Throughout the day, radio operators on the Titanic had been receiving warnings about ice in the area. The captain of the Titanic responded to these reports by turning the ship slightly to the south. He did not, however, make any orders to slow its speed.
At 9:40 pm, a nearby ship reported that they had seen a large ice field full of pack ice as well as a great number of large icebergs. The radio operator on the Titanic, however, felt no need to pass this information on to the ship’s bridge.
About an hour later, another nearby ship reported that they had stopped when it became clear that they were surrounded by ice. The Titanic’s radio operator responded to this warning with the following message, “Shut up! Shut up! I am busy…”
About forty minutes later the ship that was called “unsinkable” had scraped along the side of an immense iceberg, and was now filling with water.
Two hours later, the Titanic was on the bottom of the Atlantic ocean.
Some would say that an iceberg sunk the Titanic. Others would argue it was human pride that took this ship down.
Pride is an exaggerated opinion of one’s own importance, intelligence, or ability. Pride can be secretly cherished in the mind, or displayed outwardly by what a person says and does.
Pride is problem for mankind today, as it has been from the beginning. Countless tragedies can be traced back to human pride.
The part of God’s Word which we’re going to study today is all about pride.
But, before we read from the Bible, let’s get a feel for where we are in history. Our reading for today is a fascinating and ancient account. It takes place somewhere between Noah’s Flood, and Abraham’s birth. That is, it takes place somewhere around 4,300 years ago.
Noah’s family has come off the Ark in the region of the world that we call Palestine. They have continued life. Their families have grown. There are now many people on the earth. But these people are all in one place. There are no nations yet, only this one group of human beings. They are the only tribe. They are the only people.
Let’s see what happens.
Genesis 11:1-9 (NASB)
1 Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.
2 It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.
3 They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.
4 They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
5 The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.
6 The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.
7 “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”
8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.
9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.
The first thing about this account that I find amazing is that these people are our ancestors. Like I said before, at this point, there weren’t any nations yet, no ethnic groups, no differing languages. This is the human race right here, from which we all have descended.
They’ve been living in Palestine, when they decide for some reason, to migrate east. And the place they finally decide to settle down in is Shinar—that is, Babylon. If you want to find the place they went to on a modern map, just look about 58 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq. That’s where this story unfolds.
We learn just a little about the culture and technology of the time. Mankind had developed various building methods by this point. They weren’t just tenting or building stick-frame houses, they had learned how to process shale and fire uniform bricks from it. Bricks that were strong enough that they could undertake a huge tower project.
They had the infrastructure to pull this project off. They had the architects to plan it, the foremen to direct it, the workers needed to build it, and the food sources to fuel all these people.
Furthermore, they had decided this was a good place to settle down. You don’t build in brick if you’re planning to leave anytime soon.
Verse 4 gives us their intent,
“Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4 NASB).
Unified under one language, Mankind saw the potential for great power in community and numbers. And they were beginning to dream about what they might do with that power.
But they needed something to keep them together. Something more than one language must bind them together where they might grow more and more powerful. Someone posed the idea of a great city, and a great monument. A project that was grand enough to display their great strength and ingenuity. Something to give them prestige and keep the future generations here, like a huge magnet.
We can see their pride pretty clearly, can’t we? What we don’t see is any thought of God. These were the descendants of the faithful Noah! You would think that they would have passed down the knowledge of their Creator. You’d think that they would have passed down the Promise of the Savior from sin that God had made. No doubt there were followers of the LORD among them who knew these things. But, still, we find no mention of a great monument to God. No temple plans. No place of worship. The city and the tower were to glorify mankind only.
One of the characteristics of human pride is that it always seeks to put Man in the place of God.
God’s plan was this: Make a world. Fill it with human life. Bless that human world so that it would praise its Creator.
Man’s plan was this: Make a city. Keep the people and the power in one place. Build a monument to glorify Man.
