The Tower of Babel – Bible Stories for Adults 007
The tower of Babel is an ancient story that most people today completely misunderstand. They think it’s irrelevant to their life and to modern life in general, when in truth, Babel is a lesson for us today, perhaps more than any other generation, about relating successfully to God.
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For Further Consideration
Learn a lot more about how to relate successfully to God in our series The Beatitudes.
We are only covering the main point of each story in this series, Bible Stories for Adults. Here is a link from a slightly different perspective to provide more details.
Our title today is Tower of Babel. It’s the seventh in our series on Bible Stories for Adults. I think the best thing to do with this one is to simple read the story and then break it down afterwards.
Before we start though, I want to pose a question to you. This is an account of something that happened, perhaps, over 4,000 years ago. Is it just an outdated, out-of-touch children’s story that has no relevance today?
Is there anything important at all that we can learn here in 2019 that applies to us personally – to us as modern people in the world? Well, you can be sure there is! Based on our rules of Bible study, all Bible stories have a point, which we can access if we just read what it says, instead of focusing on what we don’t know about the story.
Before we begin, let’s notice that this happened as people were starting to propagate after the flood. We’ll begin in Genesis 11, verse 1.
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 for 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 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 the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of the earth.
So what’s the problem with the tower? Genesis 11:4, we can read:
V-4 – Then they said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens…
See, the problem was not trying to get to heaven. You know, sometimes we think people were unsophisticated or stupid back then. That’ s not the case. It wasn’t that they were trying to get to heaven. I was reading in a commentary about this, and the section was called, Stairway to Heaven. You know the song, right, from the 70s? That’s not what they were doing at all. Just because they were building a tall tower with its top in the heavens – you know, that’s just talking about making it really tall, like the Empire State Building, or something like that. Remember that this tower was to be built on a plain in Shinar. It would stand out from a distance, wouldn’t it, if it were built on a plain. And since it would be the tallest building ever, it would be a famous place – a place of renown – so not about getting to God, but about building something for themselves. “Let us building ourselves a city and a tower.” So it wasn’t just a tower. It was a city. And it was about doing something for themselves, not something for God. It was about getting away from God, instead of getting closer to Him by climbing a stairway to get up. So that’s one reason why God did what He did to thwart their efforts.
So why would I say that? Just because I said that doesn’t make it true – that they were building something to get away from God, instead of getting closer to Him. Well, in keeping with our rules of Bible study, that I enumerated in the first presentation of this series – and I think, also, in the second one – we want to focus on what the story says, rather than on the ideas of people. So let’s go back to something God told the first people after the flood. We can read in Genesis 9:1 and 2:
Genesis 9:1-2 – And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered.
Back then, wild beasts, especially predators, were a threat to humans, because they didn’t have the technology we have today. So God is telling them that He will make a way for them to spread out over the whole earth and repopulate it. Not only that, but they were commanded to do just that. When we read the account about the city and the tower, we see they’re making a plan to do just the opposite of that. They’re planning to settle down on the plain, not far from where the ark was. So that’s a second reason we can extrapolate from scripture, teaching us that God did what He did to thwart them for a reason. By dividing them by language, He set them back on the track of doing what He wanted.
Notice this in Genesis 10:1:
Genesis 10:1-5 – These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood. The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. The sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations.
Notice that even though this was written before the material about the tower, we’re told here that the sons of Noah’s sons had their own language. So this was written about what happened after Babel, not before it. So God wanted them to spread into their own lands, with their own language, by their clans in their nations. So nations are families grown great. That’s what God wanted them to do.After He divided them by not only family, group or clan, but also by language, that’s what they did. They dispersed in their own family groups, clans and nations to cover the earth.
Notice this now – Genesis 11:4 – people said:
Genesis 11:4 – “…let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
So they were planning to do something noteworthy to draw attention to themselves, so that they could have influence and, probably later, control over people with the object that they would not be dispersed as God wanted. So that’s a third reason God divided them by language.
Here’s another – in Genesis 11:5:
V-5 – 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.
Now God is outside of time. Time is a part of the physical creation. We know that. Some people don’t know it, but you can prove that mathematically. So He doesn’t even have to look down the road to see what’s coming next. It’s like it’s all in a sand tray for Him to look at – or a map. So, He stepped in and tweaked history to make it go the way He wants it to go. And that’s another reason why God confounded their language. They were in rebellion against Him, and because of that, His plan wasn’t going to work the way He wanted it to. So He caused things to change so that it would.
In the record, the next major event in the Bible story, God called one man, Abram. We see that God makes incredibly, wonderful, powerful, eternal promises to this man. He tells Abram to look up at the night sky and know that his progeny will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Let’s read about that in Genesis 17:1.
