Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Tower of Babel

The account of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is one of those Bible stories which many people seem to have heard at some point in their lives. The world at first had a common language. Verse 2 states that people moved eastward and settled on a plain in Shinar (Babylon). Although God had told Noah (and by implication, his descendants) to fill the earth (Genesis 9:1), the people decided to build a city with a tower which "reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."(Genesis 11:4 NIV) This may have seemed like a logical thing to do. After all, there is strength in numbers. However, the very tone of this story in Genesis 11 is one of rebellion and pride. They knew God wanted them to move out and fill the earth. Instead, they sought a name for themselves, and tried to accomplish this in their own strength.

God saw what they were doing, and their lack of regard for His ways. He knew that united as they were, they would go on to accomplish even greater (and simultaneously, worse) things. In mercy, He confused their languages so that they would not understand each other. It became impossible to continue their project, and the peoples scattered. Babel, which in its Akkadian origin means 'gateway to a god', took on the meaning of a Hebrew word which sounds similar -- balal -- that is, 'confused'. Unless you live in a very insular community, you have probably experienced an occasion of hearing others speaking animatedly in a different language while you remain unable to understand it yourself. It is very easy to become frustrated and angry when you can't express the things which need to be expressed. It is not difficult to imagine the frustration these proud builders experienced, and to understand why the different groups soon scattered over the face of the whole earth.

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