The True Meaning of the Tower of Babel for Us Today

Tower to heaven

The True Meaning of the Tower of Babel for Us Today

When we ignore God’s commands, we ultimately invite confusion and frustration into our lives. In the end, God will have His way, and He will not hesitate to thwart our plans when our plans disregard His.

Just a few generations after the Great Flood (Genesis 6-9), the Book of Genesis tells of the descendants of Noah settling in the land of Shinar.

There they said to themselves, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4),

It wasn’t the first time an ancient civilization had built a city or attempted to construct a tower. In this instance, however, God knew of the less than God-honoring intentions behind the building of their city, and He was neither pleased nor impressed by their efforts.

The problem was not that the architects of Babel, as it would later be called, had built a tower. They, as Tony Evans writes, “sought to build a city (civilization), a tower (a religious system), and a name (independence) apart from God.”

Out of sheer hubris or rebellion or both, the people of Babel had disobeyed God’s command to multiply and spread throughout the earth (Genesis 1:28; 9:1,7). Instead, they had settled in one location and used their technology to build a city of their own name where they were in control, not God.

Most Christians know what happened next.

Not one to have His commands disregarded, God intervened, confusing their language, which forced the citizens of Babel to stop work and finally spread throughout the earth (Genesis 11:8-9).

It’s a story that has profound implications on the proliferation of early language and the migration of some of the earliest civilizations.

It also reveals the rebellious nature of humanity as well as God’s plan to eventually reverse the effects of sin. But what is the significance and meaning of the Tower of Babel for Christians today?

When We Don’t Learn from Our Mistakes, We Often Repeat Them

You’d think after the catastrophe of the Flood, brought about by the depravity of mankind, that the remnant of humanity would have learned their lesson and forever anchored themselves to the goodness and mercy of God. If only that were the case.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Noah’s descendants to forget and even willfully ignore their entire history. This trend would continue throughout the Old Testament.

No matter how powerful or faithful God had proven Himself to be, humanity never failed to forget or disregard God’s commands. This is why, on the eve of entering the Promised Land, Moses reminded the children of Israel,

“be careful for yourself and watch over your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons” (Deuteronomy 4:9).

When we forget God, fail to learn and grow from our mistakes, and ignore God’s warnings and promises altogether, we open the door for recurring sin to wreak havoc in our lives. This was certainly the case for the citizens of Babel.

We Will Never Supplant God or Overcome Sin on Our Terms

In their efforts to build a city, the architects of Babel also attempted to build a large tower, “whose top would reach to the heavens” (Genesis 11:4).

The problem with the tower, however, wasn’t its altitude, it was the attitude of those building it.

According to author Craig Detweiller, author of iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives, “The primeval prologue in Genesis concludes with a cautionary tale about attempts to become like God” (Detweiller 13).

In many ways, the builders of Babel weren’t just building an ancient skyscraper. They were attempting to supersede the glory of God with works of their own. And in doing so, they had ceased to be cultivators of God’s creation and instead made themselves gods of their own.

Ironically, not much has changed in the heart of man. 

Technology itself, like the tower of Babel, isn’t the issue. Like every tool, the things we create can be used or abused.

Today, however, many people place their trust in technology, government, and even money. These things can become the gods of one’s life in place of God if we’re careful.

In this case, as Craig Detweiller explains, technology then becomes an alternate religion where man focuses on progress over submission to the King of Kings (Detweiller 13).

God, however, was clear about His role. “You shall have no other gods before me,” He eventually told the children of Israel (Exodus 20:3).

Jesus also said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

And when teaching His disciples how to pray, Jesus modeled His expectations for humanity, “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10).

It’s when we reverse this order, elevating our name, our kingdom, and our will over God’s, that God intervenes.

God Will Frustrate Our Plans When Our Plans Disregard His

What we discover at the tower of Babel is further evidence of God’s ultimate plan for humanity. It was never about destruction but the reversal of sin. 

By ignoring God’s command to be fruitful and multiply, the citizens of Babel had concluded that their plans were better than God’s.

Here, God frustrated their efforts by disrupting their common language, forcing them to disperse.

At Babel, human efforts to replace God ironically had the reverse effect, as they often do today.

When we ignore God’s commands, we ultimately invite confusion and frustration into our lives. In the end, God will have His way, and He will not hesitate to thwart our plans when our plans disregard His.

This is why, as David would later write, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

True Unity and Harmony Only Come Through Jesus Christ

Though the people of Babel were once united by a common language, their attempts to distance themselves from God ultimately resulted in division and the dispersion of their civilization.

Similarly, many today talk about unity, harmony, and achieving paradise or utopia by human invention, science, technology, or even systems of government. This is simply a revival of the same ideas that inspired the architects of Babel.

Humans are inherently broken and sinful as a result of the Fall. The effects of sin cannot be overcome by human innovation or effort, only the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

According to Albert Bayliss, “the Old Testament theme of the unity of mankind does not find resolution until we come to the New Testament.

To achieve a true unity of peace and love, mankind needs intervention from the outside, as the Old Testament prophets predicted” (Bayliss 71).

Ultimately, “all humanity would come to unity under Christ” (Bayliss 70).

When the citizens of Babel refused to spread out, God confounded their language. In the New Testament, Jesus gave a similar command to His disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

This time, humanity obeyed, participating in the reversal of sin through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, “This first signal of ultimate unity and the clear indication that we have entered the last phase of God’s program was the overcoming of the language barrier at the coming of the Holy Spirit” (Bayliss 70-71).

It was on the day of Pentecost that the disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke in the tongues of those present (Acts 2). Here, God used language to unite humanity rather than confound or confuse it.

True unity, therefore, can only be found in submission to the will of God and surrender to His authority.

And we know that God’s ultimate plan to restore humanity will come to full fruition in the last days when the rebellion of Babel will be overcome by the glory of God’s eternal kingdom.

As it is written, “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all the tribes, peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelations 7:9).

“At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

For further reading:

Government without God — Alternative View — December 31

What Was the Sin That Condemned the Tower of Babel?

What Was the Tower of Babel?

What Is the Significance of the Promised Land in the Bible?

What Is Idolatry in the Bible? Its Definition and Significance

Why Did Jesus Leave Heaven for Us?

What Really Happened at Pentecost?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/hsiangwent


Joel Ryan is an LA-based children’s author, artist, professor, and speaker who is passionate about helping young writers unleash their creativity and discover the wonders of their Creator through storytelling and art. In his blog, Perspectives off the Page, he discusses all things story and the creative process.

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