My students and I often play “the telephone game” in English class. We make a line and whisper something to the person in front of us, and they to the next, and so on until the last student often blurts out something totally different from the original message. Everybody laughs and we have a good time, but a crucial life lesson can be found here: human beings depend on communication for relationships, for life. So, imagine what happens when you’re suddenly unable to express your thoughts, feelings and life goals with another person. Maybe even your own family.
That is what the first humans at the Tower of Babel were after all, family. The book of Genesis says that all mankind sprang to life from the first two people; Adam and Eve. Centuries after a cherub expelled them from paradise, their descendants, an ever extending family of cousins, aunts and uncles, survived the great flood through the loins of Noah and his three sons; Ham, Shem and Japheth. Yet, instead of spreading out and ruling the earth in holiness as God desired, these early humans decided to settle together somewhere in Mesopotamia, which is largely modern-day Iraq. There, in the land of Shinar, they began constructing a mighty city, attempting to stake their claim on the land, a gift of creation, but dismissing the Creator who gave it. This was especially evident in the tower that they started, one that would reach the heavens, making a name for themselves. Genesis 11:5 tells us it was at this point that God confused their languages, halting construction of the tower and resulting in mass migrations of humans with like speech to foreign lands.
This often leads to what, I feel, is a reasonable question: why would God do such a thing? I mean, people are self-absorbed and wrapped up in their own need to make a mark in the world today, right? Being a Chicago boy, I can tell you that our skyline is quite impressive too. Well, I believe that in addressing this, we’ll have to let go of the world, cultures and society we know today for a moment and journey back around 5,000 years. The bible shows us that this was a very different humanity, one that had to be held accountable to a higher degree than later generations. Why? Genesis says that Adam lived for 930 years, which means that he was still around for at least part of the lives of his many descendants. So, one could say that unless Adam decided to stay quiet about it, early mankind would have been aware of God’s existence. It’s very likely that they would have heard the account of what we had with the Lord, and tragically lost, either from their great patriarch himself or another elder. Therefore, the fact that they had this information and continued to defy God speaks volumes of the condition of their heart. Remember, the event preceding Babel, the great flood, came about because of the Lord’s observation of humanity from that era:
The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time… – Genesis 6:5
However, God had made a promise never to destroy the world in that way again, and so when man continued down the same course, confusing our language was a considerably less terrifying way of slowing the spread of evil. Did it stamp out wickedness for good? No, but the action helped check the progression of darkness. Not surprisingly, the secular world believes this to be no more than a myth, a conclusion that is alien in the bible as Jesus himself refers to Genesis as actual history (Mark 10:4-9, Matthew 19:4).
So once again, we’re tasked with excavating the memories of this event that became muddled and was dispersed, along with our ancestors, across the globe.
– A Sumerian poem, “Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta”, claims:
” In those days . . . the whole universe, the people in unison, . . .
Enki, the Lord of abundance, . . .
Changed the speech in their mouths, and [brought?] contention into it,
Into the speech of man that [until then] had been one.”
– An Aztec legend shows other aspects of Genesis seeping through:
“Humanity was wiped out by a flood, but one man Coxcoxtli and one woman Xochiquetzal escaped in a boat, and reached a mountain called Colhuacan. They had many children, who were dumb until the time when a dove on top of a tree made them the gift of languages; but these differed so much that the children could not understand each other.”
– Even closer comes a tale of the Mikir tribe of northeastern India:
“Higher and higher rose the building, till at last the gods and demons feared lest these giants should become the masters of heaven, as they already were of earth. So they confounded their speech, and scattered them to the four corners of the world. Hence arose all the various tongues of mankind.”
Considering that this telephone game stretches back over 4000 years instead of one class period, it’s a miracle any of the details remain the same at all, and so the notion of “coincidence” also stretches. Of course, we could just take the bible at its word, the trustworthy and crystal clear voice of God to the world. Visit the links below and stay encouraged in the Lord. Keep on digging!
o Babel-like tales from around the world:
o Analysis of Babel in Literature:
o Mesopotamia and Sumerian Babel story tablet: