Yet again, God has to intervene when humanity goes bad. Because at this time there was one universal language, there was nothing to prevent widespread plotting. The episode of the Tower of Babel is a prime example of God being sovereign. The people in Nimrod’s city wilfully disobeyed God’s command to scatter and populate the earth. This was their first sin. Their second sin was to plot together to build the tower (a ziggurat) which would have been used for astrology. Instead of being bound together with a common love of God, they were bound together with a common language and a common pride in their own abilities. It is likely that the people preferred to band together to protect themselves, rather than to trust in God’s protection, and therefore the city of Babylon was the result. Nimrod, the founder of Babylon, it has been surmised, was of the type that would claim to provide protection for citizens if they were to turn themselves over to him and become under his power. In fact this is very similar to what Joseph was to do as Egyptian prime minister later in Genesis. The difference however, was that Nimrod was trying to be as a god to the people, and this is how the Babylonian religion began (see the excellent book ‘The Two Babylons’ by Alexander Hislop for details).
It is almost incredible that the short time between Genesis 10 and Genesis 11 can lead from the peak of Noah’s ministry to the depths of sin as people attempt to try to write God out of reality – rather like secular humanists today. The tower was not about being close to God, but rather it was a display of human power, and reflected the sin in the Garden of Eden – trying to become not close to God, but rather like God. Adam and Eve were already as close as they could get to God, but that wasn’t enough for them, they wanted to be ‘as gods’ (Genesis 3:4). It’s the same here. People are not interested in a relationship with God, but rather they want his power, his authority. Today this is done in a variety of ways – the ways may have changed, but the sentiment is the same. Today people will reject God, and therefore promote humanity as the guiding force of the universe, not only that but because of tremendous scientific and technological developments, we are now able to prolong life, to wipe it out completely, or help it begin with the use of IVF methods.
People play at being ‘god’ all the time. They always have – and the Tower of Babel was just such an example. Instead of scattering and populating the whole earth as God had commanded, they rejected him and gathered together. God could have destroyed the people, but instead, to prevent them from being successful, God confused the languages and scattered them; had he not done so they would have succeeded in their sin and been judged for it, which would have resulted in death. This action also served to prevent similar things happening in the future. That’s what he did – but it is likely significant that politics today is moving towards bringing us all back together again, as the Lockheed Corporation has said to ‘reverse the Babylon effect’.
Babel and its later incarnation as ‘Babylon’ is known as the epitome of man’s rebellion against God. This is right through the Bible, from here in Genesis with the Tower of Babel, through the Old Testament when the Jews are exiled to Babylon as punishment for their disobedience, to Revelation where Babylon, and the accompanying prideful attitude against God will be dealt with for the last time. Whenever Babylon is mentioned in the Bible it is an ungodly thing, something that is rebellious and unclean, epitomising worldly pride, defiance, corruption and humanism. Frequently in the Bible religions are represented as women, and idolatry as adultery. Babylon is mentioned right at the end of the Bible in Revelation as a prostitute. The true Church is described rather as a chaste and beautiful bride.
God undid his action at Babel at Pentecost – people of various nationalities were touched by the Spirit and were able to witness in different languages. This was a dramatic reversal, but sin this time, tongues or not believers have been united in their common love of God, regardless of their background.
Genesis 11 is a chapter where we get more genealogy. There is a reason though, and that’s to show the fulfilment of Noah’s prophecy that Shem’s line would be the one to produce the Redeemer. What is instantly noticeable is the difference between this and the previous genealogy. This one emphasises how young the men are when their first son is born, and how long they lived; this shows how considerably short lifespans are compared to those of the ante-diluvian people. Why? The degenerative effect of cumulative sin in creation.
Genesis begins with a broad view of all of creation by zeroing in on Abram and then focusing down to the 12 sons of Jacob. First the creation, then the fall, and after that the path towards a redeemer. Interestingly Abraham is addressed as a ‘father’ when the irony is he and his wife Sarah were unable to have children. This is the Biblical pattern of the world being blessed through the children born to previously barren households (see also Samuel, John the Baptist – and of course Jesus who was born to a virgin). It’s interesting that God started with a man and his family – the family expand into a nation, and then the whole world is blessed through this people. This is an example of how important God considers the family to be. And in fact, we see how important the family is for society today, because in those areas where there is widespread family breakdown, there generally tends to be an increased crime rate, increased unemployment, and massive disenfranchisement.
At a time of idolatry including the worship of fertility goddesses and the performing of fertility rites, it’s quite interesting and significant that the merciful God should select an ageing couple who were barren. It is also interesting that Ur of the Chaldees was an area dedicated to moon worship. Is this significant? Possible – the moon god in the Middle East is known as Allah. Interesting that God should take a worshipper of this cult and bring him to faith in himself, the true God.
In the final details of this chapter we see that almost immediately Abraham answered God’s call, he disobeyed to a certain extent. Abraham didn’t leave his family, but took many of them with him, leading to strife later on. However, it is significant that Abraham disobeyed, even in this small matter. Because of the culture Abraham was being called out of, and because of the idolatry that was prevalent, it was important that Abraham left behind all influences of this – but he didn’t, he took his family with him! Straightaway there was the possibility that the whole plan could have been ruined. Thanks to God though, it didn’t – but it’s interesting to see in the Bible when someone disobeys God, even in small matters, there are often consequences – and we shall see this in even greater detail with Abraham later on in Genesis. Throughout the book of Genesis (and in fact, the rest of the Bible) we are shown what God can do with weak people. We all have our failings, but God remains faithful, and he doesn’t desert us or write us off when we really mess it up. Be encouraged, if God could use Abraham and Sarah, he can definitely use us.
With thanks to my spiritual uncles: Uncle Warren Wiersbe, Uncle Chuck Missler, Uncle Matthew Henry, Uncle Jacob Prasch and Uncle Arnold Fruchtenbaum.