Well, the Tower of Babel is here. And, if you read Genesis 11 in the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), then you saw it labeled the Tower of Babylon. Well, actually, it’s never referred to in the text as the “Tower of” anything. They went to build a tower, and then city came to be called Babel, which can also be translated as Babylon. It’s on the plain called Shinar, which is Babylon. It’s also where the modern nation of Iraq is.
The story is fairly well-known, and worth revisiting briefly. What made the tower sinful? Was it the unity of mankind? Or their obstinate desire to stay together instead of fill the earth? Now, I’m of the opinion that Genesis 11:1-9 tells us what happened that led to the division and dispersion described in Genesis 10. We almost always (unless you’re in a Christopher Nolan movie) tell stories linearly—we would not start the Civil War with the Battle of Atlanta, then tell Vicksburg, the Antietam, then Gettysburg.
Ancient narratives are not bound by this linear habit. They are truthful and bound by clear statements, like “this happened, then this happened,” (or “Day 5, then Day 6”), but otherwise a summary can proceed a recapitulation—picture the news announcing that the Arkansas Razorbacks won the National Championship, then showing highlights. That’s my take on Genesis 11 and Genesis 10. (Singular events in history, like Razorback championships…)
So, what about the Tower? First, it was likely more of a pyramid or ziggurat than what we think of as a tower. Why? Engineering skills available at the time, that’s why. It’s an artificial mountain, basically.
What would make that sinful? Well, back up two chapters. God had judged sin through a flood. Through The Flood. But He promises to never flood all of everything again, so what’s the escape if there is some flooding? A mountain, right?
So if you want to evade responsibility to God, evade judgment, you need a mountain. And you build one…and God knows what you’re doing, and why. And He stops you, scatters you across the earth.
Then you find that multitudes of ancient people groups built…pyramids. They built artificial mountains. Think that’s an accident? Not likely. Bad ideas recur throughout history. Think we can find a way out of God’s judgment is a bad idea…and it’s one that recurs, often.
Now, a connection to the Tower of Babel (I grew with that label, so I’ll stick with it) that you need to make is to Acts 2. Why? One of the biggest obstacles to the spread of the Gospel is the inability to communicate across language barriers.Those barriers are the result of Babel—and Acts 2 shows the power of God to bridge those barriers. These days, we know there are people who need Jesus and we can plan ahead and learn languages, find translators. But in that first moment, God worked miraculously to spread the Gospel because God’s grace is amazing and begins to undo all the curse.
We then get the heritage of Abram as descended from Shem. Another point of note is the phrase in Genesis 11:10, translated by the CSB as “These are the family records of…” (Shem, here) is a recurring phrase in Genesis. It is possible that these were records preserved and in the possession of Moses, which he utilized under the guidance of God, to construct these parts of Genesis. Or they serve as section headings. (See more here)
But they definitely help outline Genesis. Watch for them as you read: Genesis 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10;11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 37:2. Be careful, always, searching for “hidden” meanings that require obscure knowledge, but remember that God speaks through words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs and sections—you get the point.
See you tomorrow, back in John!
More on Genesis 11 is here.
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