The whole world had one language with a common vocabulary. 2 As people moved toward the east, they found a plain in Shinar [Babylonia] and settled there.
3 They said to one another, “Let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used bricks as stones and tar as mortar.
4 Then they said, “Let’s build a city for ourselves and a tower with its top in the sky. Let’s make a name for ourselves so that we won’t become scattered all over the face of the earth.”
5 The Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the descendants of Adam were building. 6 The Lord said, “They are one people with one language. This is only the beginning of what they will do! Now nothing they plan to do will be too difficult for them. 7 Let us go down there and mix up their language so that they won’t understand each other.”
8 So the Lord scattered them all over the face of the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 This is why it was named Babel, because there the Lord turned the language of the whole earth into babble. From that place the Lord scattered them all over the face of the earth. – Genesis 11:1-9
My first Call was to Our Savior Lutheran Church in Vernal, Utah, and Trinity Lutheran Church in Rangely, Colorado. In the days of the Oil Shale boom, plans were made for aggressive development of oil-producing efforts. That required more people. And people required places to live. One such place was Parachute, Colorado. Today this is a town of just more than 1000 residents. But in the early 1980’s Exxon corporation decided to build a large residential development. As I recall, it was mostly apartments to house the large number of workers who would live there.
Construction had begun, and buildings were framed. Some were at least partially under roof. Then Exxon decided to pull the plug. It was described this way in a June 1982 Washington Post article:
The traffic rolling past Mayor Floyd McDaniel’s store is disconcertingly heavy. The small town looks alive–and when you are looking for a ghost, that can be unsettling.
More than two months ago, Exxon Corp. pulled out of the $5 billion Colony Oil Shale Project in western Colorado. Construction workers packed their families and U-Hauls and left, and Parachute appeared headed from boom to bust.
It was an amazing sight. Half-framed buildings: abandoned. Unfinished streets: abandoned. Workers just got into their trucks and left town. Plans for people to move in were abandoned. In hindsight it seems wise that we did not invest a lot of capital on a mission start there. That had been our plan. But plans change. And those plans changed dramatically and suddenly. What they thought would be an oil shale boom turned into a big oil pull-out bust!
That’s not the first time plans have changed dramatically and suddenly. Thousands of years ago plans for the city and the tower in Babel were abandoned. They left off building the city. The tower was a flop. Their goals – so lofty – had to be abandoned because God confused their speech and thwarted their efforts.
You might wonder why God has not done this more often today. From Dubai’s Burj Khalifa to China’s Shanghai Tower to the Lotte World Tower in Seoul to New York’s One World Trade Center, skyscrapers, one after another, reach into the heavens. It appears as though there is nothing we cannot do. He stopped it all then. Why not now?
I cannot fathom the mind of God. Nor can I suppose to answer for his actions. In fact we might take a note from Job before we ask God to give an account to us for his actions! The fact that God has not stopped these kinds of things just yet may be explained in part by 1 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
And before we become too quick to pull the trigger of accusation toward others, we must be careful to examine our own hearts. Is there perhaps more hubris and arrogance there than we might wish to admit? Might we need to take heed ourselves? If we do take stock, and discover in our hearts a judgmental self-righteous attitude, we can be thankful that God receives us when we turn to him in repentant faith. That’s something the people in Shinar did not do. And their project came to a sudden stop because of that.
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