When we are old and gray and looking back on our lives, none of us wants to say, “Oh… I didn’t matter.” No, everyone is out there trying to make a name for themselves, to make their lives count. Sometimes, though, this pursuit can take us to places we didn’t think we’d end up. We let the ends justify the means, and well… the slippery slope carries us along. This week we’ll discuss the story of of the city of Babel, a bunch of people who are trying to get their five-minutes of fame, but end up getting the boot.

 

Icebreaker

What would you most like to be remembered for in your old age?

 

Scripture Reading

Genesis 11:1-9; Genesis 12:1-4

 

Discussion Questions

1. What motivates people to build the tower? Do you think that something is wrong with their motivations? Why or why not?

  • Leader's Note

    The building of a tower or city is not necessarily the problem here. Rather, the desire to not be “scattered over the face of the earth” (Gen. 11:4) seems to be in direct conflict with God’s earlier command to “fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). This is in effect, a rebellion against God’s desire.

  • 2. Do you think that the motivations driving the people in the story are the same as those driving our actions today? If so, what do you see as the outcome of those drives in our world today? If not, what’s different?

    3. God comes down to see the tower, but responds with concern. What precisely is God worried about and why should that be worrisome?

  • Leader's Note

    This reflects a similar concern that God had following the Fall in Genesis 3:22, “And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” God’s concern seems to stem not from pettiness, but from a recognition that humankind has a potent ability to create/destroy due to their being created in the image of God.

  • 4. What do you think of God’s response? Is God just being petty or is there something else going on?

    5. Is the scattering of people and the creation of multiple languages and cultural groups a punishment? Why or why not?

  • Leader's Note

    While this put an end to their building, it also put them back on track to fulfill God’s command to “fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). While it was inconvenient to them, the diversity and differences created at Babel also seems to be God’s intention for humanity all along.

  • 6. Read Genesis 12:1-4. How does God’s promise to Abraham relate to the motivations of the people of Babel? What is the common thread between them?

    7. God’s promise to Abraham effectively gives him what the people of Babel were working so hard to achieve themselves. What’s the difference between the two examples, and what does it tell us about how God wants us to make a name for ourselves?

  • Leader's Note

    The final verse is key, Abraham does as God commands. The contrast of the people of Babel and Abraham provides a stark contrast. God is fine with people getting attention and “making a name for themselves.” He is not fine if they do it in a way that directly contravenes the way He intended.

  • 8. What is success? How do we measure it in our lives? Why do we pursue it?

    9. Does how we pursue our goals reveal our own relationship with God? Should followers of Christ pursue/measure success differently? How so?

    10. What might it look like to “make a name for ourselves” in a way that is in keeping with the way of Jesus? What characteristics describe that sort of life?

     

    Diving Deeper: Pentecost-Babel Connection

    1. Read Acts 2:1-13.  Many people through time have called the Day of Pentecost the “reverse Babel.” Do you think that is a good description? Why, or why not?

      Leader's Note

      Shane Claiborne writes, “[The people at Pentecost] are the opposite of the one-language, tower-building Babel project. At Babel, God scattered the pretentious human race. And at Pentecost, God reunites the scattered people into a new beloved community — made one not by their own hands or by a shared single language, but by the Spirit of God. They are the new sign of God’s Spirit — a community that is as diverse as creation itself, as unique as the fingerprints we leave and the DNA we’re made of. But it is a community that understands each other amid our diversity, each as children of God. I heard a rabbi say that it is the nature of the empire to create sameness, like coins and buildings and houses that all look just the same. But if uniformity is the imperial brand, diversity is the mark of God’s creation.” 

    2. Do you think human diversity (cultural, ethnic, linguistic, etc.) has been a positive or a negative thing for the human race? Why, or why not?

     

    Helpful Resources

    Enduring Word Commentary on Genesis 11

    Quotes and Commentary on Genesis 11 from the Union of Reformed Judaism

    Southern Baptist Albert Mohler on the Table of Nations, Ethnicity, and the Sin of Babel

    The Reunion Team