Over the past year I've been listening to a series of podcasts by BEMA. At a conference in 2017 I participated in a workshop by Marty Solomon who runs BEMA. He provided a fresh look at scriptures using concepts he had learned while studying under Rabbis. If you stop and think about it, our Bible was written not by westerners in the 21st century, but over a period of centuries on three different continents in three different languages by about 40 authors. Mostly of Middle Eastern and Eastern European descent. Naturally there's a cultural barrier that we fail to cross and thus are left with many passages in the Bible that leave us confused. Or we only scratch the surface of the truths that lie inside because we study these with 21st century western eyes.
Listening to the BEMA podcasts (admittedly when I'm not listening to a fantasy football podcast) has allowed me to discover truths in Scriptures that I previously missed. One of the recent podcasts I listened to again was about the tower of Babel. If you're not familiar or vaguely familiar with the passage, I encourage you to read it here.
This passage should raise questions. Genesis as a whole really sets the stage for the narrative of the whole Bible. Just like the opening crawl in Star Wars, or the opening narration in Lord of the Rings, our world needs context. Why are things the way they are? Why is evil and suffering in the world? How are we created? Why are we cut off from God? Genesis answers these questions, with the rest of the Bible telling the narrative of how God is making things right. So how does this story involving the tower of Babel fit into the background?
Following the fall in garden of Eden and the murder of Abel by Cain, people begin to multiply. God instructed Adam's descendants to increase and multiply and to spread out over the earth (Gen. 1:28). Despite some of this descendants calling on the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:26), Adam's offspring turn to sin until God starts anew by preserving Noah and his family from the devastating flood. God again repeats his command to increase, multiply and spread out over the earth (Gen. 9:7).
But we see in Genesis 11, that his offspring have journeyed eastward from where God planted them following the flood and are remaining as one people, in one place. They invent the brick which allows for greater construction efforts than previously imaginable. Then they decide to build a city with a tower that will reach the heavens so they can make a name for themselves and not be scattered over the earth.
Why are they afraid of being scattered? Do they fear loneliness? Isolation? Why do they feel the need to make a name for themselves? Why are they trying to reach the heavens?
Genesis 1:26 tells us man was created in God's image. That is the name of mankind. Made in God's image. And yet here we see mankind wanting to make a new name for themselves. They don't want to be known as God's creation. They want to boast in their own accomplishments.
Why do they journey east of where God planted them following the flood? Maybe they are looking for their own home and not the home God has given them. Maybe they are searching for something that's missing.
Why do they fear being scattered? Do they already feel cut off from their connection with God? Is that why they are building a tower to reach the heavens? Or are they trying to again make themselves gods, just as Adam and Eve attempted to become like God by eating the forbidden fruit?
God sees all this and says "Come let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." And thus the work grinds to a halt. The people scatter to the four corners of the earth.
Notice how God says "Come let us go down." That's God the Father, Son and Spirit at work here. Why does God choose to confuse their language? He's not punishing the people. He's not placing a curse on them. But he confuses their language. I don't personally have answers to that. Ultimately I believe God is sending a message to the people that they cannot make a new name for themselves. They cannot make themselves equal to God. That their name is "made in the image of God."
Like the fall in the Garden of Eden, we see another attempt by man to break away from God's purpose and to set ourselves apart from his design and purpose. We see another attempt to replace God's role in our lives by placing ourselves in his place. But beginning in Genesis 12, we will see God taking another step in pursuit of mankind.