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In Genesis 11 we read the account of the tower of Babel, where the people, attempting to build a tower that reaches to heaven, have their language confused and are scattered across the whole face of the earth by God.

The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

It's not clear to me from the statement above why God decides to do this. Is a tower to heaven somehow a threat (though obviously not a credible one)? A boast? Is it because they don't want to spread out, but God's desire is for them to spread out? Some other reason? What's going on here?

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  • Just a brief addition. One thing that is clear is that the "scattering" from "Babel" (Hebrew babel = Babylon) participates in a much wider pattern of divine interventions in the Hebrew Bible. There is some discussion of the historical, linguistic, and theological dimensions of this pattern in D.J. Reimer, "Exile, Diaspora, and Old Testament Theology", Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 28 (2010): 3-17, with an explicit reference to Gen 11:1-9 on p. 11.
    – Dɑvïd
    Jan 11 '14 at 23:03
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    Important question. The Story of the Tower is one of the most cryptic in the OT - short on words, long on mysteries, replete with innuendo.
    – Vector
    Jul 31 '15 at 12:57
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The answer lies in God's commandment to men, via Noah in Gen. 9:1,"And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them,"Be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth." In the Hebrew, we see the word translated 'mala' which means 'fill' or in this instance 'to fill'. We see God reiterate Himself in vs 7. Man was to go forth throughout all the earth; this was the expressed Will of God.

But man resisted and rebelled against that commandment: in Gen. 11:4, it says,"Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make a name(for ourselves) lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth."

Many commentaries have discussed this; in some of the Jewish commentaries it is said that as man could raise a tower to heaven and thereby oppose God, and be immune from the judgement of water which flooded the earth. In vs 2, they came to the Plain of Shinar, interestingly, in Zech. 5:8 'wickedness' in the form of a woman, is carried in an ephah(basket) to the Plain of Shinar.

The key result is "this people is one, and they have one language: and now this they begin to do: and nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do."(vs 6)

This is the spirit of Antichrist beginning to manifest upon the earth: singularly(or tribally), they would move throughout the earth, fulfilling the command of God, collectively they chose to oppose God, making a 'name' for themselves establishing their own will in defiance of God. And collectively, even God says "nothing will be restrained"(prevented) from them which they imagine to do."

Interesting, He used 'tongues' to divide them; in Acts 2:4 "tongues" was a sign of His Spirit being poured out on them.

Even in the beginning, the Mystery of Iniquity was being manifested: Satan, through his false promise of "man be as 'god', was attempting to fulfil it through the Tower of Babel. I believe that before the Flood, he was 'attempting' to create a race of 'supermen', 'giants' who if you read the Book of Enoch, terrorized men and called them to cry out to God. After the Flood, the last vestiges of this race was destroyed by the children of Israel- the sons of Anak were those decendants of the giants.

God, established His plan for man's redemption by calling a man out of Shinar named Abram, and bringing him to Canaan, where His plan was to bless him and his seed for eternity. And it is through Abraham-the name God gave him when He sealed His Covenant with Abraham, brought forth a people who would manifest His Name throughout the earth. Their home was Jerusalem, versus the home of those who rebelled which was Babylon. And out of Abraham's seed, which Paul in Gal. 3:16 which is 'one' came Christ, who would deliver all mankind from Satan's dominion.

The truth to the last part of your question of why God wanted them to spread out is that this prevented Satan's plan to attempt to bring man in one place, infuse men with the knowledge that he had observed God and His ways, prior to his downfall, and collectively establish his kingdom which opposes the Will of God, duping men into believing they could be 'god' in their own right, and establish a tyranny where men would be prevented from knowing God.

Instead, God 'restrained' his (Satan's) plan, chose a man of faith(Abraham) who became a father to all the faithful, brought His Son into the world through Abraham's faith passed on through generations, and through His Church, which His Son planted, is bringing all men scattered throughout the earth to faith in Him, the Mystery of Godliness(1 Tim 3:16)

In this day and in this hour BOTH MYSTERIES are revealed; Satan has thoroughly established his 'Babylon' throughout the earth, and Jesus has established His Church throughout the earth. The question for all mankind is,"Which kingdom do you prefer?" Christ's or the Antichrist's?

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  • Excellent and comprehensive answer.
    – Vector
    Jul 31 '15 at 12:55
  • I'd point out when referencing the Book of Enoch that there may be some interesting concepts and stories but many of them are heretical when compared to the inspired words of God, the Holy Bible.
    – GFFG
    Apr 10 '19 at 1:19
  • @gffg.info The Book of Enoch is quoted word for word in Gen. 6; also 2 Pet. and Epistle of Jude quote the Book of Enoch. Since the authorship was in question, the book remained deuterocanonical; for all the right reasons. It is a trove of information for the discerning reader-not recommended for the neophyte.
    – Tau
    Apr 10 '19 at 3:16
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Well I could be way off, but perhaps a simple story added in to paint another picture. Apologies I can't always follow all the doctrine us modern westerners like to impose on our very ancient text, but maybe from just an actual textual perspective this is a another chiastic story (there are several in our 1st 11 chapters of Genesis) portraying man's choice to pursue his own selfish desire in contrast to choosing to trust the story Yahweh has been trying to tell him.

