The Tower of Babel
Accompanying Bob Deffinbaugh sermon: The Unity of Unbelief
Accompanying John MacArthur sermons: Judgment of the Rebellion at Babel Part 1 and Part 2
Settling in the land of Shinar was an act of disobedience - God had commanded the people to spread out and fill the earth, not congregate in cities (Genesis 9:1, 7).
Deffinbaugh: These people could not conceive of blessing and security coming as a result of dispersion, even though God commanded it. They felt most secure when they were living in close proximity. They saw the future as brighter when they could leave posterity a monument to their ingenuity and industry.
While rebellion, pride, and unbelief are evident in the story, the underlying problem is one of fear.....
These men of old must have known of God’s command and of His covenant. Otherwise why would they have feared being scattered? But all they had was a promise from God. Their hopes were on abstract words, nothing concrete, and so they placed their faith in bricks and tar.
Deffinbaugh says this in regards to God's response to their disobedience: These verses are a beautifully fashioned satire on the folly of man’s activities. Men had commenced to build a city with a high tower that they thought would make a name for them. Moses is suggesting to us that man’s thoughts and efforts, no matter how lofty, are insignificant to God. While the top of the tower may, from the vantage point of earth, seem to pierce the clouds, to the infinite, almighty God it was a barely visible dot on the earth. It was as though God would have to stoop to view it. If God should have to ‘descend’ to scrutinize this city, it was due to the insignificance of it all, not God’s inability to keep up with His creation...
The evil does not lie in the fact that all men spoke one language. This only provided the occasion for man’s sinfulness to express itself more easily. Yet it did suggest a means of reversing man’s plans.
The completion of this city would in no way threaten the rule of God. Obviously, it would violate the command of God for man to disperse and fill the earth. Verse 6 explains the impact which the success of man’s plans to build this city would have on man. Men would conclude that since they were able to build this city despite many obstacles, they could do anything they set their minds to. A bit of that mentality was evidenced when man first set foot on the moon. I recall that something like this was said: “One small step for man, one giant step for mankind.” When man’s ingenuity was successfully employed to overcome the many barriers to reaching the moon’s surface, man felt that no problem was beyond a human solution.
In the days of the offspring of Noah at Babel, men placed their confidence in bricks and mortar and the work of their hands. In our time we are just a bit more sophisticated. We trust in transistors, integrated circuits, and technology. We feel that if we can put a man on the moon, nothing can keep us from solving any problem.
It is this attitude of arrogant self-confidence and independence of God which God knew was inevitable if man succeeded.
Man thought they were in control, but God showed them how incorrect they were. He changed the languages they spoke, and He scattered them across the earth.
Can you imagine how strange and frightening it would have been to suddenly speak a completely different language than those around you? Likely God had family units speak the same language, and as each language group segregated themselves from the other language groups, and as they married within their group, their gene pool would have formed dominant genes - which resulted in the different racial groups we see today.
What saddens me is how quickly this happened. They estimate that this happened only around 100 years after the flood. Noah's family was still alive at this time. People who lived on the ark and witnessed God's judgment were still around, giving first hand testimony to the consequences of rebellion against God, and still mankind chose to reject Him.
There are several things we can take away from this passage.
First - man's ideas can never thwart the purposes of God. The people didn't want to scatter across the earth, but God made it happen anyway. When we live our lives in resistance to God's plan, we will only encounter frustration and failure. God's plan will prevail no matter what - we get to choose if we are blessed as we go along with God's plan, or if we are frustrated as we vainly struggle against it.
Second - we should not strive for unity at any cost. Rather, we must strive for purity and obedience to the Word of God. Yes, we are called to be peacemakers, but peace must never be achieved at the cost of purity and holiness. True unity can only happen in Christ, but it's this exact unity that immediately causes a division between the redeemed and the unredeemed.
Third - all of humanity's communication problems ("men are from Venus, woman are from Mars" anyone?) stem from this incident, and this gap can only be bridged by Christ, and ultimately only when begin eternity with Him.
Fourth - Superficial relationships and activities, even "good" ones, will never satisfy us. We need to remember not to be only considered with church building projects or programs, but to pursue right relationship with God and with each other.
Fifth - We must only place our faith in the Word of God, not on anything man-made. Only work which is done for the Lord and in His strength brings lasting satisfaction.
Sixth - Much of what we do is a testament to our insecurity. Behind the facade of achievement, accomplishment, bravado and self-assurance is the haunting spectra of leaving this life with no certainty of what is to follow. That, in my estimation, is the real reason for the building of the city of Babel and its tower. The people of that day were willing to make nearly any sacrifice to have some hope of immortality. They saw this in the name they could make for themselves.
Have you ever stopped to think about the role insecurity may play in the things you devote time and energy to? Christians who do not fathom the grace of God and His sovereign control are plagued by the insecurity of supposing that God’s work and will is conditioned by our faithfulness, rather than by His. Our insecurity may be the motive for much of our Christian service. If only we can do more for the Lord, we shall feel more secure and certain of His blessing. Such activity is little different than that of those who lived on the plain of Shinar....Service should be based upon gratitude, not guilt or fear....
The problems we have discussed are complex, but the solution is simple. We should do what the children of Noah should have done, simply trust and obey. This is the way to have blessing in Jesus.
Trust and obey!
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Genesis 11:10-32