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In the Book of Genesis, we read of the Tower of Babel and of the great number of people gathered in one city:

Genesis 11:5-6: "The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. 6The LORD said, 'Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them'" (emphasis added).

Do we know what God meant by "nothing will be impossible for the people"? Like what, exactly?

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  • When united, people can achieve (far) more than when divided.
    – Lucian
    Aug 14 '21 at 10:19
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This is one of the several times in Scripture that we meeting this idea. Here is a more complete list:

  • Gen 11:5, 6 - Then the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the sons of men were building. And the LORD said, “If they have begun to do this as one people speaking the same language, then nothing they devise will be beyond them.
  • Matt 17:20 - “Because you have so little faith,” He answered. “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
  • Luke 1:37 - For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Note the tree sets of very different circumstances under which each of these things was said. But before discussing what these texts are saying, let us first observe what they are NOT saying.

The above are clearly not suggesting the truly impossible because that the moment it was done it become possible. Further, it does not mean that such people could do the same things as an infinite God because then such people would be God, which really is impossible.

What these texts are using is simple Hebrew hyperbole. In the first example (Gen 11) above, God observes that the greatest facilitator of progress is a common language. In the world today, while many languages are spoken the bulk of technical and prime communication is become English, the result of which as been a technological explosion. I am sure that if the people of ancient Babylon in Gen 11 could see our day, they would truly say we are doing "impossible" things.

In the second (Matt 17) and third (Luke 1) examples above, both of which have the same message, with God, a human powered faith in God, even if only as small as a mustard seed, people can do truly astonishing things. History is littered with them. here are a few examples:

  • Rosa Parks in 1955, was given almost super-human courage to help change society for the better
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer was given superhuman courage to provide an example that always brings a lump to my throat
  • William Tyndale translated the Bible to English and was not frightened to die for his convictions
  • William Wilberforce fought a life-long campaign to make slavery illegal against appalling odds, and in hind-sight, succeeded by a series of divine miracles.

Hebrews 11 contains many more examples of such gallant, brave people. They accomplished almost "impossible" things.

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  • Nitpick about Rosa Parks' having "super-human courage". She was a front, deliberately reenacting what Claudette Colvin had already done nine months earlier. The event was staged because Parks was a respectably employed light skinned woman, while Colvin was a pregnant teenage drop-out with dark skin, and so unlikely to garner sympathy. Park's court case was moot; Colvin's case was won first. See: Before Rosa Parks, There Was Claudette Colvin : NPR. Nov 25 '21 at 19:15
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Do we know what God meant in Gen. 11:5-6: “Nothing will be impossible for the people”?

The Insight on the Scriptures brings out two interesting points. The first is in the article "Language":

The confusion of their language would also hinder or slow down future progress in a wrong direction, a God-defying direction, since it would limit mankind’s ability to combine its intellectual and physical powers in ambitious schemes and also make it difficult to draw upon the accumulated knowledge of the different language groups formed​—knowledge, not from God, but gained through human experience and research. (Compare Ec 7:29; De 32:5.) So, while it introduced a major divisive factor into human society, the confusion of human speech actually benefited human society in retarding the attainment of dangerous and hurtful goals. (Ge 11:5-9; compare Isa 8:9, 10.) One has only to consider certain developments in our own times, resulting from accumulated secular knowledge and man’s misuse thereof, to realize what God foresaw long ago would develop if the effort at Babel were allowed to go unhindered. [bold mine]

The second point is found in the article "Power, Powerful Works":

The tower project proposed at Babel was a demonstration of human power and ability, independent of God, unauthorized by him. It was to bring reputation and fame to its builders, not to God. And, as God realized, this would be only the beginning. It could lead to a series of ambitious power projects taking men on a course farther and farther away from the true God, in defiance of him and his purpose for the planet and for the human race. Again, God stepped in, throwing the project into confusion by acting upon human powers of speech, causing the peoples to disperse throughout the globe.​—Ge 11:5-9. [bold mine]

This is corroborated by the article "God's Judgments Reveal His Personality" in the November 1, 1975 issue of the Watchtower:

These words show that the all-wise Creator foreknew that rebellious humans would stop at nothing to carry out their defiant schemes through organized and concerted efforts. As time would pass, one wrong thing after another would come to their mind. Then, by means of unified action, they would set themselves to accomplish their evil ends.

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Genesis 11:

6The LORD said, 'Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them'

I agree with Lucian's comment: When united, people can achieve (far) more than when divided.

I also agree with Dottart that “Nothing will be impossible for the people” was a typical Hebrew hyperbole.

Here I want to focus on "same language". While Genesis 11:6 refers to human language, I think its ultimate fulfillment is in the language of mathematics. Human progress exploded suddenly some centuries ago with the beginning of the scientific revolution because of formal mathematics. 90% of all scientists who have ever lived are alive today. All of them speak mathematics. USA and China have successfully landed AI machines on Mars. People began to attribute the works of God to natural science because of the powerful mathematical description of the universe.

Do we know what God meant by "nothing will be impossible for the people"?

Millions of human brains empowered and unified by the language of mathematics had started to challenge the sovereignty of God.

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While I agree with most of the answers already provided, I think a simpler explanation is in order. It is this: In light of the failure of the world's people at that time to populate the entire world as God wanted--and commanded--them to, God had to enforce his command through extraordinary means.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:27-28a NIV, my bolding).

In other words, God's plan from the beginning was for the entire world to be populated by his image bearers. When the people of Babel contravened His decreed will, God in his infinite wisdom scattered them by confusing their languages. They became, you could say, the first diaspora.

The Lord Jesus also gave a similar command to his disciples just prior to his ascension to heaven after his resurrection. We call it the "Great Commission":

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28, excerpts, vss 18-20 NIV, my bolding).

No one on the face of the earth is exempt from God's gracious call. Every people group (Gk., ta ethne) is invited by God to repent, believe, be saved, and become a disciple of His one and only Son. The scope of salvation history is universal, for all people, for all time. For Jesus's disciples then, or for his disciples today, to refuse to preach the gospel would be analogous to the people who built the Tower of Babel refusing to fill the earth.

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