I have been reading Bodie Hodge’s new book, Tower of Babel: The Cultural History of Our Ancestors. The information Hodge presents is not only fascinating and enlightening, but it also got me thinking about what we can learn for our own lives and times from this long-ago event.
First of all, we need to understand that the event described in Genesis 11 is historically true and accurate. Like the rest of Scripture, it is inspired by God and included in the Biblical record for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (II Timothy 3:16). It is not just a “myth,” a parable, or a Sunday School story for kids, as many people would have you believe.
So what can we learn from Babel? Obviously there is not space in this article for an in-depth theological treatise – nor am I equipped to write one. However, here are some lessons that came to mind as I studied and thought about this event. We are still feeling its effects to this very day. In Genesis 9, God told Noah and his family to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” But then in Genesis 11:4, we read Noah’s descendants saying, “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.” From the beginning, God’s plan was for mankind to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion (Genesis 1:28).
How often are we more concerned about making a name for ourselves than we are about magnifying the name of God? How often do we attempt to build a city for ourselves while forgetting or ignoring God’s commands to love Him and others, and, out of that love, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel” (Mark 16:15)? That “world” might include family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, strangers we meet in our day-today life – or it might include going to those of other nations and cultures. God’s heart is for the “world” – for people everywhere to come to repentance, salvation, and the knowledge of the truth (II Peter 3:9; I Timothy 2:4). Is that also our heart? Is it our priority? Do we really care?
Also note that, up until the time when God intervened and confused the languages, all people spoke one language and were all “one people” (Gen. 11:6). God saw that they were united in this tower-building project, and said that now nothing would be impossible for them. I don’t begin to understand all that is meant by this, but there must have been some dire implications because God intervened by confusing the languages.
If you have ever been in a setting where you could not communicate because of language barriers, you know how difficult, frustrating, and exhausting it can be. Confusing the languages was certainly a very effective means of causing people to spread out and fill the earth.
Since that time, the various people groups have become separated. Most have lost the knowledge of the One True God and His plan for humanity. Instead of using God-given authority to exercise dominion while making His name great, people have continued to try to build kingdoms and make names for themselves. We have become divided by cultural differences, pride, greed, religions, and wars – yet we yearn for unity.
Although the internet, global travel, and education have opened new avenues for unity, still we are divided. Even if we could achieve that unity, would it be for the glory of God and the betterment of mankind? If lessons from the past mean anything, we have much to fear when humanity unites under the leadership of ungodly rulers who war against God.
What this world needs is not just any kind of unity, but the healing unity that only comes from submission to the reign and rule of Christ! We need to submit to His reign in our own lives, and then work to share the truth of His love, forgiveness, and grace with those who are still living out the causes and effects of Babel! How we need to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven!” (Matthew 6:10) “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20)