Why Was God Displeased at Babel?

The events at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) occurred not long after the Flood.  If the division of the earth in the days of Peleg (Genesis 10:25) refers to the events at Babel (and I think that it does), then the events at Babel occurred about a century after the Flood [Peleg was born 101 years after the Flood (Genesis 11:10 + 11:12 + 11:14 + 11:16)].  If this is not correct, then it must have occurred between  the Flood and the call of Abram, a period of about four centuries {Abram’s call came 395 years after the Flood [Genesis 11:10 + 11:12 + 11:14 + 11:16 + 11:18 + 11:20 + 11:22 + 11:24 + (12:4 – 11:32)].  Note: Genesis 11:26 seems to mean that this is when Terah began to have sons, not that they were triplets (e.g. Noah’s sons Genesis 5:32 cf. 7:6; 11:10).  Abram did not leave Haran until Terah died (Acts 7:4)}.

The events at Babel changed the world.  Man was of one language and one speech (Genesis 11:1).  Due to the events at Babel, the LORD made it where man was (and is) no longer was united in language.

Obviously the LORD was displeased with something at Babel.  But what?  Let’s explore this…


1.   Theory One: They did not want to comply with God’s command.

“They said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city… lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the earth'” (Genesis 11:4).

Josephus wrote, “They settled on the Plain of Shinar, and grew so numerous that God counseled them to send out colonies.  In their disobedience, they imagined that God was trying to divide them and make them vulnerable to attack.  So they followed Nimrod, the grandson of Ham, who set up a tyranny” (Antiquities 1).

2.  Theory Two: They were prideful.

“They said, ‘Come let us build a city, and a tower… let us make a name for ourselves…'” (Genesis 11:4).

The river plains of Shinar seems to have lacked stones and lime-stone (mortar) for building (Clark, Genesis, p. 89).  This did not stop them. They were making bricks for stones. They used asphalt (bitumen) for mortar. They were building a city.  They were building a high tower.  Was there nothing that they could not do?  James Burton Coffman commented, “The children of men… were clearly infected with the ‘us’ virus, the pride arrogance, and conceit of the people standing starkly obvious in this cryptic account (Coffman, Genesis, p. 159).  It is said that Nimrod taught the people that happiness came not from serving God, “but to believe that it was their own courage which procured happiness” (Josephus, Antiquities 1).

What about the tower? Some have suggested that the tower was to be a fortified watch tower to protect against attacks from other people.

3.  Theory Three: They were trying to escape another flood.

“They said, ‘Come let us build… a tower whose top is in the heavens…'” (Genesis 11:4).

Josephus wrote, “So they followed Nimrod, the grandson of Ham, who sat up a tyranny and began building a tower higher than any water could reach in case God wanted to flood the earth again” (Antiquities 1).

4.  Theory Four: They were idolatrous.

“They said, ‘Come, let us build… a tower whose top is in the heavens” (Genesis 11:4).

The King James Version reads, “a tower whose top may reach unto heaven.”  Adam Clark commented, “there is nothing for ‘may reach’ in the Hebrew, but its head or summit to the heavens, i.e. to the heavenly bodies… The Targums both of Jonathan ben Uzziel and of Jerusalem, assert the tower was for idolatrous worship” (Clark, Vol. 1, p. 89).

Mesopotamian towers, known as Ziggurats or Zikkurate, are thought to have been part of ancient temple structures.  Some believe that the tower was such a structure.

Assessment of Theories

The reason that there are various theories is because the Bible provides limited information.  Therefore, men theorize.  Let’s assess these theories.

1.  Theory One seems possible.  Certainly, their motive was to prevent being scattered.  This is stated.

Let us remember: “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:23).

2.  Theory Two is more than a theory.  They wanted to make a name for themselves.  Keith Mosher Sr. has written, “The people were building a memorial to themselves…  Their real motive was a desire for renown and for unity of self-purpose rather than God-purpose” (Ed. Curtis Cates, The Book of Genesis, p. 184). They seem to have had the same attitude that Nebuchadnezzar later had when he said, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my power and for the honor of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30).

Let us remember: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18); and “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10).

What about the theory the tower was a fortified watch tower to protect against attacks from others? I ask: attacks from whom? It appears that at least most, if not all of humanity were at Babel. I have seen no evidence to the contrary. Moreover, if it was a fortified tower, still pride or something else had to be involved for God to so react. God is not against nations protecting their citizens.

3.  Theory Three is not hinted at in the Bible.  Moreover, there seems to be obvious problems with this view.  Consider: (1) Who could make a tower so high, and strong enough to withstand the forces of water found in a global flood?  (2) If they were making the tower for this purpose, wouldn’t it make much more sense to build the tower on a high mountain top, instead of in the Mesopotamian valley area?  The elevation of that land is not high.  (3) If such a tower could be built, certainly it could not hold the entire population at the top, could it? This theory makes little sense to me.

Let us remember that no one can escape God’s wrath by such a strategy.  Remember the words of Amos, “It will be as though a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him!  Or as though he went into the house, leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him!  (Amos 5:19).

4.  Theory Four is not clearly taught in the Bible.  It is possible that they were worshipping objects in the sky; but this theory seems to lack sufficient evidence.

Let us remember: “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Matthew 4:10).

Lessons to Remember

1.  Not all unity is pleasing to God.  They were united at Babel in sin.

The kind of unity needed is found in these words: “only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).

2.  Sin may have long-lasting consequences.  Men still have difficulty communicating because of differences in language.

However, the gospel is designed to unite man.  The Holy Spirit provided inspired men the gift of tongues to proclaim the gospel in the first century (cf. Acts 2:5-11).  The message of the gospel is for all of mankind (cf. Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47; Romans 1:16).  The gospel is the great unifier (cf. Galatians 3:26-28; Colossians 3:10-11).

3.  While we may not have all the details, the events at Babel seem to be about an old issue: Who do we ultimately serve?  God or self?  God or society (and national pride)?  God or some other?  Who will be God?



About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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