Just because the opening chapters of Genesis describe things and events in a way even children can understand doesn’t mean it’s not true history. Moses, inspired by the Holy Spirit, knew what he was doing. If he’d used technical/scientific terms the book would be so long reading it’d take a lifetime. We’d need wheelbarrows to carry our Bibles around in! Think of it this way. Einstein knew if he tried to explain the complex math and physics involved in his theory of relativity no one would get it. So he used imaginary “thought experiments” to communicate the gist of the matter so that even a youngster could grasp the basics without betraying the underlying authenticity of his mind-blowing concept. So those who label the Creation account and the beginnings of civilization nothing more than myths are only displaying their ignorance of how information was passed on in those days. The Bible is a genuine gift from God to mankind. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “…far from being remote from life, it’s the only book that really does deal with life as it is, the only book that gives us anything approximating an adequate answer to the various questions we all feel must be faced at a time like this.” While he expressed that sentiment in the middle of the 20th century it’s applicable today because the world’s still a mess. God’s Holy Word not only provides the diagnosis of our problems but a cure that actually works.
Adam & Eve, though blessed to live in paradise, disobeyed God, embraced sin and got kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Over a millennium elapsed and humans had by then become so repulsive to God He hosed down the earth and started anew with Noah and his bunch. But by the time we get to chapter 11 it becomes obvious men and women had still not learned to humble themselves before God. In the 340 years that followed the Flood the population was nearing a million strong and they conceitedly became full of themselves once more. “The whole earth had a common language and a common vocabulary. When the people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. Then they said to one another, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ (They had brick instead of stone and tar instead of mortar.) Then they said, ‘Come let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise we will be scattered across the face of the entire earth’” (Genesis 114:1-4). Once again the Bible offers us reasons why the world’s in chaos. It’s telling us precisely why there’s consistent misunderstandings and conflicts not only between individuals but also between countries. Despite the best efforts of organizations like the United Nations and no matter how many hundreds of conclaves, summits and conferences we participate in, antagonisms and hostilities continue to flourish.
Up until about 100 years ago the Old Testament had struggled through a long period of steady decline in popularity and influence. But then the field of archaeology hit its stride. Discoveries were made that confirmed and supported all the Bible’s claims. Stiff-necked skeptics and jaded scholars were stumped. They couldn’t dismiss out of hand the hard evidence being uncovered and almost overnight the Old Testament rose into favor again. For instance, at least 30 of the structures archaeologists have unearthed in the Mesopotamic region are foundations of what they call “ziggurats” or man-made towers dating as far back as 4,300 B.C. Suddenly the scriptural saga of the Tower of Babel and God’s intentional mixing up of human speech patterns wasn’t so far-fetched. Those who study linguistics have long known that all the different tongues spoken in the world can be traced back to certain basic types or families. Most European dialects have a common root as do those in the Semitic and Asian regions. Thus the prospect that there was a time when only one language existed is rational. Genesis 11 says the ever-growing post-Flood population settled in one particular locale and they started constructing buildings. I don’t find that weird at all. It’s what we do, right?
One aspect of the Tower of Babel account is that it displays both our remarkable ingenuity and our woefully misguided assumptions. There were no quarries of stone in Mesopotamia so folks had to make their own. They’d observed that malleable clay, when exposed to the heat of the sun, turned as hard and durable as rock and voila! The industry of brickmaking was born. They used their skulls for more than hat racks. Humans weren’t just another species of mammal, God made them free-willed beings formed in His image, complete with an imaginative mind capable of cultivating intellect. The list of our inventions and achievements is lengthy. Through persistence and a lot of trial and error we’ve harnessed electricity, developed “miracle” drugs and treatments for a vast array of diseases and ailments, made instantaneous world-wide communication an everyday reality and even left footprints on the moon. The downside of all these advancements is that we inevitably start thinking we’re so resourceful and clever we can create our own utopia without God being involved. But we never get it right. We can make bricks and discover penicillin but we can’t figure out how to live peacefully with each other. The Tower of Babel story is the epitome of that contradiction. It shows men and women will stubbornly persist in thinking they can manufacture a rewarding, purpose-driven life entirely apart from God. What we see in Genesis 11 is the same thing we see in Genesis 3: Humans willfully disobeying the mandates of their divine Creator and, in so doing, breaking the solemn covenant they’d made with Him.
