A Biblical Theology of Name (Part 3)

naming-prozess“Come…let us make a name for ourselves.” Such was the motivation behind the so-called Tower of Babel. A name is a significant thing. A name hosts part of a person’s identity, power, and hope. This is why so many evil men throughout history have either changed, or refused to acknowledge, the names of their prisoners. Take away a man’s name and you take away his life. The Fall redefined us. There Satan attempted to rename us and the name that God had given to humanity, “image bearer,” was significantly marred. Ever since the Fall man has been attempting to “make a name for himself” apart from God, but always in vain.

The Tower of Babel is significant because it is an attempt to “make a name” in direct rebellion to God. As we will see, the Biblical record demonstrates God renaming a people for Himself, but sin is always an attempt to establish identity, power, and hope apart from Him. The Bible tells us that the people in Genesis 11 decided to build a great city, with a great tower, “lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (v. 4c). They did not want to be dispersed over all the earth, but that is precisely what God had commanded them to do. After the flood God’s word to the descendants of Noah were: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 9:1). The Tower of Babel, in other words, was a direct contradiction of the will of God. It was disobedience. It was an attempt to create a name, an identity, a hope, without Him. In fact many scholars suspect that other elements of the tower indicate this desire too.

There’s some speculation involved, but many scholars think the Tower of Babel points to the people’s rebellion in other specific ways. So, for example, some say that a “tower whose top may reach unto heaven” (Gen. 11:4) is not just indicating a really tall tower. Rather, they say it is suggestive of false worship of the angelic hosts of heaven. They imagine it to be a tower dedicated to the astrological and zodiac signs, dedicated to corrupted worship. Others might point to the influence of Nimrod on establishing the city (see Gen. 10), and to the Targum commentary calling him a man “powerful in hunting and wickedness before the Lord.” They ground the whole city’s development, then, in the motivations of a wicked man. There’s plenty there to debate and question, and, again, this seems to be more speculation than solid fact, but what is clear is that the tower was an attempt at rebellion, for the Lord responds in judgment. He responds by confusing their language and dispersing them as He had originally intended. Their plans fall apart in His presence.

All attempts to “make a name for ourselves” apart from God will end similarly. Either they will fall apart themselves, disappoint us, or prove themselves to be insufficient, or God will frustrate our plans personally. The history of the world involves more than one Tower of Babel. It is the ongoing pattern of man to try to build his own identity, but it always proves fruitless. Sin has corrupted our name, and our naming. Only God can rename and make us whole again. Only He can restore our true identity, true power, and true hope. We need Him. Attempts to name ourselves will only end in judgment and disappointment. We cannot name ourselves.

We don’t, of course, attempt this renaming in the same manner as the people of Genesis 11. We don’t tend to build towers that “stretch unto the heavens.” We have our own contemporary methods of making a name for ourselves. All involved in stroking our own ego, all rooted, fundamentally, in a form of self-aggrandizement and self-worship. We can make anything and everything an extension of our own self-worth. So I define myself by my career, “I am what I do.” We define ourselves by our charitable donations, such that I wear the organization’s t-shirt in part to show that I am the kind of person who supports good causes. We define ourselves by our accomplishments, our relationships, our children’s successes, our bookshelves, and our 401ks. We attempt to utilize everything and anything to name ourselves. Fundamentally, it is an attempt to define ourselves apart from the naming authority of our Creator. “I am MAN.” The Tower of Babel serves as a warning to all self-made men: it won’t last.

Not only do our man-made attempts at identity fail us, but God won’t endure them forever. Apart from God our identity has been distorted and corrupted and we do not have the power to rename ourselves. We try, but we fail. Only God can “make a name” for us. The Tower of Babel is a plea to run to Him, a warning to turn from our own efforts, and a challenge to see the futility of our renaming apart from Him. God is the giver of names, and He is ready to offer us a new one if we’ll receive it.

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