16 The Tower of Babel

Please read Gen 11:1-32 beforehand

  • When one looks around you and observe how recklessly mankind lives, robbing and murdering one another and how defiantly they stand against God, one wonders why God allows all of this and does not intervene.  People that really suffer because of this, may even wonder whether man has not become so mighty that God is powerless to control them.  This short account on the tower of Babel, gives us the assurance that God is still holding all the trump cards and is well able to intervene at any time He deems fit and can outwit man by a single move of His hand. 
  •  A nation develops and relocates

Prior to the deluge (the flood), the devil had used violence as a tool to destroPlease read Gen 11:1-32 beforehandy mankind. He turned the one against the other. They assaulted and murdered one another; everyone wanting the whole world to himself. This resulted in a society so violent, that life became impossible and all God could do was to destroy it.

Noah and his sons probably passed on a stern warning in this regard to their descendants so that violence became to them, the evil of all evils and they went out of their way to live together in peace and harmony, which, in itself, was a very good concept. They now lived together as one great family all speaking the same language.

So united were they that the whole nation agreed to relocate to a better environment and so they migrated to the land of Shinar.

Sticking together obviously had many practical advantages, for instance, safety against dangerous wild animals and mutual assistance among various trades and professions. “Unity is power.” Living in Shinar and raising a family there, must have been a pleasant and peaceful experience.

A good idea but not a God idea

Their mutual support would however also lead to be less dependent on God and notwithstanding their well behaved  outer appearance, they were already again taking the first steps towards rebelling against God, for He had commanded them to multiply and fill the earth (Gen 1:28; 9:7) which surely implied that they were to move away from one-another and to occupy new territory.

 Straying further in the wrong direction

The loamy soil of Shinar was a great discovery, for it enabled them to burn large numbers of strong bricks, more than was needed to build themselves homes.

Then someone came up with the idea of using the bricks to build a city and tower and it soon got everybody very excited.

One cannot but suspect that it was the devil who devised this supernatural, cunning plan. He saw an opportunity to take them one more step in the wrong direction in which they were already moving. He knew He would not be able to induce them to violence again; there was too much goodwill amongst all; then why not use the power they derived of their solidarity (togetherness) to rebel against God.

Yes, use the bricks to build a city and a tower that would have a stairway to heaven. This massive project would of course give them a common interest and pride in their accomplishment so that they would not disperse and be scattered across the face of the earth.

In this way, the devil would frustrate God’s plan for mankind to fill the earth. Yes, this was it; in this way he would bring down God’s wrath upon them and force His hand to again destroy His own people.

Wrong motives

The motives (reasons) for this project were evil: the people wanted to uplift (elevate) themselves. We see this firstly in the height of the tower they intended building. It would have no practical value but the fact that it had to reach up to heaven, seems suspect, as if they wanted to raise themselves up to the throne of God, to His level, or maybe even above Him. They were not satisfied to fill the earth that He gave them to live in; no, they seem to have wanted to live where God lives. They did not want Him to look down upon them and govern them any longer.

Secondly, we see their wrong motive in their desire to eternalize their name; they wanted their descendants to see how awesome their forefathers were. This is the sin of pride resulting in arrogance; the sin that God hates more than all other sins. It was even a more serious sin than the violence people perpetrated before the flood. Then they sinned by killing one another, now they sinned by uniting against God. Satan does not mind if we deviate to the left or the right of God’s will, as long as we only deviate, because then He will have to judge us and His vision of a people that would love and be united with Him, would be foiled. Satan’s ultimate enemy is not mankind, but God.

  •  God descended to inspect (take a look at) the city and the tower

God is omniscient and omnipresent (knows everything and is present everywhere) and it is not necessary for Him to go from place to place to find out what is happening, but He records it like this, that we may realize that He thoroughly investigates our deeds before taking action.

 His conclusion: nothing will be impossible for man

He concluded that, as they were now one (unified) nation with one language, they would be able to carry out anything, whatever they planned.

These are very important words, more so because God spoke it. It tells us what enormous potential God embodied in mankind (how intelligent he is) and that by means of cooperation, anything is achievable. When today we see people building space crafts and traveling to distant planets, we realize how true God’s words were.

