Genesis 11:1-4 Why God Takes Us to Shinar

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Gen. 11:1   Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.

2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.

3 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.

4 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.”

God after Noah and his family were delivered from the flood gave them a command to replenish the earth or go to different areas instead of staying together [1]. Sadly they didn’t do a very good job of this during Noah’s life, but following his death the descendants began traveling East.

Then they came to Shinar

I don’t believe the people planned on staying there, but it was so beautiful they just didn’t want to leave. So to make sure they didn’t get dispersed (scattered) everywhere Noah’s family decided to build a tower reaching to the heavens.

Oh wait it gets better…they were going to do it with brick. Not the kind of bricks we have today, but ones made out of mud.

Seriously, they thought they were going to build a tower to Heaven using mud bricks.

How in the world do they not understand how ridiculous that sounds?

It all has to do with their reason for building the tower.

“Lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth”

The people had fallen in love with Shinar, and were going to do whatever it took to stay there…even if it took building a tower to Heaven with mud bricks [2].

It’s real easy to laugh at this ridiculous attempt at self-preservation, but the truth is each one of us have a Shinar. A place or thing that becomes our identity, and we will do ANYTHING to keep it [3].

Over the years I’ve attempted many ridiculous things to keep from leaving a place of comfort or control.

  1. I’ve acted like everything was fine even though I was obviously suffering
  2. I’ve tried to hide my sinful rebellion from God (as if He couldn’t see it)
  3. I’ve found my source of strength or identity in the approval of others
  4. I’ve told everyone I have things under control even though I obviously didn’t

I don’t need to tell you how ridiculous number four is (everyone can tell I need help) but that doesn’t keep me from doing it so many times I’ve lost count. Eventually my mind’s voice can’t be heard because my heart’s screaming “I don’t care what you do, just don’t lose control!”

The Lord brings us through Shinar for a reason though…it’s to show us that all of our plans, schemes, and attempts to grab control are useless.

He wants us to understand in the end it’s easier to build a tower to Heaven with mud bricks than find happiness outside of Christ.

  1. Genesis 9:1  ↩
  2. in my opinion they knew this would fail, but it shows a desperation attempt to get their own way  ↩
  3. Though every person’s Shinar looks different, most of the time it’s a place where we have control (some may call it a comfort-zone).  ↩

Exodus 14:30-31 Israel’s Spiritual Rollercoaster


Exodus 14:30–31 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians dead on the seashore

Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so they people feared the Lord, and they believed in God and in his servant Moses

As a teenager I used to spend a lot of time riding something that’s lovingly referred to as the “spiritual rollercoaster.”

Basically this involves lots of spiritual highs, which are soon followed by lows when I didn’t feel like obeying God at all.

The interesting thing is those spiritual mountaintops usually came along with an emotional high, and a period of time when my heart was complete focused on God. It got to the point where when something like a Christian camp, spiritual emphasis week, or retreat came up I would prepare myself for the spiritual high.

Every time I would come home with a heart committed to following the Lord, and every time life was back to normal less than a week later.

It didn’t matter how hard I worked, the spiritual low always came soon (even if I didn’t want it to).

Years later the Lord helped me realize there is only one way for a person to get off the spiritual rollercoaster, and it isn’t about working harder.

See the Jews had no problem fearing the Lord when they were surrounded by dead Egyptian bodies and spent most of Exodus fifteen praising Him (15:1–19). But an interesting thing happens a few days later.

Exodus 15:22 Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. Exodus 15:23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah.b Exodus 15:24 And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?

Three days after saying “the Lord will reign forever and ever” [1] the Jews complained about not having water, and criticised Moses for leading them out there to die.

Now it’s REAL easy to condemn the Jews for this, but we all do the same thing don’t we?

The thing that’s important about Exodus fourteen and fifteen isn’t really their emotional response though, but WHY they feared the Lord.

They feared because they saw, and experienced Him

They couldn’t see the Lord while walking through the wilderness with no water

This doesn’t mean God wasn’t there (He was) but they took their eyes off of Him and focused it on the problem. Just like after a spiritual high, drama or issues of life would take my eyes off of God.

And immediately I would be overwhelmed.

So the search began for something that would bring my next spiritual mountaintop, but sadly I wouldn’t pursue the one thing that actually gave it to me…God’s presence.

Matt Papa in his awesome book “Look and Live” explains the hopelessness of trying to find this happiness outside of God.

