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When one looks around you and observe how recklessly mankind lives, robbing and murdering one another and how defiantly they stand against God, one wonders why God allows all of this and does not intervene. People that really suffer because of this, may even wonder whether man has not become so mighty that God is powerless to control them. This short account on the tower of Babel, gives us the assurance that God is still holding all the trump cards and is well able to intervene at any time He deems fit and can outwit man by a single move of His hand.
B. MANKIND BUILDS A CITY AND TOWER (Please read Gen 11:1-4)
Everyone on earth spoke one and the same language. They moved away together and settled in the East, in the land Shinar.
In the previous study, we noted that mankind multiplied considerably and now we see that they were still unified as one nation by a common language. They also grouped together and migrated as one group to the land of Shinar.
Prior to the deluge (the flood), the devil used violence as a tool to destroy mankind. He turned the one against the other. They assaulted and murdered one another; everyone wanted the whole world to himself. This resulted in a society so violent, that life became impossible and all God could do was to destroy it.
Noah and his sons probably passed on a warning in this regard to their descendants so that violence became to them, the evil of all evils and they went out of their way to live together in peace and harmony, which, in itself, was a very good concept. They now lived together as one great family.
It obviously also had many practical advantages, for instance, safety against dangerous wild animals and mutual assistance among various trades and professions. “Unity is power.” Their mutual support would however also lead to less dependence on God.
But, notwithstanding this peaceful outer appearance, they were already again rebelling against God for He had commanded them to multiply and fill the earth which surely implied that they were to move away from one-another and to occupy new territory.
In due course, they made bricks from the loamy soil and fired (baked) them thoroughly. Next came the idea to use these to build a city with a tower that would reach up to heaven. In this way, they thought to make a name for themselves.
The loamy soil of Shinar was a great discovery, for it enabled them to burn large numbers of strong bricks, more than was needed to build themselves homes.
One cannot but suspect that it was the devil who concocted this supernatural, cunning plan to build a city and tower. He saw an opportunity to take them one more step in the wrong direction in which they were already moving. He would not be able to induce them to violence again, but why not use their sense of solidarity (togetherness) to lead them astray; so someone came up with the idea to use the bricks to build a city with a tower that would reach up to heaven.
This massive project would of course give them a common interest and pride in their accomplishment so that they would not disperse and be scattered across the face of the earth. In this way, the devil would frustrate God’s plan for mankind to fill the earth (Gen 1:28; 9:7).
Their motives (reasons) for this project were evil: they wanted to uplift (elevate) themselves. We see this firstly in the height of the tower they intended building. It would have no practical value but the fact that it had to reach up to heaven, seems suspect, as if they wanted to raise themselves up to the throne of God, to his level, or maybe even above. They were not satisfied to fill the earth that He gave them to live in; no, they seem to have wanted to live where God lives. They did not want Him to look down upon them and govern them any longer.
Secondly, we see their wrong motive in their desire to eternalize their name; they wanted their descendants to see how awesome their forefathers were. This is the sin of pride resulting in arrogance; the sin that God hates more than all other sins. It was even a more serious sin than the violence people perpetrated before the flood. Then they sinned by killing one another, now they sinned by binding together. Satan does not mind if we deviate to the left or the right of God’s will, as long as we only deviate, because then He will have to judge us.
C. GOD FOILED THEIR PLANS BY CONFUSING THEIR LANGUAGE (Please read Gen 11:5-9)
God descended to inspect (take a look at) the city and the tower.
God is omniscient and omnipresent (knows everything and is present everywhere) and it is not necessary for Him to go from place to place to find out what is happening, but He records it like this, that we may realize that He thoroughly investigates our deeds before taking action.
His conclusion was that as they were now one (unified) nation with one language, they would be able to carry out anything, whatever they planned.
These are very important words, more so because God spoke it. It tells us what enormous potential God embodied in mankind (how intelligent he is) and that by means of cooperation, anything is achievable. When we see today people building space crafts and traveling to distant planets, we realize how true God’s words were.
What man has achieved until now, he has done by hundreds of thousands of people each discovering something that could in turn be used by another. One, for instance, discovered how to make a car tyre, another one the engine, a third fuel and so they could jointly build a car that would not have been possible for one individual. Due to man’s sinful nature, he unfortunately often uses his abilities (intellect) to make harmful things, such as bombs, to destroy one another. God had foreseen this and scattered them to first fill the earth so that He could carry out his own plan to build a nation for himself.
So He said: ”Let us descend and confuse their language so that they will not understand each other.”
In this way, he stopped them building their city and tower, and scattered them over the whole earth. Because God confused their language there, they named the city Babel.
No matter how clever man is, God will always effortlessly outwit him. Note how easily He devises a simple plan to foil the evil plans of man and satan. Which of us would have been able to dream up such an ingenious plan to scatter thousands of people by causing them to speak different languages?
The Lord infused new languages into their minds. Suddenly they knew and could speak languages they had never heard before. Who can devise (compile) a multitude of new languages in a moments time? Just imagine how long it takes our children to learn a language and to speak it properly. God however devised many languages in an instant, then placed it in people’s minds and immediately they could speak them fluently. Oh, the almighty power and wisdom of God!
Also, notice the mercy of God. He did not punish or kill anyone as He did during the Flood. He found a peaceful way to disperse them. Suddenly they could not understand one another. The mason asked for more bricks but his assistant brought him water. First there probably was a flurry of angry exchanges, but then the work stopped and the builders departed like ants from their tower. That was the end of their construction. The tower that was intended to bring them fame, only brought them shame. It stood there desolated, gradually falling apart and becoming overgrown with weeds.