This tremendous development came by hundreds of thousands of people each discovering something that could in turn be used by another.  One, for instance, discovered how to make a car tyre, another one the engine, a third fuel and so they could jointly build a car that would not have been possible for one individual.

Due to man’s sinful nature, he unfortunately often uses his abilities (intellect) to make harmful things, such as bombs, to destroy one another.

 God’s plans are not for His own good, but for the good of man

God always plans the very best for man. To spread out evenly and fill the globe would have been to their best advantage. Just think of it: there was this huge earth with all its continents and resources ready to be utilized by man, but they thought it better to remain in one small group. It was like a farmer owning a huge farm but only planting a small vegetable garden and keeping a few chickens next to his house.

Their insight as to what would be best for them, was limited. They were shortsighted and did not see the larger picture.

They were also standing in God’s way to build a people for Himself; a people that would love Him and love one another.

God had to destroy their power which was their cooperation

Since it was their mutual cooperation that would prevent them from spreading, the Lord destroyed it.

God’s plan

Since man would not listen to God to disperse, He now had to use a forceful way to bring this about. He had to destroy their ability to cooperate (work together).

He did it in a very ingenious (clever) way. It was a supernatural way; only God could have thought of such a plan and He only could carry it out.

He caused them to speak many different languages instead of just one. Since they no longer could communicate, they could not cooperate (work together).

No matter how clever man is, God will always effortlessly outwit him. Which of us would have been able to dream up such an ingenious plan to scatter thousands of people?

Also, notice the mercy of God. He did not punish or kill anyone as He did during the Flood. He found a peaceful way to deal with the problem.

 The wonder of new languages

Let us dwell on this wonder for just one more moment.

Where did the Lord suddenly find all these languages; had He been compiling them through the ages, storing them away in heaven? Or did He do it in the twinkling of an eye?

Who can devise (compile) a multitude of new languages in a moments time? Just imagine how long it takes our children to learn one language and to speak it properly.

Now, just like at the time of creation when He said: “Let the earth bring forth a multitude of plants,” and suddenly they were there, He now created a multitude of languages in an instant, each with its own words and grammar, then placed them into people’s minds and immediately they could understand and speak these fluently; languages they had never heard before.

But, at the same instant they had suddenly forgotten their own language which they had been speaking from childhood.

The tower of unison became the Tower of Confusion (Babel)

Suddenly the builders could not understand one another. The mason asked for more bricks, but his assistant brought him water. At first there probably was a flurry of angry exchanges, but then the work stopped, and the builders streamed like ants from their tower. That was the end of their construction. The tower that was intended to bring them fame, only brought them shame. It stood there desolated, gradually falling apart and becoming overgrown with weeds.

All their descendants passing by would say: “Shame, our parents started building this tower, but could not complete it.” Today, the thought of trying to build a tower that can reach up to heaven, is even more of a joke because if we can’t even travel to God’s heaven with our powerful missiles, how would a little tower ever reach up there?

The great trek

So, what happened to the tower builders? Those who spoke the same language, found one another and gathered (grouped together). They realized that it served no purpose to live together with other people who spoke a different language. So, it resulted in each language group moving away from the tower in its own direction.  

Furthermore, the confusion of languages was so clearly a miracle brought about by God, that it must have brought a holy fear upon them giving impetus to their decision to spread out in all directions as God had intended them to do right from the time of creation. So, they dispersed and continued doing so through the ages till the earth was filled as we have it today.

A message to you and me.

Once again God demonstrated that He is a God of wisdom and that doing His will, is the right thing to do. Let us diligently seek to do His will in all our planning. 

  • The family tree of Noah through his three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth (Gen 10)

From this family tree, read with the story of the confusing of languages, we understand where all the nations and languages of the world come from.

The descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth multiplied into numerous smaller tribes and dispersed all over the known world of that time. There names are mentioned in this chapter and they each spoke the language they received from God during the Tower of Babel episode; some of these may have received the same language.

