the confusion of babel

 

The inspired narrative of Genesis chapter 11 describes the actions of men following the Flood:

“And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:2-4).

Against the background of this confessed intent, we find a world where “the whole earth was of one language and one speech”. Men were linguistically united as one, and they sought to work together as a single unified race in constructing a tower that could reach to heaven. The stated purpose of the Tower was threefold:

  1. to “reach unto heaven”
  2. to “make us a name”
  3. to avoid being “scattered abroad”

These things however, were not to be in the purpose of the Deity who created all things for the glorification of His Name not man’s. The record continues to recount how in confounding the language of men by causing them to speak and hear different tongues, “Yahweh scattered them abroad” (vs. 8). So it was that the united endeavours of men for self-glorification were thwarted.

Babel, being the site of this democratically united endeavour, became the seat of Nimrod’s kingdom (Gen. 10:9-10) and therefore stands in the record as being emblematic of the kingdoms of men. Representing the uprising of the flesh in opposition to the glorification of Yahweh, Babylon (which Babel became), being the first city constructed by man and for man, stands in marked contrast to Jerusalem – the city where it pleased the Deity to place His Name. In these two cities we have two opposing forces: the united kingdoms of men, versus the kingdom of Yahweh, which shall crush and destroy man’s dominion at the last. Whereas the intent of man in constructing Babel’s tower was to “reach heaven,” (a desire of Babylonians throughout their history – See Isa. 14), the New Jerusalem is a “heavenly” country (Heb. 11:16), destined to be the dwelling of those who “seek those things which are above” (Col. 3:1), desiring to depart from sheol beneath (Prov. 15:24). Here then, we see differing motives behind the intent: the one was for self aggrandisement, and the other is for the Glory of Yahweh to be seen, and for Him to be exalted in the innumerable company of the Redeemed. These are they who do not seek their own glory, but His, being united in praise and worship before Him.

In fact, in considering these things, we find that there are a number of points of comparison and contrast between the things pertaining to Babel’s Tower and the things pertaining to the Name of Yahweh. Proverbs chapter 18 informs us that “The name of Yahweh is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe” (Prov. 18:10). What a great contrast this is to the ways of men, who seek to build a tower-name for themselves! Truly it is that in the “foolishness of preaching” the gospel, the wisdom of the wise is confounded, and out of the mouths of babes and sucklings God has perfected praise.

Matthew 28 describes how we might enter the Tower-Name of the Deity – it is by baptism “into (Grk) the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit (Mat. 28:19). There is no other name under heaven whereby men “must be saved” than the name given to Messiah – and that is his Father’s Name which he obtained “by inheritance” (Heb. 1:4). He did not take honour for himself, but was called of God, as was Aaron (Heb. 5:4). He sought the glorification of his Father, whom he obeyed even to the extent of laying down his life for his friends.

BABEL OVERCOME

We find then, that whereas the Tower of Babel was a rallying point for men of the flesh to make a Name for themselves, the Name of Yahweh is a Tower of salvation for men who run into it for safety. But by contrast to the confusion of languages in Babel, the light of the glorious gospel of Christ has transcended all linguistic barriers, shining to all – irrespective of nationality. Indeed Acts chapter 2 recounts how the divisions of Babel were overcome by unity in Christ:

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:1-5)

Notice what comes first in this sequence of events: “they were all of one accord,” with verse 21 telling us they all called upon “the Name of the Lord.” It was because of their union in Christ that the Spirit was poured upon them, overcoming the divisions of Babel, in order that the Gospel might be heard in all languages of the earth.

There are many passages which describe the blessed state of unity that exists between brethren of like precious faith. Psalm 133:1 reads:

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”

Again, Ephesians 4:3 gives the exhortation to:

“keep the unity of spirit in the bond of peace”

Examples could be multiplied—the point being, that sinners of the Gentiles seek the company of those who are as fleshly minded as they are, and saints in Christ also seek after the company of those of like precious faith.

