Genesis 11:1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 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. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build 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 whole earth.”5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 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. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused[a] the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
As we come to the passage we want to give some immediate context which will guide our understanding of the text,
The unfolding of the events in Genesis 9-11 is
1.) God makes covenant with Noah and so mankind
2.) God ordains that mankind will under Government, which compliment patriarchal rule. (Genesis 9:6).
3.) Noah’s descendants are then ordered to disperse (Be fruitful and multiply) and inhabit their own territory per ethnic/family divisions, (Gen. 10).
10:5 From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations.
10:20 These are the sons of Ham, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations.
10:31 These are the sons of Shem, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations.
Notice the connection between clans, lands, languages, and nations. Clearly, the idea is presented that languages are unique to the various unique Nations. This will be important later.
***When we look at Genesis 9 we get a sense of embryonic Nations that God always intended to flower. What I am saying is that the dividing of Shem, Ham, and Japheth in cursing and blessing implies, at the very least, the nations which would later arise in connection with God’s actions at Babel. Noah had to understand that by blessing Shem with early dominance, and then Japheth with latter dominance, and no blessing upon Ham except that his children would be servants, he was clearly segregating them after a fashion.
***Genesis 10 gives us the results of Genesis 11. Genesis 11 explains how Genesis 10 happened in detail. I think it happened this way in order to put Gen. 11 and Gen. 12 in sharp relief.
***There is no contradiction here; Moses merely put the effect before the cause. Genesis 10 gives an overview, and then Genesis 11 fills in the details.
***Also, the way that it is organized with the placing of the Tower of Babel incident just prior to the stories of Abram and his descendants, the biblical writer is suggesting, in the first place, that post-flood humanity is as wicked as pre-flood humanity. Rather than sending something as devastating as a flood to annihilate mankind, however, God now places His hope in a covenant with Abraham as a powerful solution to humanity’s sinfulness. This problem (Genesis 11) and solution (Genesis 12) are brought into immediate juxtaposition
4.) Instead of dispersing they decide, in disobedience to God to fill the earth, to congregate at Babel to build what we can legitimately call an amalgamated and conglomerated New World Order Empire with the purpose of making a name for themselves.
5.) God confuses the tongues with the purpose of compelling what He originally intended, to wit, the separation of the Nations as nations. The confusion of languages was salutary discipline for the disobedience of not filling the earth by nations.
1.) One lip and one tongue
This seems to suggest that both the substance of speech and the form of speech were the same among the inhabitants of Babel. If this is correct then what is being pointed at here is that the denizens of Babel not only had a shared language but they also had a shared pagan worldview, as seen in the unified resolve to be disobedient to God.
God had told the families and nations (Genesis 10) to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:2) but the nations (Genesis 10) decided, instead, to congeal and coagulate on the plain of Shinar with the humanistic purpose to make a name for themselves.
Genesis 11 cannot be read accurately apart from the prior establishment of the table of nations in Genesis 10 and the command to multiply and fill the earth in Genesis 9. The natural reading of this, would be that God intended the nations as nations (Gen. 10) to multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 9) but instead the nations decided to build a uni-polar world of no nations or all nations in order to establish themselves as God walking on the earth.
Brief Definition of Nation
According to Dr. Bruce Waltke, in his “Old Testament Theology,” a Nation. according to Scripture, is defined as
1.) A common people (Genesis)
2.) Sharing a common history (Exodus)
3.) Having a common law (Deuteronomy)
4.) With a common land (Joshua)
5.) And a Kin King (David’s Kingship)
2.) “As they journeyed Eastward” vs. 2
Traveling to the east, in Scripture, is often identified with traveling away from God’s presence and into exile, into captivity, or away from God’s presence. Moving east is a bad idea because it’s moving away from God.
Adam and Eve are sent away “East of Eden.” (2:24)
When Abraham and Lot decided to go their separate ways, Lot went east and ended up in Sodom and Gomorrah.
The Israelites were exiled to Babylon, in the east.
So, if we are to follow the hints of Scripture the very fact that we have this movement Eastward is suggestive that they are fleeing the presence of God.
