The Tower of Babel

Open Your Bible

Genesis 11:1-32, Genesis 12:1-9, Psalm 2:1-12, Luke 1:51

My dad is a talented woodworker, and one year he built my brother and me an elaborate treehouse in our backyard. It was the talk of the town. There was a fire escape pole, a sandbox, a gymnastics bar, and a slide. He built it so high it just fit within coding limits established by the California building department. While it may seem like his motivation was a defiance of building permits, it was really an extravagant gesture of love. He wanted our treehouse to be as big and awesome as a treehouse could be.

In Genesis 11, the motivation for building a really tall tower wasn’t quite as pure. After settling in Shinar, the people were afraid of being scattered throughout the earth (Genesis 11:2). Although God’s command to be fruitful and multiply implies expansion into surrounding lands, the people liked it right where they were. They didn’t want to leave and, instead, decided to construct a tower to “make a name” for themselves (v.4). They likely built a ziggurat—a temple that was supposed to bridge the gap between heaven and earth, a place where they believed they could communicate with the gods. This was a way for them to claim the territory as their own and, hopefully, avoid being scattered.

In contrast with this story, when Abram received God’s call of pilgrimage to a new land, he responded by building a stone altar (Genesis 12:1–7). Unlike the tower, this wasn’t a symbol of human achievement or possessiveness. It was an offering to the Lord. Although we find countless biblical characters building things—arks, walls, altars, towers—the inner motivation behind these outward acts is different in each case. Some are born out of self-protection. Others out of worship.

It’s so easy to become possessive, isn’t it? We find something we want, plant a flag in the ground, and we don’t let go. Understandably, we all long for something—a patch of land, a community, a reputation. But our desires can become all-consuming and corrupt when left unchecked. Suddenly, instead of surrendering those desires to God out of obedience, we fight tooth and nail to keep them.

Whatever we’re building, may we work more from a desire to offer it all as worship to God than to protect our own self-interests.

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53 thoughts on "The Tower of Babel"

  1. Sarah Schafer says:

    What jumped out at me today: building altars vs building towers: one speaks to pride and one to a posture of humility and worship…..questions to ponder:1. Do we do something similar today? 2. If yes, what am I building?

  2. Alicia Dyer says:

    This was very convicting!! Thank you Lord for Your Word and truth ❤️

  3. Jessie Lofton says:

    Powerful, thank you!!!

  4. Stephanie Gallegos says:

    Amén!

  5. Roisin Judd says:

    Seeking comfort is something I’m really wrestling with at the moment – all I want is to feel settled and know exactly what I’m doing! Reading this today realised that my desire for comfort is holding me back from responding to God’s call for my life

  6. Melissa Mcronney says:

    Amen…powerful

  7. Kelly Johnson says:

    I sent an email to the orders email because I have not received my January shipment and was charged. What is January’s shipment? I need to report this as no reply.

    1. Katelyn Jenkins says:

      I was charged the same. The Genesis devotional is December’s charge. I was thinking January’s charge would be for the Philippians study coming next, but I haven’t received it yet, either. I’m enjoying the subscription, just unsure of when study books are released.

  8. Jackie Mars says:

    It can be easy as a mother and wife to want to “build” a perfect family. To be in control of all of the little details of life. But in some of those moments am I really serving God? This year I’m trying to make sure I spend more quality time in God’s word with my kids. And on nights when I’m tired I pray for strength from God to have the patience needed to build up my family in a way that’s honoring to him, not me.

    1. Charlie Mcfarlane says:

      Love this.

  9. Shawna Bartimoccia says:

    Our church is expanding and under construction. It’s frustrating and expensive. But it’s also exciting. It seems a little selfish and self promoting at times to spend money this way. But without change, our parish is stagnant and could die out. So this growth is self protecting. But with change, we may attract new members. Hopefully build an active lively parish. We can grow and worship together. This is ultimately the goal.

  10. Tahryah Wheeler says:

    Amen!

  11. Lourdes Nunez says:

    Amén

  12. Autumn Baker says:

    We are getting ready to sell our beautiful home and move into a smaller, older house so my husband can finish raising support to work full time in missions. I’m struggling. I know that by giving up my house, people will be saved. I know that my time here is just a blink of an eye compared to my time in heaven. But it’s still so hard to let go and trust that God will see us through. This was a beautiful reminder that I needed today.

    1. Paige Frost says:

      I’m in a similar situation and this was an eye opening way to read the Tower of Babel. It’s hard but god has always provided so why will he stop now? I keep telling myself that.

