Following God’s twofold promise, (1) to never destroy or curse the earth and (2) to never again flood the earth, Canaan is cursed and Shem and Japheth are blessed. In Chapter 10, Noah’s children have children who have children. In the third generation, nations have formed according to different languages and families. A man named Nimrod builds eight cities; one of those cities is Babel. This is the account of Babel.
Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”Genesis 11:1-4 NASB95
At the time of Nimrod (cf. 10:9-10, 25), all people spoke a single language. The text says nothing about the number of dialects or what differences constituted a separation of language at this time. What can be said is that all people are able to communicate understandably with all other people. As they, Cushites led by Nimrod (10:9-10), travel east, they settle together in Shinar. The text does not claim that all humanity was in one place. Instead, the Cushites represent the holistic human condition and desire. The Cushites scheme to make a city and high place of worship for themselves so that they will not be scattered.
The text makes no statement about technological advance. It makes no moral claim concerning the building of a city or tower. Worship is the specific subject in view. The Cushites build a city and high place of worship (1) for themselves, not to honor God. Consequently, they are concerned about fulfilling their own desires, building their own kingdom, and creating their own cultural homogeny. They desire to (2) keep from being scattered despite God’s instruction to multiply and fill the earth with His image (Genesis 1:28; 9:1). The wickedness of the Cushites concerned their sordid lifestyle, not their buildings or technology. This is a matter of faith, not works. Too often, we have heard people claim that God is angry because of the tower. No. Sordid hearts incur His wrath.
Do you ever feel like God is standing against you? I have. I worked hard to accomplish much. I did indeed accomplish much only to consistently have God remove it. I would even ask God why He was being so mean to me, that I would work so hard for Him yet never seem to gain anything. His answer to me was much the same as it was to the Cushites. I was building my own kingdom in His name. The work I was doing was not inherently bad. My motivation was. Make no mistake. God is always glorified. When our motivation is to become popular, gain influence, become rich or powerful or accepted by people instead of glorifying God–He achieves His glory by confusing ours. We feel like God is working against us because He is. He created us to multiply and fill the earth with His image. We too often only want to advance our own. That’s what God here does to the Cushites.
The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The 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. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called aBabel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.Genesis 11:5-9 NASB95
The Lord “came down,” an action of particular presence—which is an attribute of the Voice of God in Chapter 3. This is the preincarnate Christ coming to judge Nimrod and his people. “Came down” is a phrase used throughout the Old Testament to indicate divine judgment. Jesus comes down to “see,” or judge, what the Cushites are doing.
Jesus judges that the Cushites are doing the opposite of what God commanded (cf. Genesis 1:28; 9:1). Because their purpose is opposite God’s, their actions—which are amoral in and of themselves—are blasphemy against God. Because the Cushites are unified in their blasphemy, no degree of blasphemy or sinful action will be impossible for them. God is not worried that people may achieve too much progress—that’s plain silly. He is concerned that people will achieve the level of sordid living that realized His wrath through the Great Deluge. Since the Holy Spirit strives with people after the Flood, God will never again let humanity get to the point of total destruction. He has made a promise never again to destroy the earth because of people (Genesis 8:21-22; 9:11-17).
Instead of destroying every nation, the Cushites represent the whole earth (cf. Genesis 11:1), God keeps His promise to Himself and the whole of creation—never again to destroy the earth. He intervenes to see His purpose accomplished by scattering the people in order to confuse them. This separation and confusion of language such that one people cannot understand another was not immediate but took a couple generations. Remember, Nimrod was third-generation. The earth is not sufficiently divided until Peleg, who is fifth-generation. The Lord causes disunity among worldly people in order to achieve His purpose. Disunity among worldly people is evidence that God is striving with humanity instead of destroying her, and Babel was fulfilled in Christ and undone on Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:1ff). May we be about the Lord’s purpose rather than our own.
So, when we are more about ourselves than the glory of God. God is still faithful because He cannot deny Himself. He stands against us so that the world is never again destroyed because of people. His purpose is grander than you or me. He is saving a people for Himself through it all. As we learn to fear God and keep His commands (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13), the whole world is being saved. That is why Christ instructed us to teach all nations to obey all of His commands (cf. Matthew 28:18-20). It is why Jesus directly connected the salvation of the world to the end of evil deeds (John 3:17, 19). Salvation is indeed by grace alone. The end of evil deeds and the practice of good is wrought in God alone (John 3:21). How? The Holy Spirit strives with humanity.