Genesis 17:1-8 – When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty. Walk before Me and be blameless, that I may make My covenant between Me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” See, God wanted somebody to follow Him that wouldn’t try to build their own tower – somebody that wanted to go His way and be in concert with His plan, instead of fighting Him on it every step of the way. ”… that I may make My covenant between Me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” That’s what He promised to do for him. And then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
So this concept of nation building is so important to God, that with Abram’s children, and Isaac’s children, and Jacob’s children, and even Joseph’s children after him, God tweaked things, in each case, so that the natural order of the oldest inheriting the blessing was changed so that it would work the way God wanted it to.
Do you kind of get the idea that the concept of nations is important to God? Well, if we can read without bias, yes. A tower on the plain of Shinar meant that they were planning to do away with that concept. As God said, “They’re one people.” And that’s not what He wanted.
Okay, so that’s what we can read about the story and why things happened the way they happened. But are there any lessons for today in that ancient story? There are lots of ways to talk about this and make the same point, but I’d like to stick with something contemporary. Have you noticed that President Trumps says, “… making America great again,” a lot? You probably don’t know that he says that a lot unless you watch one of the conservative news channels. The liberal ones don’t mention it. But he does say it a lot. And have you noticed that when he says it, thousands of Americans roar their approval? They do. Have you also noticed that the wealthy elites in this country, and all those they have been able to deceive or control directly, and also the EU elites – the European Union – and the UN elites all disapprove of that idea – of making America great again – and resist it with everything they have? To them, the slogan goes diametrically contrary to the way that they have been going for a hundred years. They want to build another tower. It’s not that they just don’t want America to be great again, they don’t want any nations to be great again. They want there to be one world government. They talk about that as globalism today. And President Trump and some other national leaders, like the one in China and the one in Poland – that I can think of right off the top of my head – they’re nationalists.
So the slogan, “Make America great again,” goes opposite to what they want to do. They want to build a tower. And, if you think about what they say about it, their reasoning behind it sounds great – just like it did back in the days of Shinar. Think about all the wars that have been caused by nations going to war against another. If there weren’t any nations, there wouldn’t be any more war. Think about how the wealth could be spread around, so that all the nations could be great – or the one world government could be great. Think about how violence could be curbed with total control over the whole population of the planet – no one would ever get hurt in violent acts again. Think about how we could solve global warming. We could outlaw carbon emissions worldwide. It would be a utopia.
The problem there is, it just won’t work! How do I know that? Is that just my idea? Well, actually, no. That’s God’s idea. You see, in the Bible, in prophecy, we’re shown what’s going to happen when the world approaches one world government in the future. It’s going to come down to a war – the very thing that they hope to avoid. And this war is going to be so terrible that the planet would be destroyed. All life would be expunged if God allowed it to happen. So, yes, nations, as they function today, are terrible and they do cause a lot of war, but the alternative, according to God, is even worse.
So that’s one point that we can think about – that we can learn today – that should change our thinking, if we want to follow God.
But what’s the real problem here? It’s the same problem that we see in the tower of Babel. People always think they know better than God knows. And that’s the mantra of modern life on this planet. No one believes that God knows best. Everyone is fudging the rules He’s given. Everyone wants to go his own way. Look with me at something Jesus said. It’s in Matthew 5:3.
Matthew 5:3 – Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
To be poor in spirit means to understand that we are impoverished when it comes to spiritual understanding. It means to know that we would know nothing about God or His way, except He reveals it to us. It means that God knows best instead of us. And it means that we need to seek following God’s own way, instead of seeking our own.
When we look at the context of this statement, it helps us to understand how important it is. This was the very first thing Jesus taught His disciples. And it’s the fundamental, most important think of all in having a relationship with God. God knows best. We do not.
So what does that say about those people on the plain back then? Well, it means that they were missing the most important thing of all in having a relationship with God. You know, it sounded great to build a tower of unification, instead of splitting up and going where no man had gone before. But it wasn’t what God wanted. He wanted them to go where nobody had gone before – at least, post-flood. And it’s still isn’t. Building a tower is not what God wants. Building a human society is not what God wants. God knows best what’s most important for us. And that’s the most important lesson that we can learn from the tower of Babel episode.
Here’s the second most important thing. We saw that God tweaked history to cause it to go the way He wanted. We know that He did that with the flood, too. He made building that tower impossible and made dispersing easier by confounding their languages. And we see from prophecy that the effort to build one world government is not God’s will. And once again, we know, from prophecy, that He’s going to tweak history. He’s going to send Jesus Christ back in the most powerful tweak the planet has ever experienced. To use His own words, He’s going to destroy those who would destroy the earth. So, in spite of all the efforts of human beings – from Adam to the resurrection – God is going to do what He wants. And what we think about it doesn’t matter to Him. Fighting Him on it only causes everyone a lot of pain. So, the lesson from Babel is this: You think you know a better way to go than God’s way? You think you deserve complete freedom? You want to fudge on God’s rules or throw them off all together? You want to go your own way? Well, don’t even think about it! You know nothing! Follow God. It’s just so much easier. That’s probably the most important lesson we can learn from that story.
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Until next time, this is Bill Jacobs, for LifeResource Ministries, serving children, families and the Church of God.