Even after the covenant with Noah, the world deteriorates back into sin. Noah’s son, Ham, sinfully reveals the nakedness of his father, and Ham’s hereditary line spreads sinfulness throughout the earth once again. In Genesis 11, the world comes together to build a large tower. While building a tower is not a sinful action in itself, a closer reading of the story will reveal why God desired to stop the construction of the Tower of Babel and its city.
We have finally come to the last story of Genesis which is in the literary genre of Hebrew Poetry. So we must once again recall that we are looking to understand the “why,” of the story and not the exact factual “how.” In the story, people from all over the world who spoke the same language came together to build a tower and a city to make a name for themselves. Hearing their plans, God decides to confuse their language and spread them all over the earth (which seems fairly merciful compared to some of His previous acts of justice).
While there are some elements that may seem fantastic to the non-believer, it is helpful to remember that we know in this region of the world, there were large buildings called ziggurats that were often temples in which they would make sacrifices to foreign gods. Human sacrifice was also a practice during this time period. So when we read this story, we must remember some of the historical realities that may have earned the justice of God.
With that being said, we must examine the text. Technological advancement is not something that displeases God. On the contrary, God delights when His creation participates in His action of creation. However, intention is everything. When it comes to morally neutral actions (such as building a tower) we have to recognize that an evil intention can make that action sinful. When the people build a tower for the purpose of making a name for themselves, this is an act of pride. They are coming together for the glorification of self. They are intentionally removing God from their midst and grasping after divinity. The people of the earth attempted to be like God without God. While this can seem harmless on the surface, it is building a society on a poor foundation. The society that is founded on the glorification of self becomes a sinful society of injustice, depression, and violence (welcome to 21st century western culture).
As a justice to stop the current sin, and a mercy to the people to spare them of the aforementioned society, God confused their language. This is another element of the story that seems fantastic. Yet modern day linguistics experts will say that just as it is believed we all come from the same human genome, all languages originated from one common ancestor language. While we know that we are not looking at the facts of the story, when looking at what we now know of the time period, it seems possible that the literal translation of the story could have happened.
That aside, the truth of the story resides in the danger of pride. When we come together to glorify ourselves, it will not end well because it was not what we were created for. We were created to give glory to God, and He in turn gives in over abundance to His children.
We also see the typological significance of the Tower of Babel in the story of Pentecost. Men and women come together in an elevated space (the upper room) for the glorification of God and the Spirit descends upon them. Instead of confusing their speech, all those who spoke different languages could understand the preaching of the Apostles. They were brought together for the glory of God, the Church of Christ was born, and it endures to this day. This is the community that God desired for His children, not one built on pride. As we continue through Genesis, we will see God prepare the beginning of that community through the faith of one man and his family.
Looking back at Genesis 1-11, this is the ‘why’ that is trying to be conveyed. First, God created the world out of pure love, made the human race the pinnacle of His creation, and invited the human race to enter into His divine mission of governing, cultivating, and caring for the earth. This would be their worship and participation in His rest. Through a personal relationship, God gives our first parents the option to love Him through the gift of free will. When they were tempted by Satan and chose against Him (sin), the consequence was separation from God and His divine life. As a result, sin multiplies through the earth until God acts in His justice to eradicate sin. Yet in every act of justice, God also reveals His mercy foreshadowing the coming of the fulfillment of His justice and mercy in His Son.