When the Plans of God and Man Collide
Text : Genesis 11
Proposition: Man seeks always to build according to his own purposes yet God by grace calls us to build according to His.
Introduction: There is a list of the world's languages, called an "Ethnologue" (Grimes 1996) and there are 6,500 living languages listed. Of these, 6,000 have registered population figures. 52% of the 6,000 languages are spoken by less than 10,000 people, and 28% are spoken by less than 1,000 people. 83% of them are limited to single countries. The top five numbers of people in a language group are: 1. Mandarin 885 million speakers 2. Spanish 332 million 3. English 322 million 4. Bengali 189 million 5. Hindi 182 million speakers. If English were included as a second language other than mother tongue then it would likely rank first place. But was there a time when there were just 100 languages spoken or even just 10 or even just 1 language spoken in the whole populated earth? Will the earth ever again have just one language? What would one language mean in terms of capability, productivity, efficiency and unity? This morning we’re going to look at that but as we do we are going to consider an even bigger question that has everything to do with how you and I live every day. That question is simply, ‘What happens when the plans of God and man collide?’ We’ve been looking through the book of Genesis over the last couple of months and today I’d like you to turn to Genesis 11, the account of the early development of humanity just after the deluge known as the Flood. Let’s read Genesis 11:1-9.
I. What Are the Plans of Man in Genesis 11? We see right away that there was just one language, we could speculate that it was the same that Adam spoke, and Noah and his sons. We could further speculate that it was the same language that Abraham spoke and thus to Isaac, Jacob and Moses. In other words the first language of the world may have been a variant of what we now know as modern Hebrew. So what advantage did this afford these first peoples, how did it shape their plans? Since there was no diversity of speech they moved with a greater unity and as one were prone to following those who demonstrated qualities of leadership. One of those was a man named Nimrod, you first met him in Genesis 10:8-12. It was Nimrod who excelled, he was called a mighty one, a mighty hunter, a skilled strategist who knew how to kill. It is likely that Nimrod was the one who led the people to build the city and tower of Babel we read of in Genesis 11. So what are the plans of man that we see emerging here?
1. Man always wants the best. The plains of Shinar are in between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, a very fertile flat plain, the best land around. They wanted to stay in the best place and not move forward into all the earth. There’s nothing wrong with wanting the best, the only problem is that we can be so short sighted that don’t recognize what the best is. It’s like that quote that Rev. Jim Houston mentioned last week, something like, “God wants to give to man the best and man would not have it.” So how do you measure what the best is? I think the words of Philippians 4 have got some counsel on this. Essentially it says watch out for anxiety that will hinder your best choice. Pray, ask God for the direction you need, consider the importance of being thankful, and then it says, “Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.”
2. Man always seeks to build. These people showed an ingenuity in baking the bricks rather than just letting them dry in the sun. This gave the bricks strength meaning they could build with greater load on the foundations, they could build bigger and higher. I don’t think there is anybody who doesn’t want to build something, maybe you long to build a house, a bank account, a video collection, a greater popularity, more skills in your job. There seems to be in us this drive to take greater steps of dominion and authority over our lives. Good things for sure unless they begin to be what we use to determine our identity. Neil Anderson has a great quote, “It’s not what you do that determines who you are, rather it’s who you are that determines what you do.” Be builders but builders who are God’s people.
3. Man always thirsts for Glory. The three reasons it says in verse 4 for why they wanted to build this tower were 1. that it would reach into heaven; 2. that they would make a name for themselves by it 3. that they wouldn’t be scattered over the face of the earth. All three of these add up to one idea, ‘I can do this by myself.’ The idea of reaching into heaven was ostensibly the beginning of choosing another way to God and even another god. The origins of moon worship and astrology were begun in these early Sumerian peoples. The idea of making a name was that people would see the tower from a long distance and marvel at it’s height. Fame would create for them a reputation and that reputation would defend them. Lastly the idea of not being scattered over the face of the earth was a direct disobedience to God’s former command to all people to go into all the earth. The purpose of staying together was for power, safety and control. Ultimately all these are saying the same thing, I don’t need God, I don’t need to listen to Him, I will do what I want to have worship, fame and security, it’s my glory I want. Sound familiar? All these were seen as man’s attempts to gain for himself the best, but it wasn’t the ‘best’ that God had in mind. These plans of man collided with the plans of God.
II. The Plans of God, Though Often Misunderstood, Are to Build Us Up. If you go back and look at the timeline of Shem’s life, the oldest son of Noah, you’ll see that he was still alive right through the time when Abraham was alive and in fact Shem outlived Abraham. The point here is that the commands and promises of God were known, the plans of God were there to be followed. Do you remember the words of Jeremiah 29:11, “ ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Since God is spirit that means He is immortal, He has no beginning and end as we do. He is outside of what we call time and yet He has plans that involve people like you and I. So God’s plans have a different perspective on time than our plans. In this passage it says that the Lord came down and physically saw what the people were doing. It was a theophany, a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus. But the point here is that God is not only interested in what our plans are He’s concerned for us when those plans collide with His for then our welfare, our future and our hope are in jeopardy. Had the tower gone ahead, had the people who followed Nimrod prospered they would have spiraled rapidly downward to a point where the thoughts and intentions of their hearts was only evil continually. That was the indictment upon mankind just before the Flood. So you could say that when the plans of God and man collide God makes His plan well known, He knows what we are about to do and He will redirect us. For these people that meant a confusion of language, it meant they went through the inconvenience and struggle of having to leave and start again somewhere else, it meant a loss of fame, of control and of security. It meant a new call to obedience and faith and its purposes went far beyond the 100 years of the average life span.
In the latter portion of this same chapter 11 in Genesis we are introduced to a man named Abram. Acts 7: 2- 8 describes how God spoke to Abram while he was yet in Ur of the Chaldeans directing him to go to Haran. Then God spoke to Abram again telling him to go towards a land he knew nothing of. The plan of God was to build in Abram a willingness to obey and a heart that would believe in the revealed promises of God even though others wouldn’t.
When the plans of God and man collide God knows that we can’t see what He can see. He knows our sight is impaired by a sin nature that always seeks for our own glory. He knows that sin has consequences even when we can’t discern that and He knows what it’s going to take to bring about our rescue from this misdirection.
So what do we do with all this? Well know that there is a plan, the Bible contains the details of that plan and you owe it to yourself to know what it says. Secondly, watch your heart. Watch out for the things that create unbelief, things like pride, jealousy, greed and a hard heart that wills not to believe. Thirdly recognize that there is within us a sin nature, it shows itself in those very things I just mentioned. Know that sin has consequence, not just in the things of today but especially in the things that happen after I die. Know that God is so concerned about that He gave of Himself, His Son Jesus Christ, to reconcile that consequence of sin. Lastly know that faith, faith in Jesus Christ as our sin bearer, is God’s greatest plan for people. It always has been, even since the time when there was only one language spoken on the face of the whole earth.