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ELM-Home Page  Back To Genesis

THE TOWER OF BABEL
AND
THE CONFUSION OF LANGUAGES

by Lambert Dolphin

 

Tower of Babel


The building of the Tower of Babel and the Confusion of Tongues (languages) in ancient Babylon is mentioned rather briefly in Genesis Chapters 10 and 11. Genesis 10 is the so-called "Table of Nations"--a list of 70 names of Noah's descendants through Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The list is probably not complete, but we are given a good picture of the division of our race into three branches each having been gifted special giftedness and unique qualities by God, highlighting the spiritual, intellectual and physical sides of man as he was created in the image of God. Genesis 10:6-12 includes a parenthetical section on one of the sons of grandsons Ham, Nimrod the son of Cush.

"The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan. Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, 'Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.' The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city...(Genesis 10:6-12)

Nimrod's name is from the verb "let us revolt." He is said to be a mighty hunter (gibbor tsayidh) in the sight of the Lord, but the language has a dark meaning. He becomes a tyrant or despot leading an organized rebellion against the rule of Yahweh. He hunts not animals, but rather the souls of men. Cain, a condemned murderer had started the first cities before the Flood. Nimrod builds the first post-Flood cities. The region he settles in is now mostly modern Iraq--unusual for Ham--most of the sons of Ham went south to Africa or East to China. The people of Shem stayed close-in to the region where the Ark landed, the Japhethites headed mostly North and West. Genesis 10 continues with a list of the other descendants of Ham, then presents a list of Shem's lineage. Chapter 11 resumes the account of Nimrod's Babylon:

"Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, 'Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.' And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.' And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, 'Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.' So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.' Therefore its name was called Babel, 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." (Genesis 11:1-9)

Map of Babylon"Babel" is composed of two words, "baa" meaning "gate" and "el," "god." Hence, "the gate of god." A related word in Hebrew, "balal" means "confusion."

Nimrod probably began to build his cities within a hundred years of the Flood. The confusion of tongues is usually thought to have occurred during the days of Peleg (Gen. 10:25). The chronology one derives from most English Bibles, which are translated from the Masoretic Hebrew text, places the time of Peleg only about 100 years after the Flood. This is probably incorrect. Barry Setterfield dates Peleg as living 530 years after the Flood, using the Vorlage Text and the Septuagint (LXX). See his Creation and Catastrophe Chronology. The dates computed by Setterfield are a much better fit to what we know from archaeology and recorded history about the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Fertile Crescent Region. The world population at the time of the Dispersion at Babel may have been of the order of tens of thousands of persons.

Babylon becomes, in history, the fountainhead of false religion in the Post-Flood world. The city Babylon and Iraq figure in Biblical prophecies connected with the end of the age. "Mystery Babylon" is a theme seen even more in Bible prophecy. Revelation 17-18 depicts God's final judgment of world religion plus world commerce and trade since these man-made systems have sprung from the source rebellion of Nimrod and Babel.
[See the e-book Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done...(pdf file) for a description of the place of Babylon in Biblical eschatology.]


The Tower of Babel

by Ray C. Stedman

The appearance of the first city [after the flood, built by Nimrod] goes back in the story of Cain and Abel, when Cain went out and built a city. It illustrated the hunger of humanity to huddle together for companionship, even though they were not really ready to do it (as they still, obviously, are not ready to live together successfully in cities). God's final intention is to build a city for man. Abraham looked for "a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God." But man was not yet ready for that. Now here they are, again ready to build a city to satisfy the desires of body and soul. There is nothing that does this better than for human beings to live together in cities. Cities are centers of commercial and business life where all the needs of the body can best be met. Also, cities are centers of pleasure and culture, where all the hungers of the soul can be satisfied: hunger for beauty, art, and music and all the ingredients of culture.

The tower, on the other hand, is designed to satisfy the spirit of man. Here we see, reflected in these two things, a fundamental understanding of the nature of man as body, soul, and spirit. All are to be satisfied in these two elementary needs, the city and the tower. A number of years ago, digging in the plains of Shinar, archaeologists discovered the remains of certain great towers that these early Babylonians had built. Some archaeologists have felt that they may even have found the foundation of this original tower of Babel. That is very hard to determine. But they did find that the Babylonians built great towers called ziggurats, which were built in a circular fashion with an ascending staircase that terminates in a shrine at the top, around which are written the signs of the zodiac. Obviously, the tower was a religious building, intending to expose man to the mystery of the heavens and the greatness of God. That, perhaps, is what is meant here by the statement that they intended to build a tower with its top in the heavens. They were impressed by its greatness architecturally, that is, it was a colossal thing for the men of that day to build and they may have thus thought of it as reaching into heaven. But they also unquestionably were thinking of it as a means of communication with God, of maintaining contact with him. God is not to be left out, you see, in the city of man. He is there, represented by this tower.

