I will never forget the first sight of what was going to become our new church, when at 10 years old my parents decided to leave Quebec, Canada, where they were serving as missionaries, to come back to France. I still remember vividly that building standing in downtown Toulouse, in the midst of a Muslim neighborhood. It was surrounded by used dippers and trash.
I will never forget my first best friend in 5th grade, after a conversation, giving the middle finger to God and cursing loudly in the school courtyard so that everybody could hear.
I will never forget the stench of my Sunday school class, in a room that had a metallic side door that had been forced just enough so that the young men of the neighborhood could pee in our church.
I will never forget that unanswered prayer for the 8 years I lived there: “Father, please give me one Christian friend”
I will never forget the tears on my mother’s face, pleading, “I wish we had one more man in our church who knew the Bible”
I’ll never forget these things. They have marked me and sealed my heart with a burden for France. But as I prepare for ministry, there is one more thing that still haunts my mind.
It is the pride of those two men, leaders our church, who placed their own interests above the church, and in their stubbornness became an obstacle to God’s work, until our church split and our attendance to drop from 120 people to 17 people meeting in a hotel room.
Those men were those who had asked my parents to come from Canada to France to help the church. They had helped us move in, they had invited us to their homes again and again. In our first years in France their families had become our best friends. But eventually their personal agendas and ulterior motives came out and it destroyed our church and ripped our hearts apart.
Pride, when it blossoms, is an ugly flower. God hates it. It is sneaky, destructive, and the worse of all sins. There will be no prideful person in heaven. When Satan and his angels became conceited, God kicked them out. There are many things that God despises, but few that God opposes with as much energy as He does with pride.
To be honest, this sobers me. At times, it scares me. Because there is no other sin that I see as often as pride in my own life, and with such depth. The roots of pride are not the kinds that wonder at the surface. They dig deep into the core of our beings.
The Bible has its ways to remind us of our pride. I just think of verses like Philippians 2:3, “in humility count others as more significant than yourselves.” Could I honestly say that I count others as more significant than myself? I don’t think so. Could I look at any of you in the eyes and say: “I count you as more significant than myself? I certainly prayed more for my sermon than I did for yours.
I love the quote my Andrew Murray: “The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself, he simply does not think of himself at all”
The road to humility is long, and it is saturated with the deadly snares of pride.
So here is my question for us: What are we doing to keep our hearts from being prideful today?
I invite you to turn in your Bibles in the book of Genesis, in chapter 11, to the story of the tower Babel, where we will find insight for each one of us to answer this question. And here is the one thing that I desire for us to remember today, and it is very simple: a prideful will lead you away from God’s will; a humble heart will lead you at the center of it.
Now I invite you to turn in our Bibles in Geneses 11:1-9, and let us look at three devastating manifestations of pride, which should motivate us to follow God’s will and not our own.
I. SINFUL DISOBEDIENCE
And this is how it first fleshes out: with a sinful disobedience to God. The first manifestation of their pride is seen in their sinful disobedience. We read in verses 1-2:
“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.”
In Gen 9:1. after the flood, God had told Noah and his family, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” (Gen 9:1).
God had said something, but the earth thought different. After migrating for a while they “settle down,” a word here that implies permanent residency. They set their gear down, pitched their tents, raise their fists to God and say: enough. We’re done with that migration stuff. We’re not moving no more. We have found the plains of Shinear, we are here to say.
Now, for you students of the Word, you know that the Bible does not have much good to say about Shinear, and especially Babel, also known as Babylon. From the destruction and captivity of Judah to the end times, Babylon is known as a place of evil, rebellion against God and pride. Her fate, according to Isaiah (13:19), will be compared to that of Sodom and Gomorrah, as the saints will be called to rejoice at her destruction according to Revelation (18:20).
And so here we are at the beginning of the history of Babylon, first known as Babel, which by the way means “the gate of the gods.” And who is the founder of the city? A descendant of Ham, the cursed son of Noah, whose name is Nimrod, meaning “let us rebel.” We see this in the previous chapter from verses 6-10.
