Genesis 11:5 – But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. (NIV)
Oh, that shifty word, but! It has an uncanny way of reversing everything. For example, you just heard your superior list several remarkable qualities in you; and then comes that word, "but". You brace yourself, for whatever comes next will surely undo everything that has just been said. That can be bad news — as in the Babel tower account found in Genesis 11. There we see a foreboding, "But the Lord …". After that, things go terribly wrong. This ancient Babel civilization resembles our own, so it's worth exploring. We'll discover another "but the Lord": the good news embedded in the bad news.
Ancient Babel was on the rise. Urbanization and innovative technology had taken this impressive city to new heights, literally. (Sounds modern?) The invention of clay bricks meant that the sky was the limit. Now they could construct a massive towering worship centre (a ziggurat) reaching the very heavens. Here, the deities could come down to grant favour and success. Utopia was around the corner, and the gods were on their side — or so they thought. Then came the game changer, an unwelcome "But the Lord …".
The Lord of the universe "came down to see" all right. But He wasn't the deity that they expected. He didn't approve; He undid their entire project. Instead of divine favour, they experienced divine judgment. He confused their language, turning their clever collaboration into chaos. Their glorious upward mobility plummeted. Imagine the frustration, confusion, disillusionment, even terror! Work projects ground to a halt. Committees dissolved. No one understood what others were up to. People couldn't agree, so they went their own way. That's exactly what they were trying to avoid. They scattered abroad — only to repeat the cycle.
I believe that God still intercepts human ambition, often through dispersion. We ourselves experience the effects of societal instability and scattering of people. We experience disillusionment over failed projects, divisiveness, conflict, moral decline, loneliness, and alienation. It happens wherever prideful pursuits have superseded the humble pursuit of God. It's happening across our revered institutions, including the church.
Rather than blame people or the devil, why not consider divine judgment? That's how we'll see divine mercy. For it is only through the agonies of dispersion that we encounter our vulnerability and admit our need for God. That's when we'll seek Him. We'll experience a different "but the Lord" encounter: God turning things around for us — just as He did for the psalmist who felt the terrible impact of a wicked society. He said:
Psalm 34:19 – A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all. (NIV)
Prayer: O Lord, when we sense ourselves vulnerable and alienated through the calloused ambitions of others, may we seek Your tender favour upon us. May we find assurance and joy in those many "but the Lord" promises found in Scripture. Amen.
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Listen while you read: "Let Us With A Gladsome Mind" (Lyrics)