“Man proposes, but God disposes.”
Few chapters in the Bible illustrate this truth better than Genesis 11. When you read the narrative about Babel and then read the genealogies that follow, your immediate impression is that God is at work in His world and is accomplishing His purposes in spite of the plans and projects of sinful people.
This post is rather long but so worth the read. So why don’t you grab a coffee and enjoy the blog post.
God Stops A Revolt With The Tower Of Babel
Four great events are recorded in Genesis 1-11:
- The creation of the universe,
- The fall of man,
- The Flood, and
- The attempted construction of the Tower of Babel.
These chapters reveal that where mankind disobeys God, the Lord judges sin, and then in His grace makes a new beginning.
Adam and Eve sinned, but God clothed them and promised to send the world a Redeemer. Cain killed Abel, but God sent Seth to carry on the godly line. The Sethites intermarried with the godless Cainites, and God had to wipe the earth clean with a flood; but Noah and his family believed God’s Word and were spared. After the Flood, the descendants of Noah’s three sons repopulated the earth. But the new beginning with Noah eventually led to one of the most arrogant revolts against God recorded anywhere in Scripture.
According to Genesis, the sons and daughters of Noah established the first known cultures of the world.
There was a time when everyone on the earth spoke the very same language. As many of these people began moving from the eastern regions into the western part of Mesopotamia, they settled down on a plain in the land of Shinar. Since stone was not readily available, they discovered how to make bricks and use tar for mortar to build their structures.
People (to each other): Come on, let’s make bricks out of mud and bake them in the fire. Then we can build all we want. Let’s go build ourselves a city with a huge tower that reaches into heaven. That way we will make a name for ourselves. If we don’t, we’ll run the risk of being scattered all over the earth.
Genesis 11:1-4 (VOICE)
God had commanded the peoples to be fruitful and multiply and to scatter across the earth, but they decided to move to Nimrod’s city of Babylon and settle there. This move was blatant rebellion against God’s command that the people scatter. Apparently Nimrod wanted them in his cities and under his control.
The “tower” that they built at Babel was what is known as a “ziggurat.” Archaeologists have excavated several of these large structures, which were built primarily for religious purposes.
A ziggurat was like a pyramid except that the successive levels were recessed so that you could walk to the top on “steps.” At the top was a special shrine dedicated to a god or goddess. In building the structure, the people weren’t trying to climb up to heaven to dethrone God; rather, they hoped that the god or goddess they worshiped would come down from heaven to meet them. The structure and the city were called “Babel,” which means “the gate of the gods.”
The people had several things in their favor. They were truly a “united nations,” one people speaking one language and using one vocabulary and dictionary. The motive behind this building was to keep the people united in one place. They understood the strength of unity. They were motivated by one spirit of pride and one compelling desire to make a name for them. However, they were united in wickedness. Many scholars interpret these passages to depict more than just a building, but a temple for worshiping the host of heaven.
This infamous project was an arrogant declaration of war against the Lord, not unlike the revolt described in Psalm 2:1-3. To begin with, the people were resisting God’s edict to scatter and repopulate the earth.
It’s possible that with the destruction of all their ancestors but Noah’s family, people were already forgetting their forefathers. They didn’t want that to happen when they were gone. When people don’t find their security and satisfaction in a relationship with God, they turn to the acclaim of man. A drive for the praise of others is a snare used by the devil (Proverbs 29:25). Those who don’t know God are not content or secure by themselves. They find their identity in society and not in a relationship with God.
The sins of self-sufficiency and pride predominated in their thinking. They wanted to make sure that they would not be forgotten. The tower would hold them together and secure their names from oblivion. They defied God and set out to prove their self-sufficiency. Their towering structure would be a monument to their energy, daring, genius, and resources. Many towering cities, such as, Babylon, Sodom, Gomorrah, Sidon, Tyre, and Rome, have proved anything but godly structures. When men spurn God’s law and grace, and exalt themselves, catastrophe inevitably falls upon them.
The desire to settle in one place and build a city runs counter to God’s command to spread out across the earth. They want to make their mark on the world rather than conform to God’s plan for their lives. They want power and prestige. They want to ensure that they will not be scattered; that is, they want to choose their own destiny. But God has a different plan and purpose. He is the One who determines destiny.
And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built.
Genesis 11:5 (AMP)
From Babel to Belshazzar (Dan. 5), and from Herod (Acts 12:20-25) to Hitler, God has demonstrated repeatedly that it doesn’t pay to rebel against His will. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18), and Jesus warned that those who exalt themselves will be humbled (Matt. 23:12).
God in heaven is never perplexed or paralyzed by what people do on earth. Babel’s conceited “Let’s go up!” was answered by heaven’s calm “Let’s go down!” “But the one who rules in heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them.” (Ps. 2:4). Of course, God doesn’t have to investigate to know what’s going on in His universe; the language is used only to dramatize God’s intervention.
As with Adam and Eve in the Garden (Gen. 3:22-24), God’s judgment at Babel not only dealt with the immediate sins but also helped to prevent future problems. The unity of mankind would only give people a false sense of power that would lead them into even greater rebellion against God. By confusing their language and scattering them over all the earth, God graciously spared their lives and gave them opportunity to return to Him. He could have destroyed the builders, their city, and their tower; but He chose to let them live.