However, the heart of the matter is made clear in these words, "let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." Already a haunting fear had set in. They were conscious already of a disruptive influence in their midst, of a centrifugal force that was pushing them apart so they could not live too closely together and which would ultimately, they feared, scatter them abroad and leave them unknown, unhonored, and unsung, living in isolated communities where they would be exposed to great danger. The fear of this caused them to build a tower and a city. The ultimate motive is expressed in these words, "let us make a name for ourselves."

From that day on this has been the motto of humanity, "let us make a name for ourselves." I am always amused to see how many public edifices have put a plaque somewhere on which the names of all the public officials who were in power when it was built are inscribed: the mayor, the head of public works, etc. "Let us make a name for ourselves," is a fundamental urge of a fallen race. It reveals one of the basic philosophies of humanism: "Glory to man in the highest, for man is the master of things." That is the central thought of humanism, glory to mankind.

The fact that this was a religious tower-and yet built to make a name for man-reveals the master motive behind religion. It is a means by which man attempts to share the glory of God. We must understand this, otherwise we will never understand the power of religion as it has pervaded the earth and permeated our culture ever since. It is a way by which man seeks to share what is rightfully God's alone. This tower was a grandiose structure, and undoubtedly it was intended to be a means by which man would glorify God. Unquestionably there was a plaque somewhere attached to it that carried the pious words, "Erected in the year ___, to the greater glory of God." But it was not really for the glory of God; it was a way of controlling God, a way of channeling God by using him for man's glory. That is what man's religion has always sought to do. It is a way of making God available to us.

Man does not really want to eliminate God. It is only sporadically and then only for a relatively brief time, that men cry out for the elimination of God. Atheism is too barren, too pessimistic and too morally bankrupt to live with very long. The communists are finding this out. No, we need "dear old God," but let's keep him under control. Do not let him get out of his place. "Don't call us, God; we'll call you." This is the fundamental philosophy of society. It is the tower of Babel all over again. (from The Beginnings, by Ray C. Stedman, Waco Books, 1978.


Nimrod the Son of Cush the Son of Ham

by Ray C. Stedman

The four sons of Ham are relatively easy to trace in history. Cush is associated with the peoples of Southern Arabia and Ethiopia. Ethiopians still trace their ancestry back to Cush. Egypt (or Mizraim, in Hebrew-an ancient name for Egypt) became the father of the Egyptian Empire, settling in the Nile Valley. Put is associated with Lydia, on the west of Egypt in North Africa. Canaan centered largely in and around Palestine, though the Canaanites later became much more widespread.

The account zooms in on an individual named Nimrod, who is called a great hunter. He is a rather mysterious figure of great importance in ancient history. He is the founder of both Babylon and Nineveh, the two great cities of antiquity which became, ultimately, enemies of Israel. The prominent thing that is said about him here is that he was a mighty man, a mighty hunter before the Lord. Now, it was the work of kings in those ancient days to be hunters. This was a time when civilization was sparse and wild animals were a constant threat to the people. Kings, having nothing much else to do, organized hunting parties and acted as the protectors of their people by killing wild animals. Nimrod evidently gained a great reputation as such a hunter, but he was more than a hunter of wild animals. The Jewish Talmud helps us here, for it says that he was "a hunter of the souls of men." By the founding of Babylon and Nineveh we have a hint given of the nature of this man. We are told here that he was "the first mighty man on earth," i.e., after the flood. That phrase, "mighty man," takes us back to Genesis 6 where, in that strange story of the invasion of the "sons of God" into the human race, there resulted a race of giants called Nephilim.

We are told that "these were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown." This demonic invasion of the race, with sexual overtones, brought into being a race of giants that were morally degraded. These also appear later on in the Canaanite tribes. We have found this suggestive line of thought running through the Scriptural account up to this point. Nimrod apparently was one of these "mighty men," and therefore introduced a perverted, degraded form of religion into the world. It began at Babylon, spread to Nineveh, and can be traced in history as it subsequently spread throughout the whole of the earth. Thus, in this man Nimrod, we have the seed of idolatry and false religion coming in again after the flood.

If you drop the first consonant of Nimrod's name and take the others M, R, D you will have the basic root of the god of Babylon, whose name was Marduk, and whom most scholars identify with Nimrod. In the Babylonian religion, Nimrod (or Marduk) held a unique place. His wife was Semiramis. (In Cairo, Egypt, the Semiramis Hotel is named after this woman.) Marduk and Semiramis were the ancient god and goddess of Babylon. They had a son whom Semiramis claimed was virgin-born, and they founded the mother and child cult. This was the central character of the religion of ancient Babylon, the worship of a mother and child, supposedly virgin-born. You can see in this a clever attempt on the part of Satan to anticipate the genuine virgin birth and thus to cast disrepute upon the story when the Lord Jesus would later be born into history.

