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Beginnings in Genesis – Problems at Babel

May 7, 2008

..one language and a common speech
gen 11:1

The story of the Tower at Babel falls into two distinct but counterbalancing sections, with a concluding editorial comment.

Section 11:1-4
It begins ‘once upon a time’ the whole earth had a single language and the same speech. Human beings are the main actors. In the course of their nomadic wandering they come to a flat plain called Shinar and decide to settle down. They work with energy and resourcefulness here to make the place home, to build a city with a distinctive, high ziggurat whose head was in the clouds of heaven.

Section 2 11:5-8
Yahweh is the main actor here. From his heavenly abode this tower they built is so puny, that God has to ‘come down’ to see it. Their great efforts are pathetic when seen from the cosmic perspective of God. He intervenes not to topple the tower but to scatter human beings over the surface of the earth.

The story concludes with an editorial comment in v9 to the effect that those who wanted to ‘make a name for themselves’ received a memorial, but not what they intended. The lasting memorial of their efforts is confusion.

It appears that the builders did something wrong to invoke the anger of God, and traditionally this is defined as daring to storm heaven. But it is not that clear from the text that this is the problem. What the text does tell us about their motivation is that it was two-fold. They seek to build a city with a tower which reaches to the heavens, so that:

  1. they could make a name for themselves
  2. they will not be scattered.
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From → Genesis

One Comment
  1. very appropriate that you are posting on this in the week of Pentecost… The reversal of Babel… Yet how often today do people try to harness the gifts of the Spirit to make a name for themselves… How often do we settle for preaching a limited gospel to a limited audience of our own kind who speak our language…

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