We now come to a story most of you are familiar with. But are you really? Man tries to build a tower to heaven, God stops them, confuses their language, and spreads them out. Is that all we’re to learn here? Of course not. So let’s dive in together to see what God has for us here. The passage is only nine verses long this morning and it comes to us in two scenes. First, the hubris of man in v1-4. And second, the confusion of God in v5-9.
But before we take them one at a time, I ought to mention first that remembering Pastor Andrew’s sermon from last week on chapter 10 is important as we enter chapter 11. I say this because chapter 10 mentions three times that the various peoples of the earth had varying languages and were already spread abroad(10:5, 10:20, 10:31). It can come as a surprise to then see 11:1-2 make the statements that the whole earth has one language and were dwelling together. What do we make of this? Last week Andrew said it well when he told us chapter 10 explains the what, that many nations exist all spread out each with their own language, while chapter 11 explains the why, why those various peoples spread out in the first place. This clues us in that chapters 10-11 aren’t in chronological order. Rather Moses is organizing these things thematically as he winds down the first eleven chapters before he launches out in a narrower focus on the story of Abraham and his descendants in chapter 12 and on.
Now, see first…
The Hubris of Man (11:1-4)
“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found 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, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
v1-2 serve as a brief introduction setting the stage for us. What first draws our attention is the great unity present in the whole earth. We see this in that there was one language among all these peoples, that they had the same words, and that they sought to settle together in one of the plains in the land of Shinar. Now, while most of us would applaud or celebrate a great and global unity, we know unity like this is not a good thing. Why? Because God had commanded the opposite. To Adam and Eve, in Gen. 1:28, the command was given to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with the image of God. That command is repeated after the flood to Noah and his sons, in Gen. 9:1, to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The idea is that man is to spread out and fill the earth, not congregate or gather together in one place. Spreading and filling the earth with the image of God was what obedience to God looked like for them. But this is what they were not doing. They were seeking to establish a single, great, unified city and culture. So from the beginning of this passage, we as the readers have a hunch that this endeavor isn’t going to end well.
We get another hunch this isn’t going to end well when we notice next that these peoples migrated from the east. It might seem like a small detail to mention, but the movement of eastward direction occurs frequently in Genesis so we ought to pause and linger on it. Think of it: Adam and Eve were banished out of Eden off to the east. After killing his brother Abel, Cain went off to the East, away from the presence of the Lord at the end of chapter 4. Later in chapter 13 Abraham and Lot will separate and Lot will choose to go East, ending up in Sodom and Gomorrah. And in chapter 25 Abraham will send away the sons he had by his concubine off to the east, away from Isaac, the child of promise. So, when we read in v2 of this large group of people who are involved in an eastern migration, we’re meant to understand this as a bad thing. A move away from God, a move heading further out and away from the place of blessing.
Then we come to v3-4 and all doubt is removed as we hear their intentions. “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.”… “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” I could’ve labeled this first point ‘The Pride of Man’ but the more I lingered on these four verses the more I came to the conclusion that the word pride wasn’t strong enough. Thus, the word hubris came into view. Anyone heard of this word hubris before? It’s an old word, not used much today. In ancient Greek tragedies the word is often used to describe excessive pride aimed in a divine direction; a kind of anger accompanied with arrogance against the gods. The old KJV word vainglory gets at this idea as well. This is exactly what’s in view in v3-4.
So the desire in view here is to build a city, and build a tower in the middle of it “…with its top in the heavens.” The technological device of choice they intend to use to accomplish such a feat is the brick. Now, let me be clear. God is not against city building, He’s not against skyscrapers, and He’s not against bricks. But God is against the hubris man displays here. There are four clues in the text that show us God’s displeasure:
First, their desire to build all of this was so that they won’t have to be dispersed over the whole earth, yet since the garden God has commanded men to disperse and spread throughout the whole earth. It’s as if they knew this command of God and in response to it they rebel by gathering together in one place to build a great city in defiance of God.
