by Linda McMillan
My favorite vacation is a stay-cation. I like to stay home. I don’t think I’m alone in that either. In fact, since the beginning of our Bible story God’s people have been prone to stay in one place and get comfortable. Adam and Eve, after being told to fill the earth, remained pretty close to home. God had to throw them out and post an angel at the gate of their first home to make sure they wouldn’t try to go back. Their children didn’t go far either; one was a farmer and the other raised sheep. One of them, Cain, did travel east of Eden to the Land Of Nod. Nod means wandering so maybe he did wander around a bit, filling up more of the earth. But, like his parents, he only did it because he had to. After his wandering, Cain even built a city to settle down in. Why a city? There were hardly any people. But there does seem to be something about us that likes to be settled. By the time Adam was a great-grandfather seven times over his descendants were living in tents, making stringed instruments, and forging bronze implements, but they had not filled the earth.
Noah, after single-handedly saving humanity on his ark, was also commanded to fill the earth, and his descendants — Shem, Ham, and Japheth — finally started to fulfill that commandment. The Bible says they became scattered over the whole earth. In Genesis chapter ten you can read how they filled the earth. Noah himself, however, got off the ark, planted a vineyard, and settled down.
In our story for this morning, the people have all clumped up together in Shinar. Once again they are not filling up the whole earth, they’ve decided to build a city which will do two things:
The first thing it will do is give them a name, and that’s important. One of the very first things we usually learn about a person is their name. If I know your name it means that I see you, I know that you exist, that you matter. Everybody wants that. And most of us have done some pretty stupid things to get it. Later, God will tell Moses, “I will make your name great… no tower required.” Yet many of us will march off to church this morning, all duded up for Pentecost, with the idea that we are doing something to make a name for ourselves. Maybe we are leaders, or singers, or some other kind of special, maybe you just have the best Pentecost outfit. Whatever it is, you can let it go. God sees you, God knows you, and you matter already. God knows your name. So, all the things we do — making towers out of mud and tar — are not necessary.
The other thing the city will do is keep them from being scattered. In the primeval world, cities existed for mutual protection. But, honestly, how many enemies could they have had? None are mentioned. It seems to me that this is a simple case of fear driving the agenda. There’s safety in numbers. Let’s all stick together. It is comforting to think that whatever happens, at least you won’t be in it alone. But God has never called anyone to safety.
As if that weren’t enough, they also decided to put a tower in their city, probably a ziggurat, which were just coming into use about then, and to build it so high that it would reach up to God. Funnily, God wasn’t able to see the ziggurat from up in heaven and he had to come down to earth to take a look at it! (Genesis 11:5). But, the tower iwas important. Everybody in the primeval world knew where God was. God was up in the sky, and if you wanted to speak with God it was a good idea to get as close to him as possible by going up onto a mountain. A ziggurat might be tall, even as tall as a mountain, but it is still not an actual mountain. That’s not the only thing that wasn’t real: The builders used bricks instead of real stones, and they used tar instead of mortar. It was something of a counterfeit mountain.
It might have been a fine city, and that tower might have reached up to the clouds, but the name they were building for themselves was not real. It was a false identity, built with imitation materials, and for the wrong reasons.
Billions of dollars are spent every day by people who are hoping to create an identity, a certain image. They want to make a name for themselves. Madison Avenue has convinced a lot of us that if we just have those super cool… fill in the blank. It could be shoes, sunglasses, pants, hat, car, boat, trip, scooter… whatever! Well, then we’ll be somebody. We’ll have a name.
Others are convinced that if only they can get that Ph.D, hit the high note, get a raise, get ordained, win the parent’s approval, get the book published, sign the contract, hit the target, find a girlfriend, loose twenty pounds, buy a bigger house/TV/car… whatever! Well, then we’ll be somebody. We’ll have a name.
It could be anything. You are the only one who knows what it is for you.
But, here’s the thing: Going after… whatever it is, will not make you a name. Oh, you might get a reputation, but it will be false. And, even if it’s a good reputation, it will be empty because it’s not real. You can’t make a name for yourself with consumer goods, achievements, or even a very good reputation. It’s like trying to build a tower with mud and tar. Using fake materials only leads to a false identity. The result for the tower builders was that they were scattered anyway, and they were confused.
You already have a name. You are a child of God. That identity is real, and it is enough.
In this season of Pentecost, we will be reminded over and over again that we are not supposed to clump together in one spot making a name for ourselves. We are to take the name of Jesus, the spirit of the Christ, and fill the earth with it. Some of us will be called to go around the world, others around the corner. Wherever you are called to go, go with the knowledge that you have received the power you need — not from things, or achievements, or other people — but by fire, and by wind, and by love.
Some notes of possible interest:
Genesis 1:28 – Adam and Eve are told to “…. fill the earth.”
Genesis 3:23 – Adam was banished from the Garden of Eden
Genesis 4:16 – Cain traveled, or wandered
Genesis 4:17 – Cain was building a city
Genesis 4:20-22 – Adam’s descendants and their contributions
Genesis 9:17 – Noah’s descendants became scattered over the earth.
Genesis 11:3 – Building materials
Exodus 19:16-18 – Fire, earthquake, trumpets… Oh my!
Interestingly Noah is made from the Hebrew letters Nun and Hey, the Hebrew verb for settling down is very similar, just add a Reish: Nun, Reish, Hey. We are actually supposed to associate his name with comfort, though, which is also similar. (Genesis 5:29)
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai.
Image: By Anonymous – Public Domain,