The Tower of Babel

Genesis 11

11 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon 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; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will 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 it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lordscattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Historical World

Many generations after the flood, descendants of Noah’s children were migrating east when they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar, known as Babylonia.  Against God’s plan, they settled in this area and constructed a great city with a tower that would “reach the heavens.”  The tower, later called the Tower of Babel, was a visual image of the arrogance they had, so God eventually destroyed the tower and confused their tongues making them scatter themselves among the Earth creating the different nations.

Literary World

Throughout Genesis 1-11, a major theme is the disobedience and arrogance of man kind.  Adam and Eve fell into the temptation of the snake and went against God’s wishes by eating the fruit on the Tree of Good and Evil.  At one point, God planned on destroying man kind because of the disobedience they have shown.  He creates a great flood, but saves one man and his family, Noah.  God had set aside land for his descendants in order to spread life throughout the Earth and create new races.  However, they have refused to go to their lands and have decided to settle in Shinar and build the tower showing complete disobedience just as everybody else before them did.  By settling in Shinar, they are going against their divine intent God has set out for them.  By building this city and the tower, their goal was to assert their power and create a landmark that everybody will recognize as their’s.  Ultimately, their arrogance angers God, so he decides to destroy the tower.  At the same time, God realized the power they possessed by all speaking the same language, so he confused their tongues and scattered them across the Earth dividing man kind into different nations.  This punishment was not only for being too prideful, it also protects against any mass divine sovereignty among the people.

Kselman, John S. “Genesis.” In Harper Collings Bible Commentary, edited by James L. Mays, 83-87. San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988.

Sarna, Nahum. Genesis. JPS Torah Commentary. New York: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Wilson, Richard F. “Genesis.” In Mercer Commentary on the Bible, edited by Edd Rowell, 101-102. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1995.

Lucas Mutschelknaus, Derek Camenga, Travis McDonald