So here we are, with Nimrod the mighty man, a great human leader, moving forward with all the peoples of the earth following him. And he comes to the land of Shinar and decides to settle down and build a city that would bear the name of Babel, a name meaning “the gate of the gods.”
Now what would you think if pastor “let us rebel” opened a church called “the gate of the gods”? But what would you think if the whole world went to that church?! It would be like the whole world converted to the Roman Catholic Church or to Islam.
I don’t think there ever was such an open and massive rebellion against God’s revealed will in History, nor will there ever be another one like this one. The people of Babel were prideful. They knew the will of God but willfully rejected it. And so they settled in their pride.
Now is it wrong to settle down? It depends, doesn’t it? What if all the believers in the world lived in California and never traveled outside of the state to share their faith? Would that be in obedience to the great commission? And this is exactly what we see here. Everybody is settling down, and nobody is speaking up. They are settling down and they are all doing it. They are not getting ready to send out groups of peoples, all they want to do is use all the labor force they can have to build a city and a tower for the sake of their own names. Their motives are purely selfish and in complete opposition to God’s revealed will.
There are living as practical atheists, as if the God of the universe was neither watching nor caring. The Bible has a very precise technical term for these kinds of people. It calls them fools. And this is what we see next.
II. SENSELESS FOLLY
The second devastating manifestation of pride that we see in this passage is their senseless folly. Their senseless folly. And we see this in verses 3-4.
Gen 11:3 And they said to one another, « Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly. » And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.
Gen 11:4 Then they said, « Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth. »
In fact, when you look at this passage in Hebrew, it is truly humorous. Verse 3 basically says, “Come on! Let us brick bricks and bake backing!” It’s like they are a bunch of cave-men that go to a football game. “Come on! Let’s do it!” Their motivation force is nothing better than brainless cheerleading.
But there is even more to it. Do you remember who wrote the book of Genesis? Moses. Do you remember his audience? The exodus generation. We read in Exodus 1:14 that the Egyptians
“made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.” Moses’ audience, the people of Israel, had just gotten out of Egypt were they had been making bricks as slaves under the burning sun. Now, the region of Babel is pretty hot too. So let’s pretend you are an Israelite and you hear someone say, “Come on! Let us make bricks under the burning son! Actually, let’s spend our entire lives making bricks, so that we can have a useless tower that will touch the sky! Come on!”
How many Pharaohs do you think took their vacation making bricks with Israel? The reason why the Egyptians had their slaves do that job was because they didn’t want to do it themselves. It was hard work! It was difficult labor, exhausting, creating back pains, tiredness, and guess what, it wasn’t glorious at all!
But even more foolish was their desire to make a tower out of bricks. Seriously: when you turn through your background books on archaeology, do you see many pictures of brick ruins? No, you don’t, and it is because bricks don’t last. The erosion of rain and sand make them crumble. Buildings made of bricks in ancient Mesopotamia had to be periodically destroyed, leveled, and rebuilt. The only ancient bricks I saw in Israel during my 4-month stay there were there because they had been found underground and had been protected.
Secondly using bricks makes no sense because they are trying to build a tower. Have you ever seen a skyscraper made of bricks? Now, maybe some architects might use some for the façade, to make it look nice, but you would never use bricks for the structure! It simply is not resistant enough. The only way to make a building grow taller with bricks would be to make a stepping structure, like a pyramid, where in order to go high you need a huge base, a ton of bricks, and a lot of labor. Some structures like this have been found and are known as Ziggurats, some which required several generations to be completed.
The three little pigs might have been wise to make a brick-house, but the people of Babel, well, they were fools.
Even Moses when he wrote the story was making fun of the foolishness of the people of Babel. Remember Nabal, the fool? His name is all over the place. “NILBANA LEBENIM” let us brick bricks! “Balal!” Let us confuse! Babel, the foolish city. So the Hebrew reader would read the story and it would sound like this. “This is the stupid story of the stupid tower of stupid Babel.”
