Let Us Build a City and Make a Name for Ourselves
Let us build a city and make a name for ourselves DIG: Why did the people of Shinar build that tower? What was their real motivation? Why is such unity wrong? What is Humanism? Who was Nimrod and what did he start? What is the inevitable fate of all such man made schemes?
REFLECT: What is the lesson here for empire-building? For human ambition? For who to follow? Is that also true for pastors or messianic rabbis?
As might be expected, the survivors of the Flood spoke only one language. Now the whole world had one language, the Hebrew literally means of one lip, a common speech and vocabulary (11:1). As we have already seen, that language was Hebrew, as all names were Hebrew names prior to this chapter. In addition, all the word plays have only made sense in Hebrew. This chapter explains why the dispersion of Chapter 10 took place.
As men moved eastward from Ararat and the Armenia-Turkish area, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there (11:2). Their descendants eventually moved to Shinar (an ancient name for Babylonia) and settled there. It was there they decided to rebel against Elohim. Led by Nimrod, his fellow rebels decided to build a city and a tower in order to make a name for themselves as well as to demonstrate their sense of unity. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar (11:3). If they had been living in Palestine, they would have used stone and mortar as building materials, but since they were in Babylonia they used brick and tar. There was very little stone available for use in building in ancient Mesopotamia, as the brick structures routinely excavated by archaeologists in that part of the world so vividly illustrate.204
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city.” This was the counsel of the princes, to make Nimrod king over the whole human race. This desire to build a city existed even before the Flood. Cain was building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch (4:17b). Here again we have the building of a city connected with those who were evidently apathetic toward God. At first it was not so much wickedness as it was indifference. He was not in their life. But, as is always the case, from indifference soon came rebellion. Whenever a religious system glorifies humanity, it takes the focus off of ADONAI and turns their focus inward. It is not long before they minimize the LORD and make Him nothing. Culture, civilization, intellect and progress are all gifts from God to us. And when people are yielded to ADONAI they become a blessing. But when they are not handed over to Elohim who gave them in the first place, but are kept for mankind’s own power and authority, they lead people further and further away from Him and become a curse.205 A self-reliant society, under the power of a gifted leader, would be a society no longer dependent upon God. This was Nimrod’s aim.
In addition, the people of Shinar wanted to build a tower that reaches to the heavens (11:4a). The great tower would dominate the city, both architecturally and culturally. It would serve as the focal point of the political and religious life of the population, and would be a symbol of their unity and strength.206 The Hebrew name Babylon is Babel, which means the gate of God. The Tower of Babel was not a monument to the one true God, but to prideful mankind. It reveals man’s arrogant, defiant, rebellious attitude against ADONAI. And because they wanted to shut God out, His name is appropriately absent from this section. Therefore, the Babel of the earth is set against the Jerusalem in heaven; the city of man opposed to the city of God. True unity is based upon the LORD and upon spiritual life in Him. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-6).
What was their real motivation? So that we may make a name for ourselves. This was nothing more than open rebellion against Elohim. Humility is often equated with trust and obedience, and conversely pride, as seen here, is related to independence and disobedience.207 The desire to make a name for oneself also existed before the Flood. The Nephilim were heroes of old, men of renown (6:4). At its most basic element, this is humanism and comes from the wrong motivation. Humanism starts with mankind putting self in the place of the LORD and eliminating Him from the center of our lives. Humanists do not believe in God. They become a god unto themselves. They believe that everyone has the right to determine their own destiny. They believe in situational ethics and have no concept of absolute authority. Their desire is to force God to bend to their will and are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight (see the commentary on Isaiah, to see link click Bi – Woe to Those who are Wise in Their Own Eyes).208
This prideful human achievement was nothing more than a return to Adam and Eve’s effort to be like God (3:5). Their ultimate desire, led by the Adversary, was to ascend above the tops of the clouds and make themselves like the Most High (Isaiah 14:14). In the pride of their hearts they wanted to say: I am a god (Ezeki’el 28:2). And by doing so they would be emulating their father the devil, who will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up on ADONAI’s Temple, proclaiming himself to be God (Second Thessalonians 2:4).
But their goal was thwarted and they were scattered over the whole face of the earth (11:4b). This was, of course, an act of rebellion against God in opposition with His Covenant with Noah (9:1 and 7). Confusion is always the inevitable fate of all such man made schemes.
At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin quoted the King James Version of Psalm 127:1 when he said:Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it. He then continued, “I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.”