The tower of Babel is an inportant point in the history of the human race.
"The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan. Cush became the father of 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, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city...

"Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men 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 scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.' And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men 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, that they may not understand one another's speech.' So the LORD scattered them abroad 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 scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth." (Genesis 10:6-11:9)

The name "Babel" is composed of two words, "bab" meaning "gate" and "el," "god." Hence, "the gate of god." (A related word in Hebrew, "balal" which means "confusion".) It would seem that the purpose of the tower was to become a gateway to the heavens. There has been some speculation that the tower was not necessarily very tall, but rather was to be used as an astronomical observatory and temple. Stedman (1978) states:
Some archaeologists have felt that they may even have found the foundation of this original tower of Babel. That is very hard to determine. But they did find that the Babylonians built great towers called ziggurats, which were built in a circular fashion with an ascending staircase that terminates in a shrine at the top, around which are written the signs of the zodiac. Obviously, the tower was a religious building, intending to expose man to the mystery of the heavens and the greatness of God. That, perhaps, is what is meant here by the statement that they intended to build a tower with its top in the heavens. They were impressed by its greatness architecturally, that is, it was a colossal thing for the men of that day to build and they may have thus thought of it as reaching into heaven. But they also unquestionably were thinking of it as a means of communication with God, of maintaining contact with him. God is not to be left out, you see, in the city of man. He is there, represented by this tower.
Even today, in most cultures around the world, we see towers and buildings "with their tops in the heavens" erected "to the glory of God". But the truth is they are not erected to God's glory at all. They are erected so that we can "make a name for ourselves". This is at the heart of every religion. There is an under riding pride which says that we are "like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). We are still trying to live out Satan's lie.

This is the key to the events at Babel. As Stedman further points out:

The fact that this was a religious tower-and yet built to make a name for man-reveals the master motive behind religion. It is a means by which man attempts to share the glory of God. We must understand this, otherwise we will never understand the power of religion as it has pervaded the earth and permeated our culture ever since. It is a way by which man seeks to share what is rightfully God's alone. This tower was a grandiose structure, and undoubtedly it was intended to be a means by which man would glorify God. Unquestionably there was a plaque somewhere attached to it that carried the pious words, "Erected in the year ___, to the greater glory of God." But it was not really for the glory of God; it was a way of controlling God, a way of channeling God by using him for man's glory. That is what man's religion has always sought to do. It is a way of making God available to us.

Man does not really want to eliminate God. It is only sporadically and then only for a relatively brief time, that men cry out for the elimination of God. Atheism is too barren, too pessimistic and too morally bankrupt to live with very long. The communists are finding this out. No, we need "dear old God," but let's keep him under control. Do not let him get out of his place. "Don't call us, God; we'll call you." This is the fundamental philosophy of society. It is the tower of Babel all over again.

This is not only true of all the pagan religions, but of most "Christian" denominations as well. Some more traditional denominations make enormous shows of their buildings saying they are "the house of God", while the newer denominations make enormous shows of how many people they have at their services. The truth is that we are all trying "to make a name for ourselves".

Jesus was angry with the Pharisees for this type of hypocrisy. We are glorifying not God, but Man. We are trying to "make a name for ourselves".

How different this is to the attitude that Jesus had. Every time he healed someone "he took them aside" and "charged them not to tell anyone about him".

It is also interesting to note that throughout the Bible we see God "giving names" to various people, e.g.. Abram becomes Abraham "father of many nations", Jacob becomes Israel "prince of God", Simon becomes Peter "the rock" etc.

It is ironic that God will "give a new name" to those who overcome all the trials and pitfalls of this life (Revelation 2:17). We spend our whole life trying to make a name for ourselves, when God is ready to give us a name that will endure forever.

Created: 23 - Jan - 1997.
Last modified: 18 - Sept - 1998.
Copyright © 1998, Graham Brodie.

Maintainer: Graham Brodie, Email