Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #1,202 MP3 Audio File Video File

The Tower of Babel

Genesis 11:1-9

Delivered 01/21/24

Good morning, Bereans. For our study this morning we are going to be looking at the Tower of Babel. This is probably a familiar story to most Christians. Young people hear about it in Sunday school. What you may not understand is that this story is at the heart of the Old Covenant worldview.

The story of the Tower of Babel tells of humanities' united rebellion against Yahweh. It relates the account of an anti-God leader of humanity (Nimrod) who led an organized rebellion against God's command to disperse over the whole earth.

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.  Genesis 9:1 ESV

These words reiterated the original Edenic intention.  But instead of obeying and having Yahweh be their god, the people gathered to build the tower. In their building of what may have been a water-safe structure to protect them against a future flood from heaven, the people exposed their disobedience and distrust of Yahweh's word and promise.

From the writings of the Second Temple Period, we see that they believed that the reason that wickedness so permeated the earth was a result of the following three incidents:

  1. The fall of Adam and Eve
  2. The sin of the Watchers in Genesis 6
  3. The Tower of Babel in Genesis 11

Because of Genesis 3 (the fall) and Genesis 6 (the Watchers), men were evil and disobedient to Yahweh. In Genesis 11, we find that this rebellion reached its summit in the Tower of Babel. All three events triggered divine judgments of great and enduring consequence.

In our current day, mainstream scholarship entirely rejects the Genesis account of the confusion of languages as impossible because it conflicts with what are considered well-established facts about the history and evolution of languages. Modern scholars simply assume the Tower of Babel story to be non-historic, Jewish mythology. This is because these liberal Scholars' naturalism causes them to reject everything supernatural.

If the Tower of Babel event is a real event that occurred in the past, it is reasonable to expect variations of the story to appear in the literature of other ancient peoples.  Nimrod goes by many names in history. Three examples are (1) Ninurta, the Assyrian god of hunting, (2) Gilgamesh, the epic hero also described as a hunter, and (3) Amenhotep III (1408–1369 BC), the ruler of Egypt's 18th Dynasty.  Interestingly, there's a Chaldean account of the tower of Babel and global deluge within Babylonian tablets. The "Tower of Babel" narrative also has parallels to Enuma Elish, the Babylonian account of creation.

Let's look at the text.

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.  Genesis 11:1 ESV

If you started reading in chapter 11, you would just accept that everyone had one language and read on.  But if you read chapter 10 first, you might have some questions.

From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations.  Genesis 10:5 ESV
These are the sons of Ham, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations.  Genesis 10:20 ESV
These are the sons of Shem, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations.  Genesis 10:31 ESV

How do we understand this? The Tower of Babel incident, though following the table of nations in the present literary arrangement, actually precedes chronologically the dispersal of the nations. The story of Babel is a flashback that explains the division of the earth in Peleg's time (Genesis 10:25). He first describes the spread of the peoples and languages in chapter 10 and then he describes the origin of that diversity in Genesis 11:1-9.

Genesis 1-11 then has come full circle from "Eden to Babel," both remembered for the expulsion of their residents.

And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  Genesis 11:2 ESV

Strong's describes Shinar as "a plain in Babylon."  The BDB Definition states that Shinar is "the ancient name for the territory later known as Babylonia or Chaldea."

The Hebrew word translated "Shinar" in the Bible is Šīnʿār, which is equivalent to the ancient Egyptian word Sngr, which refers to southern Mesopotamia, and may be a variant of the Akkadian term Šumer – that is, the ancient Sumerian civilization.

The Hebrew word ḇâḇel (translated "Babel" in Genesis 11:9) is also used elsewhere in the Bible as referring to the city and/or kingdom of Babylon. This has led many to identify the Tower of Babel as located in Babylon, the ancient city south of present-day Baghdad.

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.  Genesis 11:3 ESV

Using baked bricks and asphalt for mortar, men built a tower that was both strong and waterproof.

