THE TOWER OF BABEL
THE CONFUSION OF LANGUAGES
by Lambert Dolphin
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
"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
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
"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)
"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
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 (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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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 Tower of Babel
by Lambert Dolphin
Revised April 16, 2000
Email: Lambert Dolphin