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Summary: What was the Tower of Babel all about?

Babble On, Babylon

Genesis 11:1-9


It did not take fallen man long to revert to type. The flood came because man had forgotten God. They built cities for themselves and became mighty in the earth. The flood had cleansed this world, but the seeds of sin and rebellion made it onto the ark. Some have speculated why God saved cockroaches and mosquitoes and other vermin which plague us on the ark. But these are nothing to be compared to the seed of sin which like a rapacious weed spreads and grows until it chokes out the garden.

Noah had found grace in the sight of God as well as his family. The ark landed in a renewed creation, and Noah was given basically the same command that Adam received with some notable exceptions. The fact that God required the murderer’s blood from him and that beasts which killed human beings were to be killed were indications that this renewed creation was not the Heavenly Kingdom. God knew the seeds of sin were there and would come out. Yet he promised that he would never destroy all life on earth by water again and set His bow in the cloud as proof to Noah. God would solve the sin problem down the road by redeeming his chosen people in Jesus Christ.

Noah got drunk in his garden vineyard and as a result, the fury of cursing was renewed. Shem would be blessed says Noah, and Canaan cursed. But his descendants multiplied rapidly.

Exposition of the Text

In today’s passage, it begins by stating that there was only one culture and language shared by all the people. There was unity of a sort, but as we see it was a unity to do evil and not good. They had been sojourning on the land and wandered to the east. There in the plains of Shinar in present day Iraq, they found land that was suitable for building a city.

The human race has always had a fascination for cities. People want to be together, even if it means increased violence and anonymity. So like what had happened on the other side of the flood, they began to build a city. Their stated purpose was to make a name for themselves. They wanted to build it in super high rise format that they could climb into heaven itself. There is something sinister in this statement. They did not like wandering and wanted to settle down. This wasn’t the real problem. The real problems is that they wanted to make a name “for themselves”. In other words they wanted to build this city for their own glory and not God’s. They wanted to control their destiny without reference to God.

The LORD in heaven certainly took note of this and was not surprised by this development. He had already lamented after the flood that the hearts of men were continually inclined to evil. Here is the first mention of what we call the Tower of Babel. As if it wasn’t enough to build the city heaven high, they wanted to build an even higher tower. A tower for what we might ask. It seems that it was probably a step pyramid called a ziggurat, and it was probably build to the moon god and not the LORD. In other words, the wanted to worship the creation more than the creator. This unity in evil was a noxious weed which the LORD needed to put a stop to, for the sake of humankind. Their endeavor was suicidal.

The LORD speaking in the plural (Trinity) said that He was going to confuse their languages so that they could not understand each other. This He did, and His purpose for human beings to fill all the land rather than just a city was accomplished. This event actually named the city they had built. They had wanted to build a name for themselves. But in the end, the LORD named the place Babel indicating that He is Sovereign LORD over all the earth.

Application of the Text

For thousands of years Babylon has been seen as the symbol of great evil and opposition to the ways of God. Even though many of the inhabitants of Babel left to found other cities named after themselves, a remnant remained there. It eventually became a great city and then an empire. King Nebuchadnezzar of Daniel fame showed that the attitude of the city had not changed over well over a thousand years. He made the statement: “Is this not great Babylon that I have builded? Of course, the LORD responded quickly like he did earlier at Babel and struck down Nebuchadnezzar and made him wander like an animal. He was thrust out of the city until he realized that the LORD of heaven and earth is Sovereign and not himself.

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