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Babel

Date: Mar. 18, 2018

Author: MIchael Mark

Genesis 11:1-9

Key Verse: Genesis 11:9

“That is why it is called Babel – because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world.  From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

Yesterday I got a chance to attend the 48th Annual International Nights Performances at Lane Tech High School.  It is a great dance showcase with performances by the high school’s 33 ethnic clubs.  My brother, who is a senior there, participated in the Israeli Dance.  Grace also participated in the Japanese Dance, and did a fantastic job.  It is beautiful to see all of the different styles, music and languages of all the different cultures of the world.  Even in our worship service today, it is beautiful to see members from all parts of the globe.  We have people from Europe, Africa and Asia here.  While the differences in languages can be very beautiful, it can also make things difficult.  Those of you from outside of the US may experience this firsthand, as you try to communicate in a different language than what you are used to.  Today we will learn where all these languages came from, and the reasons for the differences.

Last week we saw the table of nations – how from Noah and his sons came all of the nations of the world.  It described that each clan had their own language, and that they were spread out across the earth after the flood.  It wasn’t always like this.  Look at v.1, “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.”  The reason is obvious – there was only one family after the flood so they all spoke one language.  The previous chapter showed us all of the nations and who they came from.  Now here, we go into more detail as to how the different languages came about and how everyone spread out into their parts of the world.

Verse 2 tells us “As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.”  Last week we saw how Noah’s family started to grow.  Japheth had 7 children.  Ham had 4 children, and his son Canaan had 11.  Shem had 5 children, and his great great grandson Joktan had 12 children.  The mountain that the ark landed on, Mt. Ararat, may have started to get a little cramped for this growing family, so they started to migrate.  Also, God had told Noah when they came out of the ark, “As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”  So far, it looks like everything was going as God commanded – but look again at v.2 – it says they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.  They settled there!  That wasn’t part of the plan.  Maybe some people can settle there, but not all of the people.  Now, I’m sure there were some that obeyed God’s command.  I’m sure there were some of those families that went to the north, or the south, or to the west – but as we know about human sin, those who obeyed God are in the minority.  Even from Noah’s family.  So here we see that most of Noah’s descendants migrated together as one large family toward the east.

Again, they were supposed to multiply on the earth and increase upon it – they were supposed to spread across the whole globe, but they settled here in the plains of Shinar.  The plains were about 500 miles away, so they covered some distance – but this was nowhere near going to the whole earth.  Just imagine God telling all of us to spread out – some to LA, some to Alaska, some to Brazil, some to Germany, some to Nigeria, some to Egypt, some to China, some to Korea, but most of us end up going to New York and settling there.  That is not God’s plan!  Most likely Nimrod the mighty warrior was part of this group, who built up many cities between the mountain and the plains, and at this site in Ch.11, along with the people, may have decided to establish the capital city.  Look at v.3, “They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’  They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.”  Typically, a travelling tribe may live in tents as they are moving around, but here, you see that all the people have plans to settle, and build some permanent buildings with solid bricks.  This also tells us about the location.  It may have been a rich, lush land, without much stone with which to build.  So bricks had to be built, and they were bonded with tar, which was abundant.

We see their plans in v.4 – look at the first part, “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.’”  They wanted to build a city, and a tower that reaches to the heavens – for this reason – to make a name for themselves.  This then, would be no small city, but a great city that would contain most of Noah’s descendants.  There would also be a tower that reaches to the heavens.  It does not mean that it will reach skyscraper heights, but this is a way of saying this is going to be a really tall tower.  Most likely it was a large structure similar to the ziggurats, which resemble pyramids with flattened tops and multiple stepped levels.

The first purpose of the tower was to make a name for themselves.  Not only Nimrod, but all those with him, wanted to be remembered for all history, and they wanted to build the greatest, grandest tower and city to be immortalized for all time.  They wanted to be remembered, even after they died, as the greatest people to have ever lived.  They wanted to glorify themselves.  They were building this great city and tower out of their own pride.  These descendants of Noah had no interest in glorifying the name of God.  How sad it is that their pride grew to this level.  This was also most likely less than 200 years after the Flood (based on Gen 10:25 and Peleg’s age in Gen 11:18-19), so poor Noah would have witnessed history repeating itself all over again, in his very own descendants, with the pride of man pushing God out and removing him.

