The Proud (Genesis 11:1-9)

 “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” and “He that lies down with dogs, shall rise up with fleas,” are only a few of the witticisms of Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin is known as a key figure in American’s quest for liberty and one of the drafters of the Declaration of Independence. Although he was a key figure in the early days of the American experiment, his wit and wisdom published in his Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1732 continues to find its way into American culture. At the age of 20 Benjamin Franklin created a list of 13 virtues that he tried to instill in his life every day:

  1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloths, or habitation.
  11. Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.[1]


Benjamin Franklin tried to cultivate these virtues throughout his life.

A man who is a giant in American history, known for his intellect and common sense, reflected on these virtues in his autobiography saying,

In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.[2]

Pride is devastating. Franklin is right, we can disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as we please, but there it remains.

Pride is a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in conduct. Pride, the inflated opinion of our own importance, is devastating for marriages, friendships, societies, and churches. Have you ever experienced the devastating effects of pride? I have seen too many times how my pride has harmed relationships with people whom I love and with my God who loves me. Friends, we must deal with our pride, or it will be dealt with. There are four aspects of pride I want us to consider in this text. First, let’s focus on how pride hinders our mission.

Pride Hinders Mission

            The story of the Tower of Babel has many parallels to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. As I have shared before, the wordplays throughout Genesis help to focus the narrative in a particular direction. Israel passed on its history orally through storying which makes word plays significant to the original audience. We pick of the story after the flood and with Noah’s descendants. The flood was a cleansing of the Earth and Noah was given the same charge from God that Adam and Eve had in the Garden, Genesis 9:1, “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Noah and his sons were tasked to fill the earth. And they begin to fulfill that mission before they settled in the plain in the land of Shinar. Genesis 11:1-2,

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.

The whole earth had one language and the same words. There was unity on the earth so that God’s people could accomplish their mission to fill and subdue the earth, but instead of fulfilling their mission, their pride forced them to stop.

            The people chose their desires over God’s words. They followed in Adam’s footsteps choosing to be wise in their own eyes rather than submitting to the Eternal King’s decree. Their pride caused them to settle rather than fulfill God’s mission. Pride hinders mission. What motivated the people to settle? What motivates us to settle rather than to fulfill God’s mission? It could have been a desire for comfort. It would have been difficult to continue to travel throughout the earth. It would have been much easier to settle and lay down roots. It could have been a desire for community. It would have been hard to send away friends and relatives to new places. It would have been much easier to stay together and united.

            Regardless of their motivations for settling, we do know that they did not want to be scattered across the face of the earth (Verse 4). They did not want to fulfill God’s mission. They placed their desires above God’s desires. Their pride hindered the mission of God as human pride will always hinder the mission of the God. Has our desire for comfort or a “closed” community hindered our desire to share the gospel? Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” but too often we just “settle” here and try to build something for ourselves.

            Beloved, God has given us a mission to fill the earth of his glory by calling all nations to the obedience of faith in Jesus Christ. Our goal is not a full sanctuary, but to impact the lostness of our city, county, state, nation, and world with the power of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I wonder how much of our mission has been hindered because our pride has exalted our desires above the Lord’s? How many times we have drifted from our mission of making disciples to focus on the complaints of people’s prideful preferences?

Pride Highlights Man

            Pride hinders mission, because it highlights man. After settling in the plain, men speak to one another. Notice how similar the language here in Genesis 11:3-4 is to Genesis 1:26,

And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

First, notice the two main motivations for building a city, to make a name for themselves and to avoid being dispersed over the face of the whole earth.

They wanted to build a city and a tower with its top in the heavens. This could mean that they just wanted to build a really tall building like our modern-day skyscrapers as it is used in other parts of Deuteronomy (1:28, 9:1), but the language more accurately points to how they are trying to build a city without God. This is prideful autonomy. They do not want to acknowledge God, but want to serve themselves. Like Adam and Eve’s desire to be wise in the Garden, they desired to make a name for themselves. Mankind is attempting again to usurp divine prerogatives and trying to live without him.[3] They are attempting to place Man at the center Earth’s story.

We see a picture of the secular city that is opposed to God. Babel, which is where we get “Babylon”, is a common theme of the worldly kingdom that is set against God. Israel was on the edge of the promise land and saw the great strength of the Canaanite nation states and was filled with fear. The mighty kingdoms of this world often strike fear in hearts of God’s people, but all the kingdoms of this world will not stand against the power of God. God’s people need to remember that the kingdoms of the earth will fall. Revelation 18:1-2,

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.” “Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.” (Revelation 18:1-2;10;16)

Babylon, and mighty kingdoms that are set against the Lord will fall.

