Thursday, August 12, 2010

Unity & Diversity & The Tower of Babel – Genesis 11:1-9

I encourage you to read Genesis 11:1-9 along with your reading of this blog. Find the NRSV translation of this passage HERE

We have come to the end of our summer series on the Pre-History in Genesis chapters 1 through 11.  During this time we have seen how in each of these stories the humans attempt to place themselves in God’s place bringing upon them the consequence of condemnation and punishment.  But we have also seen how in each of these stories God nevertheless acts with grace and love towards the humans He has created.  Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, but God goes with them and even fashions clothing for them; Cain is forced to wander to the edge of the earth, but God places a protective mark on his forehead and promises to go with him; God calls on Noah and his family to build an ark and collect animals and birds so that created life will continue after the flood, then God places a rainbow in the skies to remind God of the covenant of love He has established with humanity.  In each of these stories the unity and wellbeing of creation – the Shalom – is broken, and God seeks to reestablish it, but in each case God acts with love and grace towards the creation.
This brings us to the final story – the Tower of Babel.  This story concludes the pre-history and it contains some important echoes of some of the previous stories – especially the creation accounts.  In the 1st story of creation God brings order out of chaos, and unity and balance out of disunity and confusion.  In the Babel story God scatters and creates confusion and in so doing God appears to be creating disunity out of unity.  Or does He?  Does the construction of the Tower in the Valley of Shinar really represent unity?  Or does it rather represent enforced unity, assimilation and conformity?  Yes, and at its root of lay fear – fear of the unknown, fear of what is different and fear of change.  By scattering the people and “baffling” their language God is creating diversity and culture.  And in this way God is enriching human life and rejecting fear.  The Tower of Babel points us again towards a gracious and loving God who creates and richly blesses His creation with diversity.  The Tower of Babel story also represents a completion of the 1st creation story and a fulfillment of the command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”  Next as we move into chapter 12 of Genesis we will see how God will call upon Abraham and Sarah to bear God’s blessing to all the peoples of the earth.
We see throughout history any number of examples of enforced unity and conformity. These examples are usually stories of terror and fear.  We experience it in our own society in subtle and not so subtle ways.  There are some who would like us all the think and act the same way and who look with suspicion upon those who are different – who have different ideas, different ways of being in the world, different priorities, different races, different cultures and so on.  This story of Babel rejects as a manifestation of Sin all efforts to force unity and conformity and at the same time proclaims that it is God who has created the wonderful diversity in our world, which we are called to celebrate. 

Bibliography: Interpretation Commentary: Genesis by Walter Bruggemann; 
Genesis, Translation and Commentary by Robert Alter; 
"God Came Down... and God Scattered: Acts of Punishment or Acts of Grace?" by Nancy L. DeClaissé-Walford - Review and Expositer, 103, Spring 2006

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