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The Story of the Tower of Babel

Genesis 11

1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

The account of the time when all of humanity was united by a common language is preserved, not only in Scripture, but in Sumerian literature in the epic, Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta (c. 6500 – 4000 BC). The Sumerians lived in what is today, southern Iraq. The story is told of a time when there were no wild animals, and only perfect harmony among people: “The whole universe in unison spoke to Enlil in one tongue.” Throughout the course of history there have been international languages, such as Greek, Latin, and English, but since the time of this Biblical account there has never been a common universal language spoken by all.

2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

Shinar is one of the biblical designations for the lower region of the Tigris-Euphrates basin. A confederation of city-states were formed on the alluvial plain consisting of Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh (Gen. 10:10). A formable king of this confederation was Amraphel (Gen. 14:1, 9). Before him was a man named Nimrod, whose grandfather was Ham (Gen. 10:8). The Bible states that Nimrod was a “mighty hunter before the Lord”, and goes on to say that “the beginning of his kingdom was Babel” (Gen. 10:9-10). A. W. Pink notes several particulars about Nimrod he considers to be significant.

First, Nimrod was hostile to the Lord. His name means “rebel”, and reflects his lawless spirit.

Second, Nimrod lived in open revolt against God as the leader of a great confederacy which is described in Genesis 11. He advanced his own agenda in brazen defiance of the Lord.

Third, Nimrod was a “mighty” man. Nimrod was mighty in the eyes of the world, and he was mighty in his own estimation. Four times the word “mighty” is used to describe Nimrod. Nimrod was of the mindset, manifested in modern men, such as Muhammed Ali, who like to boast, “I am the greatest!” Nimrod embodied the religious teaching of Joel Osteen, who encourages people to say to themselves, “I am great” (The Power of I Am).

Fourth, Nimrod was a “hunter”, probably a hunter of men. There are individuals who find a way to enslave others, physically, economically, or with an ideology that binds them with invisible chains of false hope. The chains of Communism, Socialism, and Authoritarianism are very real.

Fifth, Nimrod was a king. The beginning of his kingdom was Babel (Gen. 10:10).

Sixth, Nimrod ruled in Babylon, which is modern Iraq. Babylon is a symbol of those who are hostile to the Lord according to Revelation 17:3-5. “So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. 4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: 5 And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”

Seventh, despite being a descendant of Ham, despite being under a curse, Nimrod was determined to make a name for himself. Inordinate pride filled his heart, just as inordinate pride and ambition filled the heart of Lucifer, and many suffered because of his ambition.

3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.

The technology for baking brick was developed near the end of the fourth millennium BC. Using bitumen, an oil based substance, as a mastic, or adhesive, the kiln-baked bricks proved to be waterproof, and as sturdy as stone. Because it was an expensive process, kilnfired bricks were used only for important public buildings.

4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

Often, the temple complex was the city. Now, the people in the ancient world were smart enough to know they could not build a literal tower that reached into a literal heaven. This was simply an idiomatic expression meaning, “a very great height.” That was something the ancients could do, reflected in the pyramids of Egypt, and the Ziggurats of Sumer. The Egyptian pharaoh, Khufu, was 20 when he came to the throne, and at once began building his “Stairway to Heaven”.

Khufu was the first pharaoh to build a pyramid at Giza. His project took about 20 years to complete (c. 2580 2560 BC, during the 4th dynasty. About 2,300,000 building blocks, weighing an average of 2.5 tons each were used to build The Great Pyramid. The length of each side of the pyramid at the base is 755 feet. They rise at an angle to a height, originally, of 481 feet, but have eroded to 451.

Like the Egyptians, the people in the land of Shinar wanted to build a large edifice that reached into the heavens. In the year 2600 BC, a ziggurat (pinnacle, heaven, “to be high”) was constructed measuring 56 miles in circumference. This was to be their stairway to heaven, a theme which eventually found its way into Jacob’s dream. “And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it” (Gen. 28:12).

