Daily Archives: January 5, 2010

An Ancient American Idol

You can probably name the many stars that American Idol has produced since its inception in 2002: Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook, and Kris Allen to name a few. Even second place finishers in the talent show have become overnight sensations and household names.

Reality TV is all the rage right now. Not only do they attract hoards of viewers, but they’re also fairly inexpensive to produce.

So what’s the allure of reality television, and this show in particular? Any person can become an American Idol. An extensive resume and connections in the music industry aren’t required. If you have the talent, you can make a name for yourself…

Which is part of the problem we’ll explore today.


Genesis 11:1-13:4
Matthew 5:1-26
Psalm 5:1-12
Proverbs 1:24-28


Genesis 11:1-9. Archeologists have discovered what many scholars believe is the Tower of Babel in what used to be Babylon. It’s a ziggurat, which means it was a temple of sorts. John Gibson comments that “The ziggurat must have been thought of not so much as a means by which the Babylonians could take themselves nearer their god, but as a means by which the god’s route to earth and to them was made easier, the shrine on the top being a kind of “staging-post” or “half-way house”.

Matthew 5-7. While Jesus very likely sat on the side of a mountain and taught his disciples, most scholars believe the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) was a compilation of Jesus’ teachings. Kind of like Jesus’ Greatest Hits. Debates have continued for thousands of years regarding their purpose. Are they a prescription of how to live or were they intended to show us our inability to live up to God’s standards (which shows us our need for Jesus)? Having spent time on both sides of the continuum, I prefer to live in the middle. They describe the life that we should pursue, while demonstrating to us our need for Jesus.

Matthew 5:3-10. The New Bible Commentary explains the meaning of the word “blessed”: “Neither blessed nor ‘happy’ adequately translates makarios, which is rather a term of congratulation and recommendation. These qualities are to be envied and emulated; they make up ‘the good life’.” Also, notice that verse 3 and verse 10 (the beginning and the end) conclude with the phrase, “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The beatitudes are the values of God’s kingdom.


As a child, one of the Bible stories we often gravitated toward was the account of the Tower of Babel. I don’t remember the point our teachers made with it, except that I assumed we shouldn’t build really tall buildings.

But the story of Babel is a pretty sobering story, and the more I meditate on it, the more relevant it becomes, especially when compared to Abraham’s call in Genesis 12.

So what was God’s issue with the people and the tower of Babel? One phrase from our reading stuck out to me this morning:

“Let us build…a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4).

The people wanted to be famous. For nothing. They wanted to be “Babylonian” Idols and receive the adulation that rightfully belonged to God. And, through their fame and hard work, they sought lives of self-sufficiency and independence from God.

Isn’t that the American dream, actually the dream of most countries in the world? Fame and financial independence.

Contrast that with Abraham in Genesis 12. Rather than pursuing fame and fortune, God promised that through him all peoples on earth would be blessed.

In my experience, churches often wrestle with the same temptation: making a name for themselves or seeking to bless others.

On a personal level—especially in light of the current trend in reality TV for people to make a name for themselves—I can live for myself or live for others. What’s the measure of true success? Being a vessel through whom God blesses the world.

That wouldn’t make us an American Idol, but it would make us more like God.


  • What stood out to you in today’s reading?
  • Is the desire to be famous a sin? Why or why not?
  • Which of the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10) do you find most challenging? To what extent are the beatitudes valued in our society? What do they share in common with Abraham’s call in Genesis 12:1-3 (compare with Matthew 5:16)?
  • In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus tells us not to take oaths. We should let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no.” What oaths does our society ask us to take? In light of Jesus’ command, how should we respond?

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