Bishop Dr Peter (UK)
Updated: Nov 30, 2021
Genesis 11:1-9 (ESV)
The Tower of Babel
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar [Babylonia] and settled there.
They said to each other, “Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel — because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Notes on the Scripture
In Hebrew, the word “babel” sounds like the word for “confusion”; thus the passage says that Babel was named because it was the place where God confused the languages of the world. It is the Hebrew name for Babylon, which existed as a settlement before 2000 B.C. and, by 1700 B.C., was probably the largest city in the world. In the period when it was ruled by Nebuchadnezzar and his descendants (@ 600-450 B.C.), it again became the largest and one of the richest cities in the world. It was a city given to grand structures, including one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the great Hanging Gardens.
The story of the Tower of Babel would have made sense to anyone living in the Middle East. It was a great crossroads of trade, a meeting place for cultures with widely disparate languages, and was repeatedly conquered and reconquered by great empires.
An ancient Sumerian story, which is known only in fragments, speaks of the building of a great tower (ziggurat), although it would have been 100 miles to the south of Babylonia; this was originally Sumeria but later became part of Babylon; it was certainly, at the time, the greatest architectural center in the world, and many structures were built for heathen gods.
There was also a great tower built in ancient Babylonia proper, known as the Etemenanki (Sumerian “temple of the foundation of heaven and earth”). Nebuchadnezzar wrote that the original tower had been built in antiquity: “A former king built the Temple of the Seven Lights of the Earth, but he did not complete its head. Since a remote time, people had abandoned it, without order expressing their words. Since that time earthquakes and lightning had dispersed its sun-dried clay; the bricks of the casing had split, and the earth of the interior had been scattered in heaps.”
At any rate, the Tower of Babel was not built for the worship of God, but for the glory of man. It was temple dedicated to sinful pride. Even the materials used were manmade, a locally invented brick rather than stone. So God stopped them by giving them different languages and scattering them around in tribes, and the tower was abandoned.