If you aren't familiar with chiasms just search for Chiasms in the bible or something similar. Chiastic structure was common in ancient literature to help hearers of the stories pick up on the key points by "bookending" a main point with similar words or concepts for the hearer to recognize and dig for the deeper idea, usually buried in the center.

In the case of the tower story, verses 1 and 7 talk about "language", saphah in the Hebrew, and then you will find the structure further verified in verses 4 & 5. As they converge on the center from the outside in you will see something like build, city and tower, and heaven and earth (they can be juxtaposed) with "let us make a name for ourselves" in the center.

So we might be able to tell this story is set in there with a message for the hearer, as it interrupts the discussion of Noah's descendants. They got started with Shem's line in Ch 10, and it starts over with Shem right after the tower story. Interestingly all the lines of Noah's sons in Ch 10 end up in their own places with their own languages. So that's a thing to note. In addition, I think we can see you could actually just remove the tower story completely and just finish the line of Shem and not miss a beat in the narrative. Always a clue in ancient literature when the author interrupts the "regularly scheduled" story to bring another idea.

Basically even after the flood story (another chiasm by the way) man was still going to struggle with trusting this God, so was still pursuing making a name for themselves due to the selfish desire, shame, guilt and fear we have already seen in the previous 10 chapters. Interestingly we will soon be introduced to a guy from Shem's line who may show us we can trust the story in Abram, who after hearing from this God builds an altar to honor God's name, instead of a tower to honor his own.

So again, can't help with much modern doctrine, But maybe the text has enough of a message on its own. Shalom!

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The tower was symbolic of unity and wealth and purpose of man without God. Essentially it was idolatry. It was an image or representation in their minds that they considered to be a way to God. 'A Tower' 'To HEAVEN'. Mans fallen nature completely misunderstands the way to Heaven. The way to heaven is through the SEED of the woman...

Genesis 3:14-15 New American Standard Bible (NASB) 14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; 15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall [a]bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

By faith in Christ we find access to heaven. Jacobs ladder represents the true stair to heaven in that it directs our minds and hearts to the promise teaching us that salvation is found by faith in the promise and not by the works of mans hands.

Genesis 28:10-17 New International Version (NIV) Jacob’s Dream at Bethel

10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it[a] stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.[b] 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” And yet his head rested on a stone. The builders of babel would have considered Jacobs ladder a joke. There was no great city, no great tower, no mass of people joined together to display their wealth and strength, it was just Jacob and a stone to rest his head on. No pomp and ceremony of a visible nature. The gate of heaven was spiritual and not of this World.

The tower of Babel represented 'the work of mans hands'. In Jeremiah 44:8 we read 'Why do you provoke me to anger with the work of your hands'..Mans hands can be used for good or for evil. In this case the people who built the Tower of Babel angered God. Their minds were clearly expressed by their wish to find another way to heaven other than that way that God had already determined. That fallen mind was so debased, that it thought it could reach God, by physical means, by the work of mans hands.

The significance of the recording of this event is no small matter. Many lessons are taught in it. If we read the account merely as a historical event and an explanation of the disunity of language in the World we may miss the whole point. The tower of babel is a way mark or a datum point in History. It reveals very clearly the nature of man and his broken relationship with God. That nature is always fighting for unity in opposition to God. Today we see this Babylonian tower in the emergence of a one world Government with the English language as a unifying language. It is interesting that in the book of revelation the end time World is portraid as Babylon the great.

Revelation 18 New King James Version (NKJV) The Fall of Babylon the Great

18 After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory. 2 And he cried mightily[a] with a loud voice, saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! 3 For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.”

4 And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. 5 For her sins have reached[b] to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. 6 Render to her just as she rendered to you,[c] and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her. 7 In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; for she says in her heart, ‘I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.’ 8 Therefore her plagues will come in one day—death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges[d] her.

The only thing that reaches to heaven, when we think we can find salvation by works, is our sin. When our sin reaches heaven, God will come down to see what is happening and make a judgement. That judgement is always the scattering of mans works, when they are opposed to Him..The disabling of evil mechanisms, contrary to the express declaration of God, in Creation and in His Word, Jesus Christ(Romans 1), will always be shattered and scattered.

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    Why was this answer downvoted? It covers many important points.
    – Vector
    Jul 31 '15 at 12:54
  • If I had more points I'd vote it down as well. These people did not have good intentions, they were not trying to reach to the heavens for salvation or to give glory unto God. And all the scriptural references are from modern Bible versions that have been proven to be corrupted. See: gffg.info/Jesus/CorruptedBibles.html
    – GFFG
    Apr 10 '19 at 1:26

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