Map of ancient Babylon
Map of ancient Babylon (Unger)

This ancient Babylonian cult of the mother and child spread to other parts of the earth. You will find it in the Egyptian religion as Isis and Osiris. In Greece it is Venus and Adonis, and in the Hindu religion it is Ushas and Vishnu. The same cult prevails in various other localities. It appears in the Old Testament in Jeremiah where the Israelites are warned against offering sacrifices to "the Queen of Heaven." This Queen of Heaven is Semiramis, the wife of Nimrod, the original mother of the Mother and Child cult. The cult has also crept into Christianity and forms the basis for the Mariolatry that has prevailed in the Roman Catholic Church, where the Mother and Child are worshiped as joint redeemers. Alexander Hislop, an authoritative writer in this field, has written a book called "The Two Babylons," which should be of great interest if you desire to pursue this further. This idolatrous religion culminates at last in the Bible in the book of Revelation. There, a "great harlot" appears, whose name is "Mystery Babylon the Great," the originator of all the harlotries and false religions of earth. The essence of Babylonianism, as we understand from Scripture, is the attempt to gain earthly honor by means of religious authority. That is Babylonianism, and it has pervaded Christian churches, Hindu temples, Buddhist shrines, and Mohammedan mosques. Everywhere it is the element that marks falseness in religion-the attempt to gain earthly power and prestige by means of religious authority. That is what Nimrod began and what God will ultimately destroy, as we read in the book of Revelation. (from The Beginnings by Ray C. Stedman, Word Books 1978).


Notes by James Montgomery Boice on Nimrod and Babel

THE FIRST WORLD EMPIRE

There is an interesting feature of Moses' treatments of these descendants of Ham that is at once recognizable to one who reads this chapter. It is the parenthesis that fills verses 8-12. It comes in the middle of the table of nations and, in a sense, interrupts it. These verses deal, not with the general movements of peoples and nations, but with one particular descendant of Cush, Nimrod, who is said to have been the founder of the first world empire. Here is the first place in the Bible where the word "kingdom" occurs. Significantly, it is used, not of God's kingdom (as it is later), but of this first rival kingdom of Nimrod. This matter was obviously of great importance to Moses, for a related parenthesis occurs in the first nine verses of chapter 11, in the story of the tower of Babel.

What is so significant about Nimrod? The fact that he established cities and built a kingdom is important, of course. But there is much more that can be said.

Nimrod was the first person to become a "mighty" man. Our text calls attention to this by using the adjective "mighty" three times in describing him: "Nimrod ... grew to be a mighty warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; that is why it is said, 'Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the LORD'" (vv. 8, 9). The adjective also occurs in a similar way in 1 Chronicles 1:10. Why is this emphasized? Is it good or bad? A little thought will show that it is bad. The empire of Babylon under Nimrod was an affront both to God and man, an affront to God in that it sought to do without God (Gen. 11:1-9) and an affront to man in that it sought to rule over other people tyrannously. Martin Luther was on the right track when he suggested that this is the way the word "hunter" should be interpreted. This is not talking about Nimrod's ability to hunt wild game. He was not a hunter of animals. He was a hunter of men--a warrior. It was through his ability to fight and kill and rule ruthlessly that his kingdom of Euphrates valley city states was consolidated.

One commentator renders this paragraph: "Cush begat Nimrod; he began to be a mighty despot in the land. He was an arrogant tyrant, defiant before the face of the Lord; wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod, the mighty despot, haughty before the face of the Lord. And the homeland of his empire was Babel, then Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From this base he invaded the kingdom of Asshur, and built Nineveh, and Rehoboth-Ir, and Calah, and Resin between Nineveh and Calah. These make up one great City. (Barnhouse, The Invisible War)

Here we have a great city. But it is great, not as Jerusalem is great (as God's city), but great in its defiance of God. This is man's city, the secular city. It is of man, by man, and for man's glory.

The later Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar is the clearest biblical illustration of these elements. It is about Nebuchadnezzar, who embodies the secular city, and God, who operates through Daniel and his friends. The key to the Book of Daniel is in the opening verses which say that after Nebuchadnezzar had besieged and conquered Jerusalem (though it was "the Lord [who] gave Jehoaikim. king of Judah into his hand"), he took some of the sacred vessels of the temple treasury, brought them to Babylon and there "put the vessels [in the treasury] house of his god" (Dan. 1:2). This was Nebuchadnezzar's way of saying that his gods were stronger than Jehovah. And so it seemed! God had certainly permitted Nebuchadnezzar to triumph over his own people in punishment for their sins.

