The Postdiluvian Rebellion (Genesis 11)
When Noah and his family disembarked from the ark, God said, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth" (Genesis 9:1 KJV), and the words suggest that God intended the people to diffuse themselves widely over the land. When they came to Shinar, or Mesopotamia, the people made a fateful decision. They decided to gather together to build large cities, contrary to God's original intent. "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth" (11:4). The statement is revealing on several levels. It reveals that the express purpose for building the city and the tower was to prevent wide population dispersion. The design to build a tower (probably some type of ziggurat or pyramid) indicates that concentration of population would be achieved through highly organized governmental projects. History provides evidence of a centralization of religious authority as well. And the phrase "let us make a name for ourselves" is an idiomatic way of saying "let us get power over others." Furthermore, the choice of a tower whose top is in the heavens may indicate a deliberate disbelief in God's promise to not send another great flood, effectively calling God a liar. Thus, we see the formation of a political and religious power center, opposed to God's will and using its power to dominate others. It appears that the leader of this effort was Nimrod, who built an empire from here (10:8-12).
Verse 5 tells us that God "came down" to see the city and the tower. Besides its literal meaning, when God is said to "come down" it is frequently a way of expressing impending judgment (compare Genesis 18:21; Exodus 3:8; 2 Samuel 22:10; Psalm 144:5; Isaiah 31:4; Jeremiah 21:13). It is a way of expressing the seriousness of the action as well as God's personal involvement in the punishment. When God saw the work of the men He said, "Indeed, the people are one and they have all one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them" (Genesis 11:6). Man had once again decided to use his intellect and energies to live contrary to God. The last century bore stark witness to what human beings working together can do. Without God, evil permeatesand among wonderful technological advances comes also the ability to destroy the world. But God is never out of options. To end this ungodly effort, and to accomplish His purpose of widely dispersing men over the face of the earth and preventing rapid technological development that would lead to weapons of mass destruction sooner than His time frame allowed for, God confounded the language of men. And thus the name of this place is Babel, the first Babylon of history. As an aside, notice that God said the people, though many, were onea plurality in unity, just as Elohim, the Hebrew word for God, indicates a plurality in unity.