The Tower of Babel story may be likened to an ant farm. What you have here are a bunch of little creatures working hard to build their little kingdom. But without any sort of effort God sends the workers scurrying in all directions. It is almost as if he just reaches down and taps the glass and causes everything to collapse.
Sometimes we need these reminders. We need to be reminded of this because sometimes it seems that the forces of man and the powers of evil are so monumental—so colossal, that they are unstoppable. Every generation has its Nero or its Herod. There are men who defy the kingdom of God and wish to have it exterminated.
The tower of Babel is presented to us as the ultimate anti-kingdom. This is not just any building project. It represents the man doing everything he can to establish a kingdom in defiance to God. You may remember from what we said last week in Genesis 10 that Babel was founded by Nimrod. You remember what we said about Nimrod. He was a tyrant—a warrior and a hunter of men. So the very foundation of Babel is that of open defiance and wickedness.
It was a colossal undertaking that expressed something of their pride. You can just here it with the pronouns that are used in the opening lines, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly…Let us build ourselves a city…let us make a name for ourselves.” There is absolutely no acknowledgment of God.
The whole purpose of it was specifically so that they wouldn’t be dispersed through the earth. That is an direct defiance to God’s command to fill the earth.
So this city represents Man in all his wickedness, with all his ingenuity, with all his pomp and pride. But with one little tap of the glass, it comes crashing down.
And this incident serves to remind us that we can have hope. We can have hope that no matter how powerful the kingdoms of man may be—no matter how commanding the rule of sin and Satan may appear, they cannot stand. The kingdom of God will prevail!
The passage goes out of its way to point this out. The whole scene is actually like a comedy routine. When you read it you are supposed to chuckle.
I. Lord defies and destroys the kingdom of man
The one that I love is that these people start off by saying, “Let’s make a name for ourselves. Let’s build a tower with its top in the heavens.” They are going to go out of their way to make the very first sky scrapper, a monument to their awesome ingenuity! And it may have very well been a quite the sight. Think of it, as you are walking out on this plain of Shinar, it would be like walking through Indiana. Everything is completely flat.
When I lived in Indiana I always laughed because the poor kids had to go sled riding on the exit ramps next to the highway. It was the closest thing they had to an incline because they just don’t have any hills out there.
Well, here you have a plain that stretches as far as the eye can see. But from a distance you can see this massive monument rising out of ground. It had to have looked like a man made mountain and quite an imposing structure.
But you can’t help but snicker when, in verse 5, it says, “And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that they had built.” It might seem imposing from our perspective, but from God’s prospective it’s nothing but a little ant hill. He’s so great, he’s so highly exalted, that he has to stoop down to get a good look at it. It’s kind of like how we would look at a model train track and a little city that was put together on it.
Some even say that there is a bit of a gag at what they say in verse 3. They say, “Come let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” Commentators say that this would have caused a chuckle because stone—which the Israelites used, was much more superior to bricks. It would be like us saying, “Let’s build a house out of Lego’s!” That would be silly, being that we have steel and other such things for building our buildings. On top of this, they want to take some stuff called bitumen or tar or some kind of stuff to use for mortar. I like what the King James Version says. It says “they had slime for mortar.” So some commentators say that it could have been a faulty structure that they were trying to construct.
I don’t know if that one is true or not. But the scene does close with a funny picture. The Lord confuses their speech. They are trying to defy God’s command to fill the earth, and so God changes their speech and makes it impossible for them to stay together. Thinking how that would have played out would have been pretty funny. Joe and Bob clock out one night and say, “Good-night, Joe!” “Good-night, Bob!” The next morning they come to work and say, “Morning, Joe!”, “Cobabaway, Bobbla!”
You have to picture them trying to work together to get things done. “Can you get me the hammer? A ham-mer! A ham-mer!” And the other guys is yelling back, “Abawaba! A-baw-a-ba! A!-baw!-a!-ba!
Why is it that we think adding volume will bridge the language barrier? Like that is going to help the translation process.
Like I said, the tower of Babel incident is supposed to be a funny. It is Bible humor.
And that is the way it should be. For that is the best way for us to think about the kingdoms of man whenever they set themselves up. This incident that is recorded here is simply characteristic of every one of man’s attempts to centralize power and deify man and his greatness. Throughout history we see that man makes every effort to centralize power and form a tyrannical governments. They bring all the power they can under one name, under one man, and he makes the citizens of his kingdom worshiping slaves. And this passage uses this humor to remind us that no kingdom on earth, not matter how big and powerful, can ever compare to the rule and reign of our God.
