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Brick by Brick – The Pyrrhic Victory of Babel

The battle was ended and the field was strewn with the wreckage of war. The victorious general of the Greek army looked out upon the place where he had bested the forces of Rome. But he was not jubilant. He was heavy-hearted. Though victorious, the cost had been far too high in Greek lives.

The general’s name was Pyrrhus, and according to Plutarch he is said to have commented that one more such victory would ruin him. To this day a Pyrrhic victory is used to refer to a success that ultimately is one’s undoing.

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This summer we surveyed the first book of the Bible, Genesis, in preparation for our upcoming study of Exodus in the new year. This last Sunday we surveyed the last book of the Bible, Revelation, as we draw to a close in our doctrinal series.

I was reminded of a fascinating connection between these two books that is easy to miss, and it’s all about the most infamous city in the world – Babylon. Founded by Nimrod (the great-grandson of Noah through Ham), Babylon (or Babel as it was first called), was the beginning of an empire of men dedicated to self-exaltation (Gen 10:8-10).

In defiance of God’s command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, the descendants of Noah instead grouped together and embarked on a pretentious mission – to build a tower, brick by brick, that would reach heaven (Gen 11:1-4). They hoped by this to make a name for themselves that would resonate among the divine. God had commanded them to obey Him and spread out; they were determined to challenge Him and rise up.

We know the rest of the story. God comes down to view this enterprise and decides to confuse their languages so that the work on the tower of Babel will come to an end, and so that the nations of the earth will be forced to disperse. As Genesis 11:8 says, “So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.”

The work on the city of Babel thus came to an end.

But the construction of Babel’s tower continued. And it continues to this day.

Over the centuries the pride and grandeur of Babylon would lift it to mythic status. It became not just a city, but a symbol – a symbol of the idolatry, wickedness, ingenuity, and hatred of fallen man.

The book of Revelation dedicates a significant portion to the judgment of Babylon as a focal point of God’s judgment of His enemies. Nestled in this judgment is a fascinating reference back to the tower of Babel.

In chapter 18 of Revelation, an unspeakably glorious angel descends to earth to announce the fall of Babylon and its human/demon coalition against God. A second voice from heaven itself interjects in verse 4 to say this:

“Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”

The word for “piled up” means to stack as with bricks.

Though mud and straw were abandoned millennia ago, the peoples of Babel never quit their efforts to build a tower to heaven. Person by person, year by year, rebellious act by rebellious act, a tower of sin has been invisibly rising from earth towards the heavens. Unlike the tower of Genesis 11, this tower will actually succeed. Its stack of sins will one day reach the heights of heaven; and God will take notice. He will not have to descend to earth to see what is going on as He did with the first tower. No, this tower will stretch its overweening impudence up into the face of God seated in heaven.

God is not mocked, and his response is devastating and immediate. The tower of Babel was undertaken to claim for its builders a name. The name they were seeking was God. The name they are given is Harlot. The success of fallen man becomes his undoing. Having climbed to the top of this, the greatest accomplishment of mankind, the eyes of man realize they cannot bear the gaze of the Holy One. What has been built since the days of Genesis is brought down in a moment. The tower becomes the tomb, and every brick that rains down is its own condemning witness to the justice of God.

Take heart Christian - even in a world lustily given to the building of its tower of sin. It is as it was meant to be. With each generation the tower rises higher and closer to heaven, but this is no threat to us. Their victory will be a Pyrrhic victory.

“For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong.” – Revelation 18:8

May those of us who stand in the name of the King at the base of this tower learn to despise the bricks of Babylon and to proclaim repentance in Jesus’ name. May we never cease proclaiming even as the doom of man rises, brick by brick, towards the rim of heaven.

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