Of Nations and Towers


Is it arrogance that leads us to believe we don’t need to follow instructions? Is it impatience? Maybe it’s a little of both?

Because if we just skip step four, that bike will be built five minutes faster. Right?

Well, maybe.

If you want lemonade, you have to squeeze lemons. Or buy that powder stuff that you stir into a glass of water. Either way, there are steps involved and instructions to follow. Lemons don’t become lemonade until you change them.

Regarding the descendants of Noah, it is difficult to tell why exactly they felt they needed a tower that “reaches to the heavens” (Genesis 11:4, New International Version), outside of wanting to “make a name” for themselves. It’s probably safe to say, however, that they knew exactly how they wanted to build it. They knew things about foundations and walls and city permits. They knew how to build staircases to code and pass inspections.

The part of the story I find fascinating is not that God confused their language, but that Noah’s people were somehow so sure of what they wanted and so sure of the steps to take to get there. But was it arrogance that caused them to build the tower, or was it that they actually lost their self-awareness? Their identity?

In the blink of an eye, life can change.

We can blame God, we can chalk it up to nature taking care of itself, or we can say it was all part of a plan.

No matter how we slice it, our lives can be one thing on Monday and something completely different by Friday. For Noah’s people, they knew who they were in relation to God but ended up losing their identity in themselves. They built a tower so that they would be known and so that they would not be scattered… and ended up being scattered “over the face of the whole earth” (11:9).

Now, the Biblical account of this story maintains that God sort of sarcastically says, “Oh, look at these people, powerful enough to build a giant tower.” The logistics of how their language was confused and how exactly they were scattered is left out of the story.

I am more than okay with a little mystery. And it’s not necessarily up to us to fill in the blanks. But what we can gather is that the one thing these tower builders thought they were – they weren’t.

Identity is a funny thing. A little bit of power can cause us to build towers and a tragedy can completely shake our faith.

Noah’s people weren’t scattered because of their arrogance. Their arrogance was simply a symptom of their identity crisis. They were scattered because they forgot who they were and where they came from. And they were humbled because yes, they became arrogant, but they became arrogant and wanted to make a name for themselves because they forgot who they were.

So follow instructions. And by all means, build towers. But most of all, don’t forget who you are and where you come from.

Otherwise, when life gives you lemons, you’re just going to build towers out of them.