Second, that they’re seeking to make a name (literally reputation) for themselves is ominous because the last time we read of those who had a great name and renown were the wicked sons of God in Genesis 6. And after this tower episode we’ll even see name making theme return as God Himself promises to work to make Abraham’s name great. The difference between all of this name making is how the name and renown is achieved. In Gen. 6 with the sons of God and in Gen. 11 with the tower builders we see the name making is a kind of megalomania. But in Gen. 12 it’s God, not Abraham, who works to make Abraham’s name great. Also, to name something in the Bible is to have authority over it. Thus, we remember God naming what He made and allowing Adam to name creatures. This naming signifies that God over all, and mankind has true authority on earth. To seek a name for oneself then is to declare total independence, absolute autonomy from God, the true authority over all.
Third, that they intend the tower to have its top in the heavens to our ears might just seem like they want it to be really tall. But in their day to build into the heavens was language used specifically for entering into the divine. Which means their intention wasn’t just to build a high tower, but to launch an assault on heaven itself, and boast that they can reach up to heaven in their own might.
Fourth and lastly, there seems to be an intentional echo of the creation account in their own verbiage. They said, “Come, let us make…” here in Genesis 11 just as God said in Genesis 1:26 “Let us make man in our image.” If this is truly part of what’s going on in the building of this tower, it adds more of a rebellious spirit to the anti-God builders.
In summary, the Babel project displays the hubris of man with a staggering precision. By nature man doesn’t merely reject God, we don’t want God to be God. If left to our own devices we would seek to storm heaven, remove God from His throne, and sit down in His place.
This remains true to this day. How so? The spirit of Babel continues on in us alive and well. Aren’t we those who employ our modern technological devices to the end of making a name for ourselves? Our whole culture today impresses upon us that we must use everything and everyone at our disposal to make something of ourselves and make a name for ourselves and warns us that failure to do so is to become nameless and unknown in a world of fame and celebrity. Sure, we may not do this with ‘bricks’ like they did but we have bricks of our own making. Chief among our own bricks is our smartphones, which we employ to create fake, phony, brilliant, and beautiful personas of ourselves that must be validated by the court of public opinion of likes and follows and views. Everyone must be a content creator, a brand originator, or a YouTube sensation. Or perhaps your Babelian spirit takes the form of a contrarian. Where you take pride in not bowing the knee to the smartphone and not taking part in the technological tenor of the present age. On all sides we are supremely individual. Each and every single one of us is aiming to be our own Babel that’s taller than all the other towers around us, which effectively makes the world we live in a world full of ‘Babels.’ Such is fallen man, historic and modern.
And while modern man is running fast in this direction, it is the Christian who ought to be a disruptive witness by running in the opposite direction. While the whole world is using and employing modern technological savvy to make their own name known by building so-called communities around themselves, it is the Christian who ought to be content in being unknown. It is the Christian who ought to use and employ modern technological savvy to make the name of Christ known. And it is the Christian who ought to live in the true community of the Church where we sacrifice, love, and honor one another over ourselves. In a world full of Babels, where pride, vainglory and hubris are the chief values, the glory of Christ and genuine humility of the Christian stands out in stark contrast. Or we could put it like this: when so many can feel so trapped and suffocated by all the aims and goals of the modern worldly Babel…knowing Christ, being known by Christ, and making Him known is compelling and liberating to the soul. This Church, is what we’re always called to be in this world. The Spirit of Babel is what we must continually repent of and Spirit of Christ is what we must continually pursue.
Well, what does God do in response?
The Confusion of God (11:5-9)
“And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.”
