Most people are at least somewhat familiar with, or have heard of, the story of the Tower of Babel. This story is found in Genesis 11. What might not be so obvious is the connection between the Tower of Babel and Abraham’s being called by God from his homeland, Ur of the Chaldeans.

The name Ur in the Babylonian languages means “the city.” To refer to a city as “the city” indicates it is a powerful, marvelous city. I can certainly relate to that personally, having attended seminary just north of “the city”/New York City. Anywhere near that area when someone refers to “the city,” they are referring to New York City. In fact, generally speaking, a reference to “the city” is even more specific than to New York City in general—it is referring to Manhattan proper, one of the boroughs, and not the entirety of New York City. For example, someone in Queens or Brooklyn might mention “going to the city” while they are already in New York City because they are speaking specifically of that most marvelous borough of Manhattan—the one with the enormous buildings that is always bustling with people and traffic.

If we have this in mind we can see the connection between the Tower of Babel and Ur. At the beginning of Genesis 11, God is displeased with humanity because they had decided to congregate in one place and build (remember, I mentioned building is usually not good!). They did this specifically to “make a name for [themselves] lest [they] be scattered abroad” across the entire earth (vs. 4). This behavior displeased God, who had previously commanded humanity to spread forth and multiply, because it represents human arrogance. So God confused the languages at Babel and scattered humanity across the face of the earth.

Now, if you don’t like God’s approach at the Tower of Babel, at least respect His consistency! Because we quickly see once again God call Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans, out of “the city” and into a wide open space. Throughout the rest of Scripture, God will primarily deal with His people either out in the open, in the wilderness, or in exile and slavery. In all of these cases the people are tested to see if they truly put their trust in God or if they instead trust in their own endeavors and accomplishments. Israel will often be tested to see whether they rely on God or whether they wish to “make a name for themselves.” They will find out if they trust in God and His Law to provide them with eternal protection or whether they will rely on the city gates, the political leaders, and the armies to protect them instead.

For me, personally, what I have mentioned above is one of the most challenging aspects of Scripture. I have to ask myself: do I really put my trust in God and His promises? Or do I rely more on the protection provided by the locks on my front door, or the police officers patrolling the neighborhood, or our military protecting us from foreign invasion? If I’m honest with myself, I probably will not like my answer.