When Noah’s family stepped off the Ark and sacrificed a thank offering to God for saving them from the flood, God told them that He would bless them. And furthermore, God told them to go and spread throughout the world. In planning this city and tower, the descendants of Noah were forgetting, rebelling even, against God.
But spreading mankind throughout the world wasn’t the main thing God was concerned about here. When God saw their plans beginning to be fulfilled He said,
“Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6 NASB).
God saw their pride. That it was growing. That it would continue to grow as their project progressed. God knew that pride of this kind had no room for Him. Pride of this kind takes the abilities and blessings that God gives and uses them to squeeze Him out of the picture. And so, God took action to limit Mankind’s destructive pride by humbling him and dispersing his power.
The LORD simply took away their unifying language. And their plans fell apart. With no way to overcome this hurdle, they began to disperse through the land, and the country, and the world—as God had told them to do in the first place. And while their pride was not extinguished altogether, it was severely limited in its scope and power.
Today, man still dreams his dreams of glory, power and prestige. We’ve split the atom. We treat cancer. We transplant organs and limbs. We talk with each other on phones that reach across the globe and beyond. We create technological wonders like face recognition software, and drones which kill from above with terrible precision. And we still build towers to show off our grand abilities. They stand in every major city.
But when one empire rises to high, the others turn and tear it down, and pride is brought down to the dirt once more. Towers fall, ships sink, and monuments to the greatness of Mankind topple over and rot in the dirt.
I may sound like a bit of a negative guy, but there’s a point to all this. God made mankind as the crown of His creation. But when man uses his abilities to serve his pride, God interposes and brings the prideful down.
And God doesn’t do this because He’s a mean, spiteful God. He does this because He loves us. God alone belongs on the throne of our hearts, and God will do anything He can to keep us from putting ourselves there.
When our lives end, we must stand before God and be held accountable for what we’ve done. Only the humble person who relies on God for forgiveness will enter Heaven. That’s why God brings the prideful down.
The prideful, God humbles. But the humble, God lifts up. This is why God brings the prideful down, so He can lift us up.
This is why God’s Bible talks so much about our sins. We need to be humbled. We need to see that while we think ourselves pretty good, God judges us by a higher standard. He pronounces us completely unacceptable. Utterly sinful.
When we accept this truth, God shows us His plan of salvation. He shows us that even though our sins disqualify us for heaven, His Son has covered those sins by suffering Hell in our place and dying on the cross. To those humbled by the knowledge of sin, God gives the gift of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ Jesus.
If we depend on our own strength, our strength will fail us. But if we depend on God’s strength, we’ll find that our weakness is more than compensated for by the power of God.
Today is Pentecost Sunday. It’s the day that we remember how the Holy Spirit made His power known in Jerusalem. You remember the story.
After Jesus had risen from the dead, He told His followers to go and share the message of sins forgiven through His cross. Go and tell sinners that in Christ they are cleansed and given a place in God’s family. On the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave the followers of Jesus the ability to speak in languages they had never learned. And they used this power to speak the message. Thousands came to faith and were saved from hell that day.
Essentially, the curse of Babel was reversed. Where communication had been lost due to Man’s pride, communication was now restored miraculously so that God’s mercy might be proclaimed.
On the day when God looked down on Babel, He toppled Man’s tower of pride. When God looked down on Pentecost, He lifted mankind up by the gift of forgiveness in Christ, received through faith in His Name.
We began today by remembering how one iceberg sunk one of man’s most glorious ships by brushing against it in the Atlantic. But pride is more dangerous than any iceberg. Icebergs melt in the warmth o f the sun. Human pride only melts in the light of God’s truth.
Take this lesson away with you today. Our strength and intelligence is nothing when we set it against God. Our sinfulness makes anything we might be proud about into absolutely nothing. In other words, we are WORTHLESS because of our sin. BUT, in Christ we are declared PRICELESS, because God’s own Son gave His life to redeem us and make us His own.
Discard your human pride whenever you see it, and let Christ be your boast instead. Like Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatian Christians…
“14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14 NIV).
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.