“As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” (Genesis 9:7) God said these words to Noah after the flood, repeating the imperative given to Adam in the garden.
The mandate was to spread God’s kingdom and to bring the entire world under the dominion of God’s image bearers. But less than two chapters later, we read that Noah’s descendants rebelled against God’s command, expressing their intention to remain in one place and make a name and kingdom for themselves (Genesis 11:1-3).
“Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 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.”
That this rebellious endeavor was made with bricks instead of stone seems an odd emphasis at first reading. But Moses (the author) understood bricks to be a fitting building material for mortals attempting to build their own lasting kingdom instead of God’s. Bricks are a symbol of mortality, for both bricks and mortals are made of dust. Indeed, the erection of a (phallic) tower made of brick symbolized perfectly mortality seeking immortality by its own power and means.
Furthermore, Moses knew telling the story with this emphasis would especially resonate in the ears of his original audience, the Israelites, who had spent long years in Egyptian slavery making and baking bricks with which to build Pharaoh’s kingdom.
The short story of the tower of Babel in Genesis concludes with the LORD coming down and confusing the common language and, in so doing, scattering humanity across the face of the earth (even as dust is scattered by the wind.)
Nevertheless, the kingdom of God would be built, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. But God’s kingdom would not be built with brick; it would be built with stone.
The stone/rock motif carries through the Old Testament Scriptures—the rock which Moses struck to bring forth water in the desert, the stone David used to bring down Goliath, the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands, that destroyed the image in King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.
From our New Testament perspective, we understand the rock (in each of these cases) was Christ and the eternal kingdom over which he reigns.
In his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel prophesied regarding the rock (Daniel 2:44): “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.”
It is not surprising, then, to find the stone/rock motif evident in the New Testament, as well. In 1 Peter 2:4-5, the apostle, whose own name means “rock,” exhorts his readers to come to Jesus, “the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also,” he writes, “like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Peter’s epistle was written to “God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.” (1 Peter 1:1)
Years earlier, visitors from these and other provinces had ascended to Jerusalem and had heard the wonders of God miraculously preached in their own languages by Galileans in the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. (Acts 2:8-11)
The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is seen by many as the reversal of the Babel story. Instead of scattering the people, God begins to unite them. Instead of language being confused, it is understood. (It is worth noting that God did not restore a universal language at Pentecost, but He did show that His kingdom, even at its foundation, did not belong to one language or people group.)
The kingdom-building work the apostles commenced at Pentecost also stood in direct contrast to the ambitions of earthly kingdom building. This was no attempt by mortals to build a name and kingdom for themselves, nor to achieve immortality by their own means. This was God through his apostles building His own kingdom, breathing new life and immortality into mortal beings and establishing His name in them for all eternity.
The mandate once again, was (and is) to go into all the world—to the very ends of the earth. The mission: to unite and reconcile all peoples under the dominion and lordship of the Anointed One—the Christ, who is the perfect image of God, and the first fruits of the new creation.
The new creation that began with the Resurrection of Jesus is an amazing force that encompasses and transcends the power of the old creation.
As you and I submit to the Spirit of Him, whose body did not see decay (or return to dust), we take our respective places in God’s holy temple, remarkably, no longer as bricks; that is, no longer as mere mortals, but as living stones, laid upon the foundation and chief cornerstone, Christ the Lord. His kingdom stands forever. Amen.
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