One evening Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that involved a great image. It was of gold, silver, brass, and iron. The head was of gold. This represented the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar and was God's way of acknowledging that Babylon was indeed magnificent. But, as God went on to point out, Babylon would be succeeded by another kingdom represented by the silver arms and chest of the figure, that kingdom by another represented by the figure's brass middle portions, and then that by a kingdom represented by the legs of iron. It was only at the end of this period that the eternal kingdom of God in Christ would come and overthrow all others, grow and fill the earth. In this vision God was telling Nebuchadnezzar that he was not as important as he thought he was and that it was God Himself who rules history.

In the next chapter Nebuchadnezzar sets up a gold statue on the plain of Dura. On the surface this seems to be only the foolish gesture of a vain monarch who insists that the statue be worshiped as a symbol of the unity of the empire. However, when the story is read with the vision of the statue of chapter 2 in view, one realizes that the later episode actually shows Nebuchadnezzar rebelling against God's decree. God had said, "Your kingdom will be succeeded by other kingdoms, kingdoms of silver, brass and iron." Nebuchadnezzar replied, "No, my kingdom will endure; it will always be glorious--I will create a statue of which not only the head will be of gold, but the shoulders, thighs and legs also. It will all be of gold, for it will represent me and my descendants forever." This personal involvement with the statue explains the king's violent reaction when the three Jewish men refused to bow down to it.

It also explains the violent reaction of the secular mind to Christian claims today. It is not just a question of the Christian God versus other gods, each one presumably thinking that his or her god is the true one. It is the rebellion of man against God, period. God is He to whom we are responsible. But fallen men and women do not want to be responsible to anyone. They want to rule themselves. They want to exclude God from His own universe. That the secular city is also by man for man comes out in the remainder of Nebuchadnezzar's story. One day, a year or more after the earlier incident, Nebuchadnezzar was walking on the roof of his palace in Babylon and he looked out over the city. He was impressed with its magnificence. Judging himself to be responsible for this, he took to himself the glory that should have been given to God, saying, "Is not the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power for the glory of my majesty?" (Dan. 4:30). It was a claim that the earthly city been constructed by man and for man's glory.

In one sense this was true. Nebuchadnezzar had constructed the city, and his conquests had brought it to great architectural splendor. Again, he had undoubtedly constructed it for his glory, Nimrod had constructed the first Babylon for his glory. What both had forgotten is that ultimately it is God who in the affairs of men and that the achievements of a secular ruler are made possible only through the common gifts of God to humanity.

So God promises to bring the secular city down. Nebuchadnezzar had judged himself superior to those around him because of his political achievements, so superior that he had no need of God. God speaks to show how mistaken Nebuchadnezzar was. God says, "This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by, for until you acknowledge that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of the earth and gives them to anyone he pleases" (Dan. 4:31, 32). The judgment is to take effect immediately. Nebuchadnezzar's mind goes from him, and he is driven from the city. The text says, "He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird" (v. 33). Eventually Babylon itself fell, never to rise again.

It is interesting that in this particular branch of Ham's family we have a reversal (probably deliberate) of God's judgment on Canaan for Ham's sin in ridiculing Noah. God had pronounced a curse on Canaan through Noah, saying, "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers" (Gen. 9:25). But so far as we know, in these early days God did not put this prophecy into effect by subjecting Canaan, his descendants, his brothers, or any of their descendants to Shem or Japheth. This happened later through Israel's invasion of the Promised Land, but it did not happen in these early days. Instead, it is the brother of Canaan, Cush, and his descendants who determine to enslave the others.

I say this may be deliberate, for I can imagine Nimrod to have thought in this manner. He may have said, "I don't know about the others, but I regard this matter of the curse of God on Canaan as a major disgrace on my family, one that needs to be erased. Did God say that my uncle Canaan would be a slave? I'll fight that judgment. I'll never be a slave! What's more, I'll be the exact opposite. I'll be so strong that others will become slaves to me. Instead of 'slave,' I'll make them say, 'Here comes Nimrod, the mightiest man on earth."'

This is the normal reaction of the human spirit when faced with God's curse. It says, "I'll defy it. I'll take care of my own problems." So it creates the arts, raises an army, builds its cities, and marches out to make a name for itself in defiance of God's decrees.

