The story of the Tower of Babel is included in Scripture for a reason, right? So, Why is it there? How does the tower of Babel fit into God’s redemptive plans and purposes?
These are questions we should think to ask. In fact, Scripture is designed, according the Hebrew thinking, to invite us to ask questions.
Western thinking might assume that we just take things on faith and don’t ask questions. Or the opposite: take it at face value and dismiss it when we find problems (“contradictions”) in the text.
God wants us to seek Him, and that includes asking questions of Scripture, wrestling with it, and finding answers to our questions. We don’t exhibit a lack of faith when we find problems in Scripture and ask questions.
We can hold to a high view of Scripture and admit there are “problems” in the text . Those problems may lead to some real gems in the answers they reveal.
God desires us to seek him and find him, as Paul says to the philosophers in Athens. (Acts17:27) Jesus, of course, promised that those who ask, seek, and knock will be answered, will find, and the door will be open to them. (Matthew 7:7) Faith enters when we use the problems we see as the springboard to seek answers.
I recently wrote an article on the Tower of Babel story exploring some of the questions it invites us to ask, and trying on answers that are suggested by a more eastern (Hebrew) mindset than most westerners might be adopt.
One question we might ask is: why is the story there to begin with?
We might assume the story is simply an explanation for how people became scattered all over the world in different language groups. How questions, though, miss the most important meaning of Scripture. If we stop there, and assume there is no more to know, we may be missing the most important part of the story.
A Hebrew (or eastern) mind always asks, “Why?”
I resonate with this basic practice incorporated into the BEMA Podcast because of a Jewish professor I had in college. He explained one day the difference between the western and eastern approaches to Scripture. He illustrated it with the following example.
If the universe consisted of a chair in a room, people with western minds and eastern minds would approach the chair differently. The westerner would measure the height, width, depth and mass of the chair. He would weigh it and measure the distance of the chair from the walls and the ceiling. The easterner (the Hebrew) would start by asking, “Why is the chair here?”
In my previous article, I discussed how the story is a chiasm (a type of poetry). A chiasm puts emphasis on the middle verse. In this story, the emphasis is on the people’s desire to “make a name for ourselves” because “otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the earth”. (Gen. 11:4)
Why were they concerned about being scattered? Why does God care? What is God doing in confusing their languages and scattering them?
For starters, God does not break into the story when they are making bricks. God isn’t threatened or concerned about their development of new technology. He doesn’t break into the story until they say they are going to build a tower to make a name for themselves.
We also need to be mindful, always, of context. The context here is that people are moving away from God, away from his plans. (Moving east.) God wanted them to multiply and fill the earth, but they wanted to put down roots in the plains of Shinar (Babylon) and build a tower to exalt themselves, lest they be scattered.
This was the instruction from God to Adam and Eve. It was the instruction from God to Noah. God said, “Multiply and fill the earth.”
Building a tower to make a name for themselves, in this context, means wanting to pursue their own plans to achieve their own ends. The concern about being scattered suggests they knew they were doing their own thing contrary to God’s plans for them. They might have feared being scattered because it would disrupt their plans.
Maybe they thought God couldn’t scatter them if they built a fortified tower. Maybe they were trying to make God deal with them on their own terms, in a location they established, by a structure by which they thought could ascend to God and control where God met with them.
Of course, God did exactly what they feared, and scattered them. against their wishes. But why? Was God threatened by them? Um…., no. So why did God scatter them?
I believe the answer lies partly in the fact that they were pursuing their own plans in exultation of themselves. Their plans were not consistent with God’s plans, and they knew it (thus, there fear of being scattered for doing it).
God had other plans, and God frustrated their plans that were not in keeping with His plans. That might all seem arbitrary unless we keep asking questions and seeking answers. Why were the peoples’ plans something God couldn’t abide?
They interfered with God’s plans, but how? What were God’s plans?Continue reading “How Does the Tower of Babel Fit into God’s Plan for People to Love Him and Love Our Neighbors?”