The account of the Tower of Babel gives us unique insights into man’s rebellion against God and also the origin of languages and cultures.
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 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.” But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 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. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 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. (Genesis 11:1-9)
Man’s wickedness brought judgment on the world through the flood. However, it did not take long for man to revert to his rebellious ways. Though God asked men to spread out and fill the earth after the flood, they chose to settle down at Shinar. Though men knew in their heart that worship of God and submission to him defined the very essence of human existence, they chose to throw away the reign of God and be independent.
The tendency of man to remain together demonstrates in a way, the inability of man to be independent. We are built in such a way that there is finiteness to what we can accomplish and an inherent inability to be self-dependent. A God-shaped vacuum exists within us that can be filled only by God. The moment man makes the choice to depend on God, he moves from being an incomplete, inefficient and insecure being to one who is in every way fulfilled. However, when man refuses to acknowledge God, his inadequacy troubles him and he searches for fulfillment elsewhere with poor substitutes. In this instance it is the company of other men. They refuse to spread out and attempt to conglomerate at one place.
Rebellion against God always has a rallying point- it could either be a person, an institution, a philosophy, an idol or a structure. The tower of Babel was meant to be an imposing structure that would become that rallying point. Some historical accounts detail the possible measurements of the tower to as wide as several miles at the base and a few miles high. By comparison, the Burj Khalifa, which is the tallest building in the world is only half a mile high. The structure was so huge that the tower was in itself a city with vegetation and housing for the workers who were assigned the task of building it. The intent of constructing the tower was to demonstrate to the world and to God that man could build a structure so high that no flood could destroy them. It was meant to convey to the world that in creating something so imposing, they could rebel against God and be independent.
The construction of the tower also teaches us about the ingenuity of man. When men set their minds to something, especially when all men agree to a common project, it is usually possible. Man’s landing on the moon, space travel, the electronic revolution and cures in medicine are all examples of man’s ingenuity. However, man’s ingenuity has also led to wars, weapons of mass destruction and increase of wickedness on earth. Man needs to understand that ingenuity by itself can be self-damaging unless it is brought under the submission of God.
The ironic twist with which the story ends is a demonstration of God’s sovereignty and control of the world. A simple intervention by God, which explains the origin of languages and cultures on earth, leaves the rebellious men helpless to move forward with their project. They are forced to abandon it and indeed scatter, which was what God had asked them to do in the first place.
Babel refers to confusion. Be it confusion within man, confusion among men or confusion within this world, the origin of it all is rebellion against God.
- PLEASING TO THE EYE
- PROXIMITY TO GOD