Isaiah 14:13 might give an insight into their mindset.  Isaiah writes that Israel would one day say to the king of Babylon, “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.  I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’”  This is the pride that is in the hearts of all mankind.  This is the same pride that Adam and Eve fell into – that they wanted to be like God.  This is the pride in all of our hearts, inherited from Adam and Eve, that sets us up against the One True God.  It is the pride that Noah carried with him down to his children, that is being manifested now.  I see this pride in my own heart from time to time.  There are times I blame God and I question God for the struggles I go through, as if he had to answer to me.  There are times that I hate being told what to do, even if it’s someone I love or a friend or a coworker telling me what to do.  Especially if I’m set upon doing something.  There are times I just want to say it’s my way or the highway.  And times I want to be praised, and recognized.  What is this?  It is sin in my heart.  It is evidence of a corrupted heart!  What should I say?  What should we say?  Oh Lord, have mercy on me, what a wretched man I am!  But this was not the attitude of these people in Shinar.

In addition to pride, here was their second sin – look at the second part of verse 4: “otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”  Their second sin was disobedience.  They directly disobeyed the command of God, “multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”  They said “Otherwise we will be scattered.”  If they don’t all get to working on this city and this tower, they were going to be scattered.  Somehow they knew that in some way, they would be scattered.  Maybe some tribes would feel compelled to migrate further east or west.  There was lots of space out there.  But together, these sons of Shem, Ham and Japheth, conspired as one to disobey God.  They were all guilty.  There is this natural inclination in all of us to be disobedient, especially to God.  You don’t have to teach a small child to disobey, somehow they know how to do that naturally.  Likewise, we have a tendency for disobedience toward God.  Are you living a holy life?  Do you love your neighbor as yourself?  1 Thes 5:16-18 says to the Christian, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Do we resist the will of God, even in the good things he tells us to do?  The heart is desperately wicked.  These people may not even know they are disobeying God’s will, but they are naturally doing it because they have failed to glorify God.  Rom 1:21 says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Look at v.5, “But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building.”  Uh oh.  The Lord was watching, and watching what these people were doing.  Here they are, working so hard baking bricks, building walls, houses and that giant tower, busy as bees in an operation to prevent God’s will.  Up to this point they think they are succeeding in their plans.  God hasn’t stopped them.  Maybe God doesn’t know.  Maybe he’s too far off.  But God knows everything.  God sees everything.  Even if you think you are succeeding in your sin, even if you think you got away with it, don’t think that God doesn’t know about it.  Heb 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” 

God makes an assessment in v.6, “The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.’”  If men’s hearts were good, then this would be a good thing, but as we have demonstrated, the hearts of men are corrupt and sinful.  This one people speaking the same language have begun to rebel against God, and nothing good could come out of that.  Whatever they plan to do, as one people, they will be able to do.  If nothing stops them, they will succeed in building this tower, they will succeed in building this city, and they will succeed in keeping all of the people from being scattered.  But what can you expect from a wicked, godless king?  This kingdom will be oppressive.  It will be tyrannical.  It will be violent, especially for those who oppose.  This has happened over and over again in empires throughout history.  A king comes to power, and continues to increase in power.  The empire seems to be prosperous, but before long, corruption sets in, and the empire declines.  This was especially dangerous because this is so soon after the Flood.  There were no empires yet, but if there were, there would only be this one at the moment.  They have not yet scattered over the earth.  If God does not intervene, this one nation would eventually destroy itself.

God decides to intervene.  Look at what God says in v.7, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so that they will not understand each other.”  Notice, God says “let us go down.”  Who is us?  Here you see the Trinity.  God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are watching this disaster together.  It is reminiscent of Gen 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’”  But not only is v.7 a revelation of the Trinity, it is also a direct response to the rebellion of mankind.  In v.3 the people said, “Come, let’s make bricks.”  In v.4 they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city.”  Here in v.7, God says, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language.”  Here, men were trying with all their might to oppose God, but God could thwart their plans with a simple breath.  No matter how great men’s plans are against God, they are no match for the power of God.  God can defeat them easily.

