And God Blessed The World With The Babel Incident

…from there the LORD dispersed them over all the earth.
-Genesis 11:8

The Netherlands (Flanders)

The Tower of Babel is not about human pride and divine judgment.* Crazy, I know. But before we get there, read the 11 verse story again

All people on the earth had one language and the same words. 2 When they traveled east,they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them hard.” They used bricks for stones and asphalt for mortar. 4 They said, “Come, let’s build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and let’s make a name for ourselves so that we won’t be dispersed over all the earth.”

5 Then the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the humans built. 6 And the Lord said, “There is now one people and they all have one language. This is what they have begun to do, and now all that they plan to do will be possible for them. 7 Come, let’s go down and mix up their language there so they won’t understand each other’s language.”8 Then the Lord dispersed them from there over all of the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 Therefore, it is named Babel, because there the Lord mixed up the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord dispersed them over all the earth.

A harmless anecdote about the origination of languages, right? Wrong. It’s so much more than that.

Traditional teachings have pressed the Babel narrative into the service of critiquing pride – which makes sense, because these people are building something tall, and making a name for themselves, and God is getting angry. But that isn’t the entire story.

The “sin” of Babel was its failure to obey God’s command to fill the earth. Earlier in Genesis, God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.”

The people of Shinar didn’t want to. So they built an empire in the hopes that they wouldn’t be dispersed.

So God punishes them, right? Wrong again. God’s confusion of their languages looks fairly harsh, but God is helping them along (rather forcibly) in their given task of earth-filling. Humans were supposed to tend this giant garden we call home, and it wasn’t going to happen if everyone hung out in one place (and it wasn’t going to happen for thousands of years afterward, for that matter, but we’re working on it).

With this one act, God creates diversity. God blesses the world with a multitude of peoples and languages. We are only now beginning to understand just how fantastic multiculturalism truly is, and realizing the terrors of diversity-loss.

And who knows? Maybe the God who dispersed Babel will see us through to a day when each of our tribes and tongues and nations get along with each other and the world we inhabit.

I should think that would be most heavenly.


Allen Marshall O'Brien

Allen Marshall O’Brien is the pastor of a UCC church in Northern California and co-host of the Irenicast. He believes in the importance of education, peace, and ecology, throws things to his border collie Sonata, and writes for multiple platforms.

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