Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
I love the Tower of Babel story (Genesis 11:1-9). I love that it is 9 verses long and is filled with the theological complexity of a much longer story. I love the way that the story is told. I preached on the story about a month ago and taught a short Bible study on it this past Sunday.
Childhood Sunday school classes tell us that the Tower of Babel is about the origins of Earth’s multiple languages. But the story says so much more than that.
For instance, at the exact center of the narrative is verse 5, which says, “And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.” Everything that happens before verse 5 has to do with the people’s sinful actions and attitudes. Everything that happens after verse 5 has to do with God setting everything right. What happens in the middle of the story to change everything? The Lord came down.
This simple phrase is the crux of this story. God’s coming down to the world changes everything.
As Christians looking back we see this verse as a sign pointing forward to Jesus. In the incarnation of Christ we see that God came down into the world again… and everything changed.
This is what makes our faith unique. Our God comes down into the world and is an active part of our story. Our God does not stay at a distance like the deist watchmaker that sets the world into motion and steps away to let it unfold. The Creator gets involved with the creation… God’s hands get dirty.
This is just one of many potential takeaways from this dense story. This text can also be read as a direct criticism of the Babylonian idolatry that took place in the ziggurats… or a disobedience of God’s Eden command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the entire earth”… or it can speak of the danger of our desire to proudly “make a new for ourselves.”
This text is so cool.