2.) Let us build for ourselves a city and a tower
The desire to build a Tower lends the religious feel to the passage. In the ancient world this tower (Ziggurat) would have been the center building of a Temple complex where worship of the gods was practiced. The Ziggurat, in the ancient world, were believed to have been the dwelling places of the gods and naturally enough only the priest class were permitted on the ziggurat to care for the gods.
***Clearly, what is going on, on the plain of Shinar, is the building of a religious community in defiance of God. As all false gods are but man said loudly. Babel was the exercise of man made and defined religion committed to the end of man worshiping himself.
While we are at it here we should note that all social orders are held together by some religion or religious expression. Religion is an inescapable concept for both individuals and social orders. In point of fact all social orders or cultures are, are religion externalized or made visible. When one looks at a culture or social order one is, at the same time, looking at religion.
“The culture of a people [is] an incarnation of its religion,” and “no culture has appeared or developed — except together with a religion. . . .”
T. S. Eliot
Notes towards the Definition of Culture, pp. 32, 13
Now that is clearer in some social orders than others. We see it clearly in Muslim countries where the Koran births sharia law that all have to follow.
But we need to understand that all culture … all social orders are organized around religion, theology, and faith commitment.
This means that there are no “ages of irreligion,” or “ages of skepticism.” Organized religions may recede but they recede in favor of unorganized or embryonic religions. Curiously, it is the “so called” skeptics who write the books denouncing religion who are most obviously full of the inescapable religious impulse. Their objection is not religion as it is other people’s religion that they don’t approve of — a disapproval only arrived at as informed by whatever religion they harbor.
So, here men are denying God’s authority and sovereignty but they haven’t escaped the authority and sovereignty of some god, they have merely transferred the quality of godness to their city-state Babel. If man denies such qualities of God such as predestination to the God of the Bible, predestination doesn’t go away, it merely transfers to the new god in town.
Example — School to work program // Social engineering intended to push people in a set direction.
If man denies such qualities of God as transcendence to the God of the Bible, transcendence doesn’t go away, it merely transfers to the new god in town.
If man denies the qualities of God such as His authority as found in God’s law divine law doesn’t go away, but that authority is merely transferred to a new god’s authoritative law.
Men are forever seeking to build new cities and new towers in defiance of the God of the Bible. Men will go to all lengths to escape the presence of God and part of those lengths they will go to is build religious-social orders on the back of false religions and false gods.
3.) With the Babel project we are right back to the fall in the garden in Genesis 11. Just as the Serpent had said there, “Hath God really said,” so man here has determined that God had not really said to “multiply and fill the earth.” Just as the project in the garden was man’s attempt to en-god himself by holding to his putative fiat word over God’s revelational Word so here on the plain of Shinar man is seeking to en-god himself by seeking to give reality to his fiat word as opposed to submitting to God’s Word which creates and governs all real reality.
***4.) let us make a name for ourselves — Let us make us a name.
It is interesting that man attempts to make a name for themselves apart from God in Genesis 11, while in Genesis 12 God tells Abram that God Himself will make Abram’s name great (12:2). Obviously, therefore, the desire for a great name is not sinful in itself. The sin is found in seeking a great name autonomously, apart from God and His character and His Law-Word.
***In the desire to make themselves a name we find the desire to define themselves and to establish their own authority.
RJR offers here,
“Instead of being defined by the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28), man now held that he would be his own creature and creation and would define himself. If man becomes a self-definer, he then, like a god, names or defines everything else. ”
***4a.) Lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth
In this new Babel religion which the social order reflected, there was a desire for uniformity. No scattering allowed. I submit to you that this fear of being scattered was theological. These men are seeking to unite as god to be god as is seen in their defiance of god in building babel. In order to do that, there had to be a unity of the godhead and that unity is found in fear of scattering.
Every attempt to replace God with a one world order breeds a fear of scattering. There must be unity in the humanistic godhead. All people must be uniform under the god-state.
“All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” –
This is why Socrates drank the hemlock rather than being exiled.
