A Tower To Heaven (Part 2)

“And the Lord came down to see. . .” (Genesis 11:5). God is always watching. He is interested in the achievements and projects of His creation – although He disapproves of those things which test His preeminence. In addition, the language of this phrase provides irony; no matter how impressed mankind is with what they are constructing (the top of this tower was supposed to reach all the way up to heaven), in reality any achievement is only miniscule compared to God. The Lord had to “come down to see” this “magnificent” tower!

“Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them” (11:6). This verse is not saying the God fears the potential of human ability, or that He is unable to keep us in check. Rather, it is emphasizing the point that when large groups of humans work together, marvelous things can be accomplished. Most large-scale projects of mankind, though, have been for selfish or unholy reasons: the pyramids were meant to show the power and deity of the pharaohs; the tower of Alexander was an imposing figure meant to illustrate Alexander’s feats; the hanging gardens of Babylon; the elegant temples of ancient Greece and Rome; the most advanced weapons of war were meant for conquest and greed. God does not scatter the people in Genesis out of fear for Himself, but because He is afraid of what humanity can do to itself. Consider what one writer says, “One world government probably would result ultimately not in human progress but in slavery. . . one monolithic world state might conceivably put an end to all further political experimentation and result in an irreversible totalitarianism” (Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis, Davis, 150).

God knew that this tower was just the beginning. It was not unity itself that displeased God, but unity for a selfish, godless purpose. God had already seen what humanity was capable of (Genesis 6:5). To a people who could build that tower and live in such unified rebellion against their Creator, no sin would seem impossible. Our potential for sin and selfishness should scare us (Ecclesiastes 9:18).

The Confusion of Languages

“Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (11:7). Notice here that God deals with the problem at its core, and not just the outer manifestations. The Lord could have easily just toppled the tower and left man alone, but that would only be a superficial and temporary solution. To adequately enforce His command to fill the earth, while still respecting the free will of mankind, God confuses their language. He did not force them to quit construction of the city, nor did He force them to leave. God simply made it very difficult! Besides, some things seem very striking about the cessation of work:

The project may have been too large for a small group of people to maintain. Did they fail to count the cost? Did they assume that their population would never be devastated by plague or famine?

The tower is immediately abandoned. Was their devotion to it only superficial? Do big projects lose their luster eventually? When was the last time you abandoned a big project when it became too hot outside or unforeseen difficulties arose. This tower was supposed to show humanity’s resolve to achieve great things, but what it ended up illustrating was a tendency to quit.

Often what holds a society together is a rather flimsy cause. Add a language barrier and a tower that reaches to the heavens just becomes kind of a burden.

With divine ease, the Lord causes the dispersion of all the people throughout the world. Again, these people still had free will, but the fact that their languages were all different made it almost pointless to continue cohabitation of the same land. In spite of human irreverence, God’s will is still accomplished (Genesis 11:8-9).