“The Tower of Babel” is a story from the book of Genesis that explains why people across the globe speak a number of different languages.
Appearing in Genesis 11:1-9, the narrative follows the attempts of a unified society to reach God through Earthly means.
The story, much like in the case of Adam and Eve, doesn’t end favorably for the people and speaks to man’s hubris.
But there are more lessons to learn from the story of the Tower of Babel. Allow us to walk you through the Biblical story, the Tower of Babel’s meaning and varying interpretations, and what moral and philosophical lessons you might absorb from learning about it.
The Tower of Babel is a short story from the Old Testament following the Great Flood from Genesis 10.
The Great Flood saw God return the Earth to a state of chaos. It was a world made uninhabitable by water.
Following this, a united human race who gathered after the flood travels eastward in the ancient world to the land of Shinar, the region of southern Mesopotamia (or Iraq as we know it in modern-day).
These people, who all spoke one common language, built a tower known as a “ziggurat” under the command of Nimrod (from the Noah lineage) so that they might reach God in the Heavens.
“And the whole Earth was of one language, and of one speech.”
“And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:1 and 4.
As with the Adam and Eve story, God didn’t admire this misguided act.
Seeing the tower, God disrupts the speech of the people in such a way that they no longer understand each other.
“Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech,” Genesis 11:7.
In a final act of disapproval, God redistributes the citizens of this new city across the globe. As a result, multiple languages developed across the world.
“So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the Earth: and they left off to build the city,” Genesis 11:8.
The etymology of the name ‘Tower of Babel’ is not perfectly understood, as this phrasing is never used in the Bible. However, it’s thought that Babel could come from the Hebrew word Bãbal, meaning to jumble, as God did with the people of Shinar.
There are a few important themes within the Tower of Babel story, or, as it’s sometimes called, ‘the Tower of Babylon' (or Babylonia).
The main one relates to control, hubris, and rebellion against the will of God.
It’s theorized that the people built the tower to avoid another possible flood sent from God. They didn’t consider why God sent the flood in the first place — as a way of punishing the significant sin and wickedness of humanity.
By constructing the tower, the people defied God’s will and derided His power and authority. By using Earthly means to circumvent God’s will, humans were essentially saying, “we are wiser, more capable.”
This is essentially an act of blasphemy, and God was quick to express his omnipotence by scattering the people across the globe.
The tower’s construction was a hubristic act of defiance against God, ordered by the arrogant tyrant Nimrod.
This is a suitable metaphor for the notion of salvation. Humans continuously seem to believe that they can save themselves — that redemption and utopia can be experienced in this life through Earthly means.
As the Tower of Babel story teaches, though, God’s power is too awesome. Salvation comes through Him and Him alone.
While the main takeaway is considered to be the dominance of God’s will, there are a few other moral and philosophical lessons to absorb from the story of the Tower of Babel.
The Tower of Babel is a classic tale of man’s hubris. It was excessive pride, confidence, and arrogance that drove Nimrod to order the tower’s construction. This, in turn, led to widespread confusion, turmoil, and displacement.
Words from the Book of Proverbs 16:18 are relevant here: "pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."
It is a valuable reminder to temper our hubristic nature to avoid calamity.
Furthermore, we can learn about the proper way to connect with God and all other elements of the Christian ideology from this story. This is not through practical means but, rather, from earnest spiritual practice.
Patience is a valuable virtue to maintain. If the Babylonian people had withheld constructing the tower and instead lived their lives without defying the will of God, they’d eventually reach the salvation they so desperately sought.
The harsh truth that we can understand from the Tower of Babylon is this: man is weak under the awesome power of God.
Salvation is attainable, but you won’t find it here on Earth, no matter how tall your tower is.
Live according to Christian principles. Trust in His judgment, and you will be saved. Take note of this lesson learned so long ago in the Mesopotamian lands near modern Baghdad.