While a “covenant” means little in modern society, it meant everything in the ancient eras. (Interested? Check out The Blood Covenant by James Garlow and Rob Price. What I didn’t know about the subject astounded me.) God made a sacred covenant with Adam. God’s part? Adam and his family could live forever in paradise. Adam’s part? Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Alas, Adam didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. After the Flood God entered into another covenant, this time with Noah. God’s part? “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, even though the inclination of their minds is evil from childhood on. I will never again destroy everything that lives, as I have just done. While the earth continues to exist, planting time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night will not cease” (Genesis 8:21-22). Man’s part? “…Be fruitful and multiply; increase abundantly on the earth and multiply on it” (9:7). In other words, make babies and scatter like pollen in the wind. Spread yourselves out across the entire planet to repopulate God’s beautiful creation. But, as before, mankind didn’t comply. They decided they’d all be better off if they stuck together. Doing as God instructed involved risk and they didn’t trust He’d honor His promise. So they dissed the Lord and built a city for the same reasons we do it today: trade, pleasure and security. Trade ensures a dependable supply of food and drink. Pleasures are always more abundant in an urban setting because there’s more ways to be entertained. And as far as security goes, even a gazelle knows there’s safety in numbers. Sensible as those arguments are, the problem is circling the wagons wasn’t what God had commanded them to do. They thought establishing self-sufficiency was a much wiser idea than counting on Noah’s unseen deity. So, once again, mankind rudely wadded up the agreement they’d made with God.
In order to properly celebrate their independence from the mysterious God who supposedly “spoke” to their famous ancestor hundreds of years earlier, the people started erecting a city and a tall tower with solid bricks that would last forever. Who needed God when they could lean on each other? The Tower of Babel would be a permanent monument to their incredible awesomeness. They believed the ongoing, ever-improving evolution of human intelligence would solve every problem that could possibly arise. Sound familiar? Mankind still wants to glorify itself and its impressive civilization instead of the great I AM who brought the universe into being and without whom we would not exist. The collective mindset people held in Genesis 11 is the same that permeates the world today. A century and a half ago Darwin hypothesized that evolution explained everything and that’s what folks were dying to hear. They ate it up. Secularists said, “See? There’s no God, there’s just us and we’re fantastic! We’ve proven we’re on our way to Shangri-La. Nothing can stop us now. Oh, there might be a few glitches here and there like a couple of horrible world wars and the rise of tyrannical governments that’ll systematically murder millions of its own people in the name of “progress” but we’ll grow beyond all that someday. Evolution doesn’t happen in a day. We just gotta keep on believing in ourselves.” But, just like the descendants of Noah’s clan who built themselves a tower, we always find out it’s futile to think we’re “It”. Without God we’re certain to fail. As Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me – and I in him – bears much fruit because apart from me you can accomplish nothing” (John 15:5). That’s no translation error. Nothing means nothing.
So what happened to the throng hanging out in the plain of Shinar? “…The LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the people had started building. And the LORD said, ‘If as one people all sharing a common language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be beyond them. Come, let’s go down and confuse their language so they won’t be able to understand each other. So the LORD scattered them from there across the face of the entire earth, and they stopped building the city” (Genesis 11:5-8). As He’d done twice before, God got angry over our rebellious, disrespectful attitude towards Him and He intervened. If mankind wouldn’t obey Him by branching out on their own volition He’d do something that’d force them to. God’s plan can’t be thwarted and no mere metropolis or nation can stand in its way. God destroyed the city of Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire, in 612 B.C. just as the prophet Nahum had predicted. It’s now a pile of dirt. God did the same thing to Babylon, a city so great its king, Nebuchadnezzar, had a statue erected of himself so his subjects could properly worship him as the ultimate deity. The Babylonians thought they’d eliminated all traces of Israel’s invisible God. God hammered them and their mighty fortresses down to the ground. It has vanished completely. The Greeks and the Romans built empires they considered imperishable. They’re gone. God’s still around.