You can think of how this would have meant much to the people to whom Moses was writing. They were getting ready to go into the Promised Land. And you remember that the spies had originally said, “There are giants in the land, and we are like grasshoppers next to them.” And it didn’t help that the first city state that they came up against was Jericho.
But here you have the Lord’s encouragement to them, reminding them that the Kingdom of God cannot be opposed or thwarted by the forces of man. Moses is reminding the people of his day that the kingdom of God will prevail over the forces of man.
And that is a lesson that should be meaningful to us as well. Especially as we see our nation becoming Bable-esc in its tyrannical centralization of power and blooming emperor worship. The message to us is the same as it was to those in Moses’ day. God will not be mocked. He sits in the heavens and laughs.
I think of our own pledge of allegiance. Our pledge of allegiance ends by touting that we are, “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Indivisible? Really? That is kind of ironic, don’t you think? To say that we are under God, but yet indivisible? To be indivisible means that even God cannot break it. Indestructibility is actually a divine attribute. And personally, I think it would be just like God to say, “Oh yeah? Indivisible, huh? Let’s just see about that. ”
You are probably familiar with the Shema. It comes from Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord your God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” I’ve been told that the Jews used to recite that, like we do our creeds during the confession of faith. When they did it though, they would recite it with their pinkie finger raised. That’s because they believed that the Lord had brought them out of Egypt with just his pinkie finger. Egypt was the epitome of power. They had their chariots. They had their manpower and weapons to suit out all their soldiers. Yet God barely had to lift a finger to bring them down and bring his people to a state of salvation.
The nations are as a drop in the bucket in comparison to our God. And they cannot stand before King Jesus. And it will only be a matter of time when we will hear what the angel in the book of Revelation proclaimed, “Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great.”
But it is not just that the Lord crushes the pompous kingdoms of man. If his kingdom is going to prevail, then he must establish his own kingdom!
II. We see that the Lord establishes his kingdom
At the end of our passage we see all the peoples being dispersed all over the face of the earth. They are scattered far and wide. It is almost like God knocked over the tower of Babel and all the pieces went sprawling all over the floor like a bunch of Lincoln Logs.
I want you to think about that picture now. He has just executed his judgment. He has just thrown the whole world into confusion. Would you say that there is a sense in which things are formless and void?
Do you remember that phrase? We saw it at the very beginning. “The earth was formless and void, and the Spirit was hovering over the waters.” We said that everything was kind of messy, but the Spirit was going to give form and shape to the creation; God’s kingdom.
You might also remember that we talked about this when we were on the boat with Noah. When the flood was at its highest things were formless and void again, weren’t they? And the Lord began to establish his kingdom again with Noah.
I think it is possible that we are seeing the cycle repeat itself here. People are scattering every which direction. It’s got a formless feel to it.
It sounds like the Lord is ready to act again to establish his kingdom. And that is exactly what he does in chapter 12. In chapter 12 we read how God calls a guy by the name Abram. And he says, “I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great.”
Hopefully, you don’t miss the turn around. In Babel people were trying to “make a name for themselves.” Then the Lord says to Abram, “I will make your name great.” Essentially he is saying, “I won’t let the kingdoms of men over run what I want to do. I am going to establish my kingdom!”
A little while later he would reiterate the same thing to David. In 2 Samuel 7 God tells David that he is going to make his name great. And then a little later still comes Jesus. And the Scripture says that he rose again from the dead, and because God so highly exalted him he is given the name that is above all names.
It is through Jesus that the kingdom comes into the world. As a matter of fact, in speaking of the Tower of Babel, you have to contrast it with what happened on the day of Pentecost. You remember what happened there, don’t you? On the Day of Pentecost the Spirit came down it lighted upon the Apostles. Then they began to speak in other languages. What’s interesting is that Luke records for us that there in the city of Jerusalem were “people from every nation under heaven.” And if you examine the countries that Luke lists there, you find that they parallel the regions listed in Genesis 10.
And Luke’s message to us is that the Pentecost event was the undoing of the curse that fell on Babel. There at Babel the nations were dispersed by the confusion of tongues. In Jerusalem the tongues of men were altered again, but this time it was so that they might be rounded up. Now is the gospel age where the kingdoms of man are being plundered and nations are being gathered into God’s kingdom.
To be sure, the kingdom is not fully realized. We understand that we live in an age where the threats of man’s kingdom still loom large over us.
Yet we recognize that the kingdom of God is advancing and the gates of hell will not prevail. And we know that one day all the nations will be gathered before Christ, and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.
The book of Revelation gives us a reminder. In chapter 21 we are told about a new Jerusalem that descends from heaven. It is a picture of the fully consummated kingdom. And this city is described as receiving "the glory of the nations." And we are told that nothing unclean or detestable or false will ever enter it. Instead, there will only be those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.