|Bible Story: The Tall Tower of Babel
Based on Genesis 11:1–9
Retold by Paul Katula
Noah, who built the ark and brought his family to safety, while all the other people drowned in the flood, had three sons. They and their wives were on the ark, so they didn't die in the flood.
They had many children, and their children had many children. They lived a long time, because they were close to God. They had obeyed his commandments and thanked him for saving them from the destruction of the flood. They had made God very happy.
Because everyone came from the same family of ancestors after the flood, they all spoke the same language and could understand each other very clearly. For example, when one person from far away, who would be a stranger to the local people, said hi, everyone could chat with him, because they all spoke the same language.
One day, some people got together and said, "We don't want to be scattered over the whole entire earth, so let's build a big, great city, where we can all live. That way, we won't have to travel far at all to be with others in our group."
After thinking about the idea for a while, some of them said, "And let's build a very tall building in this great city out of the strongest bricks available. We will use tar for mortar, so that nothing will ever be able to destroy this skyscraper. It'll go as high as heaven, and we'll be very famous when everyone sees how tall it is."
They liked the idea of being famous, so they built scaffolds and started erecting a huge skyscraper for their city. The only problem was, they forgot to thank God for the building materials and the talents of the people who gave their time and energy to help build it.
Forgetting God Comes Back to Bite Them
God, obviously, didn't appreciate being ignored. "Those ungrateful descendents of Noah!" he thought." My Noah would never forget to thank me for all the good things I had done for him, but these people have taken the best materials of the earth, which I gave them, plus the talents of some good construction workers, and they can't even say thank you!
"Noah built an altar for me, and these people can't even say a word to me anymore," God said, when he saw the building of this great tower in the city.
So God stopped the people from building the tower by punishing them in a peculiar way.
God Punishes the People
The Lord came down from heaven and mixed up the language of the people throughout the earth. He did this so that they wouldn't be able to make plots against him or forget to thank him.
After the Lord did this, people didn't even know how to say hello to someone who came from a foreign land. And if you can't even say hello, imagine how hard it would be to build a great tower. The Lord knew building a great tower like this would take lots of communication, because it takes lots of planning.
"If no one can communicate," he thought, "no one can plan a project like this just so they can be famous and forget about me."
Thus the building of the great, tall tower came to a screeching halt, because the builders could not understand each other anymore at the construction site. The city, which the people never finished building, was called Babel.
The Lord then scattered the people all over the whole earth, making it difficult to communicate anymore.
Priests, ministers, or rabbis are often present at the groundbreaking or dedication ceremonies for new buildings, especially buildings that might make us proud of ourselves rather than thankful to God. Or, have you ever heard of a ship being christened? That word also refers to the baptism of an infant. We baptize infants or christen ships, and in so doing, we remind ourselves that the people are not as important as God. Without God giving that baby life, we wouldn't have a baby. Without God giving us the materials or the talents of a construction crew, we wouldn't have ships or buildings.
There is another take on this story. At the beginning, the people were wandering about the earth, like nomads. They didn't have cities or communities of any kind. But then God created the different languages, which forced people to group themselves into communities that could understand each other. It's almost as if God gave them a home and made them stay there. So, mixing up the language was a form of punishment, but it was also a form of saving them from the sin of their own pride. After the languages were mixed up, people couldn't carry their own selfish plans through anymore.
In Chapter 2 of the Act of the Apostles (Pentecost), the Holy Spirit sort of reverses this action. We still have different languages, but only through the action of the Holy Spirit, everyone understands each other. As God divided the languages of the earth at Babel, so his Holy Spirit united those languages as the apostles spoke in tongues at Pentecost.
Finally, do your own ambitions or dreams ever come into conflict with what God wants you to do? I suspect they do. For example, do you ever forget to worship on the Lord's Day because something in your own life is more important? That's what the builders in Babel did: building the tower was so important to them that they forgot all about God. They started building it so they could be closer to God (It will reach to the heavens, they said). However, they got so caught up in their own skill at building, they completely forgot that God was the actual source of those skills. He gave them the building materials from the earth, too.
The thing is, without God's help, they would not have been able to build anything. And he deserved their thanks for that. When you complete something good or finish a project, do you thank God for giving you the talent and the guidance or assistance you needed to get it done? I hope you always remember to give God thanks for the good things you have done, or the story of the Tower of Babel teaches us that God might stop us in our tracks or tear down all the things we have built when we forget to give him the thanks he deserves.