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.

Author: Brandon

Brandon is the owner of StudyLamp Software and designer of SwordSearcher Bible Software.

19 thoughts on “The Sin of the Tower of Babel”

  1. 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


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

  4. 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.

  5. @ 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!

    1. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. The above is all okay and that, but why did god want separate nations? and not everyone to live as one? is that not a good thing?

    1. Joe, according to God’s plan, apparently kiving together as one was not a good thing! As the author noted in the scripture, man is evil, and living as one nation would allow one government or ruler to reign unchecked such that whatever evil it thus imagined would become a reality unchecked by other nations and governments. Think of it as God being a Federalist

      If we didn’t need God to overcome evil, humans would have built the tower to keep them safe from another flood and that would have been it. And we wouldnhave done likewise with Evey future problem. But nothing humans do will ever nullify even one iota of the curse. Evey problem technology sovles creates infinite new ones. We only create new problems with our ‘progress’ and change the consequences of the curse… We don’t overcome them.

  10. Good points on all these readers,also a fact that God did not want man to reach heaven the way they was trying to reach it,and to get to God the way they intended was an act sin of defiance to them/Gods,and after seened their faults and to put them back on the path he wanted them to be on ,thus he stated let Us go down an confound them an send them separated way. Like he told them to do in the first place.thus teaching them a good lesson not to be disobedient.

  11. Please note it is interesting that when they tried to reach heaven they were stopped as heaven was closed because of the sin of Adam and eve. They were scattered with different languages so they could not communicate and hence build the tower of bable.
    Now when Pentecost came and the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles they began to speak in tongues and while Peter spoke to the crowd they could all hear in their own languages.
    So tower of bable they tried to reach God by going up , but at Pentecost God came down to meet the apostles also at the tower of bable many languages were there and people could not understand each language but during Pentecost the language of the holy spirit (tongues) and all could hear in their languages. Pentecost is reversal of Bable because heaven or salvation is open!

    Samson Rodrigues

  12. I believe this was an accurate account of this passage.I really had a much better understanding of the sin of the Tower. I feel it did not go far enough.The thing that impressed me they did not ask God for His plan for their lives.we as modern people do the same thing. We make plans and expect God to get on board. We leave God out.I see this happening today in America.We we’re build on Christian principles,but we want to turn every thing around and say we need to leave God out. We are bigots if we want to bring up what the Bible says about how we are to live.

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