Their plans have come to nothing.  Look at v.8, “So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.”  Can we all please read v.9, “That is why it was called Babel – because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world.  From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”  This is the origin and history of that great city Babylon.  This same city that would one day become the golden kingdom in Daniel’s dreams.  It seems the pride would one day return to this city, but not for now.  The people wanted to make a great name for themselves.  Instead God gave this name to the city: “Confused.”  That’s not such a glorious name.  Can you imagine what happened at that site?  People were supervising construction, supervising brick making.  One person says, “Hey, bring over that other cart of bricks,” and then the other person responds, “Que? No comprende.”  Then they stare at each other in silence.  Then another guy yells, “Wae, lay day joe mut yeeah, hai doe mong ha mong ha. Fai dee ah!”  (This is Cantonese for “Hey, what are you guys doing here, staring?  Hurry up!”)  Then they would find out that they could only communicate with their family or tribe or clan.  It was now impossible to resume the work in this city, and somehow each family managed to find their way to the location God had appointed for them.  Ultimately, God’s will was done.

It was at this point, no more than a couple hundred years after the Flood, that all of the different languages of the world emerged all at once.  Or, at least the basis for all of the different languages of the world.  It might seem like this is God’s judgment on the singular rebellion of the descendants of Noah, but I also see beauty in the different languages and cultures.  Some languages have alphabets, like Greek and Latin.  Some languages use only consonants, with vowel symbols, like Hebrew and Arabic.  Some languages are pictographs, like Ancient Egyptian or Chinese.  Some are syllables, like Japanese.  The Korean writing system is the simplest in the world, with the alphabet mimicking the shape of the mouth.  It is said a smart person can learn it in 10 minutes, and a dimmer person would take 10 days.  Of course, that’s just reading, speaking it and grammar rules would take some time.  But what does this show us?  It shows us the glory and the wisdom of God.  How amazing it is that we could communicate in such a variety of ways, and build great nations.  How wonderful it is to see different styles of dress from one culture to another.  How interesting it is to see the artwork of the different cultures.

God wanted us to spread out and multiply to rule over the earth, according to his will.  This would also be for his glory.  We can see and enjoy all the wonders of the world.  Because people are scattered all over the world, we can visit the Great Wall in China, and the Eifel Tower in Paris.  We can go skiing in the Swiss Alps and enjoy the white sandy beaches of Mexico.  We can all glorify God in different ways.  Some cultures glorify God with the most beautiful melodies.  Some cultures with energetic emotions and clapping and dancing.  Some cultures with studying his word.  And the different cultures can learn from each other.  The variety of cultures enable God to be worshipped in a variety of ways.  And maybe languages themselves are not a judgment.  The judgment is misunderstanding and confusion – but the language barrier can be overcome by the Holy Spirit.  At Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down on the disciples, they were able to speak in foreign languages without having studied them at all.  Pentecost was a reversal of what happened at Babel.  Instead of confusion, there was understanding – and peoples of all nations, especially all of the Gentile nations, heard about the glory of God in their own language.  This is just a glimpse of the new heavens and the new earth.  I don’t know if we’ll all be able to speak in several languages by the help of the Holy Spirit, or if we will all speak one new language, I really don’t know, but I do know that we will be able to understand one another perfectly in eternity.  All of the language problems you have now will go away.

God’s ultimate plan was to make a name for himself, and to call out a people from every nation, tribe and language for his own kingdom.  God would make the name of Jesus great, and he would be the King of kings.  All the kingdoms of the world would become the kingdom of the Lord and his Messiah.  We are a proud and disobedient people, as our forefathers were.  We are sinners deserving of God’s wrath, but also sinners in need of God’s mercy, so God sent his Son to offer himself for us to take away our sin.  Our sin, and our rebellion were nailed to Jesus on that cross.  He died, and then he rose again.  He has paid for all of our debt, and set us free from sin and death.  Who the Son sets free, is free indeed.  God was gracious enough to stop the work of evil men to make way for the Savior of the world.  This Jesus who came down and defeated the work of these wicked men at Babel, came again later to lay down his life for the sins of the world.  When he rose again, he poured out the Holy Spirit, which caused many to hear the glories of God, and were pricked to the heart because of their sins.  They asked Peter, “What must we do [to be saved]?”  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are for off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:37-39)

So how shall we live now, that we are redeemed from pride and disobedience?  We should walk humbly with God and obey his commands.  We should not trust in man, or our own abilities, but trust in God at all times.  I will close with a quote from Php 2:5-11 that summarize this the opposite attitude as those in Babel: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

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Key Verse: 6:8b

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