All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17
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Trying to Become Gods

The context for the Tower of Babel story begins in Genesis 10 with Noah’s descendants who make up what’s known as The Table of Nations. Notice that both an evil and a righteous line emerge from Shem’s descendants—just as they did with Cain and Seth’s children (Genesis 4 and 5).

Although Joktan belongs to Shem’s righteous line, he and his descendants become decidedly evil. Instead of heeding God’s command to multiply and fill the earth, they travel southeast to the Plain of Shinar to build a city.

The Bible says, “And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there.” Genesis 11:2. Here some difficulty arises among Bible translators, since the Plain of Shinar (located where the ruins of Babylon are in Iraq) is definitely southeast from where the ark settled in the Ararat Mountains in Turkey. The Hebrew word miqqedem can literally mean “from the east” or “eastward” depending on how it’s translated, so let’s look at how it is translated elsewhere.

Both the King James and New King James versions translate miqqedem in Genesis 11:2 as “from the east.” However, these same versions translate it in Genesis 2:8 as “eastward,” and in Genesis 3:24, 12:8, and 13:11 as “east.” Many newer translations have picked this up and translate miqqedem as “toward the east,” or “eastward.”

East—Where God Lives

Is this direction important? Certainly, since the Bible often associates God with the east. Consider this: After sinning, Adam and Eve worshipped God at the east gate of the Garden of Eden, the tabernacle and temple both faced east, and the wise men followed a star in the east. In addition, God often sends an east wind to fulfill His intentions. An east wind blew the locusts into Egypt, an east wind blew open the Red Sea, and God sent a hot east wind to overheat Jonah. Even the Second Coming is described as being like lightning streaking from east to west.

Pagan Cities

Ancient pagans didn’t build cities to live in—they built them for their gods. However, Joktan’s descendants said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:4.

These rebellious men disobeyed God’s command to populate the earth, congregating instead, and building a city for themselves. By traveling eastward, they sought to build their city where God lived—elevating themselves to the status of gods. In fact, the Tower of Babel in ancient Babylonian texts is interpreted as “the gateway of the gods.”

Undoubtedly, these men feared another universal flood, in spite of God’s promise. They intended to build a tower that would reach the heavens (where God lives) and stay above any flood He might send. But most of all, they wanted to make a name for themselves.

Mercy

It’s interesting to note that Yahweh is used in this story—the name for a tender, personal God. This is very appropriate, considering how He deals with them: “The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.” Genesis 11:5.

Instead of destroying them, He shows the builders of Babel mercy. He does away with their universal language, and by confusing their communication, He effectively stops the construction of the tower. Sparing their lives, He ends their rebellion and scatters them over the face of the earth, ultimately accomplishing His purpose.

Following this story, the Bible lists the descendants of Joktan’s brother, Peleg. His righteous line did not participate in the building of the tower, but brought forth righteous Abram and the patriarchs, instead.

The ancients understood God through their senses and by His actions. Once more, it became clear that the age-old sin of self-exaltation could only end in failure.

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