But they were conceited. They were prideful. They were absorbed in themselves and thought they deserved to be remembered. But why do you want to be remembered for in the first place? It’s completely prideful and selfish! The only reason that someone would want to be remembered would be if that person thought he was important enough to be remembered. The only reason why you would want to be remembered would be if you thought that you were better than others. Why would people remember you if you were not better than others? And this is how these people looked at themselves. “Hey world! Look at us! We’re the real deal! There is never going to be ever anyone as cool, smart, ingenious strong like us!”
They wanted to make a tower so high that it would reach the heavens. They thought they could do even better than God. “God made the sky? Well, let’s make something that is even higher than that!”
They wanted the fame that goes when you have a name. They were prideful people. And because of their pride they stopped moving forward to do God’s work. And they settled down. And they cut the cord that connected them to the blessings of God. Like sheep they went astray and they locked themselves in pastures that would be consumed and left empty with no chance for grass to ever grow again. They stopped following the shepherd; they stopped doing His will and set themselves up to starve to death.
Archaeologists found a text in a pyramid addressing a Pharaoh and saying, “your name will live on among people even as your name comes to be with the gods.” Egyptians had tried too to make their names great. And guess what! God ridiculed them! For the past 3500 years Egypt has been remembered for being put to shame by the God of Israel. You want a name, here it goes! You foolish Egyptians, you tried to compete against God, you lost!
Men, for us also the danger is great. Maybe you might not struggle today with the desire to build a statue in your effigy. But let us watch out for the love of reputation! It can even start with good motives. There is no doubt all of you here have proven yourselves to have a certain heart for the Lord and a certain giftedness. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here. And the more we learn, the more we will want to do something about it. But often greater opportunities don’t come without trust. I’m sure we’ve all tasted some degree of church politics. And it would be very easy for us to make the seeking of approval and end it itself. It can be very subtle. And all the sudden we can be left with a baby monster always hungry and never satisfied. And so we start building a tower, seeking to look good in front of others, doing works to be noticed, and counting in our treasure chest the compliments of praise we have received. And as we build that reputation, we start believing that we are actually worth much more than what we truly are.
Does God need us? No. But He revealed His will so that we could be used by Him. Christ is the only reputation we need. Let our names be forgotten and His name remembered! Compared to Him, we are nothing. It would be foolish to think otherwise. Men, one day we will be in heaven and guess what? We’ll all get a new name. Making our name great is just a foolish waste of time.
Let us take heed to the warning of Scripture. Do you remember how many of the good kings of Judah finished well? None. All of them, reformers and mighty warriors, after doing well, fell because of pride. These were some of the most powerful religious leaders of history. Let us take heed.
III. SOVEREIGN JUDGMENT
Pride leads to disobedience, to folly, and finally, it leads to the judgment of God. And this is what we see here: the Sovereign judgment of God. God’s will was that people would scatter on the earth. The people of Babel thought they had better plans for their lives than what God had. Well, God won that debate. God’s will was accomplished, and the purposes of the men of Babel were ruined.
Gen 11:5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.
Gen 11:6 And the LORD said, « Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.
Gen 11:7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech. »
Gen 11:8 So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.
Gen 11:9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
And so at this point God steps in. It was inevitable. The “children of man,” precisely “sons of Adam” are no more than “sons of Adamah,” children of the dust. And what an irony that on their sides they were building a tower that was supposed to reach the heavens and that God actually had to come down from heaven to even see it.
But they were trying to take God’s place, acting on their own initiative rather than in submission to God. God had to stop them from “proposing” or “plotting” other things to do. The plotting is for Him. He was the one who came up with the idea of this world. He is the one plotting. This is not for man to do.
And so God comes down. The text uses anthropomorphic language. They did not understand the spiritual important of God, and so He decides to act in a way that they would see and understand. And so He comes and He sees what man is doing and He thinks, “Oh wow, look at all these smarties. I wonder what I can do to stop them.” And so He confuses their languages. And then les gens commencent à parler dans toutes sortes de langues et plus personne ne comprend. Et les gens essaient de communiquer mais il n’y a pas d’espoir, la barrière linguistique est instaurée.