  13. Sarah K says:

    I really struggle sometimes when, I’m Genesis, God seems so surprised by things. He is omniscient, but these chapters read like he isn’t. It’s confusing.

    1. Rochelle Boote says:

      I agree with you. I believe it’s written this way to make it more understandable to us – written from a human perspective instead of God’s true knowledge/omniscience but it does get confusing. I’d be interested in others thoughts too!

    2. Jackie Mars says:

      I think sometimes God is trying to give us a chance to turn from our sin and look to him for help. He asked Adam if he ate of the forbidden fruit not because He didn’t know the answer but because he wanted Adam to admit what happened and see his need for God and ask for forgiveness instead of blaming Eve.

  14. Ashley Thomas says:

    At my church we just started a book study called Autopsy of a Deceased Church. We are only a couple of chapters in, but being comfortable in our surroundings was a big point made. You tend to not see the slow deterioration around you when you are comfortable with the way things are. I certainly hope if God calls me to be elsewhere that I will hear Him and obey,

  15. Kathy says:

    I’m thankful for the reminder laid out here in God’s Word that obedience matters…we saw it in Noah (“Noah did all that God commanded”), and now with the Tower of Babel, we see people motivated by self-gratification/preservation rather than simple obedience to God’s instruction. Paul wrote to the Philippians that “God is at work within us helping us to want what He wants and to helping us to do it” (my paraphrase of Philippians 2:13). So even when what God commands looks too big or weird or whatever- He’ll help me with that!
    I am praying for you Diana Fleenor. I know He will give clarity for your situation. My husband and I are not currently attending a church body ( i.e. meeting in a formal church setting) for various reasons at this time. However, we are meeting with a group of fellow believers in a Bible Study and prayer time. He may have something likewise different for you. Whatever He has I know that He knows your situation and He will show you ;)

  16. Terri says:

    This brings to my thoughts should we build statues of war heroes and presidents. Should we only remember stories of great battles from the perspective of how God moved in them?

  17. Jennifer Anapol says:

    I have never thought about the story of the Tower of Babel this way. I too can relate to the people’s desire to stay where they are and “get comfortable”. I feel that way all the time. God is continually reminding me that this isn’t my home. Whatever we are building, we have to make sure it is for the Lord. It’s so awesome that Abraham obeyed God and went where he was calling him to go. He didn’t even know exactly where that would be. He didn’t allow the comfort he had for his homeland keep him from following after God.

  18. Deja Gibson says:

    Lord, I ask that you help me to see the things that I’m building out of self-Interest, so that I may address my motives and stop building those things. My desire is to worship you only. To build/ create/desire things that I offer to you as worship. ❤️

  19. Susan Crosby says:

    Like the people in Babel I like to surround myself with other believers and go to comfortable places. Where am I sharing the gospel? Thought provoking. Also God chose Abraham for His plan. Unlike the folks from Babel Abraham was obedient. And though Abraham strayed from the plan at times he proved himself righteous and God’s promises to him were kept. Am I obedient when it suits me or in the difficult times as well?

  20. Diana Fleenor says:

    ELIZABETH AMRIEN, I join you in saying that I am not a biblical scholar. As I read your thoughts that you are not sure God has a problem with humans building monuments to human achievements, I wondered why you think this. I mean what biblical support might you be able to give to this belief? I’ve come to understand how important it is to question our beliefs to see if they are rooted in human opinion or in God’s word. We are so prone to belief something because of the influence of human opinion and I need to constantly remember that our opinions are tainted by our sinful nature.

    In regard to the concept of “the governing principle that things ought to be handled at the lowest or least centralized level possible,” it is a good idea to explore by studying the whole of God’s word. However, I don’t see the case for this principle clearly shown in this particular passage. At least I don’t see it. But, as you admitted yourself, I’m open to correction and am praying for clarity:)

    1. Elizabeth Amrien says:

      Hi Diana, I am not prepared to defend my remarks, precisely because I am not a scholar or teacher and cannot do so with any authority. The principle of subsidiarity has deep roots in Catholic tradition, but I don’t know the scriptural basis for it. I think there is a strong case to be made that the Tower of Babel account is a rebuke of collectivism, but I leave it to people smarter than me to make it. As for human monuments, many take my breath away. Not just the sanctified places, the great cathedrals, but the New York City skyline. I don’t believe God blesses it all necessarily, but I am not sure he frowns on these achievements either. So I don’t believe what God was thwarting in the Tower of Babel story was the building project, but the aspirations underlying it of a kind of global government. I could be wrong … just sharing my thoughts.