But God's decrees are not overturned this way. God's curse is not successfully defied. There is only one Way we can escape God's curse, and that is at the point where God takes the curse on Himself. There is no reason why He should do this. But He does. He comes in the person of Jesus Christ "taking the very nature of a servant Christ [a slave], being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!" (Phil. 2:7,8). Thus "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13). And what happens? Having thus subjected Himself, He is given a name that is "above every name" (Phil. 2:9) and declared to be the ruler of heaven and earth. That is our pattern: to come to Christ where the curse of God against sin is poured out, to be clothed in His righteousness, and then to learn that path of humble service to others within the human family which is the true and only road to real greatness....

The Tower of Babel

The tenth and eleventh chapters of Genesis are composed of genealogies of nations and peoples designed to link the story of Noah and the Flood, which fills chapters 6 through 9, with the story of Abraham and his descendants, which fills the remainder of the book. The genealogies begin with Noah's three sons-Shem, Ham, and Japheth-and move eventually to Terah from whom Abraham is born. At two points there are parentheses dealing with the founding of the first world empire under Nimrod. The first parenthesis is 10:8-12. The second is 11:1-9.

These two go together. The first tells of Nimrod's exploits. The second does not mention Nimrod but speaks rather of an attempt to build the city of Babylon, a central feature of which was to be a great tower. On the surface these seem to be accounts of two quite separate incidents. But this is not the case. The second does indeed tell of the founding of Babylon, but we learn from the first that Babylon was the initial city of Nimrod's city-building empire. Moreover, as we study them we see that the founding of Babylon and the building of the tower of Babel in chapter 11 are an elaboration of the earlier narrative. In the first we have an emphasis on Nimrod--what he was like, what he did, what his goals were. In the second we have a treatment of the same theme but from the perspective of the people who worked with him. In each case there is a desire to build a civilization without God.

THE FIRST "COME"

The account of the building of Babylon begins by saying that the world had one common language (as would be expected due to the people's common descent from Noah) and since part of the world's people moved eastward, some settled on the plain of Shinar or Babylonia. So far, so good. God had told the descendants of Noah to "increase in number and fill the earth" (Gen. 9:1), a reiteration of the command originally given to Adam and Eve in Paradise (Gen. 1:28). The settlement of Shinar could be construed as a partial fulfillment of that command. Yet as we read we find that the goal of this particular settlement was not to fulfill God's command but to defy it. From the beginning, Babylon's goal was to resist any further scattering of the peoples over the earth and instead to create a city where the achievements of a united and integrated people would be centralized.

The Bible reports this desire as an invitation to "come" together to work on this great project. It is the first important "come" of the story. "They said to each other, 'Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly.' They used brick instead of stone, and tar instead of mortar. Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth"' (Gen. 3,4).

Three things are involved in this invitation: 1) a vision for the city, 2) a desire for a name or reputation, and 3) a plan for a new religion. The plan for a city does not need to be examined at length; we have already discussed it in our study of Nimrod. The important point is that it was not God's city, as Jerusalem was. It was man's city, the secular city. As such it was constructed by man for man's glory. The last of these desires--to construct a place for man's glory--is involved in the word "name": Come, let us...make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." It was the desire for reputation but, more than that, also a desire for independence from God. This reputation was to be earned by man apart from God. It was to be his alone.

We cannot forget that one characteristic of the God of the Bible is that He names people. He gives them names symbolic of what He is going to do with them or make of them. God named Adam (Gen. 5:2), Abraham (Gen. 17:5), Israel (Gen. 32:8), even Jesus (Matt. 1:21). In each case, the names point to what God has done or will yet do. The people of Babylon wanted none of this. They wanted to establish their own reputation and eliminate God entirely.

REACHING FOR THE STARS

Thus far in our study of Babylon the one element that has been missing is religion. But that is where the famed tower of Babel comes in, in my judgment. I say "in my judgment," but I must add that most commentators sense this truth, even though they interpret the tower in different ways. Luther says that the words "reaches to the heavens" should not be applied to the height alone but rather should be seen as denoting "that this was to be a place of worship. Candlish says, "The building of the tower 'unto heaven' had undoubtedly a religions meaning. Morris writes that in his desire to build a great empire Nimrod realized that the people needed a religious motivation strong enough to overcome their knowledge that God had commanded them to scatter abroad on the earth. He feels that the tower satisfied that need and was therefore "dedicated to heaven and its angelic host. Let me tell you what I think the tower means.

First, it should be regarded as having a religious end because the Bible traces all false religions to Babylon and this is the only element in the description of early Babylon that can have this meaning. We would expect something like this from the nature of Babylon and its culture and from what is told us of all cultures that turn away from God. Romans says that when people reject the knowledge of God they inevitably turn to false gods, making them like "mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles" (Rom. 1:23). The citizens of Babylon had rejected the knowledge of the true God. Therefore, we should expect the creation of a false religion as part of their dubious cultural achievements. Again, the Bible speaks of "mystery Babylon," that is, of the reality symbolized by the earthly city, saying that it is "the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth" (Rev. 17:5). This refers, as do the ideas of prostitution and abomination throughout the Bible, to false religion.

