistributed to Mary, the mother of Jesus and to saints. In New Age his power is redistributed to crystals or angels. We also see a pluralistic view of religion where Allah and Buddha share power with Christ, which reminds me of this bumper sticker, Coexist (show picture). We may use horoscopes or transcendental meditation and not think they are harmful. We can all fall into this trap of draining God’s omnipotence from him and giving it to something or someone else.
Fully relying on God and his power asks us to take risks by letting God be God. We need to step out in faith and allow God to make us uncomfortable for his honor and his glory. This might mean serving in the mission field or serving in the church where our skills and gifts are needed. It might mean raising the level of our giving to where we are totally relying on God for everything we need. It may mean taking a stand for godliness in a difficult situation at home or at work.
The second way we dilute the deity of God today is by restricting his autonomy. This is the belief that God is obligated to us and that we owes us something. The people of Babel felt that by meeting the needs of the gods such as providing a bed, food, etc. the gods would be happy and bless them and bring protection and prosperity to them. In what ways do we feel, today, that God is obligated to us? It speaks to our motivation. What is our motivation for giving our time, our talents, our prayers, our praise to God? We love God because he first loved us and we need him to have an abundant life and for our salvation. We must not make the mistake that God loves and needs us for the same reasons.
The third way we dilute the deity of God is by regulating his power. God’s power is an awesome thing and we dilute it when we try to tap into his power and redirect it for our own purposes and benefits. All power comes from God and through the Holy Spirit his power will work wonders in our lives. But sometimes we just want to see the physical end results of his power and are reluctant to allow his power to cleanse and purify us spiritually. This is seen in wanting God to give us something without wanting to change our habits. In wanting God to work his changes for us not in us.
So what is the solution for us today if we have a diluted view of God individually or in our church? We need a renewed vision of his character, his sovereignty, his transcendence and his power. This renewed vision comes from his self-revelation to us in his Word, the Bible. The Bible will show us the proper view of exactly who God is what he is like. Our spiritual growth is dependent on developing an increasingly informed understanding of who God truly is and bringing our whole lives in orbit around him instead of trying to bring God into orbit around us. We must allow God to impact our attitudes, choices and lifestyles and be sincere in wanting him to work in us and through us. It’s all about God and nothing about us. It’s about letting God be God. That brings us to our second and third next steps this morning. My next step is to increase my understanding of who God truly is by daily being in His Word. And my next step is to allow God to impact my attitudes, choices and lifestyles and to be sincere in wanting Him to work in me and through me.
As the praise team comes to lead us in our final song, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, help us to have a proper view of who you are. Help us to purpose to be in your Word daily and we pray for insight and understanding of your character, sovereignty, transcendence and your power. Help us to surrender our attitudes, choices and lifestyles to your will. And give us sincere hearts in wanting you to work in and through us. Help us to rely on you for our safety and security and let us be like Abraham and allow you to give us our name in this world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.