The Tower of Babel Genesis 11

There are between 5000 and 7000 languages in use around the world today. Chinese is spoken by 1.2 billion people in the world in 31 different countries. That is almost four times as many people as the next most popular languages English and Spanish which are each spoken by around 330 million people across more than 150 countries between them. Arabic is spoken by 221 million people and Hindi and Bengali by around 180 million people each. Portuguese, Russian, Japanese and German make up the top 10 most commonly spoken languages.
Some people think that the world would be a much less troubled place if everybody spoke the same language. Back in 1887 the artificial language Esperanto, meaning hope, was constructed with exactly that aim. But no country has ever adopted it as their official language and there are probably less than 2 million people who actually speak Esperanto. If politicians ever do decide that every country should speak the same language, I just hope it won’t be Chinese! But although more effective communication is always a good thing, the Bible makes it clear that just speaking the same language won’t solve all the world’s problems. Differences in language are not the cause of divisions between peoples and nations. It is greed and selfishness and injustice which lead to conflicts and wars. And we see those very same sins in the story of the Tower of Babel which tells us where all the languages of the world came from in the first place.
THE SINS OF THE FIRST BABYLONIANS
Genesis 113 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
“Let us build ourselves a city.” These were the descendents of Noah, who God had rescued from the great flood of his judgment in the ark. Yet in only a few generations people had forgotten about God. This new city of Babylon became the focus of growing human arrogance. They had grand designs, but they were leaving God out. God has never permitted human beings to create a social order from which the Divine Creator is excluded. Nor will he ever let us do so. A world rejecting God would limit and ultimately destroy humankind.
“With a tower which reaches to the heavens.” The name Babylon means “gate of god.” The great tower of the temple was a ziggurat, the kind of vast structure built by lots of nations to honour their false gods thousands of years BC. The people believed their gods actually lived in these ziggurats. The people were trying to put God in a box – but God won’t let people do that!
“So that we can make a name for ourselves.” Human beings since Adam and Eve have always been driven by pride. In the days after the flood we read of Noah’s great grandson called Nimrod.
Genesis 10 8 Cush was the father of Nimrod, who grew to be a mighty warrior on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; that is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the LORD.” 10 The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Erech, Akkad and Calneh, in Shinar. 11 From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah 12 and Resen, which is between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.
Nimrod had ambitions to rule the whole of humanity. The Babylonians had the same desire to build themselves a reputation which would last forever.
“And not be scattered over the face of the earth”. They were seeking their security in walls and buildings instead of in God. In doing so they were setting themselves in opposition to the purposes and the sovereignty of God.
The Babylonians give us examples of sins to avoid. The sin of thinking we can live our lives without God. The sin of thinking we can build our own way to heaven.
GOD’S JUDGMENT ON THE BABYLONIANS
5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
When we think of what happened in the Flood, the punishment God brought on the Babylonians for their pride and arrogance could have been much more severe. The limit to God’s punishment on Babylon was a sign of God’s mercy.
“Let us confuse their language”. And this breakdown of communication had other inevitable consequences.
8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel—because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
The name Babel sounds like the word for confused. This confusion stopped the building of the city and the people were scattered all over the world. God intervened just enough to stop mankind from going completely off the rails. Of course the Babylonians did not want to be scattered, but God’s action was sufficient to stop the building of their tower. And so God’s greater purposes of ultimate salvation were not thwarted.
GOD’S JUDGMENT ON MAN’S EFFORTS TO IGNORE HIM
Babel was the first time but certainly not the last that human beings rebelled against God by ignoring Him. It has been the pattern of human life ever since the Fall.
Romans 1 18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
Humanity’s rebellion against God has often been expressed in buildings and cities. Still today we find so much poverty and injustice, fear and crime, loneliness and loss of meaning in the breakdown of community of our big cities. So many are tempted to immorality or addictions in the anonymity of city life. And false religions flourish in cities, partly I am sure because people are insulated from the natural world which reveals the glory of God through its beauty and its sheer power!
Cities and empires are often a focal point for sin. We find that in the Bible in its portrayals of Rome as Babylon.
Revelation 18 18 “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!
She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird.
3 For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”
19 “ ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In one hour she has been brought to ruin!
Behind the evil of human cities and empires we can sometimes see the power of the evil one, the devil, sometimes embodied in his human representatives.
And however much humanity tries to sort out its own problems, things will continue to go wrong whenever God is not at the centre!
GOD’S PROMISE OF A PERFECT FUTURE
Men and nations have always been trying to build a better future from themselves – usually at the expense of other men and nations. The last century has seen attempts to build world peace based on cooperation rather than domination but those efforts, such as the League of Nations and then the United Nations, have not been completely. Breaking down language barriers and establishing dialogue is always a good thing. But human beings will never be able to build a lasting peace. Pride and greed will always get in the way in the end. Any attempts at cooperation which leave God out will fail and may even bring down God’s judgment as it did at Babel. The Almighty Creator God is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and will not be ignored!
But God does have a plan for a perfect future for human beings. This season of Advent encourages us to look ahead in anticipation of that future. We read God’s promises in the prophets.
Isaiah 9 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
In His first incarnation the Lord Jesus Christ brought the beginnings of that wonderful future. And the church began to experience God’s perfect peace as the confusion of the languages was reversed on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled all the believers and gave them the spiritual gift of speaking in other languages so that everybody could hear them praising God in their own language.
So at the birth of the church the Holy Spirit removed the confusion of languages which entered the world at Babel. God brought unity in diversity to the growing church.
Galatians 3 26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And that peace and unity will ultimately be fulfilled in the eternal city.
Revelation 21 21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Only God can build that heavenly city. The story of the Tower of Babel teaches us that any hopes of lasting peace and harmony build on human efforts are naïve. The only hope for the world is the peace God gives and the gospel of His Son, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

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