Tower of Babble
Construction zone1 There was a time on earth when everyone spoke the same language. 2 They moved east and settled in a plain called Babylonia. 3 There they came up with an idea. They said, “Let’s fire up the kiln and bake some super-hard bricks.” They didn’t have construction-quality stones or mortar. So when they needed to build something they used bricks. They held the bricks together with tar. 4 They said, “Come on, let’s build ourselves a city with a tower that climbs all the way to heaven. We’ll be famous. And we’ll have a place big enough for all of us to live, so we don’t scatter all over the place. Win-win.”
5 The LORD took a road trip; he came down to see the city and the tower under construction. 6 “Look at that,” the LORD said. “They’re working together as one team, all speaking the same language. The city and tower is only the beginning. When they pull together like this, they’ll be able to do anything they decide to do. If they can dream it, they can do it. 7 We can’t let that happen. Let’s go down there and expand their vocabulary. We’ll make them talk in different languages so they won’t understand each other.” 8 That’s how the LORD managed to scatter people all over the world, while putting a halt to construction of the city and tower. 9 That’s why the city was called Babel. Babble is what it sounded like when people talked to each other after God accessorized their lingo, and they had to talk in different languages. They scattered all over the planet.
The family: Shem to Abraham10 This is Shem’s family tree. Two years after the flood, when Shem was 100 years old, he had a son: Arpachshad. 11 After that, Shem lived another 500 years. He had more sons and daughters. 12 Arpachshad, at the age of 35, became the father of Shelah. 13 After that, Arpachshad lived another 403 years. He had more sons and daughters. 14 Shelah, at the age of 30, became the father of Eber. 15 After that, Shelah lived another 403 years. He had more sons and daughters. 16 Eber, at the age of 34, became the father of Peleg. 17 After that, Heber lived another 430 years. He had more sons and daughters. 18 Peleg, at the age of 30, became the father of Reu. 19 After that, Peleg lived another 209 years. He had more sons and daughters. 20 Reu, at the age of 32, became the father of Serug. 21 After that, Reu lived another 207 years. He had more sons and daughters. 22 Serug, at the age of 30, became the father of Nahor. 23 After that, Serug lived another 200 years. He had more sons and daughters. 24 Nahor, at the age of 29, became the father of Terah. 25 After that, Nahor lived another 119 years. He had more sons and daughters. 26 Terah, at the age of 70, became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
Family tree of Abraham’s dad27 This is the family tree of Terah, father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran the father of Lot. 28 While his father, Terah, was still alive, Haran died in the place he was born, the Chaldean city of Ur. 29 Brothers Abram and Nahor got married in Ur. Abram married Sarai. Nahor married his niece Milcah, one of the two daughters of his dead brother, Haran. Milcah’s sister was Iscah. 30 Sarai couldn’t get pregnant. 31 Terah moved his family. He left Ur, headed to Canaan. He took his son Abram and his daughter-in-law Sarai. He also took his grandson Lot, Haran’s son. They never made it to Canaan. They stopped and settled in the city of Haran. 32 In all, Terah lived 205 years. He died in Haran.
Now southern Iraq.
Babel sounds like the Hebrew word for “confusion.”
God later renamed him Abraham.
In what is now southern Iraq.
God renamed her Sarah.
What is now Israel along with predominantly Palestinian territories such as the West Bank in the Gaza Strip.
In southern Turkey, near the northern border of Syria. From Ur, it’s about a 630-mile (1,019 km) walk northwest, following a caravan route beside the Euphrates River.
Some scholars say the story about the Tower of Babel is fiction, intended to show that God is the reason we humans speak so many languages. As the theory goes, the Genesis writer continues to do what he has done all along: reverse engineer world history. Start with where we are, and try to unravel the mystery of how we got here. How do you react to that?
What could have been wrong with the reason the people gave for building the Tower of Babel? “Come on, let’s build ourselves a city with a tower that climbs all the way to heaven. We’ll be famous. And we’ll have a place big enough for all of us to live, so we don’t scatter all over the place. Win-win” (11:4).
The area where civilization seemed to begin, in what is now southern Iraq, has its own version of pyramids: stair-step pyramids called ziggurats. Builders put a temple on the top. The oldest ones discovered so far were built in the 2000s BC. That’s around the time of Abraham, but several centuries before Moses, who according to Jewish tradition wrote Genesis. What would you say to a Christian who speculated that these ziggurats inspired the story of the Tower of Babel?
The Genesis writer says it took 10 generations for the human race to get bad enough that God decided to flood the planet. Then after the Flood it took another 10 generations for God to find Abraham, a man righteous enough to father a nation of people devoted to the Lord. Many Bible experts say they take those generations literally, and base their dates of key events, such as Creation, on those generations. Other scholars say the generations reported in the family trees are probably just some of the headliners, with many other generations in between. What difference does it make which approach we take?
The Bible never says why Abraham’s father, Terah, left the bustling riverside city of Ur in what is now southern Iraq, with plans of moving to what is now Israel. Terah was essentially trading in a boomtown for the boondocks. Any guesses on why he would do that?
Here’s an excerpt from an Iraqi story from the 2000s BC about how we got different languages: “The whole world—all the people together—spoke to Enlil in one language….Enlil…leader of the gods…changed the way they spoke, causing a break in the unity of the people who used to speak in one language” (Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, author’s paraphrase). Would you say this suggests that the Genesis writer borrowed this story written several centuries before Moses? Or would you say it helps confirm the Bible story as a fact of history reported in various ways by different writers?
LIFE APPLICATION. Students of the Bible often blame the people who tried to build the Tower of Babel for having too much pride, since the people of Babel thought they could build the tower “all the way to heaven” (11:4). Most of us take pride in the work we do, the family members we love, and maybe even the ride that gets us from here to there. What examples can you think of that take pride past the Christian limits and into the zone of sinfulness, hurtfulness, and downright bad taste?