Posted On March 29, 2022

The Tower of Babel

by | Mar 29, 2022 | Featured, Genesis

Genesis 11:1-9, “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.”

The table of nations found in Genesis 10 reveals that the various cultures and peoples that now live in this world are all descended from three brothers. But how were the tribes of men dispersed across the globe, and how did the different languages develop?

Though one of the first duties laid upon humanity was to spread across the planet (1:28; 9:7), it was disobedience to this command that made Noah’s progeny fill all corners of the earth. The story of Babel, found in today’s passage, explains how this happened.

Babylon was known for its ziggurats, and all the earth marveled at these stepped temples that reached into the sky. Babylonian stories praise the majesty of man who built these structures after the form of an ancient ziggurat, an edifice likely memorialized in Genesis 11.

Set against pagan accounts, Scripture frowns upon man’s effort. After the flood, all men spoke one language and settled in Shinar (11:1–2). Yet instead of using the ease of communication to govern the earth cooperatively for God’s glory, man rebelled and tried to exalt himself with a tall tower (vv. 3–4). As John Calvin writes, humanity gathered not to worship but “to excite war against God.”

Our Father then came down from heaven to see their progress (v. 5). Of course, the Lord knew how tall the tower was from heaven, but this figurative account of His descent shows how feeble man’s attempt really was. The tower that was supposed to reach into God’s abode was so tiny that He had to leave His home to evaluate it!

Nevertheless, the Lord saw this claim to autonomy for what it was and perceived man thought nothing would be impossible for him (v. 6). This does not imply divine impotency but recognizes the dangers of collective apostasy. Depraved men will eagerly join with others to fight against God and His people. So the Lord judged mankind, dividing our tongues to curtail our efforts (vv. 7–9). The differences in language make it harder for the serpent’s seed to unite against the woman’s.

Though the wicked join forces to exalt themselves, defy God, and assault His church, their efforts are ultimately futile. Society may “advance,” but it is finally subject to the Lord’s holy evaluation.

Coram Deo

Matthew Henry comments, “Those who aim at a great name commonly come off with a bad name.” In our sin, all of us want to promote our fame at the expense of humble service to the Lord. How do you aim at a great name? Are you overly concerned with recognition, fame, or your own achievements? Maybe you feign humility whenever you are praised? If someone affirms you, simply thank him and do what you can to proclaim God’s name on the earth.

The Tower of Babel, Copyright (2022), Ligonier Ministries.

 

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