My son recently discovered the joy of building blocks. He painstakingly gathers both pieces in his chubby baby-not-quite-toddler hands and angles them together to connect. Sometimes the ends don’t fit and he grumbles in frustration, but when they do, he looks up with his big blue eyes to see if anyone noticed. He’ll hold up his stack of blocks and smile, full of self pride. We cheer like any good parents…but then our hoorays turn into muffled giggles when the blocks inevitably fall apart and he wrings his hands in the most dramatic fashion to express his supreme dissatisfaction.
Through the multi-colored building blocks, my sixteen-month-old has already learned a valuable lesson – that which is built by human hands won’t sustain.
The Babel-builders with their slime covered rocks in Genesis 11 had a harder time learning this lesson. In this section of scripture, the tower-builders are referred to as children of man. They desired security and they desired praise. Instead of obeying God and spreading thorough-out the earth, they declare a war against heaven. They want to be God. They build a tower with literally stone and slime – the best materials at their disposal. From his throne, the God of the universe watches the children of man. He sees them striving and sweating and slime slinging rocks together determined to reach the heavens. The children of man were erecting a temple to themselves, an alter and pulpit of their ingenuity and greatness, even stamping the blocks with some type of seal so their notoriety and godlike status would remain until the end of time. The word used in the verse where it says they wanted to make a name for themselves is actually the Hebrew word Shem.
Shem is the celebrated name and glory of God – it’s his name. So as they stamped and slimed their way to the heavens they didn’t just want a new name, they wanted God’s.
Lest I roll my eyes at their blatant disrespect and frank stupidity, here I am in 2019 on the other side of the cross typing these words and thinking of the wallpaper I use to make my own slime slinging children of man ways less obvious and offensive.
Instead of living a life fully trusting God, too often I try to manipulate and control – I live for the Plan B. Because deep down perhaps these actions result in a fear that God cannot be trusted, perhaps he didn’t really mean it when he said he’d never flood the whole earth again. So I disguise my slime with wallpaper and wrap it up around my tower.
And yet, just as God saw the Babel-builders, he sees the altars of heart. He sees the sticky stones I try to stack my way into security all the while distancing myself from my God who has come down to give relief from the unbelief – but so often I won’t let him. I think of how I want to preach to myself my own greatness and how I desire others to do the same with people-pleasing tendencies. How we as a culture so highly value followers and the art of marketing self instead of just following Christ.
We try so hard to make ourselves flashy and beautiful – all the while dripping nasty slime.
I hand him a slime-coated brick, but balk at any further examination because I know the slime is caked on thick and its going to take a lot of Holy Spirit moving-scrubbing to clean my heart. The irony is if we only wanted to be clean and we actually allowed the Spirit to accomplish this in the deepest seats of our soul – the Lord doesn’t use brick and slime, he uses sapphires and pleasant stones (Isaiah 54). Not so we can make our own pulpit preaching our own name, but so we can declare his Shem – the glory of God.
A couple days ago I camped out in the twelfth Psalm. David cries out to the Lord as evil seems to take over the earth. They say Our lips are our own [to command at our will] who is lord and master over us? And just like God came down to see the city the sons of man had built in Genesis, he says I will arise to David, I will set him in the safety of salvation in which he pants.
How merciful and gracious God is. He allowed them to build, he did not stop them at the first row of brick and slime – he gave them time, time and space to repent. He could have struck them dead for their insubordinate nature rather than just confusing their languages, once again being merciful desiring that they one day might know him.
The Babel-building didn’t end in the Old Testament, the Athens in Acts certainly had a problem with idolatry, so much so that the Bible says they were wholly given to idolatry. Paul even found an altar to the unknown god – constructed and worshiped by the people just in case they missed one. All their worship was worthless – for they did not know the one true God, Paul preaches.
Among the people were scholars of Stoicism and Epicureanism, two schools of philosophy after the time after Aristotle. They accused Paul of babbling, like a chicken pecking at ideas and spitting seeds out without knowledge or understanding. Ironically, while the philosophers accuse Paul of being a babbler, they resemble the Babel-builders in Genesis. They believed that the study of philosophy was the ultimate transformation into perfection and that the progression towards a greater state of perfection was the goal of life. While they accuse Paul of spouting-off ideas that he doesn’t know anything about – Paul declares that they need not worship an unknown god because God Himself is not far off – he isn’t an unknowable God – he can be known!
Acts 17 ends with a list of Athenian people who converted to Christianity. It says: Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
Not much is known about the woman named Damaris. I wonder what was so special about her for her name to be recorded. What made her stand out as she could’ve just as easily been included in the number of others? Was it her faith? Scholars can only speculate. What we do know is that in a culture wholly given to idolatry, a woman name Damaris turned her back from the babel-building, idolatry worship.
She believed the Gospel and the Gospel changed her.
In a follower obsessed culture very similar to Athens with more gods than can be named crafted by the enemy to keep us from God – we must grow weary of of our slime and let him clean and purify us from the remaining residue stick.
I don’t want to be like a child of man for I am a child of God. I want to be a woman like Damaris, a woman who believed.