At one time all the people of the world spoke the same language and used the same words. 2 As the people migrated to the east, they found a plain in the land of Babylonia and settled there.
3 They began saying to each other, “Let’s make bricks and harden them with fire.” (In this region bricks were used instead of stone, and tar was used for mortar.) 4 Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.”
5 But the Lord came down to look at the city and the tower the people were building.6 “Look!” he said. “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them! 7 Come, let’s go down and confuse the people with different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other.”
8 In that way, the Lord scattered them all over the world, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why the city was called Babel, because that is where the Lord confused the people with different languages. In this way he scattered them all over the world. – Genesis 11:1-9 [NLT]
Recently I had the privilege of sharing some insights about strategic planning with the board of Camp Okoboji in northwest Iowa. I enjoyed being in the game again, having at least somewhat of a kingdom impact. I made a pitch for doing missional planning, which is different from strategic planning. Strategic planning sets out goals, tactics, and strategies to achieve the goals of the organization. Missional planning sets out ways to pursue the mission of God. It is a pray and prepare effort, rather than a predict and plan approach.*
The builders of the Tower of Babel were sold out on the predict and plan approach. They predicted that they could build a tower that reached to the heavens. Then they set about planning and building it. But, their predictions were wrong. They failed to take into consideration the two rules we must all learn:
- There is a God
- You are not God.
Their failure to factor these rules into their planning proved fatal to their efforts. The tower building effort failed. They were scattered. Their city was abandoned. Their plans came to less than nothing. Even though the word babble is not related etymologically to the name of this place, Babel, I can’t help but think of Babel when I hear the word babble. It means to prattle, to talk rapidly and continuously in a foolish, excited, or incomprehensible way. Seems that’s exactly what happened there!
The two rules they failed to take into consideration are only part of the equation for those of us who call ourselves Christians. For God is not merely sovereign. And we are not merely not God. God is loving and compassionate. He is on a mission. And he invites us to join him on that mission. We are not mere pawns in the scheme of eternity. We are heirs of God’s riches. And we are co-missioned to join Jesus as he seeks and saves the lost.
God comes down to confuse their speech. It was part of his mission, but not all of it. Part of the mission of God is, sadly, that of confusing speech, bringing difficulty, standing in the way of prideful endeavors. We might wish he did that more to our enemies. But God’s opposition to the proud is not just so we can have a better life. It is to bring people low in their own strength so that he may lift them up to an eternal blessing by his grace. “For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone’ (Lamentations 3:33).
James tells us that we must not assume we will make plans that will succeed. Rather we must say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will…” (James 4:13). There is great danger in presuming to make a name for ourselves by our plans or predictions. But there is even greater joy in being part of God’s mission and enjoying the eternal blessings of his reign and rule in Jesus.
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*Thanks to Reggie McNeal for these terms. He fleshes them out in his book, The Present Future.