The Temptation of Babel

The Temptation of Babel

The Temptation of Babel.

“And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves…”  (read Genesis 11:1-9).

BABEL: an ancient Akkadian word that means “gate of the god;” it is the root word for the name Babylon; in Hebrew the word means “confusion.”

HUBRIS: a Greek word that means excessive pride; exaggerated self-conceit; overwhelming self-confidence; sheer arrogance; in ancient Greece, hubris was a character flaw reflecting a defiance of the gods, when someone would foolishly or maliciously act against the divine order; someone with hubris always has a lack of self-awareness and won’t stop to examine his behavior or consider other actions; people with hubris are generally too full of themselves to question their motives or actions; people who are overcome with hubris eventually bring about their own downfall.

Hubris was the giant weak spot of those who, long after the Flood, settled in a valley or plain called Shinar in southern Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. These were rather brilliant people who invented a new construction method using baked bricks instead of stones, and tar as mortar instead of straw and mud. They seemed to think they were destined for great things and wanted the world to know, so they were consumed in their blind ambition to construct what would reach the gods. They were convinced they could be equal to deity and communicate with them, and could actually reach the resting place of the divine beings. This tower was called a ziggurat, a pagan temple for idolatrous worship, and was a vast building that looked like a pyramid but had steps leading up the sides. Archeologists have discovered ziggurats in Mesopotamia that reached the height of a thirty-story building, and were as wide as they were tall. It appears that their ambition was to make a ziggurat much taller than that.

Nimrod was the visionary who led the way on this project, he was the one who commissioned the construction of the Tower of Babel, according to Biblical tradition. Nimrod is best known as the rebel-king, with a reputation of one who always seemed in open rebellion against God. The Tower of Babel was a reflection of the dream of Nimrod, the king of hubris. Nebuchadnezzar came along centuries later as the ruler of Babylon, and tried to complete Nimrod’s tower. Nebuchadnezzar was also fueled with hubris, and built another tower on the site which he claimed was the original Tower of Babel. He had a  strong desire to make a name for himself, just like the original Babylonians. We don’t know exactly to what extent he succeeded, but we do know his tower was at least 300 feet high.

According to Scripture, the known world at this time of Babel was operating with one language. This was a time in Biblical history when there was only one basic language, one vocabulary, one form of speech. The people were able to communicate so clearly with each other that group projects like the Tower was relatively simple. So these original Babylonians were impressively productive in their building projects. God saw the potential for only increased pride and arrogant achievement. So Yahweh decided to confuse the language of the people. God introduced many new languages into society, which made it virtually impossible to communicate and thus work together. With everyone speaking different languages, they had to suspend their audacious goal of building a temple tower to reach the gods. God had seen their hubris, and He wouldn’t allow a grandstanding monument to their greatness.

Genesis 11:5 reads, “the Lord Yahweh came down to see the city and the Tower...” and verse 7 reads, “Come, let Us go down and thus confuse their language…” Scholars note that when Moses wrote those words he was merely using a figure of speech, and was probably being sarcastic, making fun of how miniscule the Tower was compared to God’s power and presence. After all, we know that the Almighty God is everywhere and sees everything, and doesn’t need to go anywhere to view what is happening. Many translators believe that the “Us” mentioned in verse 7 is definitely a reference to the Trinity, the Three-in-One Godhead.

Sure enough, God stopped the building project dead in its tracks, and the people were more or less forced into spreading across the earth, bringing their new languages with them. Many philologists, scientists who specialize in language development, have declared that a common origin of all languages is quite reasonable and even highly probable. It’s fascinating to note that it is reasonable that there was an original unity of human language, and the dispersion of languages might have been initiated right there at the ancient Tower of Babel.

And now here we are, in an era of unprecedented achievement, greater than at any time in the history of the world. We have accomplished a mind-boggling amount of progress in every area of human knowledge. Lab scientists are toying with human DNA, for ostensibly good reasons. They are cross-fertilizing different species, unaware of any ethical boundaries. Computer technology rules the world, accelerating global communication down to the second. We can rocket around the earth, and fly to the moon, something that was not long ago worshiped as a deity. And we can blow up our earth many times over at the flip of a switch.

Have we not yet reached the level of hubris found at the Tower of Babel? Are we getting carried away by the sheer amount of progress we can show at the drop of a hat? What else could be causing us to tinker with humanity and earth, except that of blind, unadulterated pride? If we continue to play at being like a god, what is our destiny in the human community? Will God finally have enough of our hubris, like in Babylon? I wonder if God will invent a new way to confuse the languages and put an end to this contemporary version of making a name for ourselves for the sake of progress. Will God reach down and assert Himself to make a Tower of Babel 2.0?