The text for this lesson is Genesis 9:18–19; 11:1–9.
- God sends temporary disruptions into our lives to call us to repent of the sinful desire to attain glory for ourselves apart from God. God will make a name for us and bless us through His Spirit.
- Law: Our resistance or failure to listen to God’s Word leads Him to disrupt our self-glorifying plans.
- Gospel: Such disruptions are calls to repentance, which our heavenly Father follows up with His grace, forgiveness, and eternal life.
- The events surrounding the tower of Babel in Genesis 11 actually occurred prior to the spread of the nations described in the genealogies in Genesis 10. Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, were commanded to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1), just as Adam and Eve had been commanded earlier. However, Noah’s descendants were afraid to be dispersed (11:4). The events surrounding the tower of Babel describe how these descendants changed from a homogeneous group working together to make a name for themselves into diverse nations with many languages, spread over the face of the earth.
- In the time just after the flood, all people spoke the same language and appeared to operate together as a united society. They moved together, migrating from the region of Ararat (the eastern part of modern Turkey) southwest into the plains of Mesopotamia. Shinar is the ancient Hebrew designation for northern and southern Babylonia (see Genesis 10:9–10), perhaps related to the Akkadian word for the region, Sumer.
- Due to a scarcity of rock in the region, the people baked clay to make bricks, and joined these together with a coal or tar slime (bitumen; 11:3) as mortar. The people hoped to use these bricks to create a monument to themselves, a tower marking their empire that would compete with God by reaching all the way to heaven. Rather than submitting to God’s command and trusting His provision for them, they sought to compete with God. They thought that to survive and establish themselves, they had to resist dispersal. They viewed God’s command not as a blessing to fill and enjoy the whole earth but as a threat of extinction. Lack of fear, love, and trust in God was the motivation and cause for this suspicion and rebellion.
- The Lord’s observation that “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (11:6) is hyperbole. It is not that the Lord felt threatened or thought that the people could compete with His rule. Rather, He was concerned that the people might think themselves invincible and be confirmed in their sinful arrogance. By confusing their speech, the Lord was not cursing them; He was reminding them of their
limits. He was hindering their ability to build up themselves falsely and make an idol of themselves.
- Instead, God called the people to repentance, to be aware of their limitations, and to again call upon God to care for them. God wanted them to trust Him again, rather than to put false hope in the name they desired to make for themselves. Similarly, God calls us to trust Him, and He offers every blessing of this life and the life of the world to come, even in those uncertain times when we feel dispersed over the face of the earth. Centuries later, at Pentecost, God’s Spirit announced the Gospel of forgiveness in many languages, demonstrating that God, not our human efforts, makes a name for us through His Son, Jesus (Acts 2:1–11).