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)
Ah, the Tower of Babel. One of the ancient Bible stories that many of us learned when we were kids. Simple story, simple ending, but I think it perfectly illustrates the path that many men take as they finish their 30’s and 40’s. As I’ve pointed out here and here, this is the time in a man’s life when things are really starting to get rolling. More money, power, and success. At this point you have figured quite a few things out and you are no longer the amateur at everything. And so we find ourselves at a fork in the road.
Down one path, we have the tall tower. This tower is something I can build, with my own brain and my hands. My wits and my strength. My muscles and mind. This tower represents safety. (Turns out it was hard to get flood insurance in those days, so a tall tower would have been appealing.) It represents fame, notoriety, and respect. It represents your validation and your sense of belonging. But here is the problem:
– If you are building it yourself, you are not relying on God.
– Trying to avoid God’s next great flood is an act of defiance: “You can’t touch me, God!”
– Fear should drive us towards God, not away from Him.
– This is stealing God’s glory, and it is a counterfeit validation. A false community.
For all these reasons, building your tower is the wrong answer to all of the right questions that you face at this age.
So, If Not A Tower, Then What?
This is the time to excavate. Morgan Snyder says that this is the crucial period when we become the Matthew 13 good soil that will yield 100-fold results. This is the time to stop, evaluate and listen (to God). By this time we have built a track record. We know ourselves. We have a pretty good picture of our strengths, and our areas of weakness. (If you don’t, find out.) So this is the time to dig in deep, clear out the sludge, and become the man that you need to be so that you can handle the power that God is going to entrust to you.
What do we need to excavate? Let me be clear. You have strengths, and you have areas that are not strengths. It is good to do what your strengths equip you to do. It is not usually a good idea to abandon your strengths to do something else that you feel like you ought to do. So, when I say you need to excavate, I am not talking about ‘an area that is not your gifting.’ I am talking about excavating your sins. Your hang-ups. Your character flaws. You know, the procrastinating. The fear, pride, people-pleasing, passivity, violence, rudeness. Or the way you always have to one-up the story with a better one. Or the way that you never speak up because “you are introverted,” when really it is a lack of confidence. Or the way you frequently over-promise and don’t deliver. Or the way you are really just too selfish to help your friend move, and you say it’s because you are too busy. Or the way that you never focus on what your wife when she is talking, and then wonder why you can’t remember what she asked you to do this weekend. Or the way that you are always late, or the way that you haughtily judge those who are always late. I won’t go on, but hopefully that gives you a picture of the sludge that you need to excavate at this time.
The generation of men who followed Noah spent 43 years building a tower that was a tribute to themselves. They doubled their efforts to work harder, smarter, and faster. They pursued safety, a good reputation, and independence from God. And their success brought their failure.
So, gentlemen, as we stand on this plateau of our mid-thirties, here is your choice: Build a safe tower of defiant glory? Or dig?
Which will you choose?
Works Cited/Other Resources
Interesting Extra-Biblical Accounts
Book of Jubilees: 43 years to build it, per this account
Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews: Check out Josephus’ interpretation of the events!
Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it was through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers! 3. Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower, neither sparing any pains, nor being in any degree negligent about the work: and, by reason of the multitude of hands employed in it, it grew very high, sooner than any one could expect;