God, through the flood, had given mankind another chance to make things right, yet not 100 years later, humanity had once again begun to turn from its Creator. During the time of the Tower of Babel, the entire earth had one language and one speech (Genesis 11:1). People were becoming more and more self-sufficient, and because of this self-sufficiency, they began to believe that they didn’t need God; they began to believe that they could make a name for themselves. This is where Genesis 11 picks up.
Right after the flood, God “blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). Doing as God instructed, Noah’s descendants moved eastward for a while, but soon stopped and settled in the plains of Shinar, disobeying God’s earlier command to “fill the earth.”
Human Ingenuity and Pride
Human ingenuity was flourishing. People had found a new way of building with bricks instead of stones. This innovation empowered men to build bigger and higher than ever before, and as a result, they resolved to build a tower to heaven. They said to each other, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens so that we make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). Through their own efforts, they wanted to reach God: they desired to make a name for themselves. They knew what God had commanded them to do, but in their pride, they thought they had found a better way.
The Heart is What Matters
When God came down to observe the city and the tower, He said: “Look! the people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them! Come, let’s go down and confuse the people with different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other.” (Genesis 9:6-7)
This piece of the story used to puzzle me. Part of me wondered why God felt so threatened by mankind that He had to confuse their language. I mean God is God, right? Was He really worried about us building a tower? But that isn’t it at all. It isn’t human innovation that concerns God; it is man’s heart behind the innovation that concerns God. Mankind wanted to elevate their own name instead of God’s name. They wanted to make a monument for themselves instead of for God.
In disobedience to God, the descendants of Noah didn’t want to scatter as God had commanded them. So, God dispersed them himself. Not giving them what they wanted was an act of mercy by God. He knew that if these prideful people were left to their own devices, they would eventually destroy themselves; if they remained together, they’d continue to rely on their own self-effort instead of Him. Consequently, He confused their language, which “scattered them all over the world, and they stopped building the city” (Genesis 11:8). This city was referred to as Babel which means confusion. As we will see later in Genesis, God’s act of mercy at the Tower of Babel preserved a people for himself who would set aside their pride and seek Him.
The Tower of Babel reinforces the universal truth that trying to do things without God always results in despair; look at the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, and now the Tower of Babel. Still today, the struggle that took place at the Tower of Babel continues in our hearts. When we trust in our own self-sufficiency and try to make a name for ourselves, discord and conflict can dictate our lives. But when we set aside our pride and stop believing that we know better than God, unity, and peace can rule in our lives.