The Tower of Babel— Genesis 11:1-9

In Genesis 11, we find another incident. The sons of Noah decide to build a tower to the heavens.


We argue that Genesis 11 ought to have come before Genesis 10. Genesis 10 informs the reader about the different languages and ethnicities that came about, while Genesis 11 explains HOW they came about. Observe the story:


Genesis 11:1 (NKJV)

1 Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. 

At this time, there was one language. So this is actually before Genesis 10. Genesis 10 informs the reader of all the languages that existed at that time. Gen 11 tells us WHY they existed.


Observe the succedent verses:

2 And it came to pass, as THEY (all men descended from Noah’s sons) journeyed from the east, that THEY found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they DWELT THERE. 3 Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. 4 And they said, “Come, let us BUILD OURSELVES a CITY, and A TOWER whose TOP is in the HEAVENS; let us make a NAME FOR OURSELVES, lest we be SCATTERED ABROAD over the face of the whole earth.”


Is this what God wanted? No! Did the sons of Noah know? Yes! Recall what God had told them after the flood?


Genesis 9:1 (NKJV)

1 So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and FILL THE EARTH.


So in Genesis 11, we find the sons of Noah disobedient to the heavenly mandate. They are full of pride and self idolatry, just like Adam.


Now, see what God does: “But the Lord CAME DOWN to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.” (Gen 11:5)


This phrase “came down” is a figure of speech known as sarcasm. God “descending” is to show that no matter how high man builds, God still needs to “descend” to see it; this is a mockery. No institution of man would ever supersede God!


Then vs. 6 says, “And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are ONE and they all have ONE LANGUAGE, and this is what they begin to do; now NOTHING that they PROPOSE to do will be withheld from them.” Is God against human unity? No But He IS against human unity in pride and rebellion. This unity in Babel was not what God wanted for man. God wants ALL MEN united, but not in sin!


Thus He says in vs. 7, “Come, let Us go down and there CONFUSE their language, that they may NOT UNDERSTAND one another’s speech.” This is the reason for Genesis 10. So Genesis 11 explains Genesis 10. Now, the word “confuse” in vs. 8 translates the Hebrew word “balal” which means to mix or mingle together.


God does not cause them to IMMEDIATELY start speaking different languages (as many have thought and taught). Rather, He inspired the IDEA to have different languages. The people began to consider alternate forms of communication. Thus, several languages evolved. This happened over a course of time (not overnight).


Then those who chose to communicate the same way (language) grouped themselves together and went away to find their own land (Gen 10). This is where various ethnic groups, tribes, tongues etc now came in.


Vv. 8-9 say this, “8 So the Lord SCATTERED THEM ABROAD from there over the face of all the earth, and they CEASED building the city. 9 Therefore its name is called BABEL (or Babylon, which means “confusion”), because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad OVER THE FACE OF ALL THE EARTH.” This is in accordance with Yahweh’s plan that men fill all of the Earth (Gen 1:28)


Note as each people group settled in different places, their cultures would differ (the kind of food they eat, clothes, housing etc). But they are ALL the same, from the same place and from the same man (Adam).


Genesis 11 is often interpreted negatively. But this should not be. Genesis 11 is God bringing His plan to pass, more than it is a punishment. God’s issue was not with humanity coming together as one, but with humanity coming together as one TO SIN and rebel against Him.


Various ethnicities may have come about WHILE men were sinning (in Gen 11) but ethnicities are not sinful. What is sinful is ethnocentrism; where one ethnic group presumes superiority over others.


(For a thorough treatment of this subject, you may consult the sermon-series “God Wants The World! PART 2” by Pastor Josh Banks, which deals with the concepts of RACE, SKIN COLOUR and ETHNICITY from the Bible)


© Josh Banks Ministries. 2021.


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