Lesson From the Tower of Babel Bible Story

At Times God Intervenes With a Divisive Hand in the Affairs of Man

The Tower of Babel
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Scripture Reference

Genesis 11:1-9.

The Tower of Babel Story Summary

The tower of Babel story is one of the saddest and most significant stories in the Bible. It is sad because it reveals the widespread rebellion in the human heart. It is significant because it reshaped the development of future cultures.

The story is set in Babylon, one of the cities founded by King Nimrod, according to Genesis 10:9-10. The location of the tower was in Shinar, in ancient Mesopotamia on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. Bible scholars believe that the tower was a type of stepped pyramid called a ziggurat, common throughout Babylonia.

Up until this point in the Bible, the whole world had one language, meaning there was one common speech for all people. The people of the earth had become skilled in construction and decided to build a city with a tower that would reach to heaven. By building the tower, they wanted to make a name for themselves and also prevent the people from being scattered:

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." (Genesis 11:4, ESV)

God came to see their city and the tower they were building. He perceived their intentions, and in his infinite wisdom, he knew this "stairway to heaven" would only lead the people away from God. The goal of the people was not to glorify God and lift up his name but to build a name for themselves.

In Genesis 9:1, God told humankind: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth."  God wanted people to spread out and fill the whole earth. By building the tower, the people were ignoring God's clear instructions.

God observed what a powerful force their unity of purpose created. As a result, he confused their language, causing them to speak many different languages so they would not understand each other. By doing this, God thwarted their plans. He also forced the people of the city to scatter all across the face of the earth.

Lessons From the Tower of Babel Story

What was so wrong with building this tower? The people were coming together to accomplish a notable work of architectural wonder and beauty. Why was that so bad?

The tower was about convenience, not obedience. The people were doing what seemed best for themselves and not what God had commanded.

The tower of Babel story emphasizes the sharp contrast between man's opinion of his own achievements and God’s point of view on man's accomplishments. The tower is a grandiose project -- the ultimate man-made achievement. It resembles the modern masterstrokes humans continue to build and boast about today, such as the International Space Station.

To build the tower, the people used brick instead of stone and tar instead of mortar. They used "man-made" materials, instead of more durable "God-made" materials. The people were building a monument to themselves, to call attention to their abilities and achievements, instead of giving glory to God.

God said in Genesis 11:6:

"If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them." (NIV) 

With this, God pointed out that when people are unified in purpose, they can accomplish impossible feats, both noble and ignoble. This is why unity in the body of Christ is so important in our efforts to accomplish God's purposes on earth.

By contrast, having unity of purpose in worldly matters, ultimately, can be destructive. In God's viewpoint, division in worldly matters is sometimes preferred over great feats of idolatry and apostasy. For this reason, God at times intervenes with a divisive hand in human affairs. To prevent further arrogance, God confuses and divides people's plans, so they don't overstep God's limits on them.

Points of Interest From the Story

  • When God speaks in this story, He uses the phrase, "let us go," referencing the Trinity.
  • Some scholars believe that this marks the point in history where God divided the earth into separate continents. 

Questions for Reflection

Are there any man-made "stairways to heaven" you are building in your life? If so, stop and reflect. Are your purposes noble? Are your goals in line with God's will?