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  • Writer's pictureBlake Barbera

Bible Study Questions/Outline: Genesis 11:1-9 (The Tower of Babel)


Genesis 11:1-9 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they 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.” 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord 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. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 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.

  • Before we jump in, where did we last leave off? How long has it been since the flood, and who are the people in this story “migrating from the east?”

It’s more likely that the people were migrating “to the east” as opposed to “from it” (the original Hebrew is indeterminate). They were migrating East of Canaan/South of Ararat. Remember, people lived longer back then, but it hasn’t been all that long since the flood – a couple of generations. Genesis 10:8-10 indicate that Nimrod founded the city of Babel (Genesis 9:8-10 also describes him as the first “mighty man” of the earth; a mighty hunter and the founder of several other large cities along with Babel). He was the grandson of Ham and the nephew of Canaan. Thus, we are only two-ish generations removed from the flood. That said, when you combine the length of life and the probable high fertility rate of the people back then, it is possible that there are already millions of people on the repopulated earth.

  • Where is the plain of Shinar?

It is located in modern-day Iraq, the city of ancient Babylon. Babylon and Babel are the same cities. This story is about the founding of Babylon.

  • What is wrong with people wanting to build a city and a tower with its top in the heavens? Is this equivalent to people building skyscrapers today?

It is not equivalent to people building skyscrapers. The problem is not that the people simply wanted to build a tall building; they wanted to invade heaven and overthrow God. “And let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (v4). The people knew they were acting in disobedience by congregating in the same place (God’s command to spread out and fill the earth was still in effect – these people were disregarding it; more on this below). Based on their acute knowledge of the flood, they also knew that it was only a matter of time before their disobedience would be met with a heavy hand.

  • How did the people know they would be dispersed over the entire earth? What gave them an inclination that this was about to happen to them?

God told the sons of Noah, 7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it” (Genesis 9:7). The same instructions God gave to Adam and Eve he repeated to the sons of Noah. The mandate included spreading out and filling the earth with people. What was God’s reason for this twofold mandate? 1.) God desired to fill the earth with people, his image bearers, who would subdue and care for it. 2.) When mankind begins congregating, the temptation to sin increases. From here on out, throughout the biblical narrative, cities are seen as places where sin and wickedness abound and increase. Something about the depravity inherent in man is brought to the surface when he is placed in a group that is increasing in number and growing restless. The people who migrated from the east were, in a sense, reversing their initial obedience to God by spreading out. From there, sin began to increase both in its level of depravity and its momentum. It wasn’t long before the collective, undoubtedly pricked by their still sentient consciences, decided to conquer the force behind their consciences altogether. How did they decide to rid themselves of God? Via a plot to invade heaven and overthrow him. God was the one who demanded that they spread out. He now became the #1 problem for those disobeying his command by congregating. Best to do away with him before he had the chance to impose on them the obedience he required.

  • How far did the Lord allow the people to get before he put an end to their scheming and wickedness?

The Tower had a base of approximately 300 ’x 300’. We know this not because the Bible says so, but because archaeologists have been working to uncover the location of the tower for hundreds of years. The tower is believed by some to have existed all the way up until the 4th century B.C. when it was finally destroyed by Alexander the Great.[1] Others believe it sunk into the desert sand of modern-day Iraq. This view is supported by aerial photography, which shows that a large, tower-like structure was located at the center of the city of ancient Babylon which predates the expansion of that city under Hammurabi in the 18th century B.C.[2]

More importantly, the Lord clearly saw the people’s attempt to build a tower reaching heaven as pathetic and laughable. This is evident in the words that are used to describe the Lord’s “coming down to see the city and the tower.” God is everywhere. He is not only omniscient but also omnipresent. He sees everything. The narrative uses a figure of speech to highlight the great effort God had to expel in order to “come down” and see what they were up to. This signals the fact that, from God’s perspective, their attempt to reach him was not only unsuccessful, but it was also laughable.

  • Why did God scatter the people’s languages?

On the surface the answer is simple: they were building a tower to reach heaven and overthrow him. Their actions were an act of war against God, so of course, he decided to stop them. But rather than simply destroying their tower, he did something far more consequential. Because the potential of their collective wickedness was unlimited, he made it so that the collective would no longer be tenable.

  • Is the curse of Babel – the scattering of human language so that we cannot become too evil – being reversed today by technology?

It would appear on the surface that it is. With each passing day, technology advances further and further. It is possible today to go almost anywhere in the world and communicate with the people there because of the technology we hold in our hands. The technological advancements that have been made in the past 200 years are exponentially greater than all the advancements that were made in the thousands of years before that – from the flood to the turn of the 19th century. This can be taken as an indication that we are nearing the end, or, that another “Tower of Babel” moment is coming for humanity sometime soon: the Lord will once again set us back, and things will thus go on for much longer since our collective wickedness will once again be restrained. I believe, however, that the advancement of technology toward pre-Babel capabilities is yet another sign that the end is drawing near.

  • Has the curse of Babel been undone by the work of Christ?

There is no doubt that the Day of Pentecost signals a “changing of the guard” for many of the effects/ consequences on humanity springing from events that happened in Old Testament history. On the day God founded the church and poured his Holy Spirit out, he enabled everyone in the crowd that day – men from all over the known world – to understand the apostles as if they were speaking in their own language. This was not a sign that God had completely undone every effect which trickled down from the Tower of Babylon fiasco, but that restoration was underway. The church remains on earth to usher in the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that can be fully realized via the Spirit right now, by any born-again believer, but that has not become fully realized in the world around us. That is still to come. When Jesus returns, he will usher in the Kingdom of God via a new heaven and a new earth uncorrupted by sin. Here all of God’s people, fully sanctified and glorified, will dwell with the Lord forevermore.

But something else will also happen on that day: Babylon will be defeated once and for all. The end of the Book of Revelation captures this future event:

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. 3 For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living” (Revelation 18:2-3).

Throughout the Scriptures, Babylon represents the human power structure, a living organism made up of people, organizations, governments, and religions that oppose the one true God. Babylon, or Babel, is the devil’s domain, often masquerading in noble intentions and virtuous deeds. Babylon, simply put, is man’s ability to live and sustain itself apart from God, whether that be through creating his own cities, societies, governments, or religions to keep himself satisfied; humankind’s ability to achieve independence and live apart from its creator. And yet, Babylon always ends up exposing itself as a vile, corrupt, pride-filled center of debauchery and wickedness every time around. The “human collective” without God always ends up doing more harm than good. Ultimately, what began at the tower of Babel – humanity uniting to oppose God and achieve independence from him – will be finally and completely brought to an end. Everyone who forsakes this idolatrous collective and worships and follows the lamb here and now will be invited to live on with him long after Babylon is defeated once and for all.


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