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.