Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth. (NIV)
This story has traditionally been called the tower of Babel story, but it really should be called the City of Babel story, because it is about man’s building of this city which has a tower. The city is the focus and not the tower. The word city is a special key or symbolic word in the Bible. A city means more than a city. It, spiritually speaking, means a common existence of ideology. This ‘city’ is also the ‘city’ that is destroyed in Revelation and there we are told that it encompasses the whole world. God’s heaven is also depicted as a city. The kingdom of Judah is frequently called by the name of Jerusalem.
‘Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!’ (NIV)
The first thing that we see in Genesis 11 is that the whole world has one language and a common speech. This detail is relevant to us today.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (NIV)
Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. (NIV)
God mandated that man should spread out and increase in number and fill the earth with people. This mandate was issued twice, first to the original humans, and then after the Flood God issued it again. When something is said twice in the Bible it carries more weight, so this is important.
But, man rebelled right off the bat. The first coordinated endeavor that man undertook was one of direct rebellion against the commandment of God. Man publically and intentionally defied God’s Word and stubbornly organized the building of a city of rebellion. This city was not intended by man to be a city of rebellion, but rather it was intended by man to be a city that would provide man with security and national identity, as it were. To protect oneself in ancient times from one’s enemies people would construct a city with a wall around it and a tower within it. But, this city goes beyond that.
Notice the first statement of defiance. “They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’” This was an intentional act of defiance of God’s command. What man is saying here is, first of all, to build the city lest we are scattered over the whole earth, and secondly, we see that man wanted to make his city out of bricks that he baked himself rather than out of stone that the Lord God has made. This is an important detail of this story of rebellion. Man is acting independently from God, intentionally and deliberately, with the intention of protecting himself FROM God. This is the point of the city and tower being built out of manmade materials.
Normally, a relationship with God is more of a one on one thing. When we look at the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob we see that they are pretty much on their own against the forces of the world. When I say alone, I mean with respect to other people not with respect to God. God is with them, and more or less, God alone is with them. This puts them and anyone that walks with God in a vulnerable position with respect to Satan and his earthly people. When you are alone, living in a tent, you are vulnerable, that is, other people can easily group together and attack you and kill you. To be a homeless wanderer makes you dependent upon God for protection. The point of this story of the city of Babel, or Babylon, is that man didn’t want to depend upon God. Man wanted to build for himself a city, a city that would protect him and provide for him, independently from God.
Our society today is just an extension of the original city of Babylon. Today we band together and we make for ourselves militaries, hospitals, dams for irrigation and flood control, schools, strongholds and much much more. We build for ourselves cities to protect ourselves from that which might hurt us, but at the same time, we do so at our peril, because we do so in direct defiance to God.
The idea that brought about the original city of Babel is more alive today than ever. Today the whole world is working together to build a mega-Babylon, to insulate man from dependence upon God. This is now possible because English has become the whole world language. The movers and shakers the whole world over speak English. The people of the world are banding together and establishing world military forces, world banking laws, international rules of trade and commerce and everything else necessary to build a whole world city.
If you look at what man has been doing for the last six thousand years the most prominent work has been the building of this common ‘city’ called in Revelation, Babylon. This ‘city’ is built upon a rebellion against God. Man is building for man what man wants for himself. The nature of God is Love which is an outward force if you will, and the force of man is an inward-directed force. The opposite of love is selfishness. Mankind operates in selfishness and God operates in love. Love builds up and endures and selfishness destroys and is therefore temporary.
God hates the world city of Babylon, not because it is a threat to him, but because it is a threat to all of mankind. Every direction from God is for our benefit. Anything, and I mean anything that separates a person from God is very bad because it will result in eternal separation from God.
Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her [Babylon], my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; 5 for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes. 6 Give back to her as she has given; pay her back double for what she has done. Mix her a double portion from her own cup. 7 Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. In her heart she boasts, ‘I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn.’ 8 Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her. (NIV)
As God destroyed the original city of Babel so he will destroy the present city. This warning is to any of God’s people that are caught up in the world system, that is, having faith in it, and it directs you to abandon your faith in the world and to put your faith solely in God.
“When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10 Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: “ ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!’ (NIV)
Do not put your faith in the world. The world and its ways are temporary and will be destroyed.