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The Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel
Written for our learning…

            After the floodwaters receded, Noah sacrificed to Jehovah and it pleased Him; and the Lord made a promise that He would never destroy the earth again in such a fashion as He had done with the flood (Gen. 8:21-22). At the beginning of chapter nine, God tells Noah and his sons to “be fruitful and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth and multiply and fill it” (Gen. 9:1, 7). Genesis chapter ten confirms that Noah’s sons began fulfilling God’s command. The earth was beginning to be populated again—things seemed to be going well—until this enlightening story in Chapter 11:1-9 draws our attention.

            All humanity spoke only one language at this time (vs. 1); but the people were not mindful of what God told them to do (i.e. fill the earth), so they decided to settle down in the land of Shinar. They wanted to be remembered in history, so they began building a huge tower and a city to live in (vs. 4). They displayed their rebellion to God’s instructions by saying they did not want to be “scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” So God, being aware of what was going on, decided to “stir the pot” in order to get them to do what He had instructed them to do in the first place. Jehovah divided their languages and made them speak with tongues that were foreign to each other. Thus, the work on the tower came to a halt and the people spread out across all the face of the earth (vs. 9). This story is pregnant with lessons. Please notice that:

  1. Good communication is the key to working together toward a goal. Oh, how we need this lesson! This is true in every meaningful relationship we have. In the marriage relationship, each spouse has to communicate with the other so that things will work out. In the family relationship, parents must communicate with their children and vice versa; and last, but certainly not least, in dealing with our Christian brethren, we must learn how to communicate with them if we are to effectively work toward the goal of heaven (Mt. 18:15; Pro. 25:8-9).
  2. Much of what man does while here on earth is a monument to his insecurity (Deffinbaugh). These men of Babel stated plainly why they wanted to build this tower. They “wanted to make a name for themselves” (vs. 4). The same is true for many, if not most, people today. They work so hard at trying to find that big break in their career, or wait and work diligently until their ‘ship comes in;’ and finally they realize around mid-life that most of what they had planned to do in life has not even begun to be done. So they start scurrying around looking for ways to be remembered. They fear that no one will remember them when they are gone. If men would put their trust in God and try to glorify Him, then they would not be so worried that men would forget them.
  3. Only negative results come from trying to thwart God’s purposes (Woods, p.28). This is a lesson sorely needed for everyone—myself included. We humans are sometimes prone to think that we can get by on doing things a little bit different than how God said to do it—but such will not work, and really this is a wicked and rebellious attitude (cf. 1 Sam. 15:1-28); this is what the men of Babel did. God told them to fill the earth, not settle down in one area and stay there; So instead of making a great name for themselves, they made a name of shame, because Babel in the Hebrew language means ‘division’ or ‘confusion’(Ibid). That’s the irony of the whole story; they, wanting to make a great name for themselves, disobeyed God and started building a huge tower, but they really ended up making a negative name. Man cannot outwit God (Gal. 6:7-8).
  4. We must not misuse the gifts that God has given us. Everything, from the “smallest” thing to the “largest” thing, God has given us is a gift. We use language so often that it really escapes our attention that it is a blessing from God. Just imagine what life would be like if you could not communicate with anyone. It would be rather frustrating wouldn’t it? Obviously so! Look at how frustrated these men of Babel became when they couldn’t communicate—they pulled up stakes and decided to keep on moving. When God has given us the ability to speak, we need to always be sure that our speech is above reproach and a blessing to those who hear us (1 Pet. 4:11; Col. 4:6).   
  5. No matter how ‘big’ men’s projects are to them, they are small and insignificant to God (Deffinbaugh). Was Jehovah unaware of what these men were doing because verse 5 says that He came down to see the city and tower they had built? No. He knew all along what they were doing; but Moses uses a bit of satire (i.e. ridicule used to expose folly) to express this point: These men were so impressed with their tower—it was huge and would be doted over by men for generations to come they thought, but to God it was so small that He had to ‘come down’ to even see it. I am reminded of Psalms 127:1 here. All their work on the city and tower did them no good, for they ended up moving away from there anyway.
  6. The desire to ‘make a name for ourselves’ must never override our desire to please God (Ibid). There is nothing wrong with wanting to be remembered. I think we can all appreciate the fact that when someone notices us, it makes us feel good. However, when we start to love that feeling we get from other people’s recognition more than we love that feeling we get from having God’s approval, then it becomes wrong.  
  7. Men’s intentions are curbed by God (Ibid). Jehovah’s will is not going to be thwarted (Gal. 6:7). Whatever happens, He is going to have the final say so. We will do well to go ahead and get that lesson down in our mind; because the sooner we learn that, the sooner we will bring our will into harmony with God’s will. God rules in the kingdoms of men (Dan. 5:21), and nothing will happen that is not in accord with His ultimate will.

Works Consulted

Clarke, Adam. Clarke’s Commentary: Vol. 1. New York: Abingdon Press, No date given.

Deffinbaugh, Bob. “The Unity of Unbelief.” 28 August 2006.>.

Woods, Clyde M. People’s Old Testament Notes: Vol. 1. Henderson, Tennessee: Woods

            Publications, 1972.