Genesis 11: The End of the Beginning
After ten chapters into the book of Genesis, humankind has not yet found a lasting solution to the problem of sin. Adam and Eve made for themselves loincloths of fig leaves to cover their shame (Gen. 3:7). Cain eliminated the competition of his righteous brother, Abel, by murdering him (Gen. 4:1–8). Cain’s descendants innovated to create new wealth, new technology, and new culture, but multiplied the bloodthirsty violence of their forefather, Cain (Gen. 4:17–24). The godly line of Seth corrupted themselves by intermarrying with the offspring of Cain (Gen. 6:1–4). Even after God gave a fresh start to humanity by wiping away the excesses of its corruption through the Flood (Gen. 6:5–9:17), Noah and his family quickly fall back into the sin patterns that had originally doomed the human race (Gen. 9:18–29).
In Genesis 11, we read about one final attempt at solving all of humanity’s problems: a construction project. The people living at Babel unite to build a tower that will reach up into the heavens, where God dwells (Gen. 11:4). They believe that if they can just build a taller tower, they will commend themselves to God. The project itself will fail miserably at its stated goals. Nevertheless, God brings out of this failure something that will solve all of humanity’s problems. While the solution will not take full effect immediately, God raises up a man in Genesis 11 who will alter the course of human history forever.
1. What does it mean that the Babelites seek to make a name for themselves (Gen. 11:4)? What kind of name do you see people building for themselves today? What kind of name do you try to build for yourself? What kind of name does God promise to give to his people? Where do you need to abandon your own pursuit of a name to trust God to provide you a name?
2. What are the Babelites able to accomplish by their unity? What can human beings accomplish when they work together? As great as these achievements may be, why are we incapable of building a tower tall enough to reach up to God? What does the gospel teach about how God reached down to us? How is the gospel fundamentally different than every other religion?
3. How does the Lord judge the Babelites? Why does the Lord withhold any hope for salvation in his judgment oracle? What hope do we have apart from God’s sovereign mercy toward us? In what ways are you most tempted to believe that you are able to be saved by your own works, apart from God’s mercy? What does this story teach you about your chances for success?
4. Was Abram saved by his own works? On what basis does God save Abram? For what purpose does God choose Abram? How does Abram relate to the offspring of the woman? How does Jesus relate to Abram? If God no longer deals generally with the whole world, how does God intend to bless all the families of the earth through this one man?