The Tower of Babel, Part 1: Why Scattering?

By Jacob Toman

This is the first in a three-part series on the Tower of Babel.  Part two can be read here; stay tuned for part 3 coming soon.

I work with all sorts of people from all sorts of different places. Currently I get to work with several Chinese, Canadian, and French speaking people. It’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s pretty cool to hear news, notes, and anecdotes from around the world; it’s also rather a grind to have projects slow down due to translation errors or miscommunications. Why do we have so many languages today? What caused humanity to have multiple languages, and why is it so important for Christians to share the gospel in all these various language groups? Our 3 part series on the Tower of babel hopes to address these two questions.

Often referred to by the tower built within its borders, Babel is a fascinating biblical historical account of the diversification of humanity. In this short 3 part series on Babel we will be examining:

  1. Why the consequences of Babel’s sin was the scattering and confusing of language.
  2. What happened at Babel to cause the scattering.
  3. The impact Babel has on us at Gospel & Gaming as Christians within gaming culture.

The story of Babel is not accidentally placed in the scriptures. Neatly placed as the last major event of pre-patriarchal history, Babel gives us answers about why so many different people groups exist on a planet that was originally created with only one people group. The scattering of people across the face of the earth is an action God does not take lightly. The pre-patriarchal history of Genesis includes the events of creation, the rebellion of humanity, the flood and preservation of Noah, and the story of Babel. The introductory chapters of the Bible feel almost like a post apocalyptic survival story.

Babel transitions from a unified world with one language and one people group, to a world filled with multiple tribes, tongues, and nationalities. This is a stark contrast to mankind prior to the Noahic flood. Mankind was unified in language and purpose. Genesis describes that “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). With the scattering of the people of Babel, the course of human history is forever changed. This scattering wasn’t due to a meteor, a zombie outbreak, or any of the other tropes used in action flicks or myths. The reason for the many cultures, languages, and people groups we have on earth today is due to God’s desires to see the whole earth filled with his pinnacle of creation: humanity.

 

God’s original desire for humanity is declared at the very beginning of the book, within God’s act of creation. The first command God gives in scripture is to humanity in Genesis 1:28:

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

This command is at the very heart of God’s reaction to the city and tower at babel, and why the consequences include the confusing of languages and scattering of people.

 

Babel isn’t the first time God scatters humanity. The first humans were scattered due to their sin of rebellion against God in the garden. In God’s command to be fruitful, multiply, and fill and subdue the earth the desires of God are made known for humanity. In the garden mankind disobeyed God’s commands to abstain from eating the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God scattered Adam and Eve by sending them out of the garden. In this scattering, the command of Genesis 1:28 wasn’t forgotten or dissolved. Instead the command was to be carried on through Adam and Eve’s life outside the garden of Eden.

The people who settled in the plains of Shinar and resolved to build a city, are scattered due to their attempts to avoid fulfilling Genesis 1:28. The story of Babel isn’t just about a tower, pride, or the sin of human arrogance. Humans are amazing! We are ingenuitive, progressive, capable of love, kindness, and creativity. Humans aren’t the worst aspect of creation, rather humanity is the pinnacle of God’s imaginative efforts within the universe!

So why scramble language? Why force the gathered people on the plains of Shinar to scatter?

Compare Genesis 1:28 to Genesis 11:4

            God’s Command to humanity:

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

            The people of Babel’s intent:

“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 dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

The sin of Babel was a disregard for God's command to fill the earth and subdue it. Sure, the people of Babel built a city and a tower to make a name for themselves. If tall buildings and large metropolitan areas were offensive to God, by 2016 the whole planet would be in ruins.

God doesn’t scatter the people because it’s a unique penalty or punishment. God scatters the people because humanity spreading all over was a part of his plan all along.

Genesis 11:8-9

“So the Lord dispersed them 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 dispersed them over the face of all the earth.”

Babel isn’t given as a warning for future generations to avoid building cities, towers, or even have a sense of self worth. Babel is an example of God’s commitment to see his glory spread throughout the world through his created image bearers. Exploration, curiosity, inquisitiveness, and a desire to learn are all part of our created being as image bearers of God.

At this point you may be wondering...

How exactly did God confuse the language?

If that’s a question bugging you, come back for our next installment of our series on Babel.