Today, the stairway to heaven is prayer. Therefore, “let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

Two reasons were given for the great architectural undertaking. First, building the Tower of Babel was rooted in human pride. The people said, “let us make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4b). There is a natural longing in the human heart for eternity. Being made in the image of the eternal God, individuals desire to live as long as possible, and then to be remembered afterwards. Individuals want to make a name for themselves, which can be good, or bad. There is nothing wrong with healthy ambition. There is nothing wrong with enjoying name recognition. However, if the desire is to be like God, as was the desire of Lucifer, then there is inordinate pride, and that is sin. Perhaps a word of warning should be given to individuals who live on tweeting out their every thought and deed, instead of living in the moment and enjoying life. Do not do this.

Second, building the Tower of Babel was rooted in resistance to the known will of the Lord. The Lord had instructed men and women to go forth and multiple, and fill the earth. But there was a rebellion against the divine order. The Tower of Babel was built because the people did not want to be “scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4c). The heart of the Christian should be guarded against the twin sins of pride and rebellion. The Lord Jesus humbled Himself, and became obedient unto the known will of His Father. Jesus always did that which pleased the Father, even unto the death of the cross.

5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

The Lord came to see the city, and the tower, not out of idle curiosity, but in order to inspect, for the purpose of approval, or disapproval, what He beheld.

6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

Time and again man says something, and then, God says something. There is an old adage, “Man proposes, but God disposes.” More often than not, the plans of men prove to be contrary to the plans of God.

After beholding the building project of the Tower of Babel, the Lord decided to stop the program by dispersing the people. His specific divine rational is given: “…and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (Gen. 11:6).

There is a modern day equivalent to this concept which states, “What the mind of man can conceive, the ability of man can achieve.” This is the philosophy of those who advocate a health and wealth gospel, and it is the mindset of the secular humanist.

Behind the self-exaltation of humanity is the desire for deification. The goal of many exceeds that of Lucifer, for there are those who want, not simply to be like God, but to be God, and to say,

“I am the captain of my soul.
I am the master of my fate.”

7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

In His infinite mercy, the judgment God leveled against humanity was to confuse the language of the people so that individuals could no longer “understand one another’s speech.”

8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

The scattering of the people indicates that the principle of internationalism is not part of the will of God. The centuries have passed, and many efforts have been made, and are being made, to unite the people and nations of the world. A variety of methods have been tried in a vain effort to have a one world government.

Military conquest. From Nebuchadnezzar, to Cyrus, to Alexander, to Julius Caesar, to Attila the Hun, to Charles V, to Adolph Hitler, down to Vladimir Putin, Satan has promised the kingdoms of this world to individuals. He offered them to Jesus. But internationalism is not the will of God. Understanding this can take the fear out of the future. ISIS shall not prevail. The Islamist caliphate shall never be established worldwide, no matter how many jihads the insane Muslim (“one who submits”) militants wage.

Political schemes. Communism, Socialism, Facism, the League of Nations, and the United Nations are all part of a political ideology to unite the globe. But again, this is not the will of God.

Global initiatives. The Clinton Foundation, established in 2001, is based on the premise that government, private enterprises, corporations, and brilliant minds can, and should, use collective resources in order to organize, and unite, all of humanity into one grand world order.

9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Simple, but important truths are to be discerned from the confusion of languages, and the scattering of people “upon the face of all the earth.”

First, it is the will of the Lord that people have individual freedom. A strong central government, with excessive regulatory authority, will empower the few, but it will enslave the many. The destruction of the Tower of Babel, a symbol of centralized government, was divinely destroyed. Every serious attempt at globalism, and internationalism, shall fail, which is why the theory of a coming anti-Christ, who will rule all the nations of the world, is unbiblical to the core.

Second, it is the will of the Lord that family units be preserved. The family is the foundational building block of civilization. The homosexual agenda is an assault upon the family. The divinely ordained institution of the family is being destroyed in a diabolical manner. The family is being assaulted in the name of love.

Third, people are to speak their own language. It is not wrong to be bilingual or multilingual. It is wrong not to speak one’s own national language. In America, English should be spoken as the primary language of the people. A nation that does not know its own language has lost its identify, and that is a tragedy. It is also a sign of divine judgment. “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people” (Isa. 28:11).

Fourth, national boundaries are to be recognized. It is the Lord who “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). These are the great principles that should guide the thoughts and minds of biblical Christians.

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