Recently, I was reading through Genesis in my daily quiet times (still am, actually), and read again this passage:
Now, the whole world had one language and a common speech….They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly”…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 and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth”…[But] the Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” (Genesis 11.1-7)
What struck me about this passage was the following:
Their common language held them together in a common culture
Language is central to culture. If you want to change the culture, then change the language of the people. Why? Because, when God introduced languages into the human race, He did so in such a manger that there is often not a 1:1 relationship between words. Moreover, some languages are highly inflected, such as ancient Greek, while others are not. I recall in seminary that the translation work of Greek to English often ended with a settling for something less than 100%. Our English language simple didn’t have the words to fully express what the Greek language was expressing. This was even more true of the Hebrew language, a language that is at once beautiful and rich in its’ color and creativity.
Because the people of the earth had a common language, the text indicates that they could understand each other and cooperate with each other to achieve a common goal. Boiled down to common English, they were on the same page and moving forward in unity and purpose.
God recognized their full potential, even if the people didn’t recognize it
The people had decided to build a structure that would, in turn, “make a name for ourselves” and ensure that they were not “scattered over the face of the whole earth”. What’s interesting to me is that every organization and living organism inherently possesses the quality of self-preservation and growth. Individuals, gangs, families, organizations, businesses – we all possess these two qualities: self-preservation and growth. The sin comes when we think we can self-preserve outside of dependence on God. Our arrogance in believing we can control our lives, our future, our reputation and other events betrays our lack of dependence on God.
I take the phrase “make a name for ourselves” to indicate self-preservation, but also preservation of reputation and an indication of arrogance.
As a side note, this is one reason why every government steadily grows and assumes more and more power over time – it is inherent in the government’s existence that it grow and self-preserve.
Note that God said within the Trinity that with a common speech, nothing they plan to do “will be impossible for them”. There is nothing in this passage that forces me to take this figuratively, so I take it literally: that a common culture and a common speech leads to man being able to accomplish whatever man can agree on and work together on. This is not an arrogant statement – instead, it reflects the capacity that God gave man when He created him.
God will always be in ultimate control
God will always be glorified. Before all else, God is most interested in His own glory and preserving glory for Himself. He saw the danger of what was coming: that man would learn that nothing was impossible for them and once learned, that their need for Him would diminish to zero – that they would be condemning themselves to eternal damnation through their success because their success would be accomplished on a Godless foundation. Their ability to control the outcomes of their work and their ability to accomplish whatever they set their minds to do would, in the end, be the very thing that destroys them.
God loved them (and us) too much for this to happen.
So God confused their languages and broke them up – not just by language, but by culture as well. Ironically, what the people set out to do, God thwarted so that the precisely what they didn’t want to happen actually happened: They didn’t want to be scattered, but they scattered as a result of their languages being confused. And what happened to the preservation of their name? Note that in the entire story, their collective name is not even mentioned. Their name was lost. We don’t know who they are. Their name is gone. They were scattered. And God did this for their benefit – to ensure that they would not get to the point where their hearts were stone hard against God because they had figured out they could accomplish whatever they wanted to.
As business owners, this passage is rich with applications for us. I’ll list them here now:
- It is in our nature to grow our business. This is a good thing – don’t forget the parable of the talents – God expects us to grow our businesses and be profitable. But God doesn’t expect us to grow it to the point where we *think* we won’t need Him anymore. God is always in control. God is always sovereign and it is His glory that will not be diminished.
- It is in our nature to self-preserve: we’ll go to great lengths to keep our businesses from failing. This is why most businesses result in bankruptcy rather than a graceful shutdown. If the business is failing, we try and try to keep it going, sliding more and more into debt, thinking all along that we can do this or that to pull it back out and keep it going. This is self-preservation at work. It is the rare individual or group of owners who can see the end coming and gracefully shutdown their business in such a manner that they do not go bankrupt. Two applications here: always have a shutdown plan ready to go – update it semi-annually. Secondly, If God is moving you out of business ownership, then recognize that early on and don’t take yourself and your business through bankruptcy. Either sell the business or shut it down (liquidation).
- It is in our nature to make a name for ourselves: is this not what marketing is all about? To get our name and branding saturated into the marketplace is the essence of marketing a business. And we all want our business names to be more recognizable, more well-known than our competitors and for that name association to be positive and enduring. In a micro sense, marketing is an effort to accomplish that which the people in this passage were trying to accomplish. The application is that when it is applied to our business, it is not sin, as long as we understand that God has placed us in the marketplace to build HIS name – to bring HIM glory and to introduce HIM to the marketplace.
- Business can accomplish great things through a common language. This is why the organization of information and a glossary that supports a meaningful taxonomy is so important: the better everyone can handle information toward a common purpose, the better the outcomes will be for your organization’s mission.
In some ways, you can look at the comparisons like this:
|What the people said or wanted||What God did and what He wants||Application for running a business God’s way|
|Let us make bricks||Each business has a product that it must produce|
|..instead of stone…||Each business must figure out a way to improve their products so that more can be accomplished with their products|
|Let us build ourselves a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens||God’s already in heaven and has provided one way to heaven. He won’t allow multiple ways to heaven||Our business needs to be operated with the assumption that no matter how successful we might become, God is always in control and is always the one who deserves the glory|
|…so that we make a name for ourselves||God will have no other gods before Him||Our business and our lives should be about building God’s name, not our name|
|….and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth||God scattered them over the whole earth||Out business may have plans, but God can change them in a moment’s notice|
One other point: nearly every product and service is designed to make your life easier. I can’t swifly recall a product or service that makes your life harder, with the possible exception of a root canal or surgery. Always unstated is the underlying notion that said product or service will not only make your life easier, but it will also give you more control over that part of your life. We build houses that control the air temperature, we provide closets that allow us to perform bodily functions without the disgusting necessity of going outside or going outside the camp, we have units supplied with electricity that keep some food cold and others frozen for safe keeping until we want them – all of this is taken for granted in the United States. We can control memories through video cameras. We can control schedules through daily planners. We can control communication through a plethora of tools. We control the height of our grass, the volume of our music, the timing of our entertainment, and the list goes on and on. Is it any wonder that we think we can control everything around us? Is it any wonder that modern man seems to lack a need for God?
Yet God demands that if we are to be in an intimate relationship with Him, that we are to be like little children who love Him and depend on Him. Even if you own a $500M business, you need to be like a little child who loves and trust the Lord with a child’s heart and faith.
So, as we live and move in a world where control is assumed at so many levels, let’s love and depend on the One who is really in control.