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Tower of Babel religious unity

Babel's Rebels

By Allen Webster

religion, articles, christianity

The story of the tower of Babel is told in Genesis 11:1-9. "Biting the hand that feeds" could summarize Genesis. A loving God saw Adam and Eve eat forbidden fruit, Cain murder Abel, and Noah being drunk. He had to wash one generation away in flood waters.

Noah's grandsons formed a second general rebellion against God (Gen. 11). The Flood destroyed sinners, but not sin, so defiance is still found. Man decided to glorify and fortify himself by building a tower to heaven. He wanted to be god and climb a pedestal inscribed: Glory to Man in the Highest.

Babel's rebels were unified (11:1). Moses records one people, one language, and one purpose. They were literally "of one lip and one set of words." Speech is one of man's best gifts. It enables him to talk with his Maker and his fellows. But when men began to prostitute it by cooperating in rebellion, God forced division by confusing tongues. Not all division is sinful. Some of it is of God.

There is strength in unity - even in sin. "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord" (Psa. 2:2), but "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision" (2:4). "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished" (Prov. 11:21).

Unity apart from obedience separates from God. To seek fellowship at any price is not pleasing to God (Jer. 8:11). The same Lord who prayed for unity (John 17:20-21) came to give division (Luke 12:49-53). Only obedience to the Gospel brings unity (I Cor. 1:10-13; Zeph. 3:9).

Babel's rebels were industrious (11:2-3). Cain built the first city (4:17), and these builders were following him. Good stones were not accessible on Sinar's river plains, but they had clay for bricks and slime for mortar.

They worked hard at this enterprise, but "to obey is better than sacrifice" (I Sam. 15:22). Cain's fruit-of-the-ground sacrifice was not acceptable and neither was this magnificent tower. It appealed to the flesh, and God was more concerned with the spirit. Many religious people are busy doing many wonderful works, but this does not mean that God accepts their deeds (Matt. 7:21-23). God wants us to be more interested in a city made of gold and jasper, than one made with clay and slime (Heb. 11:10; Rev. 21). Obedience takes us to that better city (Heb. 5:8-9).

Babel's rebels were self-centered (11:4). "Let us build a city ... let us ... make us a name ... lest we be scattered." They were clearly infected with the "us virus." The rich fool had the same infection (Luke 12:16-19). The builders were not concerned with God's plans; they intended to gain reputations for themselves (Matt. 5:16; Acts 12:23). "Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord" (Prov. 16:5).

Babel's rebels were disobedient (11:4b). The Lord had commanded, "And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply, bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein, and replenish the earth" (Gen. 9:1; 9:7). They purposed to break this command, "Lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth."

Normally the Lord allows men to pursue sinful ways without interference. Man is free, and though he will suffer for evil, God lets him do as he wills. Occasionally, though, God's purposes are threatened by man and he acts (Gen. 6-9; Acts 5). This was such an instance.

God scattered Babel's rebels (11:8-9). "Babel" was filled with "babble"! Crews could get no work done, and chaos reigned. Everyone was talking nonsense. There was nothing to do but separate. This is how Babylon got its name. In the ages to come, Babylon came to mean "city of babbling, or confusion." Babylon has ever since been a source and center of religious confusion.

They learned that "the way of the transgressor is hard" (Prov. 13:15). Sin separates. It separated Adam and Eve from God, Cain from Abel, and Noah's family from the world. It still separates one from God, families, jobs, and money.

Archaeologists have found a ruin on the Euphrates' banks near ancient Babylon called E-temenanki ("the foundation stone of heaven and earth"), which is believed to be the tower of Babel. Bricks have been removed over the years and the site is now a pit as deep as the structure was high. What began as a grand scheme to the glory of man finally became a hole in the ground. These builders left behind a monument but not as they had imagined. It is a monument to the failure of rebellion. May all learn this from "Babel's rebels."

Published May 1993