Day 9


I’ve heard it said that small is beautiful. But I don’t think this is a statement that has often had much uptake with the human race… ’bigger is better’ ‘might makes right’ ‘live large’‘mine’s bigger than yours’, big business, big vision, mega church… we humans seem to measure our success by size, the size of our income, the size of our house, the size of our facebook or  Instagram following. Bigger is better. Small… well it just doesn’t get a look in.

But what if this measure we use to evaluate ourselves and each other by is all wrong? What if success were not measured by size, amount or status. What if it were measured by love?

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” Genesis 11:1-2

East. It sounds like a location on a map but sometimes it is more. Adam and Eve were banished from the garden of Eden and blocked from entering it on the east side. Cain wandered ‘east of Eden’ when he left the presence of God. East can be a pattern, a pattern of wandering away, losing our way, losing sight of God’s face and intimate presence.  And when we lose sight of God’s face, all we have left is ourselves.

They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens,’ Genesis 11:3-4a


These people were resourceful, talented and creative. But as the story of Cain’s family line has already demonstrated, all the knowledge, talent, technology and progress in the world cannot restore humanity or give us a moral compass. Only YHWH’s love, God Himself at the core of the beating heart of humanity can do that; not God at a distance- at the top of a tall tower we build, but God up close, human beings walking in partnering relationship with Him.

This tower they were building. It wasn’t just any tower. The ancient author of this story and their original audience hearing it would have made an assumption that we modern readers often miss. There was only one architectural tower commonly featured in ancient Mesopotamian1 cities: The Ziggurat. And the function of a Ziggurat was precisely what the people of Babel described “a tower that reaches to the heavens”. A Ziggurat was an ancient religious structure built to reach to the heavens2, not so people could actually ascend to heaven, but so that heaven (a deity) could descend to earth.

At first glance, this might appear to be a good and devout thing to do, as though these people of Babel were getting their priorities right- putting God at the centre, building a tower to welcome God.  But there is a big difference between building something in loving partnership with God, and building something for God without His presence with us.

And this is perhaps the greatest irony of this story of Babel. Though the people of Babel were building a tower for God to come to earth, they weren’t working with God and weren’t actually motivated by a desire to welcome Him among them. The very next line reveals their underlying motivation, disclosing the true state of their hearts…

‘Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’ Genesis 11:4

Not ‘so that we can dwell with God’ or ‘so that we can welcome God’, but ‘so that we may make a name for ourselves’. They weren’t truly reaching for God. They were creating a tall tower to make it look like they were reaching for God. And in truth they were reaching for their own significance ‘a name’ for themselves. They were creating their tower ‘reaching to the heavens’ to make themselves look good, feel strong and appear devout. It was all about them. Verse four, which has them talking collectively, has five personal pronouns in just one sentence.

‘Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’ Genesis 11:4

God was neither the centre of this project nor the centre of their hearts. They had removed God from the centre of their hearts and replaced Him with their empty religion and their drive to feel significant.

Small wasn’t enough for these people of Babel. They were out to prove that they were a mighty people, strong, powerful, too big to fail. They had no time for small things. Small things like the still small voice of God in their hearts whispering that He loved them.

When God is not at the centre of a beating human heart all sorts of darkness rushes into the void; darkness like fear and insecurity, fuelling pride, selfishness and drivenness.

When all we have is ourselves, we don’t actually have our true selves at all. We only have who we feel we need to be, and who we fear we’re not.


They thought being a cog in the machine of a big vision, a powerful project, could satiate their need for significance. They had forgotten who they were. They wanted to make a name for themselves because they’d forgotten their true name; Imago Dei Human. Children of God.

The significance they craved was their true beating heart, the image of God within them, but the way they were reaching for it was tearing them apart.

Lurking beneath all our treadmill drivenness towards success and significance is so often the fear of our own insignificance. Subconsciously perhaps we hope that if we can prove it to everyone else, maybe we’ll start to believe it ourselves.

All human towers will one day fall. There is no human monument, project, empire, movement, organisation, multi-national company, political system, or ideology that will not one day crumble into dust. We fear when big things fall, like banks ‘too big to fail’, because we have bought into the lie that bigger is better, that there is somehow safety and strength in numbers, in size. Our fears programme us to buy the lie of ‘empire’ building. The lie that size is success, that power and might is what we should strive for.