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."  Genesis 11:4 ESV

"Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens"—at some point after the flood, the descendants of Noah began to build the "Tower of Babel."

The building of the tower of Babel was in fact an attempted war with God. We see this in the writing of the rabbis. The rabbis of the 5th century AD preserved this interpretation in their commentary on Genesis. According to the midrash, the people at Shinar said to themselves, "God has no right to choose the upper world [i.e., heaven] for himself and to leave the lower world [i.e., earth] to us. Therefore, we will build a tower, with an idol on the top holding a sword, so that it appears to wage war with [God]" (Genesis Rabbah 38:6).

The Tower of Babel story is regarded by scholars as one of Mesopotamia's famous man-made sacred mountains—a ziggurat.

The Encyclopedia Britannica says, as noted above, that Babylonian ziggurats were large pyramidal stepped towers. The ruins of the largest remaining ziggurat are 335 feet (102 meters) square and 80 feet (24 meters) high. This ziggurat is thought to have been more than twice that high originally and would have been the height of a modern sixteen- story building (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Ziggurats were divine abodes—places where Mesopotamians believed heaven and earth intersected. The nature of this structure makes evident the purpose in building it—to bring the divine down to earth.

Once people reached the top of the staircase, the belief was that heavenly beings would descend to meet them at the apex of the ziggurat. A reference to a ziggurat appears in the pre-biblical Ninsun Temple Inscription (c. 1700s BCE), which says that Warad-Sin, king of Larsa, "made it as a mountain and made its head touch the heavens." This description mirrors what the people of Shinar declare: "Let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens."

When Yahweh appears in a dream to Jacob, it is most likely on top of a ziggurat staircase not a ladder.

And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!  Genesis 28:12 ESV
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."  Genesis 11:4 ESV

Jewish historian Josephus, who links Nimrod to the building of the Tower of Babel, wrote:

Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe to God as if it was through his means they were happy, but to believe that was their own courage which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence upon his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Chapter 4).

According to Josephus, the motive for building the Tower of Babel was to protect humanity against another flood. Of course, construction of the Tower of Babel ended with another show of God's power. The Lord confused the languages of the people, making it impossible for them to communicate effectively enough to finish the job.

According to Josephus, it was mainly Nimrod who persuaded his contemporaries to build the Tower, Other rabbinical sources assert, on the contrary, that Nimrod separated from the builders.

Some among that sinful generation even wanted to war against God in heaven (Sanh.109a, and the passage from the Sibylline Books iii. 100, cited by Josephus, l.c.). They were encouraged in this wild undertaking by the fact that arrows which they shot into the sky fell back dripping with blood, so that the people really believed that they could wage war against the inhabitants of the heavens ("Sefer ha-Yashar," Noaḥ, ed. Leghorn, 12b). (compare Ginzberg, "Die Haggada bei den Kirchenvätern," pp. 88, 89).

"And let us make a name for ourselves"the people want to exalt their own name, but the purpose of their building project should have been to promote the name of Yahweh. That's what Solomon does when he builds the first Temple, saying,

Now the LORD has fulfilled his promise that he made. For I have risen in the place of David my father, and sit on the throne of Israel, as the LORD promised, and I have built the house for the name of the LORD, the God of Israel.  1 Kings 8:20 ESV

"I have built the house for the name of the LORD, the God of Israel"name is Shem.

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.  Genesis 11:5 ESV

What does the clause "Yahweh came down" mean? This is the same idea we see in 2 Kings.

Therefore, the LORD was very angry with Israel, and he removed them from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah remained. 2 Kings 17:18 CSB

I like the way the Christian Standard Bible translates the Hebrew panıym here as "presence." Paniym means face, which means presence. How did Yahweh remove them from his presence? He removed them from the Land. He sent Israel (the Northern Kingdom) into Assyrian captivity (700 B.C.). Out of the Land equals out of his presence.

Yahweh is omnipresent which means all of God is in every place. Yahweh is capable of being everywhere at the same time. His divine presence encompasses the whole universe. There is no location where He does not inhabit. So, you cannot literally be out of His presence. To be out of his presence is to be out of His favor.