“Look!” he said. “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them!
Genesis 11:6 (NLT)
Unity is good if used for the Lord (Psalms 133), but it is equally powerful when used for evil. If the Lord had let the world be ruled by this ungodly Nimrod, then Satan could have corrupted the whole earth through just one man. This disunity acted as an impediment to Satan’s plans. Conversely, disunity works as an impediment to God’s plans for the church. However, the fractions in the body of Christ do take the control of the whole body out of the hands of just a few people, which is good.
Suffice it to say that unity is good when godly people are in control. But in our fallen world, disunity serves a purpose much as a division of powers does in a representative form of government.
Notice man’s ability to accomplish things is linked to the imagination. The imagination is like the womb of our creativity. The word translated “mind” in Isaiah 26:3 literally means “conception” (Strong’s Concordance). And it is the ability to see with our mind’s eye that allows us to create. This is why builders use blueprints. They paint a picture in the imagination that allows us to create.
If man’s imagination was a threat to God’s plans for mankind, so that He had to intervene and limit man’s ability to communicate, then imagination is powerful.
Let’s go down and break this up! If We confuse their language, they won’t be able to understand each other’s words.
Genesis 11:7 (VOICE)
Out of all the things the Lord could have done to stop the building of this tower, He chose to divide their languages. This speaks volumes of the power of language. Words are powerful (Proverbs 18:20-21). Those who master speaking have influence.
So from there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth, and they stopped building the city.
Genesis 11:8 (HCSB)
There were probably many reasons the Lord did not consider this tower a good thing. But this verse makes it clear that one of the main reasons was that the Lord wanted mankind to spread abroad over the face of the earth and not just live in one place.
It is clear in history that the divisions caused by languages have posed huge barriers to the ungodly who desired to rule the world. This has been a very effective deterrent.
This verse says these people were scattered over the face of the whole earth. I don’t know if that is to be taken literally. If so, this would include the Americas.
That is why its name was called Babel—because there the LORD confused the language of the entire world, and from there the LORD scattered them across the face of the entire earth.
Genesis 11:9 (NET)
The Hebrew word “BABEL” means “confusion” (Strong’s Concordance). The city was named this because this was where the Lord confused the languages of the world. This place later became Babylon, the capital of the Babylonian empire. This corresponds with modern-day Iraq.
The story of Babel isn’t just a part of ancient history, because Babel and Babylon present a spiritual challenge to every believer today.
Babylon eventually became a great city and a great empire. In 606-586 B.C., the Babylonian armies attacked and captured the kingdom of Judah, burned the temple and the city of Jerusalem, and took thousands of Jews captive to Babylon for seventy years. God used the cruel and idolatrous Babylonians to chasten His own disobedient people.
But in Scripture, Babylon symbolizes worldly pride, moral corruption, and defiance against God. The biblical contrast is between the earthly city of Babylon that rebels against God, and the heavenly city of Jerusalem that brings glory to God. You will want to read Jeremiah 50-51 and Revelation 17-19 to appreciate the contrasts between these two cities. Babylon represents the world system that opposes God, hates Jesus Christ, and appeals to the baser appetites of human nature. Babylon is the opposite of the heavenly Jerusalem which is the city of the saints.
In the original Babel, the people wanted to build a tower that reached up to heaven; but in the Babylon of Revelation 17-18, Babylon’s sins reach up to heaven (18:5). The original worldwide unity that Nimrod desired for the Genesis Babylon will one day be achieved by Satan’s godless world system (Genesis 11:3, 9). Earthly Babylon is called a prostitute, while the holy city from heaven is called bride of Christ.
“Every generation builds its own towers,” writes psychotherapist Naomi H. Rosenblatt, and she is right. Whether these are actual skyscrapers (the Sears Tower and Tribune Tower in Chicago, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Trump Tower in New York City), or mega-corporations that circle the globe, the idea is the same: “We will make a name for ourselves.”
God’s people can’t escape being in the world, because it’s in the world that we have our ministry; but we must avoid being of the world. We’re not here to build the arrogant towers of men; we’re here to help build the church of Jesus Christ. (This isn’t to suggest that all global technology and worldwide megacorporations are necessarily evil in themselves. It’s the spirit and purpose of these “towers” that the Christian must avoid.
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
What humanity can’t achieve by means of its “proud towers,” Jesus Christ has achieved by dying on a humiliating cross. All who trust Jesus Christ are one in Him (Gal. 3:27) and will share heaven together, regardless of race, nation, language, or tribe (Rev. 7:9). While the world system is outwardly producing uniformity, inwardly it’s tearing things apart. What social scientists are now calling “technopoly” is controlling people’s lives.
But the Holy Spirit is using the church as an agent of reconciliation to bring things together in Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10; 2 Cor. 5:14-21). In one sense, Pentecost was a reversal of Babel, for the people present in Jerusalem at Pentecost heard the praises of God in their own languages (Acts 2:1-12). The day will come when people from every tribe and nation will worship Jesus Christ (Rev. 15:4) and the judgment of Babel will be done away (Zeph. 3:9).
Each person must make a choice.
Will we identify with; “Babylon or Jerusalem”, “The Worldly Prostitute” or “The Heavenly Bride”?