There is evidence that this was the case historically. Morris notes, "The essential identity of the various gods and goddesses of Rome, Greece, India, Egypt, and other nations with the original pantheon of the Babylonians is well established. [In fact], Nimrod himself was apparently later deified as the chief god ('Merodach' or 'Marduk') of Babylon.

Second, there is the description of the tower. Most of our translations speak of a tower that should "reach" to the heavens, but it is hard to think that even these people could have been foolish enough to suppose that they could do this literally. Or even if they did, it is hard to think of them as being foolish enough to build their tower on the plain of Shinar, that is, almost at sea level, when they could equally well have built it on the top of a nearby mountain and thus have begun with a few thousand feet head start. Actually, this is probably not at all what was involved. In the Hebrew text the words "to reach" do not occur. The text speaks of the top of the tower as "in," "on," "with," or "by" the heavens (all four being possible translations of the one Hebrew preposition). This could mean that the top was dedicated to the heavens as a place of worship (the view of Morris) or even that it had a representation of the heavens (a zodiac) upon it.

I think this last possibility is the real meaning, for the reason that astrology, which focuses on a study of the zodiac, originated in Babylon. Turn to any book on astrology and you will find that it was the Chaldeans (another name for the inhabitants of Babylon) who first developed the zodiac by dividing the sky into sections and giving meanings to each on the basis of the stars that are found there. A person's destiny is said to be determined by whatever section or "sign" he is born under. From Babylon, astrology passed to the empire of ancient Egypt where it mingled with the native animism and polytheism of the Nile. The pyramids were constructed with certain mathematical relationships to the stars. The Sphinx has astrological significance. It has the head of a woman, symbolizing Virgo, the virgin, and the body of a lion, symbolizing Leo. Virgo is the first sign of the zodiac, Leo the last. So the Sphinx (which incidentally means "joining" in Greek) is the meeting point of the zodiac, indicating that the Egyptian priests believed the starting point of the earth in relation to the zodiac lay in Egypt, on the banks of the Nile.

By the time the Jews left Egypt for Canaan, astrology had infected the population there. Hence, some of the strictest warnings in the Bible against astrology date from this period (Lev. 19:31; Deut. 18). Still later, astrology entered the religious life of Rome.

The interesting thing about these biblical denunciations of astrology is that astrology is identified with demonism or Satanism in the sense that Satan and his hosts were actually being worshiped in the guise of the signs or planets. This is the reason for the Bible's denunciation of these practices. Are we to think, then, that Satan was entirely absent from the original attempt to build a civilization without God? Was absent from the formation of this first biblical religion? I don't think so. If he was, then the religion of the tower was actually a satanic attempt to direct worship of the human race to himself and those former angels who, having rebelled against God, were now already demons. No doubt, as Morris suggests, "This project was originally presented to people in the guise of true spirit. The tower in its lofty grandeur symbolized the might and majesty of the true God of heaven. A great temple at its apex would provide a center and an altar where men could offer their sacrifices and worship God. The signs of the zodiac would be emblazoned on the ornate ceiling and walls of the temple, signifying the great story of creation and redemption, as told by the antediluvian patriarchs." But God was not in this worship. Satan was. Thus, the forms of religion became increasingly debased, the worship of the devil and his angels became more noticeable. "From such a beginning soon emerged the complex of human 'religion'--an evolutionary pantheism, a promulgated system of astrology and idolatrous polytheism, empowered by occultism and demonism. Satan is a great corrupter, so it is even possible that this system of religion was a version of an earlier, true revelation from the heavens of God's plan of redemption, has been suggested seriously and considerable evidence that the formations of stars were originally named by God (or the godly patriarchs) as a reminder of godly things, perhaps to the point of forecasting the coming of the great Deliverer who would crush the head of Satan.

THE SECOND "COME"

The time when the Lord Jesus Christ was to crush Satan's head was still far off, but in the meantime God was going to crush this first attempt at Satanism. He was not going to do it with flood or fire or some other fierce manifestation of His invincible wrath. He was going to do it in an entirely unlooked-for manner. Instead of destruction, God performed a miracle in the minds and vocal cords of the builders. He confused their language so that now, instead of speaking together and working together, their words brought confusion and an inevitable (because it was divinely appointed) scattering of these people over the earth.