The triune God is the only thing large enough and interesting enough to bear the weight of glory, and ultimately worship. Anything else will break your heart. Papa, Matt (2014–10–28). Look and Live: Behold the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Destroying Glory of Christ (p. 33). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The way to get off my spiritual rollercoaster was to stop working (which my heart wanted to do) and seek God’s help.

Unfortunately there are still days I find myself pursuing that elusive mountaintop in my own strength, but thankfully when this happens God gives the strength and stop working, and simply listen to His voice.

  1. Exodus 15:18  ↩

Exodus 14:24-27  The End of God’s Mercy

Ex. 14:24 And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, 

Ex. 14:25 clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.” 

Ex. 14:27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the LORD threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. 

This is the kind of passage that critics of Christianity love to use when saying, “how could a loving God judge sin?”  The truth is Exodus 14:14-27 doesn’t make God look very loving.  

After all the Egyptians in 14:26 are fleeing (running away from) Israel and confessing they had no chance of escaping God.  It’s possible that if the Lord had let them go they would even worship Him instead of their pagan Gods!

Instead of having mercy God picked pharaohs army up, and then threw them forcefully into the red sea so none would live [1].

The Lord does this to teach a very important lesson…there  is an end to God’s mercy.

Actually there is nothing the Egyptians could have done to escape the judgment of God because the crossed the point of no return long before.

Note the words of God in Exodus 14

Ex. 14:2 “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. 

Ex. 14:3 For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ 

Ex. 14:4 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” And they did so. (emphasis added)

God tells the Jews Pharaoh will believe they are trapped and pursue them into a trap God had prepared for him.  The really interesting thing is God told them He would “harden Pharaoh’s heart.”  

This phrase speaks to the response of Pharaoh whenever God took  away one of Egypt’s plagues.  Every time he would ask Moses to pray it would be removed (with the understanding the Jews would be set free) but he always hardened his heart, or refused to obey.

In Exodus nine, after Moses is asked to take away a plague of painful boils on the Egyptians we find a different phrase.

Ex. 9:12 But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses. 

Do you see the difference?

Pharaoh’s hardening his heart meant he willingly chose to disobey

God hardening his heart meant he had no choice but to disobey

In other words, pharaoh could not choose to do the right thing, even if he wanted to. From that point forward he and all the Egyptian army were destined for destruction.

I don’t believe that God hardens the hearts of individuals today so that they cannot accept Christ as their Savior (the Gospel is offered to everyone) instead Egypt’s destruction is a warning to those who take the Grace of God for granted.

We do serve a gracious and merciful God who gives us many opportunities to turn or repent of sin.  But any individual (Believer or Unbeliever) who continually refuses to obey will have no choice but face His judgment.

There will come a time when we all repent of our sins and beg God for mercy.  Unfortunately some of us like the Egyptians will refuse until it’s just too late.

[1]: this is figurative language for God’s putting them in a place they couldn’t escape

Exodus 14:26-27 My Job is to Obey Even When It Seems Ridiculous

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Ex. 14:21   Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.

Moses and the children of Israel had been given a promise from God that He would part the red sea so that they could cross over. As the Egyptian army got closer they waited impatiently for the moment of their deliverance. Finally God commanded Moses to stretch his hand over the water.

Wait…is that it?

Seriously Moses is about to be used by God to do something that would be remembered by the Jewish people to this day, and all he’s asked to do it stretch out his hand?

At first glance this would seem ridiculously easy, but it isn’t

When God chooses to use a person He usually asks them to do something ridiculous (like stretching your hand over a sea so that it will part). The entire Old Testament is filled with stories like this:

  1. When the Jews are dying from poisonous snake bites, God commands them to look at a golden snake for healing
  2. Moses provides water for the children of Israel by speaking to a rock
  3. God tells Joshua to break pots and shout so the wall of Jericho will fall down
  4. He gives Gideon a victory over 135,000 Midianites with 10,000 men after saying the army of 32,000 was too large [1]
  5. He kills Goliath (a man feared by the whole army of Israel) with a rock and sling.

The Lord doesn’t do this because He enjoys seeing us afraid, instead these situations are a test of our faith. God had promised to the Israelites He would give them the victory, and now He wanted to test just how much they believed that promise (Exodus 14:13–14).

I’m sure it would have been a lot easier for Moses if he had been given the power from God to part the Red Sea. But instead the Lord commanded him to just put out a hand believing God would keep His end of the bargain.