And so people are so confused. The verb used here means “to mix,” and was used in ancient times for the mixing of ingredients for baking. And this is what God does with them. They are reduced to trying to find the egg in the cake. But it has been broken and mixed and scattered and is unrecognizable.
They can no longer communicate, and so they have to stop their work. And not only they have to stop their work but also they can’t live together anymore because they can’t understand each other. And so they disperse and fill the earth.
God had His plans in mind, and there was nothing that was going to stop Him. From the beginning God’s will was that there would be a holy and unique Bride prepared for His Son Jesus Christ made of tribes and nations and peoples from all over the earth. This earth created for Christ and through Christ, He was appointed heir of all things, and one day this world, refined and glorified, will be given to Him.
That’s the will of God, that’s His plan, and nothing is going stop Him. Especially not or ridiculous and foolish pride. No, God will oppose it.
God judged Adam because of his pride by limiting the extent of what Adam could do. He limited his life with death, to protect the earth from immortal sinners. And He did it in love: just imagine if a man like Hitler was to be immortal. When the human race continued in their pride and rebellion, he continued to limit them. First he wiped them all except 8 people, then he limited the impact they would have by shortening their days to 120 years. Again, here, out of love for this world, God judged the human race by multiplying the languages to limit the destruction that united sinful men could bring about together.
God has no trouble killing the pride, and in the same way, if pride creeps in our lives, God will have no trouble judging us and limiting our ministry.
I had a friend who was in ministry in France for 16 years. But he always wanted to do his own thing, never listening to the real needs of the moment. He joined our church for about 5 years. He never got too involved, always hoping to get his own church started someday in another part of town. He could have had an incredible impact in our church. He left after 16 years without a single convert behind. Sobering story.
The judgment of God on the proud should definitely make us take a look at our lives. Do we love the praise of men? Do we genuinely listen to people? Do we get offended when people rebuke us? Do we make the pursuit of our reputation an end it itself? When we hear the Word and get convicted, do we go to pray without ceasing, or do we try to cease without praying?
What about the will of God? Are we as passionate as He is to see the Bride of Christ be sanctified? Are we as burdened as He is to see the lost get saved and worship Him, or are we satisfied in only living out half of the Great Commission? Do we ever share God’s tears and beat our chests on behalf of those who are destined to hell?
May we die to ourselves so that Christ would live!
But the beautiful thing is that the story of Babel does not stop here. For the rest of the chapter, we see again the same pattern that we see from the beginning of the book of Genesis. People live, people die, and nothing good happens. Until we get to chapter 12 and the appearing of a man, from the same region as Babel, from Ur. No better than his fathers, he begins with a name reflecting the sinfulness of his nature: Abram, “exalted father.”
But as God’s will is revealed to Him, he reacts differently than the people of Babel. Let us read Genesis 12:1-4.
“Now the LORD said to Abram, « Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. » So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.”
“Abram went, as the Lord told him.” This phrase is probably of the most important one of the first 12 chapters of Scriptures. Abraham obeyed. He humbled himself, put aside his own will, his own projects, even his own country and his family. Abraham died to his name.
And then God changed that name. He changed his name from Abram, “exalted father” to Abraham, “father of a multitude.”
How much impact did Abraham’s obedient have? Well, I don’t know about you, but besides the reading and hearing of Scriptures, there is nothing more encouraging to me than to go outside at night and to look at the stars. Because the more I look, the more my eyes get used to the darkness, and the more they become too many to be counted. And I know that each one of those stars is a promise to Abraham that has been or that will be answered on day. And I think about the desperation of my country of France, and I find hope, because I know that God’s will is for many people to get saved, too many to be counted. And I know that God’s will is good. And it will be accomplished no matter what man does; the Bride will one day be ready and pure no matter how many pride people get in the way. But in the meantime, whatever part of the Bride I can embellish, let me have it.