a confused noise, typically that made by a number of voices; a scene of noisy confusion
As a self-proclaimed grammar geek, I tend to fixate on punctuation when I read. In the story of the Tower of Babel, it’s the quotation marks. Within these quotation marks, there are two separate conversations. If you go with me on this, even if you’re not a grammar geek, I think you’ll appreciate taking a closer look at both conversations.
Genesis 11:1-4 (NLT)
At one time the whole world spoke a single language and used the same words. As the people migrated eastward, they found a plain in the land of Babylonia and settled there. They began to talk about construction projects. “Come,” they said, “let’s make great piles of burnt brick and collect natural asphalt to use as mortar. Let’s build a great city with a tower that reaches to the skies – a monument to our greatness! This will bring us together and keep us from scattering all over the world.”
“The First Conversation”
In the first set of quotation marks, the people are talking among themselves. By consolidating their skills, they plan to join forces to build a structure like no one has ever seen. The planning committee even came up with a mission statement – to stick together and never leave. “This will bring us together and keep us from scattering all over the world.”
The people are pulling together, like a group of sentimental high school seniors on a spring break trip to the beach. They find a magical spot near the waves where they are having a blast, and everyone is getting along. This paradise is too perfect for just one week, so they decide that they never want to leave! All day long they soak up the sun and dream up how they can ditch their college plans and pitch a community campsite on the sand.
The tower-builders seem to have found their own paradise, until you realize that their general contractor is a tyrant. Nimrod, whose name means “rebel,” was Noah’s great-grandson, and he was the world’s first dictator. (Genesis 10:6-14) His plan was to band together the people in a mighty act of rebellion to build his own empire without God.
At first glance, their teamwork is admirable. God is all about unity, and all people were created to reflect His image. But people weren’t just created to be like God; people were created to have a strong relationship with God – to work together with Him and to communicate with Him.
Where are the quotation marks for the conversation between God and His people?
Remember what happened when Adam & Eve left God out of the conversation with the snake in the Garden? For that moment in time, they were looking out for themselves, trying to stand tall on their own, looking for an easier way to the top. But they ended up falling on their faces and acquiring a much harder, heavier workload.
Leaving God out of the conversation always leads to confusion.
Genesis 11:5-7 (NLT)
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. “Look!” he said. “If they can accomplish this when they have just begun to take advantage of their common language and political unity, just think of what they will do later. Nothing will be impossible for them! Come, let’s go down and give them different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other.”
“The Second Conversation”
The second set of quotation marks are just between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Having not been invited to the city planning meeting, the Godhead calls a conference in order to slow down the progression of sin by confusing the language of the people.
The people are caught up in completing their masonry punch lists and giving each other high fives. They aren’t aware that their group project is about to come to a grinding halt.
Genesis 11:8-9 (NLT)
In that way, the Lord scattered them all over the earth; and that ended the building of the city. That is why the city is called Babel, because it was there that the Lord confused the people by giving them many languages, thus scattering them across the earth.
An Act of Rebellion
After the flood, God had commanded the people to “multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). God wanted them to spread out, but Nimrod’s affiliates decided to settle down and make a permanent home in Babylon.
It was an act of rebellion against God’s command. Much like the seniors on spring break dreaming of ditching their college plans, these people wanted to ditch their plans of obedience and pitch a fit by building their own kingdom. They were pulling together to erect an empire, but their prideful disobedience was separating them from God.
Pride builds a wall that breaks down communication between you and God.
An Act of Mercy
The Godhead’s decision to confuse the languages of the construction workers was an act of mercy as well as judgment. He knew this consolidated community would collapse the whole infrastructure if they stuck together and never left Babylon.
By stopping the progress of construction, God slowed down the progress of sin, and He enforced the original command He had given His people to spread out all over the earth.
God’s action here explains the origin of the languages of mankind.
Nimrod’s construction crew was unsettled by the language changes, but they divided into new groups of those speaking the same language and traveled to various areas around the earth to settle down. But that’s not how the story ends.
God specializes in restoring broken communication.
In the New Testament, when God sent His Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2:1-12, the diversity of language broke down the barriers to communication, and God’s mission statement was put into action:
Acts 1:8 (NLT)
But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about Me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Pentecost was a reversal of Babel:
There was true spiritual unity among God’s people, not a unity of prideful rebellion.
They spoke with other languages but were understood rather than confused.
Their work was to go out and spread the Gospel and glorify God, not themselves.