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The Tower of Babel and its Relevance Today

Image: Lucas van Valckenborch: The tower of Babel (1568)

The story of the Tower of Babel begins in Genesis 11 "Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward they found a plain in Shinar and settled there." (v1-2). The Lord had told Noah and his family to "be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth" (Gen. 9: 1). But Noah's descendants had decided to remain on the plains of Shinar and build a civilization for themselves there. They determined to "build ourselves a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the whole earth" (v4). This was contrary to God's instructions and guaranteed to cause problems.

"But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the men were building" (v6). The Tower of Babel and surrounding city were going to be of massive proportions and the tower was most likely in the shape of a ziggurat (like a giant multi-layered wedding cake). The whole enterprise was a great human, physical achievement and took a great deal of cooperation with each other. This lofty structure was to be tall enough to "reach heaven."

God's response: "Come let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." So the Lord scattered them from there all over the earth and they stopped building the City. That is why it was called Babel – because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world."(v. 7-9a). By stopping things when He did the Lord prevented the people from going entirely astray and so bringing about their complete destruction. Confusing their language curtailed their misplaced spirit of cooperation and so they separated, accomplished God's purpose, and escaped a much greater penalty. The sin of the people was their great pride in their own efforts and the deliberate disobedience to God's command to spread out.

Worldly Unity

While one would normally consider unity to be a positive quality, in this case, God was against it because it was not God-centred or God-approved unity and was done to snub Him. Peace without God is no peace at all. The "human spirit" was the driving force behind the construction of Babel and resulted in disarray/disunity. God then confused the languages to foil the plans of men and to achieve His purposes through division and separation.

Godly Unity

The Day of Pentecost is seen as the opposite to what happened at the Tower of Babel, where different languages (tongues) were miraculously bestowed upon believers by means of God's Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). Here God used the bringing together of different languages as a sign to announce the mighty works of God to many people. The giving of the Holy Spirit resulted in the unity of believers in the Body of Christ from all over the then-known world.

The relevance for today

This story helps us understand that we should not put our trust in manmade unity. As believers we are still to separate ourselves from the world in our daily walk so that the world may see God's presence in us. Although we will be constantly confronted with pressure to conform and compromise, the Scripture exhorts us to NOT be of this world even though we are in the world. Peace with the world is NOT peace with God.

The builders of the Tower of Babel thought they could build their way to heaven. This never has been possible and never will be. Following Jesus is our only hope. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16). This is God's great message to mankind today.

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