Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Are You Building An Altar or a Tower

This week my Bible reading was in Genesis chapters 8-14. Highlights in these chapters are Noah after the flood, God's covenant with Noah, the tower of Babel, the call of Abraham, and Abraham and Lot separate.  I took a lot of notes this week but my mind kept coming back to things that were built in these stories:  altars and a tower.

I'd like to begin with establishing a framework for why people in the Old Testament built altars. They were built for worship, commemorating an encounter with God, as a memorial, while making a covenant, and to find refuge.  Here is the link where I found this information.  Building altars in the Old Testament seems to be a good thing, unless the altar is being built to a pagan god.  The altars being built in this portion of Genesis are by Noah and Abraham.  

After the flood subsided and everyone is out on dry land again, Noah responds by building and altar. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that he build this altar because he was grateful for his whole family being kept alive when everyone else on the earth was destroyed. God responds by promising to never destroy the earth again by flood. Genesis 8:18-22 speaks about this covenant.

"Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him.  Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the ark. Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.  And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”
Chapter 9:8-17 show God speaking out loud to Noah, instead of in his heart (Chapter 8). He reiterates his covenant and introduces the sign of that promise - the rainbow.
""Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,  “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you,  and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth.  I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”  And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:  I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,  I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.  When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” 

A few chapters later, Abram is introduced.  After leaving his home, prospering, and then separating from his nephew, Lot, we find Abram building an altar.  Shortly before building the altar, God tells him about all the land he will inherit and all the children he will have. Childless Abraham believes that God will give him this land  and he also believes, that though getting up in years, he will have children. 

The Tower of Babel is built in Genesis 10 and 11. I was surprised in my reading when I realized I was only half right on the reason the people built the tower.  The part I remembered was that the people wanted to build a name for themselves but what I did not remember was the reason behind their wanting to make a name for themselves.  See the Genesis chapter 11 account below:

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  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.  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. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.  And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.”  So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.  Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. 

They built the tower because they didn't want to be dispersed. They felt by strengthening themselves they would be secure.   We know how that worked out!


These chapters in Genesis are very important pieces in the history of God's early dealings with His people.  There is much food for thought on obedience, faith, patience, vision, security, providence, etc. and I think those may only scratch the surface!

Reflecting on the actions of altar building or tower building I have a few parting thoughts.


Altars are no longer part of the landscape for believers.  Here are some verses to inform what we offer on our metaphorical altars:

Romans 12:1  I appeal to you therefore, brothers,[a] by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Hebrews 13:15-16 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.  Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.


Few of us, with the exception of Trump (Trump Towers), have built literal towers to build a name for ourselves in order to ensure our security.  However, most of us do build "towers" - be it building our reputations, bank accounts, physiques, families, to name a few.  Anything we look to in faith and confidence to make ourselves secure is an idol.  God, being the faithful God that he is, just might answer in kind like he did to those who built the tower of Babel.  They didn't want to be dispersed, figured out a way to not let that happen, and then God confused their languages and dispersed them. We are all just a moment away from financial collapse, failed marriages, disease, etc. Look to God alone for security because if you are in Christ, be sure, God will remove your idols.  He is faithful!

Parting Prayer

Heavenly Father,  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you. May I lay myself on the altar daily by denying myself, taking up my cross and following You.  Help me have praise on my lips, not complaining.  Show me the good works you have prepared for me to do.  May I be generous with all your gifts. Keep me from putting my trust in anything but You.  I ask for all of this in Jesus' name.  Amen.  Thank you.

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