Meditating on the Judgements of God:
3.5 The Tower of Babel
Gen 11:6-9 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel–because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
We have spoken of the word ‘judgment’ to mean a decision of God to take action against wrong behaviour in the human race. As we move on through Genesis we come to this incident in chapter 9 which, at first sight, critics might says is an example of a killjoy God. God steps in and does something to stop mankind enjoying itself and making itself feel good. There is one word used twice in that previous sentence which speak volumes: ‘itself’. God has no problem with human beings enjoying themselves for He Himself gave them the capacity to do that in an amazing way. But what we have here is an inward looking mankind doing things in its own strength to bring blessing to itself.
But hold on, our critic might say, didn’t God tell mankind to rule over the earth? Isn’t this just an example of mankind doing that? The instruction to rule is an instruction to control and bring and maintain order; what we have here is something different. Let’s consider all that happened here.
What do we find first? “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.” (v.1) Now initially there is nothing wrong with that for it is what you would expect if mankind develops from a single source. That’s fine. What’s next? “As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” (v.2) Stage 2 of these people was development by expansion and settlement. So far, so good, no problem. What follows? “They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.” (v.3) Some criticize them for creating their own materials and not using natural rocks or timbers, but human beings have been designed to think, to rationalize and develop or invent. State 3 is going beyond mere settling, to invention as part of development, of taking what God has provided and applying it into the human need situation. So far, so good, no problem. What follows?
“Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (v.4) Now note there is a double development here. First of all it is to build a city. There a very differing views about cities. Some say they are a sign of mankind gathering together in groups to oppose others. Others say they are a place of development and blessing. There is no doubt that in masses of buildings, pavements, lanes, throughways, highways and so on, there is greater opportunity to hideaway and greater opportunity to hideaway also means greater opportunity for sin to thrive unseen.
But in itself, building a city, a growing collection of buildings together, isn’t a sign of sin, but see what follows: “Come, let us build …. a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Some say ‘big is beautiful’ but here ‘big is boastful’. This is mankind stretching like a teenager flexing his muscles trying to assess himself. But is assess himself in the absence of God. In 2014 in the UK were the first Invictus Games, similar to the Warrior Games of the USA, and built into the logo, boldly standing out are the words, “I AM” and we are told the games’ name comes from a poem by William Ernest Henley which concludes with the words, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” This is intended to boost the morale of wounded servicemen that they “would be an inspiration for all of those that have been wounded, injured and sick while serving their countries.” Good in apparent intent but nevertheless exhibiting the same outlook as those who built the Tower of Babel – “I AM”. Is there a mockery from the powers of darkness who know that there is only One who can claim that name (Ex 3).
But our verses above focus on the Lord’s assessment of what was happening: “The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” (v.6) Remember what we considered when we look at the Flood. Already the Lord has once had to move against rampant evil in humanity to prevent even worse things happening. It is probable that we do not know or cannot conceive the awfulness of rampant humanity opening itself up more and more to occult powers. The signs are there in the building of this tower: let’s band together for there is strength in numbers; let us build this tall tower and start to realise our capabilities! The Lord sees that without some form of restraint, “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” In our lifetime and the lifetime of our parents and grandparents we have known of two World Wars in which all hell broke loose. We have invented nuclear weapons capable of devastating huge areas and killing huge numbers. We have invented germ warfare that can do the same. Throughout the globe wars continue with small groups threatening to drag in all the major nations of the world again. Is nothing impossible for us when it comes to destruction of others?
And so He made a judgment: “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” (v.7) This would hinder and slow up development. This would give the world a (non)fighting chance! The consequence? “So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.” (v.8) That city, Babel, is believed to be what became Babylon . When its name crops up in the Bible it is always symbolic of a godless self-centred people out to harm the rest of the world. It finds its ultimate fulfilment in the book of Revelation where its influence dominates the world and comes under the hand of God in the final judgment.
Instead of destroying it and its inhabitants outright here, the Lord in His mercy simply scatters the people and allows the wider world to be populated so that many cultures can be developed, providing a greater richness to the modern world. In these ‘last days’ the influence of Babylon grows again and maybe its final downfall is not far off.