 God loves all nations equally

It is also notable that God made no distinction between the nations by setting one nation above the other or showing preference to some nations above the others except for the nation of Israel and that was for a specific reason, namely to bless all the nations of the earth through them as we will see in our later studies.

 Nations are distinct from one-another

As time went by, more languages developed and the characteristics of the different groups became more pronounced so that they could be identified, not only by language, but also by outward appearance and culture. The concept of different nations is consequently of God and not of man.

There is therefor no harm or wrong in loving one’s own nation or having a healthy consciousness of its achievements, but one has to guard against pride as if the good in it comes from itself and not from God.

 Wars between nations

The devil is of course always looking for ways to destroy mankind and has, through the ages, been setting up nation against nation by causing friction, hatred and fear. Nations desire to rule over one-another to promote their own glory or procure wealth, resulting in wars, bloodshed and extreme cruelty.

A certain historian said that the history of mankind, is the history of wars. The devil is a murderer of mankind and leaves behind a trail of blood and devastation. Some countries have hardly recovered from one tribal war when another breaks out. What a wonderful world this would have been if every nation had sought God and the welfare of others.

 Separate religions for nations

The devil is also fighting God on a more spiritual level, trying to separate mankind from Him (alienate them) by enticing nations to each raise up their own gods instead of serving the one and only God Who created us all.

The wars that result because nations feel that they have to defend their gods or religion at all costs (holy wars) are all in vain for there are in fact only two kingdoms namely God’s Kingdom of light of which all born-again people are citizens and the devil’s kingdom of darkness to which all the rest of mankind belong.

 God’s involvement with the world by creating a spiritual nation for Himself

The Word teaches that God gave his Son Jesus Christ as the only Redeemer through Whom we must pray to the Father and the good news is that all over the world, millions of people from every nation, cultural and language group, are getting reconciled to God by accepting his Son Jesus Christ as their Redeemer. These peoples’ hearts change to progressively think and act like Him. At the tower of Babel people were dispersed but at the Cross they are united.

God will also, one day, bring the present world to an end. He will then raise those who loved and worshiped Him from the grave and they will, forever, live in peace on the new earth.

To God it is not so important if you are a Shangaan, Zulu, Sotho, Afrikaner, or Englishman, American, Chinese or Indian, but whether you love and serve Him as your Creator and Redeemer. On the new earth that God will create, all his people will speak the same language and love each other.

Our citizenship of this heavenly, Godfearing nation must always be more important to us than being part of one nation or another. Earthly nations are transitory, but God’s spiritual nation will remain forever.

 The family tree of Noah’s son Shem through to Abram (11:10-32)

We note that man no longer reached such old ages as before the Flood. (Shem 500; Arphaxad 438; Shelah 433; Eber 464; Peleg 239; Reu 239; Serug 230; Nahor 148; Terah 205; average 321.78). This is the more God-fearing line from whom God built himself a nation, the nation of Israel. This is also the line from whom God gave his Son Jesus as Savior to mankind.

  •  Are you building a tower or an alter?

When God saw mankind getting together to build the Tower of Babel He declared that, “Now nothing will be withheld from them, which they intend to do” (Gen 11:6, WEB) or, “Will be impossible for them to do,” (NLT).

As said before, we see God’s words come true by our present technological advances brought about by the pooling of human knowledge and other resources.

Christianity is also utilizing the principle of unity and the technological development for the spreading of the Gospel and tremendous progress has been made so that just about every nation in the world is able to hear the Good News of salvation in his own country and in his own language. Our motive for unity must always be to uplift God. This type of unity pleases God. Are you actively involved in making disciples of all nations?

Wherever we live, or whoever we may be, we can build ourselves towers of wealth, fame or popularity, or we can build altars in humility where we sacrifice our lives to God. What do others see in my life, an altar of self-sacrifice or a tower of self-elevation?

 Interesting facts and speculations.

The tower they built was probably a kind of temple, called a Ziggurat, a place for worshiping of idols like the sun, moon and stars.

Babel is probably the place where the city of Babylon was later built. The Word describes it as the great spiritual harlot that misleads mankind and turns them against God. Both Babel and Babylon mean confusion or mixture (intermingling).



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