4 And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.
6 “And the LORD said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.
7 “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
Anthropologists tell us that once a species of animal learns to communicate, then it is easier for them to survive. It seems plain enough that communicating groups of monkeys or whales or wolves would be able to coordinate their efforts to ensure more and better food. Back in the earliest days of mankind, it was no different. And even today, once people set their minds and their wills together, great things are possible.
In Genesis 11:1-9 we read about how men started to build a tower “whose top is in the heavens.” (v.4) That would seem an unassuming project. After all, modern men have built similar structures, stretching to 1500 feet and more. We have built enormous cities and roadways. So what was different in the generations just after the Great Flood?
Then the LORD said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.”
God knows what we are like inside, He knows our sinful, proud, rebellious nature. He saw the men building and heard them say “let us make a name for ourselves” (v.4), and He knew that men would not stop with one city and tower of fired bricks. Like Pharaoh in the days yet to come, these post-deluvian men would never have enough bricks or mortar, never have enough monuments to themselves. The sons of men would be consumed by their own delusions of grandeur, enslaving one another and prone to all sorts of evil in their great cities. In short, if allowed to coordinate their efforts toward prideful “greatness”, men would be right back where they were before the Flood.
Therefore, God came up with an elegant solution: confuse their language so that they could no longer plot evil together. Knowing that salvation was yet to come through His Son, God wasn’t going to destroy the earth again so soon. So he scattered humanity across “the face of the whole earth” and focused His efforts on bringing His Son to the world.
Today, we read God’s Word in translations from ancient Hebrew and Greek because of that moment of pride just after the Flood. Although we speak many different languages, and we even sometimes disagree over how to best translate the text of the Bible, we nonetheless hear God’s voice with one mind. Despite our many different languages and cultures, despite our innate sinfulness, we are now meant to be one in worshiping and loving the Lord our God. We are meant to listen to one Spirit, and to have one Mediator between us and God. (1 Timothy 2:5) Christ Jesus gave His life to save not just the people who spoke Hebrew or Latin or Greek, He came into this world to save us all. (John 3:16-17) So today let us read God’s Word in whatever language we know and allow the Holy Spirit to guide our hearts into one accord. Rather than building monuments to ourselves, let us come together with one will to glorify the One True and Living God.
Almighty God, all glory and honor and praise are Yours. We build cities while You build mountains. We build rockets to take us to the stars, but You make the stars themselves. We try to make our temporary lives better, while You have given us the gift of eternal life through Your Son. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and teach me to focus my will upon You. Amen.