In the very nature of such circumstances, there is of necessity, a division made between both classes of men. The faithful of all ages have received the command to “come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17; Cp Rev. 18:4). Men who seek Yahweh’s Glory instead of their own will have no part in human endeavours to glorify men.

BABYLON—DANIEL CHAPTER 3

Daniel chapter 3 brings all of these threads together in the things that it records concerning Yahweh’s elect, sojourning in the kingdom of Babylon. Daniel chapter 2 revealed to Nebuchadnezzar the various phases the kingdom of men would develop into, following and including his own. Symbolised by a metal man made up of various bodily components, Nebuchadnezzar was shown History in Advance. But in chapter 3, we have Nebuchadnezzar’s answer to this: whereas in the Image Babylon occupied the head section only, Nebuchadnezzar worked in defiance of this, in erecting an image of his devising—wholly of Gold. That is, he saw his kingdom as never ending, never being replaced by another. 9 times in this one chapter, this new image is described as being something he “set up” – emphasising how it was to be reflective of his desires and aspirations, and not Yahweh’s. Notice the comparison with Babel: it was an edifice to form a centre of worship to the elevation of man. The decree went out:

“to you it is commanded, O people, nations and languages, that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up” (Dan. 3:5).

The passage goes on to describe how any who refused to be joined in this worship would be burned in the fire. But notice how that the decree was sent out to all “languages” – there would be no linguistic barrier to the worship of Nebuchadnezzzar’s Idol; all would be compelled to obey (see verses 5, 7).

THE FAITH OF DANIEL’S FRIENDS

However, for those who seek the kingdom and righteousness of Yahweh, there can be no compromise in their worship. Three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, companions to Daniel, refused. Whilst all around them were kneeling and bowing before the great Idol, these men of integrity and Truth remained standing. This is what it really means to make a stand for the Truth – it is to maintain a personal integrity whilst all around us are falling before the altars of superstition, and Babylonian apostasy. It is to be willing to lay down one’s life in worship to Yahweh alone.

We know the account only too well – but would we be like them in similar circumstances? Would we have the faith to endure a fiery trial (1 Pet. 1:7, 4:12) for Christ’s sake?

Revelation chapter 13 again brings together the same aspects of Truth that we have been considering. This chapter introduces us to the united kingdoms of men, symbolised by a beast made up of the components of all of the beasts as seen in Daniel 7. To this power it was given:

“to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations” (Rev. 13:7).

Notice that once again, we have an attempt to reverse the events and effects of Babel: kingdoms were coming together, with power “over all … tongues”, for the purposes of worship. And again, we have “an image” to the beast in verses 14-15, which men are called upon to worship—with the threat of death if they did not (verse 15). And this beast is said to “make fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men” (verse 13).

But whilst there were afflictions to be imposed upon those who refused to worship, it would be far worse for those who did so. We read that “all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (verse 8).

This is particularly important for us to recognise in our day: worship with those who are appointed to destruction, and we will be destroyed with them. There are those who speak of “other churches” having “different spiritual pathways.” Some former “ecclesias” even call themselves “churches” so as not to appear to be too different before men (with Roman Catholicism claiming to be the “mother of all churches”)! The boundaries between them and us is becoming more and more blurred as each year goes by.

CONCLUSION

In these things therefore, we have seen man’s efforts to overcome the confusion instituted by God at Babel. Not being thwarted by barriers of language, men still seek to unite in worship upon the basis of Babylonian idolatry. We see this in our day, as much as in times gone by. But many of the faithful throughout the ages have endured a fiery trial for Christ’s sakes, including Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These yielded their bodies as living sacrifices (Dan. 3:28; Cp. Rom. 12:1), and making a literal stand for the Truth refused to be identified with the idol worshippers of their age. The question remains therefore for us to consider – will we resolve to do likewise?

Christopher Maddocks