There are several interesting features of this part of the story. The first is a second use of the word "come." Earlier the builders had used this word for the calling of their council: "Come, let's make bricks.... Come, let us build ourselves a city" (vv. 3, 4). But now God uses the word as He assembles His heavenly council and moves to confuse their language: "Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other" (v. 7). It is a way of saying that God always has the last word. Like Jonah, we can say "but" to God (Jonah 1:3), although God always has the last "but" (Jonah 1:4, KJV). We can assemble our councils; but God will assemble His council, and the decree of God's council will prevail. It follows that those who choose to go their own way will always end up frustrated. The prize so earnestly sought after becomes a bubble that bursts at the first touch. The fruit of desire becomes like ashes in the mouth. We may chafe against this, but it will always be this way because we live in God's world, not our own, and because God has determined to make bitter anything that is prized above Himself.

The second interesting feature of this part of the story is that God came down to see the tower the men of Babylon were building. This is an anthropomorphism, that is, God being described as if He were a man. (We are not to think that God actually had to get off the throne of the universe and come down to earth to determine what the builders were doing. All things are known to God always.) But it is not a "crude anthropomorphism," as some have chosen to call it. It is used with effect. Here were men attempting to build a great tower. The top was to reach to the heavens. It was to be so great that it and the religion and defiance of God it represented would make a reputation for these citizens of Shinar. There it stood, lofty in its unequaled grandeur. But when God wants to look at it He comes down. He has to stoop low to see this puny extravagance.

It is always thus. When you stand on the ground and look up at the great pyramids of Egypt they seem immense. But when you fly over them in an airplane, even at a low altitude, they seem like pimples on the surface of the earth. The twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City looked great. But from the air they looked like miniature dominoes. The Eiffel Tower is a mere protuberance. So also with our intellectual or spiritual achievements. The greatest is nothing compared to the immensity of the universe, not to mention the universe's Creator. The only truly significant accomplishments are God's (sometimes in and through us), for only these partake of the nature of God and endure forever, as God does.

INVITATIONS TO "COME"

We have seen two different uses of the word "come" in this story. The first was spoken by man to man against God. The second was spoken by God to God (another early intimation of the Trinity) against man. It would not be right to end without noting that the Bible also knows

a third use of the word "come" in which an invitation is extended by God to man for man's benefit. God says, "Come now, let us reason together--Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isa. 1:18). Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life" (Rev. 22:17).

What is the result when we who hear God's invitation to come to Him? It is just as He says! Our sins are washed away. Our burdens are lifted. Our spiritual thirst is quenched. Moreover, the effects of the curse are overturned and the proper desires of the human heart are provided for, not by man in rebellion against God, to be sure, but by the gracious and forgiving God Himself from whom all truly good gifts come. The curse was the confusion of languages, but God brings blessing from the curse. He gives understanding in spite of the language barrier and even promises (Pentecost is an earnest part of the fulfillment) that the nations will worship together, presumably in one voice and with full understanding of each other. The Babylonians wanted a city. Their city could not stand. But God provides His people with a city with foundations that will endure forever. Nimrod's people wanted a name. But to those who stand with God and who overcome, God promises: "Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev. 3:12,13). ­James Montgomery Boice Genesis: An Expositional Commentary.


The Confusion of Tongues

by Henry M. Morris

As far as the great proliferation of different languages among men is concerned, the Biblical account is the only satisfactory explanation. If all men came from one ancestral population, as most evolutionary anthropologists believe today, they originally all spoke the same language. As long as they lived together, or continued to communicate with one another, it would have been impossible for the wide differences in human languages to have evolved.

Therefore, if anthropologists insist on an evolutionary explanation for the different languages, then they must likewise postulate extremely long periods of isolation and inbreeding for the different tribes, practically as long as the history of man himself. This in turn means that each of the major language groups must be identical with a major racial group. Therefore, each "race" must have had a long evolutionary history, and it is natural to assume that some races have evolved more than others. This natural association of racism with evolutionary philosophy is quite significant and has been the pseudoscientific basis of a wide range of racist political and religious philosophies that have wrought untold harm and misery over the years.

On the other hand, it does seem obvious that all the different nations, tribes, and languages among men do have a common origin in the not-too-distant past. People of all nations are all freely interfertile and of essentially equal intelligence and potential educability. Even the "aborigines" of Australia are quite capable of acquiring Ph.D. degrees, and some have done so. Even though their languages are widely different from each other, all can be analyzed in terms of the science of linguistics, and all can be learned by men of other languages, thus demonstrating an original common nature and origin. There is really only one kind of man-namely mankind! In actuality there is only one race among men--the human race.

The source of the different languages cannot be explained in terms of evolution, though the various dialects and similar languages within the basic groups are no doubt attributable to gradual diversification from a common source tongue. But the major groups are so fundamentally different from each other as to defy explanation in any naturalistic framework.

