Genesis 11:1-9 (text); Luke 2:8-14; Acts 2:1-11; Revelation 7:9-12
December 14, 2014 (KSYC) • Download this article
In 1889, the race to build the tallest building in the modern world began when the 896-foot tall Eiffel Tower in Paris was built. In 1931, Empire State Building in New York became the tallest building in the world at 1,250 feet. But in 1967, the Ostankino Tower in Moscow towered over it at 1,762 feet. In 2007, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, literally went over the top at 2,722 feet.
Why is mankind obsessed with building these skyscrapers? One of the biggest factors is the lack of space for increasing urban populations. But a big reason is pride: Who can make a name for himself by building the tallest structure in the world?
It is not only modern man who is obsessed with heights and fame. This goes back to the centuries after the flood in Noah’s days destroyed all mankind, in the land of Shinar. Genesis 11 tells of a proud, unified humanity planning, “let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.” From the beginning, mankind has always vainly attempted to reach God in heaven. And just like today, making a name for himself takes the highest place in his life.
In only nine verses, the Tower of Babel narrative is short, but not in significance. Verses 1-4 tell of mankind’s pride and plan to build the tower. Verses 6-9 inform us about God’s perspective on mankind’s plan, and how he dispersed them from Shinar. But the story does not end in the dispersion of mankind througout the whole earth. Let us look at the progress of the story of the Tower of Babel as it relates to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday.
Man Glorifies Himself in One Tongue: If you are familiar with the book of Genesis, you might notice that already in Genesis 10 is a table of nations, apparently already scattered and speaking different languages. Why then does Genesis 11 begin the Babel story saying, “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words” ? We see why at the end of Chapter 10, where it says, “and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood” (Gen 10:32). So Genesis 11 is meant to be a flashback, explaining why there are now many nations with different languages.
In rebellion against God’s command to fill the earth, all the people of the earth after Adam’s fall migrated from Eden as one people, traveling eastward. When they found the fertile plain in Shinar between the two great rivers, they “settled” there. This means they congregated in this one place.
If the Egyptians, Mayans, and other ancient peoples built pyramids, Babylonians built towers, known today as ziggurats. They were massive structures, several stories high, and with giant terraced steps. On the top floor of these ziggurats, they built their temples to their gods, thinking that these temples were their gateway to heaven. So the people conspired together to build “a tower with its top in the heavens” (verse 4).
Ever since creation, man has always been deceived into thinking that they can reach God in heaven with their own independent efforts. All kinds of unbiblical religions have always sought to appease their man-made gods through all sorts of works, sacrifices, and even pilgrimages. Make sure you are not like those at the tower of Babel trying to reach God by your own works. According to the Holy Bible, the true religion is man reaching the God of heaven not by being a good person doing good works, but by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone!
Another reason for building the Tower of Babel was “to make a name for ourselves.” Recognition and fame are two of man’s deepest needs. Before the flood, the “giants” on earth were “men of renown,” probably mighty warriors and powerful kings. Just as it was then, it is now. The heroes of today are ungodly Hollywood celebrities, great athletes, the rich and famous. Even churches have their own celebrity circuit of charismatic speakers. Everyone wants to make a name for himself and be famous for 15 minutes. We Christians are not to glory in our own fame and fortune, but in God. Because in the end, those of us who persevere in our difficult pilgrimage will be rewarded in glory by God himself.
God Confuses Man with Many Tongues: So when God sees that the tower-builders were unified as one people with one language living in one place, God intervened. He forced the unified people to scatter abroad by confusing their unified language into many tongues. So they abandoned their tower project and scattered over the face of the earth.
Moses makes the connection between what God called the city—Babel—with the similar-sounding Hebrew word balal, which means “mixed-up” or “confused.” Thus, from its beginnings in the land of Shinar, Babylon had become a symbol for the wicked, rebellious, godless—and confused—world. All those who are like Babylon will incur the wrath of God (Isa 14).
John in Revelation 17-18 describes Babylon as that proud and wicked harlot—spiritually unfaithful—who also persecutes God’s people. But like the tower of Babel and the ancient Babylonian empire, it will fall to the ground with a great thud, and burn in a great fire, until it is no more. As a picture of the godless political, economic and military powers of the world, its destruction will be complete (Rev 18). But the story of Babel does not really end in the dispersion, because even with Babylon leading the whole earth in wickedness, there is hope.
Man Glorifies God in One Tongue: Hope begins unexpectedly in Zephaniah’s prophecy of doom. The Lord will gather the self-sufficient, rebellious nations and kingdoms on Judgment Day (Zeph 3:8). But the prophet also gave the Old Testament people hope, saying, “For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and worship him with one accord.” This is a prophecy of the reversal of Babel. The people whose tongues spoke the filthy language of rebellion, wickedness and idolatry, will call upon the holy name of the Lord. Their language will change into the pure language of those who worship God.
Not only will their language be pure; they will all speak one language. How will God accomplish this unifying work? He sent the Son of Man into the world to gather those whom his Father had given him before the creation of the world. After he ascended into heaven, he poured out his Spirit on his disciples, and they started speaking in different tongues. Devout men “from every nation under heaven” started hearing the disciples speaking in their own languages. And although the preaching was in different tongues, the message was one: the gospel of the life, death and resurrection of the Jesus the Messiah who was born to save his people from sin. They heard the mighty works of God in their own tongues.
Wherever the gospel is preached, people are united to Christ in one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God the Father of all. All believers might be speaking in thousands of tongues all over the world, but the Word that we hear and read, the prayers that we pray, and the songs that we sing have the same message: Repent and believe in the gospel of Christ, and you will be saved.
Those who hear the preaching of the gospel will come out of rebellious wicked Babylon, the unbelieving world. This is what Christ calls us to do. We must abandon our love for the wicked world, and our desire to be independent of God. Unlike those who reject the one gospel of Christ, our minds and hearts must not be dominated by “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life.”
On that first Christmas night, the host of angels came down from heaven and sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14) What a sad contrast to the tower-builders! In their pride, self-sufficiency and unity of language and nation, they gave glory to themselves for their mighty work of building a great city and a lofty tower.
In the end, the confusion in Babel will be reversed in heaven. There, all the nations, like the angelic host on that first Christmas night, will speak one language of praise, united in giving glory to God and to the Lamb: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev 5:9, 13) Amen.
LET US PRAY: O God and Father of Jesus, you have sent your Son to be our Savior: our light in the midst of darkness, our hope in the face of threats, our peace amid turmoil. In your Word we have seen him and know that your promises of salvation and glory are true. Send us now this week to live in hope and peace wherever you send us.
Now we pray again for your guidance, comfort, healing, provision and protection this coming week, whether at home, work, school, marketplace, or even in faraway lands to serve our families and our nation.This we ask in the name of Jesus our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.