The Beginning of the Nations
God works all things according to His grand plan.
And they said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
– Genesis 11:4
Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.
– Genesis 11:9
The number of Noah’s descendants increased greatly, but they remained as one people. They did not fill the earth as God commanded. Instead they built a city. Then they built a tower reaching to the heavens. God was not pleased. So God confused their language. Immediately there were at least 70 groups of people who could not speak with each other. Then God scattered these groups around the earth. And this was the beginning of the languages and nations of our world.
– The HOPE, Chapter 4
Observe & Consider
Recall from the previous lesson that when Noah and his family left the ark, God blessed them and told them to fill the earth (Genesis 9:1,7). However, instead of filling the earth, Noah’s family gathered in one place and built a city. And then they proceeded to build a tower that would reach into heaven (Genesis 11:4). Their motive was to make a name for themselves and to keep from being scattered over the face of the earth.
In Genesis 11:5-9 we see God’s response to their disobedience. He confused their language so that they did not understand one another’s speech. Bible scholars do not agree on the exact amount of time between the flood and the building of the tower of Babel. But from the record we have in Genesis 10, we could conclude that there were 70 family units at the time of the tower of Babel.1 So when God confused their language, Bible scholars estimate that there were as many as 70 different languages being spoken. It must have been complete chaos!
Work on the tower came to an abrupt halt and the people were scattered across the earth. (Genesis 11:9)
Recall also from the previous lesson that we contrasted God’s mandate to fill the earth (Genesis 9:1) with the people’s fear of being scattered across the earth. As a result of disobeying God, the very thing they were trying to avoid in Genesis 11:4 (being scattered) is the very thing that happened in Genesis 11:9 (they were scattered).
Now, all of this may have seemed like a big confusing mess, but as we’ve already seen numerous times in God’s story, He has a plan! And what appears to be a step backward in that plan is often really a step forward, if we see it from God’s perspective.
Before God confused the languages, the whole earth spoke the same language and used the same words (Genesis 11:1). The introduction of multiple languages and the scattering of the people marked the beginning of the nations as we know them today. By the way, a nation in the Biblical sense of the word is not a geographic country, but a people group that is distinct from other people groups by virtue of language, culture, tribal affiliation, etc.2 Today there are 195 officially recognized countries in the world, but there are between 9,000 and 13,000 nations or distinct people groups.3 And if we were to skip to the end of the Bible, we would see that the culmination and climax of God’s story brings us to a heavenly scene (Revelation 7:9) in which people from every nation are gathered to worship God and to enjoy Him!
Prior to the story we’ve studied today, the nations did not even exist – but one day people from every nation on earth will be gathered in unity to worship God! Unity! The world longs for it. Olympic ceremonies in all their grandeur offer just a hint of it. The “religions” of the world often promote it. The United Nations works for it. But the world has never been able to achieve it. Only God can bring unity to the diversity of a complicated, sin infected world! And when He does, it will demonstrate how great He is!
Ask & Reflect
The last thing the people of Babel wanted was to be scattered across the face of the earth. But in order to accomplish His purposes, God had to radically rearrange their lives. As we have seen, His ultimate purpose is to bless all those who follow Him, and bring glory and honor to Himself.
- What might God be rearranging in your life?
- Are you co–operating with God by trusting and following Him?
- Or (like the people who built a tower to reach heaven) are you trying to achieve blessing on your own terms?
Decide & Do
God may do some dramatic things to redirect your path in life, but ultimately He will never override your will to make you choose to cooperate with His plan. He does not want you to be a little robot who mechanically and mindlessly marches in sync with His plan. Nor is He trying to make you into a super human who on your own always makes the right choice, the same one He would have made.
Life with God is like a dance. God desires to express Himself through you, not in spite of you. As you follow His lead, you experience a beautifully choreographed life that helps others to see who He is. Ask God today to show you how you are doing at following His lead. Then ask Him to help you get into intimate union with His every move.
For Further Study
- John Morris, What Happened at the Tower of Babel? (© The Institute for Creation Research, 2006). (http://www.icr.org/article/what-happened-at-tower-babel/). Retrieved October 9, 2006.
- Rick Wade, The Sovereignty of God. (© Probe Ministries, 2004). (https://probe.org/the-sovereignty-of-god/). Retrieved June 19, 2017. This article explores the mystery of God’s sovereignty and man’s will.
1Henry M. Morris, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science, Part 4, Chapter 15– Babel and the World Population: Biblical Demography and Linguistics. (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1984). (http://www.ldolphin.org/morris.html). Retrieved October 9, 2006.
2Claude Hickman, People Groups? (http://www.goprojectimpact.com/resources/documents/People%20Groups.pdf).
Retrieved June 19, 2017. “In the New Testament, the Greek word for “nations” is the word “ethne.” We get our word ethnicity from it. It means something like an ethnic group. The idea is much more specific than the political nation–states we think of such as Indonesia, Turkey, or Nigeria. An anthropologist would call this “ethne” a “People Group.” A people group is the largest group within which the gospel can spread without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance due to culture, language, geography, etc.”
3Global Summary. (Joshua Project, A ministry of the U.S. Center for World Mission, PO Box 64080, Colorado Springs, CO 80962 USA ) (http://www.joshuaproject.net/index.php). People and Language (World Christian Database, Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) (http://www.worldchristiandatabase.org/wcd/about/people.asp). Retrieved May 6, 2014.