Only the Bible provides an adequate explanation. Originally, after the great Flood, "the whole earth was of one language and one speech" (Gen. 11:1). Because of man's united rebellion against God, however, refusing to scatter throughout the world as He had commanded, and concentrating instead in the vicinity of the original Babylon, "the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth" (Gen. 11:9).

Presumably about seventy families were involved in this dispersion, as suggested by the enumeration of seventy original national groups and tongues in the so-called Table of Nations in Genesis 10. These were represented originally by perhaps a thousand or so individuals, divided into three main ancestral family bodies, the Japhetic, Hamitic, and Semitic. "These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood" (Gen. 10:32).

The rebellion at Babel was not some impossible undertaking, such as attempting to reach heaven with a man-made tower, as one might infer from the King James translation of Genesis 11:4. The words "may reach" are not in the original; the correct sense of the passage apparently connotes the erection of a great temple-tower dedicated to the worship of the "host of heaven," uniting all mankind in worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). The most effective way of halting this blasphemy and of enforcing God's command to fill the earth was that of confounding their languages.

If people could not communicate with each other, they could hardly cooperate with each other. This primeval confusion of tongues emphasizes what modern man often fails to realize: the real divisions among men are not racial or physical or geographic, but linguistic. When men could no longer understand each other, there was finally no alternative for them but to separate from each other.

If anyone is inclined to question this explanation of the origin of the major differences among languages, then let him offer a naturalistic explanation that better accounts for all the facts. No one has done so yet. Obviously a miracle was involved, but the gravity of the rebellion warranted God's special intervention.

Although the major language groups are so different from each other as to make it inconceivable that they could have evolved from a common ancestral language group (except, as noted above, by such a long period of racial segregation as to cause the corresponding races to evolve to different levels themselves), the very fact that all the languages can be evaluated by common principles of linguistics, and that people can manage to learn other languages than their own, implies an original common cause for all of them. Noam Chomsky, who is one of the world's foremost linguists, is convinced that languages, though completely different on the surface, reflect an underlying commonality related to the fundamental uniqueness of man himself.

Dr. Gunther Stent, professor of molecular biology at the University of California (Berkeley), has summarized Chomsky's concepts as follows:

Chomsky holds that the grammar of a language is a system of transformational rules that determines a certain pairing of sound and meaning. It consists of a syntactic component, a semantic component, and a phonological component. The surface structure contains the information relevant to the phonological component, whereas the deep structure contains the information relevant to the semantic component, and the syntactic component pairs surface and deep structures. Hence, it is merely the phonological component that has become greatly differentiated during the course of human history, or at least since the construction Tower of Babel. (Limits to the Scientific Understanding of Man, Science 187, Mar. 21, 1975:1054.)

No doubt the Tower of Babel is merely a figure of speech to Stent as well as to Chomsky, but the figure is appropriate precisely because the miraculous confusion of tongues at Babel does provide the only meaningful explanation for the phenomena of human languages. Thus the "phonological component" of speech (or its surface form) is the corpus of sounds associated with various meanings, through which people of a particular tribe actually communicate with each other. Each phonology is different from the phonology of another tribe so that one group cannot understand the other group. Nevertheless at the "semantic" level, the deep structure, the "universal grammar" (the inner man!), both groups have fundamentally the same thoughts that need to be expressed in words. It was the phonologies or surface forms of languages, that were supernaturally confused at Babel, so that even though all still had the same basic logic and understanding of experience, they could no longer work together and, thus, finally they could no longer stay together, simply because they could no longer talk together.

It is significant that traditions similar to the Babel story exist in various other ancient nations and even in primitive tribes. Although not as frequently encountered as traditions of the great Flood, many tribes do have a tradition of a former age when all people spoke the same language until the languages were confused as a judgment of the gods.

Thus there is good reason to accept the Biblical record of the confusion of tongues at Babel as the true account of the origin of the different major language groups of the world. Evolutionists certainly have no better answer, and the only reason why modern scientists tend to reject it is because it was miraculous. To say that it would have been impossible, however, is not only to deny God's omnipotence but also to assert that scientists know much more about the nature of language than they do.

No one yet adequately understands the brain and its control of human speech. Therefore, no one understands what manner of physiologic changes in the brain and central nervous system would be necessary to cause different groups of people to associate different sounds with any given concept. Perhaps future research will throw light on this phenomenon but, in the meantime, there is no better explanation than that it was God who did "there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech" (Gen. 11:7).--Henry M. Morris, The Biblical Basis of Modern Science 1984).



Former Dictator Saddam Hussein has rebuilt the Ishtar Gate as a memorial to ancient Babylon

The rebuilt Ishtar Gate



The Tower of Babel
by Lambert Dolphin
Revised April 16, 2000
Email: Lambert Dolphin
Website: www.ldolphin.org




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