The Tower of Babel

In Genesis chapter 10, we have a list of generations that came from the sons of Noah. This list includes those born after the tower of Babel as it mentions the nations that are spread abroad on the earth. “Chapter 10 is an attempt to classify the peoples of the world as then known to the writers. Not every nation mentioned in the Old Testament is included. However, the point is clearly made that God’s command to Noah and his sons, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (9:1), is carried out, as God blessed them with numerous descendants.” [1] One of the most significant names mentioned is Nimrod, found in verses 8-10. Nimrod is a descendant of Ham who is the father of the Canaanites who were the arch-enemy of Israel for many years. Nimrod became a great leader and rose to power through sheer force. “Nimrod in that sense was typological of how ancient Near Eastern empires came into existence.”[2] It was Nimrod who led the way to build the great city of Babel with its prominent tower.

In chapter 11, we find the familiar account of the tower of Babel. There two parts to this story along with three valuable lessons that we learn.

Defiance against God (v. 1-4). God made it very clear in 9:1 that Noah and his descendants were to multiply and populate the whole earth. It was never God’s intention for mankind to stay in one place. However, directly rebelling against God, the people stayed in one place and built a city to serve as their capitol. The tower perhaps served several purposes. (1) To be a navigational point. The tower may have been intended to keep mankind from wandering too far. As long as they stayed in view of the tower they were able to stay together. (2) To inflate man’s pride. Many structures built in our day serve very little purpose other than saying, ‘look what man can do.’ This tower inflated man’s pride as it brought attention to themselves and made them feel good about what they could accomplish apart from God. The real issue here was that it served as a fist in the face of God. It took the attention off of God and put it on man. It was direct disobedience. It was a defiant act. “The people had done what seemed convenient instead of what was commanded! It seemed much wiser to congregate together in one large metropolis than to be “scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (v. 4). So they ignored God’s clear instructions in favor of their own wisdom.”[3] We must admit, they we too are guilty of the sin of Babel. Too often we think we know better than God. We question the Word of God and even attempt to change its meaning in order to justify our sins. When will we ever learn that God’s way is always the best way.

God confuses the languages and scatters the people (v. 5-9). In response to man’s defiance, God ensures that His plan is fulfilled by confusing their language forcing the people to be scattered over the earth. “He scrambled their language (11:7), foiled their plans, and scattered them over the whole face of the earth to make sure that nothing like Babel was attempted again (11:8). What an ironic reversal of fortunes! They had wanted to make a name for themselves, and now they couldn’t pronounce one another’s names! They had wanted to ensure that they wouldn’t be scattered over the whole face of the earth, but that is exactly what ended up happening. What a reminder that God is opposed to the proud—and will often make the punishment for our arrogance a direct reversal of our prideful intentions! If we have adopted plans without consulting the Lord and his Word, we should not be surprised if we find our dreams turned on their heads. This is cause for reflection when our plans fail. Why has this business deal flopped? Why did that relationship sour? Why did that purchase end up such a waste? The answer may not always be chastisement for sin, but Babel reminds us that it is a possibility.”[4] Many of the problems we face in life is because we left God out. We think we have it all together. We think we have it all planned out. Again, God’s way is always the best way.

3 Lessons Learned from the Tower of Babel. The first lesson we learn from the tower of Babel is that defiance against God is a dangerous thing. God is a jealous God. He will not allow anyone to steal glory from Him. God is loving and just. He is holy and perfect in every way. Because He is holy, He cannot have anything to do with sin and with disobedience. When we defy God it is a slap in the face to His character and holiness. In response to our defiance, God must defend His holiness by a display of His wrath. Secondly, God’s plan cannot be thwarted. God’s overarching plan for mankind cannot and will not be thwarted. God gave Noah a command to populate the whole earth. However, mankind rebelled against that plan. God then took action to ensure that His plan will be fulfilled. All throughout history we see Satan attempting to thwart God’s plan. However, God’s plan always prevails. God’s plan culminated in the cross. With all of the attempts to keep Jesus from being the Savior, God’s plan won out. In the end, God’s plan will also prevail in the establishment of His Kingdom on this earth. God’s plan will prevail in the ultimate salvation of all who believe on the Lord Jesus and the ultimate damnation of all who refuse to believe. Finally, God’s grace prevails. God’s grace flows beautifully through the pages of scripture. By God taking action to scatter man across the earth, He keeps man from destroying themselves by their evil intentions. Sin and the consequences of sin would have had a much worse affect if man was allowed to stay in one place and with one language. God knows the heart of man and by His grace He takes measures to protect man from his self. Thank God for His amazing grace!

[1] Reyburn, W. D., & Fry, E. M. (1998). A handbook on Genesis (p. 227). New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] Mathews, K. A. (1996). Genesis 1-11:26 (Vol. 1A, p. 448). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3] Strassner, K. (2009). Opening up Genesis (p. 53). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[4] Strassner, K. (2009). Opening up Genesis (p. 56). Leominster: Day One Publications.

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