Only Yahweh is Omnipresent.  All other beings known to man, including Watchers, angels, and demons, are restricted to a given place at a given time. When they are here, they are not there.

Saying, "LORD came down to see the city"is an anthropomorphism which is a humanization of God. It is describing the parts of a man or behavior of man to God.

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."  Genesis 11:6-7 ESV

"Come, let us go down"—the words "let us" suggests that there are multiple divine beings. The plural announcement is followed by the actions of only one being, Yahweh. "So, Yahweh scattered them" (11:8).

Who are these divine beings? They must include "the heavenly host" (1 Kings 22:19), "the heavenly beings" (Job 1:6), and the seraphs who attend to God (Isaiah 6:2).

"Confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech"—some scholars believe that this judgment also involved the implantation of ethnic and racial distinctions in humankind. The Table of Nations in chapter 10 may imply this.

In verse 1, we see that "the whole earth had one language" but now they have different languages and cannot communicate with each other.

So, the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.  Genesis 11:8 ESV

God forced people to do what they refused to do voluntarily, namely, scatter over the face of the earth.

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.  Genesis 11:9 ESV

"Therefore, its name was called Babel"the word Babel sounds like the Hebrew word for "confusion,"' but in the ancient Akkadian language of that part of the world, it meant "Gateway to god."

"And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth"after the confusion of languages, the people scattered. You can imagine that this amazing story would have been passed down from generation to generation throughout all of the different peoples and carried with them to their new settlements.

The Genesis accounts of creation, the fall of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, Noah and the flood, the Tower of Babel, and the confusion of languages have been found in hundreds of cultures throughout the world. This troubles some who think that the Biblical writers borrowed these stories from other cultures. We must remember, however, that they were all one language and culture until the Tower of Babel.  The Bible is not borrowing from other cultures; it is all the same story.

Now if all we had was Genesis, this would be the end of the story. But there is more. We have further details about this disbursing in Deuteronomy.

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the LORD's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. Deuteronomy 32:8-9 ESV

"When he divided mankind"when did he do this? At the Tower of Babel. Yahweh in effect decided that the people of the world's nations were no longer going to be in relationship with him. He would begin anew. He would enter into covenant relationship with a new people that did not yet exist—Israel.

All the nations were placed under the authority of members of Yahweh's divine council. God apportioned or handed out the nations to the sons of God. We are told that God "allotted" the gods to those nations. God decreed, in the wake of Babel, that the other nations he had forsaken would have other gods besides himself to worship. The other nations were assigned these lesser gods as a judgment from the Most High— Yahweh.

That this interpretation is sound is made clear by an explicit parallel passage. Remember that he is talking to the nation Israel in this text.

And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. Deuteronomy 4:19-20 ESV

"Host of heaven" refers to sentient created spiritual beings which reside in the heavens. Notice here that these "host of heaven" have been "allotted to all the peoples." The word "allotted" in Hebrew is chalaq, which literally means "apportioned" or "assigned." Here we are told that Yahweh has assigned "the host of heaven" to the peoples of the earth ("all non-Israelites").

God was declaring that "If you don't want to obey me, I'm not interested in being your god—I'll match you up with some other god." Those disinherited would be in spiritual bondage to the corrupt sons of God. But Israel would be a conduit, a mediator.

From the fateful decision at Babel onward, the story of the Tanakh is about Israel versus the disinherited nations, and Yahweh versus the corrupt, rebel gods of those nations.

Yahweh disinherited the nations, and in the very next chapter of Genesis, he calls Abram out of Mesopotamia. Yahweh would take a man from the heart of the rebellion and make a new nation—Israel.

Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

Notice that in his covenant with Abram, God said that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through Abram, through his descendants.       

This truth corrects the misunderstanding of the Israel-Only doctrine. Those who hold this false teaching say that the term "Gentiles" refers ONLY to the ten northern tribes of Israel, and thus the Bible is written solely and entirely to national Israel. And, therefore, there is nothing in the Bible for US. It is all about national Israel.

