It did not take fallen man long to revert to type. The flood came because man had forgotten God. They built cities for themselves and became mighty in the earth. The flood had cleansed this world, but the seeds of sin and rebellion made it onto the ark. Some have speculated why God saved cockroaches and mosquitoes and other vermin which plague us on the ark. But these are nothing to be compared to the seed of sin which like a rapacious weed spreads and grows until it chokes out the garden.
Noah had found grace in the sight of God as well as his family. The ark landed in a renewed creation, and Noah was given basically the same command that Adam received with some notable exceptions. The fact that God required the murderer’s blood from him and that beasts which killed human beings were to be killed were indications that this renewed creation was not the Heavenly Kingdom. God knew the seeds of sin were there and would come out. Yet he promised that he would never destroy all life on earth by water again and set His bow in the cloud as proof to Noah. God would solve the sin problem down the road by redeeming his chosen people in Jesus Christ.
Noah got drunk in his garden vineyard and as a result, the fury of cursing was renewed. Shem would be blessed says Noah, and Canaan cursed. But his descendants multiplied rapidly.
Exposition of the Text
In today’s passage, it begins by stating that there was only one culture and language shared by all the people. There was unity of a sort, but as we see it was a unity to do evil and not good. They had been sojourning on the land and wandered to the east. There in the plains of Shinar in present day Iraq, they found land that was suitable for building a city.
The human race has always had a fascination for cities. People want to be together, even if it means increased violence and anonymity. So like what had happened on the other side of the flood, they began to build a city. Their stated purpose was to make a name for themselves. They wanted to build it in super high rise format that they could climb into heaven itself. There is something sinister in this statement. They did not like wandering and wanted to settle down. This wasn’t the real problem. The real problems is that they wanted to make a name “for themselves”. In other words they wanted to build this city for their own glory and not God’s. They wanted to control their destiny without reference to God.
The LORD in heaven certainly took note of this and was not surprised by this development. He had already lamented after the flood that the hearts of men were continually inclined to evil. Here is the first mention of what we call the Tower of Babel. As if it wasn’t enough to build the city heaven high, they wanted to build an even higher tower. A tower for what we might ask. It seems that it was probably a step pyramid called a ziggurat, and it was probably build to the moon god and not the LORD. In other words, the wanted to worship the creation more than the creator. This unity in evil was a noxious weed which the LORD needed to put a stop to, for the sake of humankind. Their endeavor was suicidal.
The LORD speaking in the plural (Trinity) said that He was going to confuse their languages so that they could not understand each other. This He did, and His purpose for human beings to fill all the land rather than just a city was accomplished. This event actually named the city they had built. They had wanted to build a name for themselves. But in the end, the LORD named the place Babel indicating that He is Sovereign LORD over all the earth.
Application of the Text
For thousands of years Babylon has been seen as the symbol of great evil and opposition to the ways of God. Even though many of the inhabitants of Babel left to found other cities named after themselves, a remnant remained there. It eventually became a great city and then an empire. King Nebuchadnezzar of Daniel fame showed that the attitude of the city had not changed over well over a thousand years. He made the statement: “Is this not great Babylon that I have builded? Of course, the LORD responded quickly like he did earlier at Babel and struck down Nebuchadnezzar and made him wander like an animal. He was thrust out of the city until he realized that the LORD of heaven and earth is Sovereign and not himself.
The Book of Revelation compares the Jerusalem of John’s day as being like Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon. This shows how deep the apostasy of Jerusalem actually was. This city fell under the severest judgment at the hand of the Romans. The Jewish nation under its non-Jewish king, Herod the Great, had undertaken a massive renovation of the second Temple built by the returning exiles from Babylon some five hundred years earlier. This Herod also built temples to Caesar including a dazzling one on the Damascus Road near where Paul met the Lord Jesus. He build Masada, the Herodium, the great port and city of Caesarea, and other great monuments in Israel. He was full of the Babylon spirit. Many called the Temple which was supposedly renovated for the glory of Yahweh, Herod’s Temple. This Temple became the new Tower of Babel who would one day put the true Temple of God to death on a cross. This new Tower of Babel had to be destroyed and the people scattered.
It is interesting that in Solomon’s porch in the Temple some forty years earlier that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost occurred. The 120 people gathered there were all in one place and one accord when the event occurred. There they spoke in the 120 languages known to the world of its day. People of all the nations in which the Jews had scattered heard the gospel in the native language of th place they had come from. In God’s way, the promise of the lifting of the curse of the languages was being reversed. And the curse of the cities of men, made by men and for men is someday going to be replaced by a city who has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. This is the proper demonstration of unity, one that recognizes diversity from a unity viewpoint. God did not create a new common language for the Christian. But the Holy Spirit helps us communicate across the spectrum of different languages.
The world is at it again. They are continuing their work on the City of Man. They want to circumvent God’s curse and rebuild their city into the heavens. They want to name and control everything. They want to show off the glory of man without God. This can only result in disaster. To deny the Lord is to deny life itself. Their suppression of the truth of God will drive them into a death spiral of perversion and violence. They are even trying to transcend the language barrier. Google translate does a pretty good job translating between any two major languages. I myself use it to contact pastors who speak a different language. There is nothing wrong with Google translate itself. It can be a useful tool for God’s kingdom just as a city in itself is not a bad thing. But when unregenerate God denying people come together, it is never for the good as a whole.
The Christian has been called to seek that other city, the New Jerusalem, the city which God has built, upon which no human tool has been lifted. This will be an Eternal kingdom without the corrupting influence of sin. This has been made possible for us through the blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who suffered death at the hands of those of the Babylonian Jerusalem. He calls us in revelation to flee Babylon because Babylon the Great is fallen. Just like God warned the Christians to leave earthly Jerusalem before the attack of the Romans, the Lord warns us to flee the modern Babylon.
This does not mean that we flee to some desert and hide from society. But we must live in the cities of men as aliens and sojourners, just like Abraham dwelt among the Canaanites. We need to witness in the cities of men but not be like the people we are witnessing to. “Be in the world and not of the world” should be our motto. We have passed through death as symbolized by the water of our baptism from destruction. But unlike Noah, we are going to a land which shall no longer have the seed of sin. There will be no death or sorrow there any more. Let us live every day in the expectation of the Lord’s return.