NOTE: This is the first in a new "mini series" on "The Faith of Abraham." We are currently preaching through Romans. Paul continuously refers back to Abraham and his faithfulness. To better grasp the many truths regarding Abraham, we are taking this detour before returning to Romans. These sermons are given on Sunday evenings at the Archdale church of Christ, 2525 Archdale Drive, Charlotte, NC 28210 at 6 p.m. The public is always invited. No collections will be taken.
"Why Abraham?" Perhaps a question you never asked. It is, however, a question we must grapple with to truly understand God's plan of salvation. In short we have Abraham as our "spiritual father in the faith" because God selected this singular man for a singular purpose. That singular purpose was to for Abraham to serve as a vehicle "through whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed." The eternally urgent need for the salvation of man was made manifest at an ancient ziggurat called Babel. The "call of Abraham" began at Babel though Abraham was yet to be born!
We find the inspired historical account of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.1 - 9. Though the account takes but little space, it is one of those critical moments in salvational history. It seems that the "whole earth had one language and the same words." (ESV rendering) The concept of language(s) plural was the most foreign of concepts to these post-deluvians. They spoke the language (whatever that language was we don't know) of Adam and Noah. There had never been even a second language since the beginning of time. That was about to change. The people of Genesis 11 had one language, one vocabulary, one accent land one dialect. Even their "sayings" and "slang" were the same. In other words, 100% communication between every living person on earth at the time. Literally the passage reads; "All of their lip one and words one." (per the Interlinear Scripture Analyzer 2 Textus Receptus).
Who were these people and where did they come from? The people of Genesis 11 are all direct descendants of Noah and this 3 sons. When the flood abated they found themselves on the mountains of Ararat (in modern day northeastern Turkey near the Russian border.) Not being suitable for supporting large numbers of people the family gradually migrated east and southeast until they found a very suitable home, the land of Shinar. Most translations say that the people migrated "from the east," the original word can also be translated "eastward." This latter translation is used in the ASV, the JPS and the NIV. Contextually this second rendering better suits the context.
Shinar is what today we refer to as Sumeria. Roughly located in the modern day Bagdad, Iraq area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, Shinar was environmentally much different than we know it today. Instead of an aired wasteland, Shinar was lush, green and well watered. It was also flat, making it ideal for raising cattle, sheep and goats. The bottom line, the seemingly never ending migration ended. They had found a most suitable place to settle down in. Settled they did! They had quit migrating, the apparent Will of God since the Great Flood.
Instead of tents and even mud bricks dried out in the sun, the people of Babel went all out for permanence in the tower and the city they built. Baking their bricks in oven and using a form of asphalt for mortar, they oozed permanence and stability. Later similar structures that housed the image of the god "Marduk" were called "Esagia(s)" which roughly translated is "the building whose top is in heaven."(1) The Tower of Babel was the largest, most elaborate and most expensive structure made on earth up to this moment in time!
Why would these people go to such efforts, time and expense to build such a mega-structure "whose top is in heaven?" The Scripture lists 4 reasons: 1) They wanted a city "for themselves." 2) They wanted their city to have a tower "with it's top in the heavens." (ESV rendering) 3) They wanted to make a name for themselves. 4) They wanted insurance against any future migration. Why would they sets these things up as their goals?
The ancients, as do many still today, believed that the higher ones worship to the gods were in terms of elevation, the closer one became to god. This is why God continually commands the Israelites to "destroy all the high places." That being said, "IF" one could go high enough, one could literally "break into heaven itself," with or without God's permission! Once there they could, by virtue of the now shared presence, claim "equality with God" (see Genesis 3.5), thereby truly "making a name for themselves." (ESV rendering) Not only that, they could insure against total destruction from any future world wide floods. These all taken together come together to mold the primary reason for all of this!
The primary reason for all of this is that they wanted to resist and rebel against God's "prime directory" for their day and time. In Genesis 9.1b God commands Noah (by extension Noah AND his descendants) the following: "...Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." (ESV rendering) That command meant continual migration as far as to the "ends of the earth." They had found the perfect home and wanted more than anything to stay. In order to stay they had to find a way to protect themselves from the Wrath of God as they rebelled against the Will of God. By building a tower "with it's top in the heavens" they thought they had accomplished their goal They could not have been more wrong!
When God saw what man was doing at Babel He took action after going down to inspect the situation for Himself. The Godhead consulted with Himself and concluded 4 things: 1) They are one people (united without and against God). 2) They all had one language (100% communication ability among the rebels). 3) This "is only the beginning of what they will do." (ESV rendering) 4) "...And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them." (ESV rendering) God had a plan of action!
God immediately moves to do two things to make sure His Will is carried out by mankind, willingly or unwillingly. 1) He confused their language, 2) He rendered all communication between different language groups useless, 3) He "dispersed them from there over the face of the whole earth." (ESV rendering. 4) He forced them to abandon the entire project. This is how all the people groups of the entire world came to be. Each language group found each other in the ensuing confusion, moved away from Babel and eventually moved to every corner of the globe.
What is our takeaway from all this ancient pre-history? Simply put, God here opts to intervene into human history as opposed to again destroy the human race (save Noah and his family). He moves to intercede for man with a Savior. In order for the Savior to come into the world, He must form a people group by which to accomplish this. In order to form a people group for Himself, He must first have a progenitor. That singular person that He would call? Father Abraham! Through Abraham all the nations of the earth are blessed!
(1) Davis, John J. (Paradise to Prison - Studies in Genesis, Salem, Wisconsin. Sheffield Publishing Company, 1975, 1998. pg. 146 quoting D. J. Wiseman, "Babel" in J. D. Douglas, ed., New Bible Dictionary, pg. 116.