They also believe that "everything" ended in AD 70. And I mean everything— salvation, sin, spiritual death, the Church, the Law. Well, if you believe that this is true, why would you even bother with the Bible? Once you learned that none of it applied to you, including salvation, why wouldn't you just throw it out and go on with your miserable life? I don't say that to be mean, but if you believe what they are teaching, then life is without Yahweh and without hope, and that is a miserable life.

I believe that Yahweh has always had a plan for Gentiles because I believe that Yahweh loves Gentiles. I believe that He saves them and that the Bible is the Word of the Living God, and is, therefore, relevant to us today.

Now the IO people are right when they say that the term "nations or Gentiles" is used of the northern kingdom of Israel. But let me make it clear that while the northern kingdom of Israel is included in the term "nations or Gentiles," it is not exclusive of it. The Greek term ethnos can be used of the ten Northern tribes. At times, the ten Northern tribes are called, "goy or ethnos." But these terms are not exclusive to the Northern kingdom of Israel.

Remember what we said earlier. From the writings of the Second Temple Period, we see that they believed that the reason that wickedness so permeated the earth was a result of the following three incidents:

  1. The fall of Adam and Eve
  2. The sin of the Watchers in Genesis 6
  3. The Tower of Babel in Genesis 11

The fall of man in Genesis 3 was caused by the Watchers. The flood of Genesis was caused by the Watchers. And I believe that the Tower of Babel was also caused by the Watchers. I hope you are asking how I find Watchers in the Tower of Babel? Good

Question. Let me show you.

Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD. Therefore, it is said, "Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD." The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. Genesis 10:8-10 ESV

First of all, notice that, "The beginning of his kingdom was Babel."  Could Nimrod have been the founder and first king of Babel? Oliver R. Blosser writes that "It is possible that Sargon of Agade, whom many secular historians regard as the first ruler of Babylon, may be the Nimrod (meaning 'We shall rebel') of Genesis 10:8-10." [Oliver R. Blosser "Was Nimrod-Sargon of Agade, the First King of Babylon?" It's About Time (June 1987), pp. 10-13.] Many people in ancient times had more than one name. Reference to him probably foreshadows Genesis 11:1-9.

"A mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD. Therefore, it is said, "Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD"all three of these uses of the word "mighty" are from the Hebrew word gibbôr. Does the word gibbôr ring a bell? The word gibbôr takes us back to Genesis 6.

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.  Genesis 6:4 ESV

The "Sons of God" of verses 2 and 4 are rebellious divine beings from God's heavenly host (also called "Watchers") which have taken the form of masculine human-like creatures. These gods married women of the human race, thus violating the heavenly-earthly division that Yahweh established. The hybrid offspring of this abominable union was the giants called Nephilim. Nephilim were giants with physical superiority, and therefore, established themselves as men of renown for their physical power and military might.

The Nephilim are cast as "mighty men" (gabbroic) and "men of renown"—literally "men of the name" shem. So, Nimrod is connected to the Nephilim. He was a giant.  Adam Clarke, the famous commentator, also cites that within the Syriac Targum, "Nimrod was called a giant."

Annette Yoshiko in her Cambridge University Book, Fallen Angels and History of Judaism and Christianity, states that "the Nephilim of Genesis 6:4, are always grouped together with the gibborim which are the progeny of the Watchers and human women."

"A mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD. Therefore, it is said, "Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD."  Was Nimrod a mighty hunter of animals or man, seeing that he was part human and part god? Because the Hebrew alphabet has no vowels, much is lost in this translation. However, an ancient commentary, the Jerusalem Targum (A Jewish Rabbinical paraphrase of the Tanakh), more accurately describes Nimrod as "powerful in hunting and wickedness before the Lord, for he was a hunter of the sons of man and he said to them "Depart from the judgement of the Lord and adhere to the judgement of Nimrod."'