  21. Diana Fleenor says:

    When I wrote out thoughts about today’s Scriptures before reading the devotion, I was thinking more in the lines of pride as being the people’s motivation. But, in the devotion, Bailey brings out the motive of self-protection and self-interest and the desire not to be scattered. This, I believe, is the Lord answering my question regarding my motives as I seek community in the church. It’s a struggle for me to clearly see if my motives are purely to obey the Lord in the command to “not give up meeting together.”

    My circumstances make gathering with the saints very difficult. I have a health issue of which exposure to many things most people tolerate without much problem causes me debilitating symptoms. I must make hard decisions to address what is actually wise in attempting to join my church face-to-face. I admit that my motives over the years of being homebound have not been always pure. Yet, it can seem that my longing for community can also be considered self-focused by others when I am seeking the Lord for a right motive. I would appreciate prayer for a clear view of my own motives, because I agree with the psalmist when he says, “Who can discern his own errors?”

  22. Lisa Z says:

    Dear Daddy, please help me keep You as my motivation for all I do. Help me question my reasons for building whatever I am building. Help me trust fully i. You so I may let go of everything else. Thank You for calling me to be Your daughter. Help me embrace this role so I shine Your light!

  23. Ayla Nichols says:

    Thank you for the explanation! I was very confused as to why God was unhappy with them building the temple. I didn’t see that they were building it out of ill-intentions. Now that I understood the true meaning of the scripture I can better apply it to my life and be more aware when I begin to “build things out of possessiveness or as a symbol of human achievement”.

    1. Carolyn Loper says:

      Me too

  24. Jane K says:

    I needed this today! The motivation behind my outward acts are often self-protection. May I learn ways of worship instead of self-protection. Forgive me Father for all the ways of self-protection I run to and all the ways of worship I run from.

    1. Suzie McRae says:

      ❤️

  25. Allison Sherwood says:

    I love this! It is always good to check our hearts and make sure if the desires of our hearts – no matter how good the thing is – comes from a motivation to love and serve God more! Amen!

  26. Annette Kendall says:

    As I’ve been spending time in the word and prayer this morning, the old hymn “turn your eyes on Jesus” has been stuck in my mind. It’s a great companion for today’s reading.

    1. Traci Gendron says:

      ❤️

  27. Andrea Lopez says:

    Whatever it is I’m building may I offer it all as worship to God rather than using it to protect my self interest. So powerful!!

  28. Carol says:

    Well said Tracie! Worship is the key. More of Him, less of us.

  29. Tracie Nall says:

    I am ashamed to admit that I have been a believer and Jesus follower for over 20 years yet never looked at these two chapter of scripture laid parallel to each other in comparison and contrast. I have studied each of them in depth individually but never in conjunction with the other. So, my mind is blown today! Love that Gods Word is alive and we can never reach the depth of its understanding or its Author!
    I am convicted today about “making a name” for myself, the many ways some of them subtle some of them overt that I build for myself a way to reach the heavens rather than bowing low and calling on the One name worthy! I love that both passages involved building, one a tower the other an altar. One simply designed to reach gods, the other designed to worship!
    I pray today I can focus on making His name great rather than building a name for myself.

    1. Mary Pitner says:

      I am continually amazed at all the connections in Scripture that are given to me the more I study!

  30. Elizabeth Amrien says:

    I am not a Bible scholar by any stretch, but I don’t think the Tower of Babel is about the tower or the building project necessarily. Humans have always built these monuments, and I am not sure God has any problem with them, even when they are monuments to human achievements, not to Him. Building seems to be a way in which we participate in creation. I think God can sanctify these monuments, too, over time. When Norte Dame was burning last spring, it truly felt to me that a portal between heaven and earth was closing.

    I believe (I am always open to being corrected) this story is a rebuke of the collective. I think the concept of “subsidiarity” has is roots in this story, that is, the governing principle that things ought to be handled at the lowest or least centralized level possible. If something is best dealt with at level of family, or school board, or local community, no reason to bump it up to county, state, federal government.

    It seems God favors intermediary groupings (family and nation) over individual (it is not good for man to be alone) and larger collective. These units should not be misconstrued however along ethnic or even cultural lines! The boundaries of the tribe are clearly permeable (cf the story of Ruth, Jesus’ radical redefinition of family, etc.).

