This next story explains the ways of the world today. It goes back before the time of the Table of Nations. After the Great Flood, all the humans really stuck together. They spoke the language of Noah. They traveled the land together as nomads. They lived in tents that could easily be picked up and moved. They herded their animals along with them as they wandered from place to place seeking good water supplies and plenty of grassland for their animals.
As a whole people group, they began to move towards the east. Finally, they found themselves in a land with a wide, open plain. It was in a place called Shinar. One day, it would become Babylon. We call that ancient area Mesopotamia, but today it is the nation of Iraq.
The numbers seven and ten are often used as symbols in the Bible. When there is ten of something, it can mean it is complete and whole. When there is seven of something, it means it is divinely complete and whole.
Well, in Genesis, the direction of going east is often a sign of something, too. It is a biblical symbol that should catch the reader’s eye. Moving east meant moving away from the presence of God. God is everywhere, but His special, intense presence on earth was in the Garden. Cain moved east after his murder of Abel to the land of Nod and built a city fortress. Now the entire human race roamed eastward together. That was not a good sign! Then they decided to settle down in the east. That is even worse! They wanted to stay far from the LORD!
Why would they want to move away from God? Well, there were two reasons. For one, God had told them to scatter across the earth and fill it up. But they wanted to stick together like glue! But there was something more to their move away from God. They had begun to worship and obey other powers. They were making idols. They were already following the vicious demonic gods of the sons of Caan. The rebellion was in full force.
After they settled on the plains of Shinar, the descendants of Noah sat down and made a plan. They were going to build something great, something magnificent. It would be a sprawling city with a huge tower in the center. It would be a mighty temple to the pagan gods. It would be like a massive altar of idolatry. The tower would reach up to the Heavens as a pathway to the gods, and it would bring the people glory and honor. Then they would be united as a people! Then they would never be scattered across the earth, far away from each other.
In their fear of being scattered, in their dread of loneliness and isolation, they were finding their own solution apart from God. Though he made them, they refused to trust in His loyal and faithful love. They turned to the security of safety in numbers. They turned to demonic gods because they thought they could get them to do whatever they wanted.
Humanity was created to obey the good and gracious God of the universe. These humans did not want to submit to Him. They wanted gods that would do their own will and give them their desires. The demonic powers of this world are happy to lie and deceive people into thinking they will be helpful. But they are really drawing humans into a trap of bondage and slavery.
These early humans felt powerful when they lived in their own strength and in their own way, and so they got to work. They discussed how they were going to make bricks and use tar to hold them together. They designed the city and figured out where they would put the tower. They began to assign jobs to people. Some would make the bricks, and some would lay them down. Others would make sure everything was being built where it belonged. Humanity was all hustling and bustling to get the job done. Imagine the energy they were giving to these plans, all driven by their pride and rebellion.
How distorted the human race had already become! They were meant to reflect the image of God and give Him glory, but they planned and schemed to bring glory to themselves! Here they were, building a city whose temple was a sign of their total rejection of their God. They were building it to protect themselves from having to obey God! They were building a tower to Heaven so they could make themselves greater than God! Can you imagine? God made the trillions upon trillions of massive, flaming stars in the universe merely by speaking, and these foolish people believed that a tower made of brick and tar could compete against Him.
God saw all that was happening with the people He created. He watched as they moved eastward, and He watched as they boasted and built their mighty tower. And then God came down. Imagine this! The Almighty Lord reigns in glory on His exalted throne in Heaven. Yet He chose to look upon these utterly foolish, proud people with concern. As they swarmed around like ants, God came down to their puny little tower. He came down to bring an end to their rebellion once again. What a patient God of grace! Even when they were still bathing in their sin, He acted on their behalf to keep them from becoming even worse.
The Lord had an amazing plan. He knew that if He let the people of the world stay together, they would do everything they could to disobey Him. Together, they would constantly break the good boundaries that He had set for them. They would be united in finding ways of deeper and deeper sin and rebellion. So God decided to split them up. Listen to what the Bible says:
“The LORD said…‘Come, let us go down and confuse their language in
their own territories.”
The Tower of Babel was the beginning of all of that, and it started with giving them different languages. When we read the Table of Nations, we were reading about the places that God scattered them! Yet God’s blessing to be fruitful and multiply was still on all the nations, and each of them grew into large societies with their own culture and way of life.
The rebellion and sin of humanity continued. The arrogance and pride that the people had shown towards God at Babel would soon be turned against each other. Their selfish hatred of God turned into a selfish hatred of other humans. Tyrannical leaders like Nimrod, the descendent of Ham, would battle, kill, and destroy the peoples of other nations and language groups to create an empire and build cities for his own glory. Most people would never have the power to do what Nimrod did. Their selfishness would show through their hatred against their neighbors and their family members and themselves. The tyranny of sin was alive in every heart.
Because of this sin, this horrible deformation of the heart, human society will never be perfect and stable until the curse is removed. Humans will cling to each other in unity for protection. But they also selfishly take from each other, which brings anger and hostility. Do you have a brother or sister or a friend that you love to play with? Do you still fight with them over toys? Do you still get angry if they get to do something that you don’t get to do? Do you get into trouble for arguing with them? If you said yes, that is because you are a human in a cursed world. All of us want to be close and to have unity with other people. But we are all very sinful, too, and so we selfishly battle to truly love each other the way God loves us.
Your family is just a small picture of how this happens in the rest of the world. Without faith in God and His strength to love one another, the government systems of the world are doomed to fail. We can see this in the long history of humanity and the constant wars and battles between the nations. Humans cannot turn away from God’s love and powerful peace without losing peace and love. Anything that is truly good and right in the universe comes from Him. It is His gracious gift. A man named C.S. Lewis explained that turning away from the only true Source of goodness in the world is like refusing air. Air is the only way we can breath and stay alive. The Creator of the universe is the only source of love and good. Rejecting His ways means turning towards works of evil. It will always end in wickedness, violence, and suffering.