All their descendants passing by would say: “Shame, our parents started building this tower, but could not complete it.” Today, trying to build a tower that can reach up to heaven, is even more of a joke because if we can’t even travel to God’s heaven with our powerful missiles, how would a little tower ever reach up there?
So, what happened to the tower builders? Those who spoke the same language, found one another and gathered (grouped together). They realized that it served no purpose to live together with other people who spoke a different language. So, it resulted in each language group moving away from the tower in its own direction. Furthermore, the confusion of languages was so clearly a miracle brought about by God, that it must have brought a holy fear upon them giving impetus to their decision to spread out in all directions as God had intended them to do right from the time of creation. So, they dispersed and continued doing so till the earth was filled as we have it today.
Once again God demonstrated that He is a God of wisdom and that doing His will, is the right thing to do.
D. DISPERSING OF MANKIND AND THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD (Please read Gen 10 & 11)
Here we have the family tree of Noah’s son Shem through to Abram.
We note that man no longer reached such old ages as before the Flood. (Shem 500; Arphaxad 438; Shelah 433; Eber 464; Peleg 239; Reu 239; Serug 230; Nahor 148; Terah 205; average 321.78). This is the more God fearing line from whom God built himself a nation, the nation of Israel. This is also the line from whom God gave his Son Jesus as Savior to mankind.
The family tree of Noah through his three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth
From this family tree, read with the story of the confusing of languages, we understand where all the nations and languages of the world come from.
The fact that the lineages of Shem, Ham and Japheth remained intact even after the Tower of Babel episode as we saw in the previous chapter on the Flood, indicates that the tribes within these three groups had also kept together when they settled in the land of Shinar. We might therefor also conclude that when God confused the languages, He did it in such a way that the tribes each got their own language, creating a natural bond between the people of each tribe.
God loves all nations equally
It is also notable that God made no distinction between the nations by setting one nation above the other or showing preference to some nations above the others, except for the nation of Israel and that was for a specific reason, namely to bless all the nations of the earth through them as we will see in our later studies.
Nations are distinct from one-another
As time went by, more languages developed and the characteristics of the different groups became more pronounced so that they could be identified, not only by language, but also by outward appearance and culture. The concept of different nations is consequently of God and not of man. There is therefor no harm or wrong in loving one’s own nation or having a healthy consciousness of its achievements, but one has to guard against pride as if the good in it comes from itself and not from God.
(Is it possible that, in an imperfect world, God rather wants every nation to develop on its own, than mixing with one another to form one mega nation with one language? Are we not seeking power, prosperity, and peace in unity of the superficial things such as colour and culture, instead of seeking unity of hearts in our relationship with God and in loving each other? Just a question.)
The devil’s involvement with the nations in stirring up wars
The devil is of course always looking for ways to destroy mankind and has, through the ages, been setting up nation against nation by causing friction, hatred and fear. Nations desire to rule over one-another to promote their own glory or wealth, resulting in wars, bloodshed and extreme cruelty. A certain historian said that the history of mankind, is the history of wars. The devil is a murderer of mankind and leaves behind a trail of blood and devastation. Some countries have hardly recovered from one tribal war when another breaks out. What a wonderful world this would have been if every nation had sought the welfare of the others.
The devil’s involvement with the nations in creating separate religions for nations
The devil is also fighting God on a more spiritual level, trying to separate mankind from Him (alienate them) by enticing nations to each raise up their own gods or worshipping the spirits of their deceased ancestors, instead of serving the one and only God Who created us all. The wars that result because nations feel that they have to defend their gods or religion at all costs (holy wars), are all in vain for there are in fact only two kingdoms namely God’s Kingdom of light of which all born-again people are citizens and the devil’s kingdom of darkness to which all the rest of mankind belong.
God’s involvement with the world by creating a spiritual nation for Himself
The Word teaches that God gave his Son Jesus Christ as the only Redeemer through Whom we must pray to the Father and the good news is that all over the world, millions of people from every nation, cultural and language group are getting reconciled to God by accepting his Son Jesus Christ as their Redeemer. These peoples’ hearts change to progressively think and act like Him. At the tower of Babel people were dispersed but at the Cross they are united.
God will also, one day, bring the present world to an end. He will then raise those who loved and worshiped Him from the graves and they will forever live in peace on the new earth. To God it is not important if you are a Shangaan Zulu, Sotho, Afrikaner, or Englishman, American, Chinese or Indian, but whether you love and serve Him as your Creator and Redeemer. On the new earth that God will create, all his people will speak the same language and love each other.
E. ADDITIONAL INTERESTING REMARKS
Lessons to learn
When God saw mankind getting together to build the Tower of Babel He declared that, “Now nothing will be withheld from them, which they intend to do” (Gen 11:6, WEB) or, “Will be impossible for them to do,” (NLT). We see God’s words come true by our present technological advances brought about by the pooling of human knowledge and other resources. Christianity is also utilizing the principle of unity and the technological development for the spreading of the Gospel and tremendous progress has been made so that just about every nation in the world is able to hear the Good News of salvation in his own country and in his own language. Our motive for unity must always be to uplift God. This type of unity pleases God.
Wherever we live, or whoever we may be, we can build ourselves towers of wealth, fame or popularity, or we can build altars in humility where we sacrifice our lives to God. What do others see in my life; an altar of self-sacrifice or a tower of self-elevation?
Interesting facts and speculations.
The tower they built was probably a kind of temple, called a Ziggurat, a place for worshiping of idols like the sun, moon and stars. Babel is probably the place where the city of Babylon was later built. The Word describes it as the great spiritual harlot that misleads mankind and turns them against God. Both Babel and Babylon means confusion or mixture (intermingling).