Lloyd-Jones wrote, “God has never tolerated this idea man could build a city in any shape or form that was independent of Him. Any nation that has been foolish enough to imagine itself to be a world conqueror has always been smashed and destroyed. That’s why some of us at the height of Hitlerism were not at all terrified about the ultimate result. We knew it could not persist. Whether it be the British Empire or any other empire, it shall not establish itself like this. God will not allow it.” Therefore I’m not overly concerned about the outcome of the upcoming presidential election. When it comes to the leaders of countries, God’s in control. The U.S.A. will get the commander-in-chief it deserves, as always. The apostle Paul wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). (I’m not suggesting we not vote. On the contrary, we all have a part to play in God’s master plan so cast your ballot for those you deem best suited for the office they seek whether national, state or local.) One thing I’m pretty sure of, though, is that our beloved country isn’t immune to God’s wrath and if we don’t stop “rollin’ downhill like a snowball headed for hell” as Merle sang it’s gonna come. As long as we keep snubbing our noses at God’s laws we’re playing with fire. God will not tolerate our arrogant disrespect forever.
As I emphasized in my last essay, God punishes sin. That’s one moral to glean from the Tower of Babel story. “’There will be no prosperity,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’” (Isaiah 57:21). The confusion of the proud people’s language was intended not only to punish them but to restrain them. God could clearly see where they were headed with their autocratic bulldozers and it wasn’t going to be a good place for mankind to go. So He put a stop to their insolent project and scattered them to the four corners of the planet. God’s still in the restraining business today and that explains a lot. Consider that after two atomic bombs ended WWII the consensus was we’d succeeded in making wars unwinnable moving forward. We could now pour all our energy into fixing all that was wrong with the world and its inhabitants. Noble intentions and science would solve every dilemma. All this outdated “faith in God” nonsense needed to be eradicated. Look where trusting in Him had gotten us. It was mankind’s turn to navigate the ship for a change. If we’d all just join hands and work together by the end of the 20th century we’d achieve nirvana. Didn’t happen. Not even close. We have as many wars, as many famines, as much genocide and as many atrocities as ever. I think it’s logical to opine God’s not letting our collective sinful nature and the ugly consequences it incurs be hidden from view. That way it’ll be obvious without Him we have no hope whatsoever. Or so you’d think.
God hasn’t changed and, sadly, neither have we. God reigns supreme over creation but we wish He didn’t because we want to be in charge. So we repeatedly build our towers in spite of His omnipotence and He knocks them down accordingly. Investigate our past for yourself. History doesn’t lie. The same sequence happens over and over again. We all, including Christians, envision ourselves as proficient planners. We trust in Jesus but we’ve got our life mapped out nonetheless just in case He doesn’t come through with the goods. But the lesson to take from the Tower of Babel story is that if we as a nation and individuals don’t make obeying and pleasing God our main goal then we’re headed for disappointment – if not total ruin. God will intervene. Lloyd-Jones wrote, “The human race is not allowed to build a civilization without God, and you are not allowed to build your life without God.”
There’s only one path to unity. Only one way to achieve harmony, understanding and lasting peace among men and women. In the Acts we find where people of various races and tongues were saying of the disciples, “…we hear them speaking in our own languages about the great deeds God has done!” (2:11). The occasion was Pentecost and the Holy Spirit was “in the building.” What I’m saying is there’s only one point where men and women can come together and legitimately become one body – the cross of Jesus Christ. Whether we’re Americans, Russians, Australians, South Africans or whatever, we all have one thing in common. We’re sinners in desperate need of a Savior and that need is what can bring us together. Our differences, biases and mutual mistrust all dissolve in the blood of Christ. Only by inviting the love of Jesus into our hearts can we truly love one another. Can believers make mankind stop building towers? Nope. But we can build spiritual bridges between ourselves and those we encounter. Bridges that’ll allow us to share the forgiveness, generosity and mercy bestowed on us by the grace of God with those who’ve never experienced those liberating, life-changing things. We’ve been blessed beyond measure so we must pass those blessings on. In so doing we can make a difference. Now, understand we can’t save souls. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. But our joy, our hope, our contentment and our unshakable faith can inspire those who don’t know Christ to find out what it is we have in abundance. Jesus won’t turn anyone away. If they seek Him they’ll find Him. That’s a promise.