You’ll be happy to know that today’s gem is not found in the genealogy of chapter 11, though there are some good lessons to learn from those verses. Instead, I must focus on the tower of Babel, because it is an amazing point in the history of mankind. Books have and could be written on this story, but I want us to think about a couple of gems today.
What was happening after the flood? Men were increasing in number, but they had one language and the same words. As one who has learned other languages to converse with peoples of other lands, I can easily imagine how wonderful it would be to have everyone speak the same mother tongue. And yet, this story teaches us that one language plus a tendency towards evil leads to rebellion against God.
Let’s make a name for ourselves.
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.”Genesis 11:4 ESV
Forget God’s name, Lord Almighty, Elohim, Yahweh—we want our name to be in lights, to get top billing. By letting pride rule, they forgot God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). He didn’t just say that to Adam and Eve but also to Noah and his sons. Filling the earth required spreading out, exploring new lands, and building homes and cities. Multiplication needs space.
They said the quiet part out loud.
By making a name for themselves, they would avoid being dispersed, avoid obedience to God’s plan. This makes me think about modern-day cities. When people are bunched together in crowded apartment blocks or within urban areas, they are much easier to control. When people are spread out and live independently, they have a more open mindset and appreciate nature and family. Babel was an attempt at man-made crowd control.
God hears and sees and has his way.
The Lord frustrates the counsel of the nations; he thwarts the plans of the peoples.Psalm 33:10 CSB
The Lord knows the capabilities of man because he created us. He knew that this plan on the plains of Shinar would lead them to another Noah moment, and he didn’t want to renegue on his promise. So instead of letting man lead to his own destruction, he shook things up by stirring up their language. The thing they hoped to avoid happened—dispersement on God’s terms. If they had only obeyed, they could have gradually spread and flourished on the earth; instead, they would now have to find their way by seeking out people who spoke a similar language, which is a much more painful process.
God wants us to learn from this story.
More than once in Scripture, God would warn his people about choosing their own way. When Moses instructed the Israelites before entering the Promised Land, he warned them not to forget the Lord their God and his commandments. When things were going well in their new land, he told them to watch out for the sin of pride.
Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.Deuteronomy 8:17-20 ESV
Yes, we do need to remember this lesson. We must be alert for the pride that takes our eyes off God and onto ourselves. Thankfully, we have something the people at Babel did not have—the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to prick our spirits and draw us back to the right path.
Confused language is not the end.
We got a taste of it at Pentecost, as men from every nation under heaven heard the disciples speaking to them in their own language.
And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?Acts 2:7-8
The Spirit speaks to each man’s heart in a language he understands when he is open to the message of Christ. This same heart-language connection will find its fulfillment on Christ’s return. As he reigns supreme, there will be no more curse, which includes confused languages, but one language—pure speech.
For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering. On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord, those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. For they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.”Zephaniah 3:9-13 (Emphasis mine)
What a wonderful day that will be! The curse of Babel reversed.
Grace and Peace