The Sin of the Tower of Babel


What was the real problem with the tower of Babel?

There are varying ideas about this.  One movie I watched as a child showed the completion of the Tower and then a man (presumably Nimrod) shooting an arrow from the top of the tower “in to heaven.”  Others say that the tower was a plan to “get to heaven” without God.

But the act of erecting a tall structure was not the problem.  The Bible does not tell us that the people who built it thought they were going to reach God. It uses the phrase “let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven” (Gen 11:4) but when we look elsewhere in Scripture we find that this simply means the city and its tower was built very high:

Deuteronomy 1:28  Whither shall we go up? our brethren have discouraged our heart, saying, The people is greater and taller than we; the cities are great and walled up to heaven; and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakims there.

So what, exactly, was the sin?

Like so many things, the Tower of Babel was an act of disobedience. It starts in Genesis chapter 9 just after the flood:

Genesis 9:1  And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.

Note the end of the command: replenish the earth.

Genesis 10 gives us genealogy, which ends with an explanation of God’s will for Noah’s progeny:

Genesis 10:32  These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.

In chapter 11, we see man’s rebellion and disobedience:

Genesis 11:1-2  And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 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.

Notice that it starts with defiance to God’s commandment to replenish the earth and to emmigrate and form different nations. Instead of travelling to separate lands, they stopped in one place together.

Genesis 11:4  And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

And there is the crux of the matter. The people wanted to be “one people” and did not want to obey God’s will to  spread across the earth. They wanted a single name for themselves. (I suppose they all figured they were “citizens of the world” and not of nations!)

God’s response to this disobedience has led some to come up with some wildly strange notions about the “Old Testament God” of the Bible.

Genesis 11:5-7  And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

I’ve seen some strange interpretations of this passage, but the meaning is not so strange.  Let’s go back to before the Flood:

Genesis 6:5  And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

The key word to compare here is imagination. Men are wicked and their hearts imagine evil. When it says “and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” it does not mean that man would accomplish any task he set out to do (thus making God fearful of man!). It simply means that man would continually come together in disobedience and rebellion without restraint of wickedness.

Finally, we see God accomplishing his will:

Genesis 11:7-8  Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

And there we see: God’s will was for men to spread over the earth, as he said in Genesis 9:1. The building of Babel was a collective act of defiance against God. That was the Sin of the Tower.

  1. #1 by Chette on April 11, 2009 - 6:37 am

    well what you shared here Brandon was what I had been taught about the tower. that their sin was their disobedience to go into the world and multiply as God had commanded.

    Good study

    blessings

  2. #2 by Sonny on October 2, 2009 - 2:07 pm

    The conclusion you gave is true and very sensible,like our God, sensible and very reasonable. May he bless you with his joy Eternally!!

  3. #3 by greg mcfarlin on October 26, 2009 - 6:05 pm

    So true. Amen.

  4. #4 by Jack McElroy on March 23, 2010 - 6:31 pm

    Hi Brandon,
    Nice study.
    You compared scripture with scripture and built on a solid foundation. No wonder I learned something new.
    Praise the Lord!

  5. #5 by Terrie Swartz on May 13, 2010 - 4:58 am

    Hello,
    I understand were you are coming from, but that’s not what I got from the scripture. I didn’t take it as a sin. We have enough of those that the devil uses against us, for everything we do. To keep us away from Christ. I took the scripture to mean simple, that God needed to slow us down. I mean in the last 200 or more years we have advanced to fast. Man kind was all one language, they all could learn from each other new things faster. I mean if you look at most of our advance-ment in the last 200 years, it’s because we get people from other countries, who are smart and gifted to work and think with our smart people. We have learned each others language and we share more ideals. And that is why I believe God wanted to slow them down. Man kind would have scattered anyway. God know that. But that’s just my thoughts, nothing in stone. I just don’t like to say everything is sin. I mean we went to the moon. And the earth has alot of poeple. And with imagination you would have this internet. Imagination is just an ideal waiting to happen and can be a good thing.

  6. #6 by John Moore on March 27, 2011 - 8:02 am

    @ Terrie. I have to agree with Brandon, because from a biblical perspective, there are only two forces in this universe, the forces of good (Led by GOD) and the forces of evil (Led by Satan). If God clearly instructed the descendants of Noah to dispearse across the world and replenish it, and mankind (Led by Nimrod, who wanted to reinforce his power over his subjects) choose to force the people to stay concentrated in fenced cities and build a tower into the heavens, then they were in fact sinning against God by disobeying His direct command.
    Also, God the creator of this universe had no reason to be afraid of man. However, he was aware of Satan’s plan to keep mankind concentrated in one place under the control of a wicked government so that he could corrupt all of mankind, with his idolatrous form of worship (“Thou shalt have no other God’s before me” Exodus 20:3), in an effort to wipe out the worship of the True and Living God in heaven. If Satan and his human subjects could have had their way, there would have been no faithful Abraham to be the father of the nation of Israel and subsequently, no Jesus.
    Exceptional job Brandon!

    • #7 by Brandy Benefield on January 5, 2012 - 10:34 am

      Agreed! Imagination isn’t the problem. The Word says that God is able to do above and beyond all the we could hope or imagine. As Christians, if our hearts and minds are set on God’s Word, then our imagination can act as a mighty tool for the kingdom of God.

  7. #8 by Sherry on May 30, 2011 - 9:07 pm

    I thought it sounds a lot like socialism. Now, the imagination of the heart is evil only always continually and if everyone agrees together that the imagination of the heart is for the greater good than the word of God, then the imagination of the heart leads to the acceptance of killing the innocent, accepting perverted abominations as love, stealing from your neighbor by proxy (as your congressman steals on your behalf via taxes)…

    I think these are the imaginations of the heart that were the problem — not the use of science to build a building — the fact that they stopped scattering is probably a very accurate assessment of the problem. You know, the church was in its infancy, when they first stopped “going into all the world” and then God allowed persecution to come and all of a sudden they were willing to “go into all the world” and preach the gospel. It is a lot easier to settle down and get comfortable than it is to go into all the world and preach the gospel.

  8. #9 by Robbie MacGregor on June 3, 2011 - 8:29 am

    It is interesting to contrast Gen 11:4 with Heb. 11:10. It was not just a tower the people were building but a city with a tower. They would not build with stone (what God had directly made) but with human designed brick and slime instead (Gen 11:3). They also wished to make themselves a name (Gen 11:4) whereas believers are identified with God’s name (ie. Rev 3:8). The whole system was parallel to what Gods people have always been seeking, but on human terms. Therein is the evil of it.

  9. #10 by Mike on December 19, 2013 - 9:57 am

    Very well written! Before finding this post, I was wondering what was wrong with building a city with large towers, because we have several of them today (and several other countries do as well). This study and the comments left by others really opened my eyes to this passage.

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