    It may be there is an impetus in us to come together, but it seems the proper (divine) institution for that would be the Church. So maybe God thwarts the efforts when we are doing it wrong. You could argue the Reformation was a redux of the Babble story if the RC church was getting it wrong.

    I don’t know … It does help me to trust God though when things seem to be taking a turn for the worse.

  31. Erin Calvin says:

    I read about the Tower of Babel so many times growing up.
    But I love this bible study because it’s leading me to ask more questions of what I read – “wait, why was the tower so bad that God needed you confuse the language?” – and then have those questions answered. I love to learn things, and learning about the ziggurat and the people’s likely motivation was really interesting. I’m thankful that God led me to this learning moment. ❤️

  32. Chelsea Mitchell says:

    I believe I have many wants and not enough goals. I don’t believe I foresee or believe in myself enough to reach those goals or maybe not just a good plan to reach them. I’ve got to crawl before I walk and prove to the Lord that I am worthy and will be humble enough to handle any goals that I succeed in. But would those be of my possession, never, all God…His works…Because He used my body to succeed and be an example for others and to be a blessing to the them and a head to lead my flock to him. Because in my success I have the ability to care and raise my flock as God had planned for me to do.

    1. Christine Smith says:

      This spoke to me this morning! I don’t plan goals or a plan to get there either! I lack the confidence as well. I try to remember God believes in us and will give us the strength and skills necessary to fulfill his plan for our lives if we just say yes to following him. Also, Chelsea, He alone already knows you ARE worthy in his sight!

  33. Tina says:

    Angie, joining you if I may, in your prayer..
    Here I am Lord, lead me. Guide me. Direct me. Yes!

  34. Tina says:

    Amen, Churchmouse… Amen…

    He is for sure the only and sure tower we need..
    I love you friend. Happy Monday!!!❤

  35. Angie says:

    Every day I love God more. Every day, amazed.
    Almighty, all-powerful, everywhere present, Creator, God,… is my Father.
    Open handed, palms extended, empty before Him, I live.
    Like the people at Babel, though, there have been times when I grasped something in my hand. It was often something considered “good.” And yet, anything withheld, will fester. It means there is something I think I deserve or can do better with, then God – saying/typing those words make me cringe at the ridiculousness of them.
    But God, in His unlimited wisdom, power, and love, doesn’t leave me there. He affords me circumstances and situations to pry open my fingers and release what I hold so tight…safely, into His plan.
    Empty hands are extendable to serve.
    Empty hands may reach out to hug.
    Empty hands lift to praise.
    May the only tower I build, Lord, be one of praise.
    Stone upon stone upon stone, built by the power of Your hand, for the purpose of honor and glorifying You.
    Thank you for the times you have opened my hands, sometimes I easily released, sometimes You had to pry…thank you God for loving me enough to pry from me what would draw me away from You.
    May we live united in You while we dwell here on earth,
    And, some day, some day soon, Lord, we will be united in Your presence.
    Oh, what a day that will be when not only do I feel Your arms of love around me, but I get too look upon Your face.
    Forever.
    Amen.

    1. Nancy Hubbard says:

      Thank you Angie!

  36. Churchmouse says:

    I stake my claim and plant my flag in the promises of God, in the truth of His Word. My physical location is irrelevant. The amount of my possessions is inconsequential. The diplomas on my wall are of little effect. These will all pass away but the Word of God stands firm forever. By acknowledging Jesus as Lord of my life, I can be content. My vow to Him is much like my marriage vow: to be true and faithful for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times or in bad. Let my witness be found solid and sure no matter what, no matter where, no matter when, no matter how. All that matters is that I trust and obey. He alone is my strong tower.

    1. Nancy Singleton says:

      Well said, & I echo your words. Thank you Jesus for being my strong tower.

    2. Susan Richardson says:

      ❤️

  37. Roxanne says:

    From your Podcast: “Abram was just a guy…” and he became the father of a nation. Links to my thought, “David was just a guy…” and the Savior of the World came from his lineage.

    Wow, what God can do with “just a guy/girl”! What He can even do with “just me!!”

  38. Anna Chviedar says:

    Wow, this was the most enlightening and exquisite devotional I’ve read on STR. Thank you so much, Bailey. I’ve never before noticed that people who wanted to built the Babel tower did not want to scatter when God actually commanded them to. I have a lot to think about taking this contrast between the Babel people and Abraham’s buildings…

    1. Laura Cox says:

      I agree! I had never thought about how the story of Babel & the call of Abram are right next to each other, as contrasting responses to God.