This is what we find in our social order. There is a fear of scattering in our speech and so we have Political Correctness to monitor speech. There is a fear of scattering in our thinking and so we have the equivalent of political commissars in Social Justice warriors in order to monitor proper thinking. There must be no scattering in our allegiance and so we have propaganda piled on top of propaganda to make sure we are not thinking contrary to those who would make war against the God of the Bible.
5.) And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built
This is not a case where God didn’t know about the details of what was going on in the building project at Babel. Often in Genesis we find divine investigation as prior to divine judgment (Genesis 3:11-13, 4:9-10, 18:21). What we find here, as opposed to a denial of divine omniscience, is a anthropomorphic setting forth of God’s investigative activity in order to communicate that God’s judgments are altogether just. As God is a personal God, God Himself personally investigates the disobedience of man.
6.) Behold they are One people
At this point the question needs to be asked, “One people as opposed to what (?)” God’s answer clearly is, per Genesis 10, “One people as opposed to the Nations in which I had divided them into.” God had ordained a Biblical Nationalism and man’s response was to pursue a pagan Internationalism. We can say perhaps, that this was the attempt at the first New World Order. The Shinar Ziggurat was the ancient version of the United Nations Building. God has set forth Nations and man responded in rebellion by pursuing an amalgamation that leads to an integration downward into the void.
God clearly did not intend the people to be one. Nothing in Scripture suggests that God today has changed His mind so that He today intends the people to be one.
Let me say this as clearly as I can. God is opposed to all plans which would end in an amalgamated faith (Chrislam) and amalgamated culture (multiculturalism) or an amalgamated people. God as Creator ordained distinctions between peoples, faiths, and cultures and Christ’s work of Redemption does not destroy those Creaturely distinctions but instead redeems them.
Christians do not sing
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today… Aha-ah…
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace… You…
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world… You…
Instead Christians sing
3. We’ve a message to give to the nations,
that the Lord who reigneth above
hath sent us his Son to save us,
and show us that God is love,
and show us that God is love.
7.) “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
Here the question that needs be asked is who are the pronouns “their” and “they” referring to. The obvious answer is the inhabitants of Babel. However, we need to go on and ask, “Who are the inhabitants of Babel,” and with the answer to that question we are right back at Genesis 10 and the table of nations. So, the confusing of “their language” is the confusing of the language of the nations who had disobediently sought to create a uni-polar world in defiance of God.
Now, if we grant that it is a small step to think that the confusion of the languages was in keeping with the existence of the nations so that each nation, as descended from Noah, was confused with a language in keeping with its national identity.
The reason I point this out is that there exists a kind of school of thought that denies the familial-national dynamic in this passage insisting instead that the division here was not familial-national but only linguistic. The argument seemingly goes that the division at Babel was of such a nature that men from the different family-nations of Genesis 10 were all jumbled up together in the linguistic dispersion. We are therefore expected to believe that all those people who God divided by language were each and all nationally mixed in the linguistic division that God visited them with.
I am suggesting that the weight of the context of the passage is overwhelmingly against that kind of reading. Genesis 11 is not merely a linguistic division but it is a linguistic division in keeping with the already pre-existing familial-national distinctions. God wanted distinct people group Nations and the language confusion was pursuant to that end.
At Babel God makes the physical aspect of the divisions between the Nations explicit. One can easily envision that each Nation is given a distinct tongue at Babel. This connection between peoples and tongues is underscored, when millennial later at Pentecost devout men from every nation under heaven all hear the Gospel in their own tongue. I submit in both cases (Babel and Pentecost) the differing tongues is emblematic for differing nations.
Those who would treat the passage as “linguistics alone” are also bedeviled by the reality that, per their theory, these jumbled up linguistic units comprised of men from all the varying nations (Gen. 10) in each linguistic sub-unit eventually, over the course of time, do become nationally distinct. If each and all of the linguistic units from Babel were amalgamated entities all sharing the same gene pool of the various nations in Genesis 10 how did they eventually end up being so ethnically distinct one from one another?
All of this then sheds light on Genesis 10:32
32 These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.
Babel was a nation spreading event and the way God spread the nations was to give them each a tongue so they could not create the uni-polar world that defied God and so they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him (Acts 17:27).
