The Tower of Babel
God had already flooded the earth during Noah’s time because of how sinful and corrupted mankind had become. In the time after the great flood, Noah’s sons and their families began to grow in size and quickly became powerful in passing generations. Still, there were certain individuals who craved having power like God. It was not long before this greed and lust for power began to corrupt the people once more as it had before the flood.
At one time, the whole Earth spoke the same language. It so happened that as they moved out of the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled down. (Genesis 11:1-2)
Since the people of the earth had become skilled in construction, they decided to build a city with a tower that would reach to heaven. By building the tower, they wanted to make a name for themselves and also prevent the people from being scattered.
They said to one another, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower that reaches Heaven. Let’s make ourselves famous so we won’t be scattered here and there across the Earth.”
God came down to look over the city and the tower those people had built. (Genesis 11:4-5)
God perceived their intentions, and in His infinite wisdom, He knew this "stairway to heaven" would only lead the people away from Him.
God took one look and said, “One people, one language; why, this is only a first step. No telling what they’ll come up with next- they’ll stop at nothing! Come, we’ll go down and garble their speech so they won’t understand each other.” Then God scattered them from there all over the world. And they had to quit building the city. That’s how it came to be called Babel, because there God turned their language into “babble.” From there God scattered them all over the world. (Genesis 11:6-9)
When God confused everyone who spoke this one language, it caused them to speak many different languages so they would not understand each other. By doing this, God thwarted their plans. Instead of sending down His wrath like He had done before with the great flood, God decided to scatter the people of the city all over the face of the earth.
As a result, there are many different languages and cultures native to countries scattered around the world. Speaking different languages separates people to this day. This story is a powerful reminder of how important it is to obey God and to not think that we can build a successful but godless life on our own!
About 6,912 distinct languages exist in the world today, according to John Oller, Jr. Standard theories argue that languages change when people are separated, but the Bible teaches that people were separated at Babel because God miraculously changed the common language.
All this points us to a deeper question. Why is language such an integral part of every community on earth? Even the most primitive cultures in the world have complex language systems with abstract ideas such as zero, infinity, numbers, negation (“men are not immortal”), conjunction (“he made the sheep and the goats”), and disjunction (“he took the horse but left the camel”). Because languages naturally do change over time, linguists generally suppose that all of today’s languages were produced by changes that we see going on around us now. However, that explanation hits the wall, and fails, at the Tower of Babel.
Why did the people want to build a tower?
How many languages were spoken at that time?
What other major event occurred before this story (according to the Bible)?
Why does God decide to scatter the people and confuse their languages?
What do you know from learning about the origin of your native language?
What questions about this story do you have?