The prophet Isaiah wrote something that sheds light on the motivation for building this tower.

"How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God, I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.' Isaiah 14:12-14 ESV

There are parallels among Genesis 3, 11, Isaiah 14:12-15, and Ezekiel 28:11-19. The passages in Isaiah and Ezekiel are about evil tyrant kings ("Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre" (Ezekiel 28:12). The pride of these kings is described in terms of an ancient story about a divine being who fell from paradise due to rebellion against Yahweh. These accounts reference Eden directly in Ezekiel's case and indirectly in Isaiah's case.

Let me give you a quote from Michael S. Heiser:

Ninety nine percent of Second Temple Judaism believed that the reason wickedness so permeates the earth is not just an extension and is in large part not even linked to what happened with Adam and Eve, but the reason that people are always and universally thoroughly wicked is because of what the Watchers did. Everybody in Paul's circle, everybody in Second Temple Judaism with the exception of four intertestamental references in intertestamental literature, everything says that the reason for the proliferation of evil is the sin of the Watchers, everything? (Michael S. Heiser, "The Naked Bible Podcast" 2.0, Episode 94)

So, I see the watchers involved in Genesis 3, 6, and 11. It was their purpose to separated man from God. Notice what John says in his first epistle.

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  1 John 3:8 ESV

What are the works of the devil that Yeshua appeared to destroy? It is my understanding that the works of the devil were to separate man from Yahweh. That is what we see him doing in Genesis 3, 6, and 11. Chapter 11 is the climax. God is done with rebellious man, so he turns them over to the lesser gods.

But is that it? Is God forever done with the nations? No!

The Reversal of Babel

About 3,000 years after Babel, Yeshua the Christ, the Son of God, was crucified and buried and on the third day rose from the dead. Then He ascended to Heaven and on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to Earth to inhabit a temple not build with bricks but with living stones. A temple not in Babel on top of a Ziggurat, but in Jerusalem in the upper room. This temple on earth is the Church!

The gift of the Spirit at Pentecost is often associated with Babel and with good reason. At Pentecost, people of many languages gathered and heard the Gospel in one language/

And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." Acts 2:6-11 ESV

The multiplicity of nations represented at Pentecost is a link to Babel. Each nation had a national language. More importantly, all those nations referred to in Acts 2 were part of the table of nations from Genesis 10 that had been disinherited by Yahweh when they were divided. At Pentecost, God is calling the nations back to himself.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:1-4 ESV

The wind and fire that accompanied the spirit in this text are similar to images in the Tanakh associated with God's presence. Fire in the Tanakh was an identifier of the presence of God, a visible manifestation of Yahweh's glory and essence.

There are two key terms in the passage that connect it back to Babel in an unmistakable way. The flaming tongues are described as "divided" (Greek: diamerizo). This word is used in the Septuagint, but not in Genesis 11. It is found in Deuteronomy 32:8

When the Most High divided the nations, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God.  Deuteronomy 32:8 Brenton

Divided is the Greek diamerizo. The other term is "bewildered."

And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.  Acts 2:6 ESV

Suncheo is the same word used in the Septuagint version of the Babel story in Genesis 11:7.

Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech."  Genesis 11:7 ESV

"Come, let us go down and confuse [Septuagint: suncheo] their language there."

This is a strong indication that Luke is drawing on the Septuagint (specifically the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11 and Deuteronomy 32:8) to describe the events on Pentecost. What happened there has some relationship to what happened at Babel.

Clearly, Pentecost is the reversal of Babel. First, all the world came into one place for a specific reason, and God came down in both instances (Acts 2:2-3).

The reversals are striking. The peoples of the earth came to Babel with one language, and the peoples in Israel during Pentecost heard the gospel with one language.

Everyone left the Tower of Babel because they were unable to "understand one another's speech" (Genesis 11:7). At Pentecost, people left the Temple understanding the disciple's speech.

The Lord dispersed those in Shinar in confusion, but dispersed those at Babel with a unified message to their own peoples. Pentecost is the reversal of Babel.

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