In a somewhat sarcastic irony in v5 God mentions He had to come down to see the tower. Now remember, God is God. God was not in need of a repositioning in order to see the tower, He could’ve seen it fine where He was. But He says this in v5 to draw attention to how high and holy He really is as well as how depraved their delusions are grandeur truly are. In v6-7 we see God express a certain kind of honesty, that this is only the beginnings of what man will attempt to do if they remain this united in their sin. So God comes down and confuses their language. In doing this God isn’t seeking to keep mankind divided and dumb, as some have said, no. By doing this God, in great mercy, is limiting the damage man can do to themselves. Notice God once again uses verbiage He’s used before in v7, “Come, let us go down…” not only mocks their intentions in v3-4, but it brings us back to His own words in Genesis 1.
Well, v8-9 show us the conclusion of God bringing confusion to them. They could no longer understand one another due to the various languages being used, thus construction of the city and tower halted, and they were dispersed, scattered over all the earth. Remember this was one of their intentions in gathering together, to not scatter. But now they’re off to the four corners of the earth. And something they also tried to achieve on their own, gaining a name for themselves, actually was accomplished. But it wasn’t a name they would be pleased with, not at all. This project and these people would now forever be underneath the banner of, Babel, the Hebrew word meaning confusion.
All in all, what we have here in Gen. 11:1-9 is an example of mankind using their God-given abilities to create a city that has no need of God. Supremely confident in themselves and desiring that everyone else in all creation agree with their assessment of themselves, Babel was then and remains to be throughout the rest of Scripture the symbol of man’s eagerness to govern themselves without reference to and in defiance of God.
In this sense then, Babel is not an isolated event. This passage before us is only nine verses, but it casts a long shadow over the rest of the Bible. Man’s hubris and vainglory among the nations would continue to be displayed and God’s humbling would occur time and time again in any nation that exalted itself over God. Even Israel as a people themselves were warned many times that if they turned to the nations around them and fell into idolatry and sin that God would scatter and disperse them among the nations. And this they did. So the Northern Kingdom, Israel, went off into exile in 722 BC to Assyria, while the Southern Kingdom, Judah, went off into exile in 586 BC to Babylon.
And scattered and dispersed they would remain, until they day when God Himself would come and change everything, in Christ. After Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension the risen Christ sent His Spirit to His followers at Pentecost…where everyone heard the apostles preaching the gospel in their own language. What does this mean? That in the gospel Babel is reversed. That in the gospel a true unity is accomplished as believers from any nation stream into the Kingdom. And that in the gospel, we find a new heart and desire, not to make a man for ourselves, but to make much of Christ. And we could trace this all the way out to the end, when the Kingdom comes in full measure, where all the cities of man gives way to the City of God, where before the throne and the Lamb are believers of all nations, peoples, languages, and tongues. Church, if this doesn’t happen here in Genesis 11, that doesn’t happen there in Revelation 22. Praise God! Confusion at Babel isn’t the final word for fallen man. God is working, despite our many sins, to make a great name for Himself, through His Church, among all nations.
So Church, in every age and in every city throughout the world, Hebrews 13:14 must remain our eager pursuit. “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”
All the world and its nations today are full of Babel, the city of man. While we live in these cities, and while we seek to do good in and for these cities, our hope must ever be in the city of God. The city of God began in Genesis 1, it was perverted and twisted into the city of man in Genesis 3, it was recovered in part with the dawn of the gospel, and praise God (!) it will come in full at Christ’s return.
 Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, NAC (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H, 1996), 478. Contra Boice, 421.
 Christopher Watkin, Biblical Critical Theory (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2022) 207-209. Watkin lists five, but only four are needed for this context. The absent item is too philosophical for the pulpit.
 Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, 482.
 Victor P. Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, NICOT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1990), 353.
 Watkin, Biblical Critical Theory, 212-218.
 Contra Hamilton, 354.
 Watkin, Biblical Critical Theory, 209.
 Ibid., 209-210.
 T. Desmond Alexander, The City of God and the Goal of Creation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018) 28-29.
 Watkin, 211.
 Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, 486.
 Watkin, 220.