Psalm 33: An Old Tower and a New People

Read Psalm 33.

When I read the sentence, “The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples” (Psalm 33:10), I have this image in my head of Jesus busting into a meeting of the United Nations and flipping over tables, chasing out translators and diplomats.

But God doesn’t oppose the nations of the world for no reason; it’s because they shake their fists at Him in open defiance.

It all began at Babel. God had told Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Then after the flood, He told Noah and his sons the same thing (9:1). But sometime later their descendants suddenly stopped filling the earth. They decided to build a city and stay put right where they were. And when someone stumbled upon one of the greatest inventions of all time—the brick—they began building a tower “that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves” (11:4). For years, I read that description and thought nothing of it. But there is something wicked in the people’s desire to build an ancient skyscraper.

What they were building was not some administrative building or housing complex; the people of Babel were building a ziggurat—a man-made mountain temple that would serve as a meeting place between heaven and earth—at the top of which, they could commune with the gods. That’s what Eden had been: a place where heaven and earth met. It was God’s temple, where the first humans lived with Him. And so, the tower of Babel was humanity’s attempt to return to Eden on its own terms.

Seeing their tower taking shape, God did just what He is said to do in Psalm 33: He thwarted the plans of the people. He confused their language and scattered the people across the world. The Lord’s plan to fill the earth would progress, despite the stubborn hearts of human beings.

But then God did something else, something unexpected. He chose an elderly man with a barren wife from Mesopotamia and introduced Himself. He made a covenant with Abram of Ur, and in the desolate womb of his wife, Sarai, created a nation. Just as He had with creation itself, God breathed out life where there was none. This new people would be His prized possession, one that would bless all the other nations of the earth (Genesis 12:1–4; 17:15–19).

In the Bible, this is the reason Israel is different, special. It’s not because her people are any less prone to sin, any less rebellious, any less stubborn. It’s because God chose to reveal Himself to Israel and hold her close. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance” (Psalm 33:12).

Because of Christ, Babel is undone. The many peoples and tribes and nations formed out of the aftermath of God’s judgment are now invited into the fold through the gospel, to become a part of a new people shaped from Jews and Gentiles alike (Romans 10:12). The mark of this new people, this new possession of God, is not circumcision or some set of geographic boundary markers. God’s people today are marked by their faith in Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:5–6). The nations once far away have been grafted in, as branches on an olive tree (Romans 11:17–18). And God himself has made a way to return to the place where heaven meets earth: through the blood of His Son (Revelation 21:1–7).

And now we can join with the saints of ages past, singing, “We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, LORD, even as we put our hope in you” (vv. 20–22).

What is this all about?

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