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The Tower of Babel

When the global flood of Noah’s time receded, the very first commandment given to Noah and his sons was this: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1).  As God made His covenant with Noah and his sons, He repeated and emphasized this commandment again: "As for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it” (Gen. 9:7).  The sons of Noah – Shem, Ham, and Japheth – did indeed multiply, and their generations are recorded in Genesis 10.  However, their descendants were not compliant with God’s commandment to fill and populate the earth.  The account of Genesis 10 records that the generations of Noah’s sons settled in various places on the earth, but the account of Genesis 11 reveals that God had to intervene to make them scatter to these places.

Rather than filling the earth, the descendants of Noah gathered themselves together in one place in the land of Shinar (Gen. 11:2).  It appears that the plain of Shinar was in southern Mesopotamia at the site of what would become Babylonia.  On this plain, there were probably few stones available, and so the people made bricks of mud and used tar for mortar (Gen. 11:3).  Having devised a method of building, the people conceived a plan for themselves, saying, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4).

Consider the rebellious intentions of these men in the plain of Shinar.  Their concern was purely self-centered and devoid of a proper reverence for the God of heaven.  Their purpose for building a magnificent city and a massive tower in the sky was to magnify themselves.  When they said, "Let us make for ourselves a name,” they were expressing their desire to establish themselves in solidarity as a single entity.  It seems that they were forming a union of men against God.  God already had a name, for His power, authority, and wisdom were self-evident and well known.  Now these men wanted a name for themselves, and they thought that this man-made city and tower would give them that name.  Their intentions were to defy God’s commandment for them to fill the earth by drawing all men to stay in this one great city before this grand tower.  Otherwise, they feared God’s commandment would be fulfilled and the people would be "scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth,” which was God’s intention for them.

For all of their efforts to resist God’s commandment, God was easily able to overcome the plan of these men.  At that time "the whole earth used the same language and the same words” (Gen. 11:1), but when God saw the tower built by these rebellious men, He said:

"Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language.  And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.  Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” (Gen. 11:6-7)

The result was that "the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city” (Gen. 11:8).  For this reason, the name of that city was called Babel, which means "confusion,” "because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:9).  This effect by God is evident in the generational records of Noah’s descendants in Genesis 10, for the Scripture says that they "were separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations” (Gen. 10:5; see vv. 20, 31-32).

What can we learn from the events at Babel?  Certainly, we can see the futility of resisting God’s commandments and of exalting ourselves against Almighty God.  No man or nation of men is anything when compared to the God of heaven: "Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance…All nations before Him are as nothing; and they are counted to Him less than nothing, and vanity” (Isa. 40:15, 17).  We can also see the power of God and His ability to affect the affairs of men according to His will.  God says of His word, "It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).  Today, men who are rebellious against God would do well to learn the lessons of Babel.  They may seek to make a name for themselves, but it is the name of God that is exalted, powerful, and eternal.

Stacey E. Durham




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