The Tower of Babel incident is one of the pivotal events in the history of the world and in understanding Scripture. We saw yesterday that God had told Noah, when he emerged from the ark, to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth,” (Gen 9:1). Josephus records in the Antiquities of the Jews, that after five generations had been born on the earth, God repeated this command to Noah, for by the fifth generation, the eight persons who had emerged from the ark had increased to a sufficient number to send out colonies. So Noah divided up the earth into 70 districts, and assigned a district to each of his 70 grandchildren and great grandchildren who became the patriarchs of the nations. Scripture confirms this in Gen 10:25 (Peleg was born in the fifth generation from Noah, and in his days the earth was divided), and we can see by counting that Gen 10 contains the names of 70 grandchildren and great- grandchildren, from whom the nations were divided on the earth after the Flood (Gen 10:32).
Josephus records that Nimrod instituted a rebellion against God among them as they journeyed to their places. Instead of each family journeying to their place, and establishing themselves there and multiplying there so that the earth was filled,
“And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. … And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” Gen 11:2, 4
We learned in Gen 10:10 that Nimrod was the king of Babel. Josephus records that Nimrod instituted idol worship among the people to turn their hearts from God, as some of them were reluctant to join in this tower building project and leave off journeying to their places as they had been commanded. They feared another flood of judgment to punish them for their rebellion.
Thus they built the tower, using bitumen for mortar (Gen 11:3). Do you ever wonder why God includes some details in Scripture? It turns out, if you look up Sumerian architecture in an encyclopedia (Shinar is known as Sumer in modern history books) they never used mortar in their buildings. But here, they did something they didn’t normally do – bitumen is a waterproofing agent. They were waterproofing their tower.
In other words, they were defying God. They knew God’s plan, rejected it, and were busy establishing their own. Included was what they thought was an insurance policy in case the one true God they knew existed, decided to judge them for their rebellion and their sin.
There is an enormous amount of cultural information from the ancient world that reveals Nimrod as the founder of paganism, of occultism, of every sort of depraved immorality embedded into ancient idol worship as tenets of their religion, of even an attempt to resurrect “the way of Cain” which had been cleansed from the earth in the Flood (Gen 6:4, “and also afterward,”). The name “Nimrod” means in Hebrew, “rebel.”
The name of this Great Rebellion against Yehovah in Hebrew, is Babel. In Greek, it is Babylon. So Satan’s master plan in his war against Yehovah, was to take the seventy “seeds” of the nations, and so thoroughly corrupt them that the truth and worship of Yehovah would be lost, and the Promised Seed could not come. God’s counter plan, was to call out one man, who would separate himself from his (now corrupt) nation, out of whom God would make one new nation who would preserve His worship, through whom the Promised Seed could come (Gen 12:1-2). And from that one nation, all the families of the earth (i.e. the rebellious nations) would be blessed – God would undo what Satan had done.
For further study: As we go through the next chapters of Genesis which tell Abraham’s history, make a note of what the LORD says to him, beginning with today’s reading. Also, from the beginning of Genesis, find every instance in which God makes a covenant with man. (Hint: His covenant with Noah is the third). As we go through the Scripture, we will take note of God’s covenants with man – it has relevance to us today!
Man built a tower whose top was to be in the heavens. They did not like His commandment(s) and, wanting to bypass them, tried to establish their own way to go up to God. But the LORD God came down to us (Gen 11:5). We cannot go up to Him, He comes down to us. Isn’t He wonderful? All His judgments are just!
For further reading:
Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, Book I
Bricks for Stones part 1, part 2, part 3 (highly recommended)
Origin of the Human Races
The Two Babylons by Alexander Hislop (while there are some stretches in this book, especially in the conclusion, there is an enormous amount of accurate information on Babylonian paganism, much of which has been retained in our culture even down to the present.)