Because otherwise it would have been about Moses

If Moses had done this the children of Israel would have carried him around on their shoulders instead of giving Glory to God (Exodus 15:1–18) and the Egyptians would have run in fear of Moses instead of the Lord (Exodus 14:25).

So instead God wanted everyone to see this had nothing to do with Moses.

Though the passage doesn’t say this I imagine Moses may have had his doubts that the Lord would part the Red Sea. There may have been concern, worry, or fear on his face (what if God doesn’t keep His promise). He was probably just as confused as everyone else about God’s ridiculous command.

But the concern, fear, or confusion on the face of Moses as he stretched his hand over the sea brought great glory to God.

You see nobody in their right mind seeing Moses in this moment of weakness would attribute glory to Him. Instead it would be a response of, ”look at how confused and weak that guy is, this has to be God!”

And even today God calls us to obey while hearts are filled with fear and bodies are filled with weakness so the victory has to come from Him.

The hardest part of the Christian life isn’t achieving spectacular things for God that makes everyone look at us…in my experience the hardest part is simply stretching out our hand, and allowing God to do the rest.

  1. Judges 7  ↩

Exodus 14:19-20 My Job is To Stand Still

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Ex. 14:19   Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them,

20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.

I hate standing still…No seriously I have to be doing something from the moment my feet hit the floor in the morning till I collapse in the bed at night.

The Lord knows I view standing still as being “lazy” and so He forces me to do just that. And it’s in those situations I’m taught the power of waiting for God.

Exodus fourteen seems strange because God confronted the Jews crying out (asking for help) and not moving forward in Exodus 14:15 [1]. Then in 14:19–20 God separated the Jews and Egyptians for a whole night while they didn’t move forward at all.

This actually wasn’t confusing for them since the presence of God normally led in this way (Exodus 13:21–22). Eventually the Jewish people learned to rely on His presence for guidance; when the cloud stopped they stopped, and when the cloud started moving again they moved.

The leading of God in this situation was understandable since He protected the Jews (Egypt couldn’t attack) but what confuses me is why God waited overnight.

It’s possible that the Lord wanted to wait for morning before parting the red sea, but I believe He was teaching the Israelites a very important truth.

I am the one who decides when to move

If Moses had asked the Jews when they wanted the sea to part their response would have been “RIGHT NOW!” but God made them wait at least one night before anything happened [2].

It’s easy to view action in the face or fear or stress faith (and in a sense it is) but true faith involves waiting because it is completing the action God wants you to do, in the moment He wants you to do it.

The thing about never standing still or viewing inactivity as laziness is I’m never able to actually slow down and seek the Will of God. Often this means I accomplish a lot of things, but not in a way that honors the Lord (ten or fifteen done very quickly instead of a few done effectively).

This of course doesn’t mean God wants me to stop working. Instead there is a need for quiet moments when I seek His Will, or wait for Him to give guidance.  This allows me to do purposeful work that is led by God.

A good illustration of this is the story in I Samuel 14 where Jonathan attacked a Philistine army with his armor bearer. At that point the Jews were vastly outnumbered, and only a few had weapons, so their defeat looked certain. Jonathan chose to approach the Philistine army, but said this to his armor bearer

1 Samuel 14:8 Then Jonathan said, “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we will show ourselves to them. 9 If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’then we will go up, for the LORD has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us.”

Jonathan and his armor bearer stepped out in front of the army (on top of a hill) and waited. If the men said “we will come down to you” that was God’s way of saying you can’t have the victory, if they said “come up to us” then the Lord gave them the victory.

Most of us know the end of this story but just in case

11 So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines. And the Philistines said, “Look, Hebrews are coming rout of the holes where they have hidden themselves.” 12 And the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.”And Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel.” 13 Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet, and his armor-bearer after him. And they fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer killed them after him. 14 And that first strike, which Jonathan and his armor-bearer made, killed about twenty men within as it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land. 15 And there was a panic in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and even the raiders trembled, the earth quaked, and it became a very great panic.

I’m pretty sure Jonathan wanted to just charge up the hill and start swinging his sword, but he knew without the power of God they couldn’t win. He probably was filled with fear while standing where the whole Philistine army could see him (that’s not how you fight a war!) but he did it anyways.

Take it from someone who has run up way too many hills swinging his sword without checking with God first…it doesn’t work out very well.

Far better to stop, face our fears, and allow God to bring the right moment.

  1. Why do you cry to me? tell the children of Israel to go forward  ↩
  2. it could have been a longer wait  ↩