Summary: We learn from the story of the Tower of Babel the futility of trying to make a name for ourselves.
I. Making a name
We see in the first chapters of Genesis that people basically chose one of two paths. A few of them humbled themselves and followed God, trusting in him and his protection. Such were the descendents of Seth.
The other group was principally the descendents of Cain. These men rejected God and sought power and fame. We see that Cain was the first to build a city, naming it after his son. And those who followed his path dedicated themselves to doing the same, banding together and building cities for protection, instead of trusting in the protection of God. And more often than not they would name these cities after someone in their family, so that their family would be remembered.
We also see in these chapters the “men of renown,” those whose names were known far and wide... in their day. Seemingly these were powerful warlords, who gathered to themselves many wives to insure that their name would last.
This was the situation before the great flood. Did things get any better afterwards? Let’s take a look.
In Genesis 11:1-9, we have the account of those who settled in the plain of Shinar, in what would be present day Iraq. These people had received a directive from God to multiply and fill the earth. But what did they do?
First off, they focused on improving their building techniques. While God’s people lived in tents, these men worked at making stronger, safer buildings. What’s wrong with that? It shows a desire to rely on one’s own strength, rather than God. And when they had made some advances, they set out to build a great tower.
Now you may have heard that they were building this tower to get to heaven. I remember hearing that when I was young, being repeated scornfully by my atheistic high school biology teacher. Yet if you read the story, it says nothing of the kind. They wanted to build a great tower for two reasons:
(1) They didn’t want to be scattered (even though that is exactly what God wanted them to do!).
(2) They wanted to make a name for themselves.
So much of what men do is done for this purpose: to make a name for ourselves. Here this people sought out to build this great tower to make a name for themselves.
II. God reacts
Notice how the Bible describes the moment when God reacted to the tower. “He came down and saw...” Is the writer saying that God is way up in heaven and can’t see what goes on on earth? No, of course not. He is showing the insignificance of this tower when compared to God. It may have been man’s crowning achievement, a technological wonder of its day, but for God, it was something that he had to stoop to see! A child’s plaything, a mere toy when compared to God.
Notice also that God’s plans will be carried out. Man has free will and may choose to go along with those plans voluntarily. If he does not, he will suffer the consequences of his actions. And God’s will will be done. In this case, men lost the ability to communicate with one another. Think of how much greater their achievements might have been if they had done things God’s way! As it was, they merely suffered setback and shame. And God’s plan was carried out.