The online journal of Luke Dockery

Scripture Reflections: Making a Name for Ourselves

In this loose series of Scripture Reflections, I am sharing brief thoughts spurred on by my Bible reading this year. By way of reminder, my goal for these brief posts is two-fold:

(1) To remark on aspects of the biblical text that I find to be of interest that the reader may or may not have thought about previously.

(2) When possible, to point ahead to the work and person of Jesus Christ. I believe the Bible is a unified story that points to Jesus, which means that He is frequently alluded to or foreshadowed in some way throughout the biblical canon.


Genesis 11.1-9 relates the fascinating story of the Tower of Babel. You are probably familiar with it: in those days, everyone spoke the same language, and people settled in a plain in the land of Shinar. There they decide to build a city with a tower that would stretch into the heavens. God does not approve of these plans, and so He confuses the language of the people so they cannot understand one another, with the end result being that the building project is suspended and the people are dispersed throughout the earth.

The Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)

What was the big deal about people building a tower? Why did God act so decisively to frustrate their plans?

Part of God’s strong negative reaction to the Tower of Babel was certainly located in the disobedience of the people: in Genesis 9, God had instructed Noah and his sons to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and Genesis 11 makes it clear that the people did not want to carry out that command, as 11.4 indicates that they wanted to establish a city “lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” It seems that they no longer wanted to obey God’s command to disperse and instead decided to try it their own way instead.

Furthermore, in light of the sad realities that had plagued the world since the failure of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), this also seems to have been an effort on God’s part to limit the potential for human oppression and domination. Human wickedness was so bad that it prompted God to flood the earth (Genesis 6), but this “reboot” of the system didn’t actually resolve the evil taint in humanity (Genesis 8.21). What if human ingenuity, human power, and, yes, human malevolence were all concentrated in one urban center? Clearly, this would have been undesirable, and God prevents it from happening.[1]

But there was also a significant amount of pride involved in the Babel tower project, and God would have taken exception to this attitude as well. Again in Genesis 11.4, the people say, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves…” Did you catch that? Part of the motivation to build a tower to heaven was self-glorification, as the people wanted to make a name for themselves—a permanent, lasting legacy.[2]

It occurs to me that people have been wanting to make a name for themselves ever since. Surely this is a universal impulse, but I think it is especially exaggerated in individualistic cultures. The ambition of making yourself into something impressive and praiseworthy isn’t even looked down upon in our society; you could argue that it’s a significant aspect of the American Dream: “Make a name for yourself! Accomplish something that others will admire you for! Turn yourself into something special!”

As someone who has lived his entire life in the United States, I cannot help but drink deeply from my cultural surroundings, and I would suggest that, in this particular respect, my cultural surroundings have been harmful to my Christian identity. After all, as far as I can tell, the Bible teaches that I shouldn’t worry about magnifying my name at all.

In Romans 15.20-21, Paul says something interesting:

“And thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.’”

These verses display Paul’s keen missionary mindset, as he desired to preach to those who did not know about Jesus, but they also show something about the central task of the Christian life: our lives should be centered on the proclamation and magnification of the name of Jesus Christ. We should be all about making Him known to those who do not know Him.

The impulse that was prominent in the Tower of Babel incident remains prominent in our world today, but all of our efforts of self-glorification will lead to a similar end: meaningless babble with no lasting effects. Better then, to dedicate our lives to the spreading of Jesus, the Name above all names.

May God be praised and glorified, and may the name of Jesus be known.

As Christians, our lives should be centered on the proclamation and magnification of the name of Jesus Christ. Click To Tweet

[1] See John C. Nugent, Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016): 47-48.

[2] In our last post, we talked about the tragic reality of death as a part of the human experience. One very common response to the reality of death is the obsessive striving for a sort of immortality through the building of legacy, the making of a name for ourselves. Of course, God understands our quest for immortality and promises it to those who belong to Him; but it is of a very different sort than human accomplishment and the remembrance of a legacy.

4 Comments

  1. Keith

    I am sorry, I missed the last post, so forgive me if you covered this, but do you think this “making a name for ourselves” was the issue for God not wanting David to take a census in II Samuel 24 and I Chronicles 21?

    • Luke

      Keith,

      You are good; I didn’t cover this in the previous post.

      It’s been a while since I studied the passages you mentioned, but I do think the indication is that something similar is happening there. I think David is supposed to avoid taking the census because he is supposed to place his trust in YHWH rather than the size and might of his nation and military (the two would be directly related). So, in some sense, it does seem possible that David is (at least subconsciously) trying to “make a name for himself” through the expansion of his political power.

  2. Jonathan Towell

    Good post, as per usual.

    Reminds me of 1 Thessalonians 4:11-13: “Make it your aim to live a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to earn your own living, just as we told you before. In this way you will win the respect of those who are not believers, and you will not have to depend on anyone for what you need.”

    • Luke

      Jonathan,

      I love that passage; it seems very counter to the self-aggrandizement of making a name for ourselves, doesn’t it?

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