            Throughout Scripture, Babylon is the symbol of the world while Jerusalem is the city of God. God’s people have a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Hebrews 12:22-24, says that we,

have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

With which city do you identify: the city of the man or the city of God? Babel highlights man as the center of things while Jerusalem places God at the center of life. Are you trying to make a name for yourself, or do you rejoice in being identified with the name of God?

            Christian, we are called to be in the world, but not of the world. We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. America is not Israel. America is Babylon. My fear with the church is that we care more about building a great nation on earth than we do with filling the earth with God’s glory. One Day God is going to call his scattered people out the nations of this world into his eternal kingdom. We, like Israel, need to be reminded not to fear the power of the great kingdoms of this world, but rather to trust in power of our God.

Pride Humbles Man

            Man has set up its mighty city to build a name for themselves so that they would not have be dispersed over the face of the earth. The mighty city of man, the Lord had to stoop down to see.

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:5-9)

The Lord saw that the unity of rebellion set against God would hurt the children of man. He saw that they were one people with one language and this prideful autonomous city was only the beginning of what they would do. It was going to get much worse so God confused their language and forced them to fulfill his command to fill the earth.

            Babel was known in the ancient world as the gate of god. It was viewed as the center of civilization and power. And this mighty city was so low that God had to come down to see it. It was not the gateway to God, but a place of confusion and folly. Anyone who stands against the Creator-God is one who is confused and foolish. It will not end well. Psalm 2:1-6,

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

The Lord looks at the plans of the nations and laughs. It is a fool’s errand to stand against the Lord. It may look like the nations are winning, but they will all come to an end.

The pride of Babel lives in our hearts. And Psalm 14:1-3,

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

And Romans 1:21-23,

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…

It is foolish to stand against God. It is foolish to exalt ourselves in the place of God. It is foolish to live in pride. God opposes the proud. Benjamin Franklin is right; pride is the hardest passion to subdue. We cannot subdue it so God sent his Son to destroy prideful boasting on the cross.

Pride Hammered by Meekness

            The only way to overcome pride was to kill it on the cross. Jesus overcame human pride through humility and meekness.  Jesus did not overcome pride by making a name for himself, but by humbly submitting to the Father. He lived to make God’s name great. And through his perfect obedience, God gave him the name that is above every name. Philippians 2:5-11,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus Christ hammered pride to the cross. The Cross is an indictment on human pride.[4] The cross shows that no man can make a name for themselves, for the cross destroys boasting. “The cross describes a way of salvation which according to 1 Corinthians 1:29 has this purpose: "that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”[5] Jesus Christ removed boasting in the cross, but he did so much more.

            Zephaniah prophesied of a day when God would convert the speech of the nations: “For at that time I will change the speech of the people to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.” Jesus was crucified, dead and was buried, but rose on the third day. He ascended to heaven and sat at the right hand of the throne of God. The ascended Christ sent forth his spirit on earth at Pentecost. Acts 2:1-12,

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

This means that through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ that God began to reverse the curse of Babel. This means Jesus has restored the unity of diverse peoples through the power of the Spirit. This means Christians are one in the Spirit. This means that you have more in common that a Christian Syrian Refugee than you do with your lost American neighbor. This means that God is asking you to lay down your pride by joining with his people in the local church. This means that God wants his people to fill the earth with his glory.

            The cross has removed human pride. No one can come to God except through Christ. Pride was hammered to the cross. If we boast, we boast in the cross. Paul writes in Galatians 6:14, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” We cannot master our pride except through the cross. We must repent of trying to make a name for ourselves. We must humble ourselves by repenting of our pride in all its manifestations and boast fully in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

            On the plains of Shinar, God said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” Imagine if God now looked at the people of Park Baptist and God said, “Behold they are one people in Christ and they have all one language by the Spirit, and this is only the beginning of what they will do for my glory. And nothing that they propose to do in Christ will now be impossible for them. For with God all things are possible.” What if God wanted to take our small, old Baptist church and use us to fill the earth with this glory? What if God wanted to take our unity and display the power of the cross? What if God wanted to display his manifold wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places through the church?

Beloved, kill your pride. Do not live to make a name for yourself, but let us live for the name that is above every name, Jesus Christ, who was ransomed for people from every tribe and language and people and nation. He who has made us into an unshakeable kingdom and priests to our God that shall reign on the earth forever.


[1] accessed 3.5.16

[2] accessed 3.5.2016

[3] Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15., 240.

[4] access 3.6.16 Piper uses this line, but I had thought of it before I looked it up. I did like his reference to 1 Corinthians 1.

[5] Ibid Pipe