In 1974 the Glass Tower in San Francisco was the world’s tallest building–183 stories,
1,800 feet, a neck-stretching, mouth-dropping testimony to human power and pride. Alas, it was only a movie–“The Towering Inferno.” And as the title implies, this tower to man’s glory didn’t end well.
Neither did the one in Genesis 11.
One Language. The flood subsided. Noah, his wife, three sons and their wives were back on dry ground. For a century they multiplied (Genesis 10:1-32). And, since they all traced family trees back to Father and Mother Noah, ” . . . the whole earth had one language and the same words” (Genesis 11:1).
One Place. “And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar (today’s Iraq) and settled there” (Genesis 11:2). Three times the LORD had commanded Noah and his offspring, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 8:17; 9:1,7). Settling was disobedience.
A City and a Tower. They made bricks and mortar (Genesis 11:3) and 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). Human progress–migrants settle down to build a city with a skyscraper! Archaeologists say this tower may have been the original ziggurat–a false-god tower. 200 square foot base. Sloping walls and stairway rising 150 feet. A small room for the people’s god on top.
The flood had washed away most humans, but it hadn’t changed human nature. ” . . . the intention of man’s heart [was still] evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21 and 6:5). Centuries later the apostle Paul diagnosed the human condition this way:
” . . . although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images . . . ” (Romans 1:21,22a). This is just what the Shinar Plain people did.
In the movie, “The Towering Inferno”, San Francisco’s elite are invited to a gala grand opening on the Glass Tower’s top floor complete with dinner, dancing, orchestra, and self-congratulations all around. The city has made a name for itself. Nobody knows that faulty wiring will turn the tower into an inferno.
The Building Inspector. “And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower . . . [and 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.’ So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city” (Genesis 11:5-7).
World peace has been the dream since the beginning. Here it seems possible. One people with one language in one place committed to one purpose. Yet, because the people have evil hearts, the world they build will be a world united for evil. Think Hitler. See piles of shoes once worn by now-gassed Jews and grotesque mass graves piled high with corpses.
The Building Inspector “comes down.” Not to send another killer flood. Not to turn their project into the original Towering Inferno. (This is funny. Sure, the situation is serious for the future of humanity and the glory of God’s name. But this is funny.) He confuses their language! One guy’s talking to another and suddenly he’s speaking a language neither he nor his friend know. All over Shinar Plain it happens. Construction grinds to a halt–workers can’t communicate. The tower never reaches the clouds. The god can’t move in. The city is abandoned, half-built.
The Dispersion. So the LORD dispersed them 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 dispersed them over the face of all the earth (Genesis 11:8,9). Genesis is the book of origins. Here is the origin of humans united against the LORD and the origin of humanity’s humiliating defeat by the LORD.
The Mercy of Disunity. Disunity among nations–despite all the blood shed–is God’s sovereign mercy. If world leaders could create a plan for peace, it would fail. Why? Because God will not allow evil-hearted humans to unite: our union would be a union of evil.
The Hope of Unity. Our only hope for real peace lies with the woman’s offspring who the LORD said would bruise the Satan-serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). The One the prophet Isaiah called “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). The One the prophet Jeremiah said would put God’s laws on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). The One the apostle Paul wrote died on the cross to create one new humanity and so make peace (Ephesians 2:15,16).
The world is building selfie-towers. They won’t stand. But: “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10).