All of this is more than suggestive that God’s plan for the World is a Biblical Nationalism wherein there is a God-ordained unity and diversity honored. The diversity is found in the reality of nations and the unity is envisioned in each diverse and distinct nation submitting to God as their Creator, Christ as their Redeemer and the Holy Spirit as their Sanctifier.
There is no biblical postmillennialism that puts all the Nations into a blender as a result of the Nations being Redeemed. We do not lose the identities God has created us with all because God redeems us.
All this is supported by the fact we find the “Nations” in Revelation
Rev. 21:22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. … 22:5 The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations
**** 8.) 6 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. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.
Compare that with Genesis 3
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man,
In both cases there was an aspiration to be God. In both cases God prevents man from arising to the most high. In both cases God drives them from their respective sanctuaries. In both cases grace was mixed with judgment.
*****9.) So the Lord scattered them abroad
God scattering already is a theme in Genesis. God scatters Adam and Eve from the Temple-Garden. God scatters Cain so that he is a fugitive and a vagabond upon the earth. God scatters wicked humanity by drowning them in the flood. Here God scatters the inhabitants of Babel. They had gathered to find unity and instead were visited with alienation. They had gathered here to make a famous name for themselves and instead they made their names to be a byword of folly. They had gathered out of fear of being scattered and the result was their being scattered.
The last word in this judgment though is grace. In this expulsion and dispersal Nations are ratified with the purpose that in their isolation they may more readily turn to God (Acts 17:26-27).
11.) Back to the Ziggurat
Remember, as we said earlier, the Ziggurat was in essence a “Stairway to Heaven.” (Cue Led Zepplen song.) This is man’s attempt to rise up to God. Just as in the Garden man had fallen by their ambition to be God so now man has fallen and now they are trying to ascend unto the heavens to arise unto God.
God blocks man’s efforts to arise unto God via this Ziggurat but that doesn’t mean that God will not lift man up to God on His own terms.
Turn a few chapter to Gen. 28:10-17
Jacob has conned his Brother and Father and is on the run. One night he has a dream of a Ziggurat. Only we call it a ladder. In your Geneva Study Bibles that we give to the graduates you will find a note that says,
“Probably a vast stone ramp with steps. The phrase in Gen. 28 “top reached to the heaven” recalls the description of the Tower of Babel. Jacob may have seen a Ziggurat. This is supported by the reality that Jacob calls what he has seen “the gate of heaven,” and “the house of God.” One seldom refers to an extension ladder as the “house of God.”
On that Ziggurat Jacob sees angels going up and down.
So, here we’ve got the image of another ziggurat. However, this time it is in a positive context. This time what is communicated is that God intends to have concourse with man on His terms. Those terms include establishing Jacob (later Israel) as a nation and then blessing the nations through the descendant of Israel.
And who is Jacob’s most famous descendent?
The answer is Christ.
Jesus, who in John chapter 1, tells his new disciple Nathanael: “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” The image echoes Jacob’s dream.
Concourse with God is NOT by us building Ziggurats to God.
Concourse with God is NOT by esteeming Israel as some kind of Ziggurat.
Concourse with God is a Cross as the only Ziggurat to God.
The real stairway to heaven the Son of Man – Jesus himself, through the Cross.
Babel = Confusion
Ancient Akkadian meaning = Gate of god
Both remain true depending which worldview you drop the word Babel in. If the word resides in a Biblica Worldview then it does mean confusion and it means confusion because man is seeking to create a world apart from the only one who can give order. Confusion results when any people seeks to create order apart from God.
If the word resides in a humanistic worldview then Babel does mean “gate of God,” inasmuch as man believes that by deleting God they can be on the cusp of being god themselves.
At Babel man is at war with God.
The good news is that Christ has come so that man can sue for peace. Christ has turned away God’s warrior wrath against insolent Babel builders who find themselves weary of prosecuting war against God.
Christ is our Akkadian Babel. He is the true gate of God. Only through a known Christ can men find peace with God.