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TOWERS, TONGUES, AND REBELLION - Genesis 10:1-11:26 – Part 2
Although God made the world one big family... The world will never enjoy unity apart from Christ (11:1-26). If chapter 10 is a picture of such a unified world—all the nations descended from a single family—what happened? How did the world become so divided?
That’s the point of Genesis 11:1-9. It explains what caused the nations to scatter. This section describes the disunity among Noah’s offspring that resulted from the tower event but did not prevent the blessing God had planned for humanity. The actual outworking of the genealogies of Genesis 10 occurs after the events at the Tower of Babel, which is why we see, even before the confusing of the tongues at the tower, that certain nations are listed as having different tongues.
The story of the tower also looks ahead by anticipating the role that Abram will play in restoring the blessing to the dispersed nations. By placing the Tower of Babel incident just prior to the stories of Abram and his descendants, I think Moses is suggesting 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 leads right into the Tower of Babel account in 11:1-9. In 11:1, Moses writes, “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.” After the flood, the whole earth spoke the same language. But man’s habitual sin brought about the language barrier.
In 11:2, we read these fateful words: “As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” It says that they “settled” in Shinar. In 9:1, God clearly commanded Noah and his sons to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (cf. 8:17).
God wanted them to move throughout all the earth but they banded together in order to defy God’s command. They selected the best land that they could find; they staked their claim in the land of Shinar, a place that becomes associated with evil.
Now don’t you find it amazing that the people have such short memories? How soon they forget the most horrendous judgments of God (Gen 6-8); they go back to their former ways. They try to defy God. They exert their own will. (Or, maybe not so amazing! Kinda describes most people!)
In 11:3-4 - “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; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
The motivation for building this city was to make themselves a name. The object of this endeavor was to establish a center by which they might maintain their unity. Now God desired unity for humankind, but one that He created, not one founded on a social state. They wanted to “empower” themselves.
Verse 4 makes what might be called the first public declaration of humanism: “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; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Man wanted to build a tower that would reach up to the top of the heavens; they wanted to reach God; really to be God themselves. We could focus on this in a whole series of messages itself, but I believe this part of Scripture really focus’ on the “scattering,” and that is what I want to elaborate on.
In 11:5-6, the Lord responded: “But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people 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.” The people of the land of Shinar tried to defy God. They did not want to be scattered all over the face of the earth. Of course, they failed. And when they failed, judgment had to come.
Now notice, the Lord says, “I’m going to come down and see.” He wanted to have a good look at what people were doing on earth. God doesn’t need to leave heaven to see us here on earth, but He chose to.
In 11:6, God seems worried. This verse, however, is not speaking of technology but of morality. The Lord says: “If I let them get away with this, they will stop at nothing.” And so, He initiates a judgment to counter their rebellion. The introduction of languages makes this rebellious unity of mankind a practical impossibility. God is never threatened by what man might do. On the contrary, God is protecting man from himself! You see, it is in grace that God will not allow the world to enjoy unity on its own terms!
In 11:7, a Trinitarian meeting took place and the Lord said, “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand each other.” (Note the communication among the members of the trinity). So what was God’s plan? His plan was to foil man’s sin. Language is a unique tool to communicate; God said, “I want to confuse their language so they have to obey me.”
If God had allowed this project to continue the results would have been even worse than they were at this time. The sin of the builders was their refusal to live within God-given boundaries Acts 17:24-26 - “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.”
Join us next week as we conclude this section.