Tower of Babel Bible Story Study Guide

At times God intervenes with a divisive hand in human affairs

The Tower of Babel
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The tower of Babel Bible story involves the people of Babel attempting to build a tower that will reach to heaven. It is one of the saddest and most significant stories in the Bible. It is sad because it reveals the widespread rebellion in the human heart. It is significant because it brings about the reshaping and development of all future cultures.

Tower of Babel Story

  • The story of the tower of Babel unfolds in Genesis 11:1-9.
  • The episode teaches Bible readers important lessons about unity and the sin of pride.
  • The story also reveals why God sometimes intervenes with a divisive hand in human affairs.
  • When God speaks in the tower of Babel story, he uses the phrase, "let us go," a possible reference to the Trinity.
  • Some Bible scholars believe the tower of Babel episode marks the point in history when God divided the earth into separate continents.

Historical Context

Early in the history of humanity, as humans repopulated the earth after the flood, a number of people settled in the land of Shinar. Shinar is one of the cities in Babylon founded by King Nimrod, according to Genesis 10:9-10.

The location of the tower of Babel was in ancient Mesopotamia on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. Bible scholars believe that the tower was a type of stepped pyramid called a ziggurat, common throughout Babylonia.

Tower of Babel Story Summary

Up until this point in the Bible, the whole world spoke the same language, meaning there was one common speech for all people. The people of the earth had become skilled in construction and decided to build a city with a tower that would reach up to heaven. By building the tower, the inhabitants of the city wanted to make a name for themselves and also prevent the population from being scattered across the earth:

Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth." (Genesis 11:4, ESV)

Genesis tells us that God came to see the city and the tower they were building. He perceived their intentions, and in his infinite wisdom, he knew this "stairway to heaven" would only lead the people away from God. The goal of the people was not to glorify God and lift up his name but to build a name for themselves.

In Genesis 9:1, God told humankind: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth." God wanted people to spread out and fill the whole earth. By building the tower, the people were ignoring God's clear instructions.

Babel is derived from the root meaning "to confuse" God observed what a powerful force the people's unity of purpose created. As a result, he confused their language, causing them to speak many different languages so they would not understand each other. By doing this, God thwarted their plans. He also forced the people of the city to scatter all across the face of the earth.

Lessons From the Tower of Babel

Bible readers often wonder what was so wrong with building this tower. The people were coming together to accomplish a notable work of architectural wonder and beauty. Why was that so bad?

To arrive at the answer, one must understand that the tower of Babel was all about convenience, and not obedience to the will of God. The people were doing what seemed best for themselves and not what God had commanded. Their building project symbolized the pride and arrogance of humans who were trying to be equal with God. In seeking to be free from reliance on God, the people thought they could reach heaven on their own terms.

The tower of Babel story emphasizes the sharp contrast between man's opinion of his own achievements and God’s point of view regarding human accomplishments. The tower was a grandiose project—the ultimate human-made achievement. It resembled the modern masterstrokes people continue to build and boast about today, such as the Dubai Towers or the International Space Station.

To build the tower, the people used brick instead of stone and tar instead of mortar. They used human-made materials, instead of more durable materials created by God. The people were building a monument to themselves, to call attention to their abilities and achievements, instead of giving glory to God.

God said in Genesis 11:6:

"If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them." (NIV) 

God made it clear that when people are unified in purpose, they can accomplish impossible feats, both noble and ignoble. This is why unity in the body of Christ is so important in our efforts to accomplish God's purposes on earth.

By contrast, having unity of purpose in worldly matters, ultimately, can be destructive. In God's viewpoint, division in worldly matters is sometimes preferred over great feats of idolatry and apostasy. For this reason, God at times intervenes with a divisive hand in human affairs. To prevent further arrogance, God confuses and divides people's plans, so they don't overstep God's limits on them.

A Question for Reflection

Are there any human-made "stairways to heaven" you are building in your life? Are your accomplishments drawing more attention to yourself than bringing glory to God? If so, stop and reflect. Are your purposes noble? Are your goals in line with God's will?