Note: I am not going through genealogies. This is a series of me going through Bible stories and genealogies don’t really fit that trend. There may be other areas that I bend that rule a bit but I’m going to be honest, reading through those lists of names put me to sleep even when I felt very differently about this book so I’m not gonna do it now. I know there’s a lot to extrapolate from all that and people do and so you can totally go find those people. But WE are going to skip to Genesis 11. 😛
I spend a decent amount of time every week before I do these thinking about my next one, trying to remember what I learned about it growing up. I have to say that I do not remember a lot about this story from my growing up years. It was obviously one we talked about, because I certainly knew about it. So I feel like it must have been one they taught in Sunday School? When you grow up going to church your whole life, there are definitely some stories you get taught extremely young that just become part of the background and don’t get talked about a whole lot once you grow up.
Now of course occasionally you get a really dedicated pastor person determined to preach on everything or through whole books or whatever. I know I must have heard a sermon or two on this (Genesis is a super popular book for preaching). What I mostly remember was that this was a story about pride. Once again, humans had taken it on themselves to know better than God. God told us to spread out and fill the earth and instead people were like screw that! Let’s clump together and build and huge tower! That will be awesome! And God gets angry and makes us all speak different languages because that’ll show us and ever since then we speak different languages and can’t communicate. Also I think those were kind-of supposed to be two separate things in some ways. Like yes our languages were confused but also he made it so that we had a harder time communicating with each other. Which sucks. So. Honestly that is about all I remember about it.
So let’s take a look!
The Tower of Babel
3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
So, first thought, off the top of my head… why look, another origin story! I mean, you know. It’s just a tiny, short little explanation for why people talk in different languages. In many ways it sounds like every other religion. That may surprise no one but you have to understand that I grew up my whole life with people telling me that this God was different from all those other gods. But you know what? He sounds about the same here. Intimidated by the might and strength of the people, he finds a way to cut them down to size, to use his power to make sure they don’t get out of hand.
The strongest impression I have of God throughout these first few chapters of Genesis is honestly kind-of as a bully. He has power and he created everything that was going on here and he is angry and upset that things didn’t go the way he wanted them to. This is not what he planned, this is not what he had in mind. He lashes out, he throws tantrums. Sometimes he explains why, sometimes he doesn’t. What I have not seen is this loving, nurturing, longing for relationship being that I was told about my whole life. I haven’t seen that at all.
Again, what I remember being told about this is that the people disobeyed God’s order. God ordered them to spread out and they didn’t and so he did this to them. But that’s not really what it says, is it? I mean, it’s true that it seems like pride enters the mix. They want to make a name for themselves, they want to stay together and be awesome. But what it actually says is not that God is upset about them disobeying him, God says instead that if they continue on this path that “nothing they plan will be impossible for them.” Perhaps he means no evil they plan will be impossible for them. After all, we have just wiped out the earth because he feels people suck so much. But it doesn’t say that. It could mean anything. It could mean God would prefer humans stay in the place he has designated them and he’s unhappy about this stepping out of bounds.
But here’s the thing. One of the things about being a loving parent, as we are always told God is? You are thrilled when your child is smart and capable and strong. You want to help them and nurture them and encourage them. If there happen to be concerns about the direction that is heading maybe you need to have a talk with them, see if there are ways to help refocus them. God is not proud of his children. He comes down on them and he separates them. He presumably breaks up friends, maybe even families (although I assume not immediate families as that would sort-of take away from his whole “procreation” plan). He creates division and mistrust. And as far as we can tell, he explains nothing. Imagine waking up one day and realizing you can’t understand half the people you know and love. Imagine realizing you’d been cursed by this deity to not be able to communicate with people you cared about (because surely you would see it as a curse), having to leave behind loved ones and not even really being able to say goodbye. What would you feel about that god? How would you feel about the world?
I’m just saying, as far as parenting strategies go, it seems like a really, really bad one.