We have almost reached the final part of this particular journey; Part 5 will bring our study to a close. I haven’t gone into detail of all the Scriptures we have passed through along the way, but have simply made pointers in the hope that the reader will be stimulated and challenged to read, contemplate, and to study God’s Word.
The problems were already in the hearts and minds of the people on the road to Babylon; and those problems were made manifest when they had found the perfect place for them to settle. They then had the perfect opportunity to express who they were, and what they were all about. They did that in Babylon or Babel. They were empire builders, focused on building to make their name great, and to ensure that they would not be scattered over the face of the whole earth. They planned to make baked bricks rather than use stone, and they used tar for mortar. Their plan for the city included building a tower that reached the heavens. They must have carried out much of their plan, because the Lord came down to see the city and the tower (Genesis 11:3-5). The Lord came down and put a spoke in their wheel, or rather words in their mouths (Genesis 11:7-9. The Hebrew in v7 reads: “They will not hear a man the language of his friend”, and the Lord scattered them from there all over the earth. It put a stop to the building, perhaps because the city was large enough for those that remained in that place. The tower appears to have been completed, as indicated in the past tense verb ‘had built’ (banu) in Genesis 11:5. In Genesis they wanted a tower that reached heaven; In Revelation 18:5, Babylon’s “sins are piled up to heaven.”
Their particular world had now come to an end. One can only imagine the fear, confusion and anxiety that set in, and the commotion after their plans for displacing God, and building a future without God were destroyed. Did they see God when He came down? Did they know it was Him that had visited confusion upon them? We are not told. During the night of February 19th, 2020, we had a supernatural visitor. My wife was lying in bed wide awake, when a huge man, dressed in white, walked through the room. He had come through the closed bedroom door, and walked through the wall on his way out of our bedroom. Margaret believes that it was an angel protecting us from something. Angels do minister to humans; and they guard and protect us. I wonder as humankind develops in arrogance and lawlessness will believers see much more angelic activity on earth?
Humanity had been tested and failed three times in the OT. First of all, in Eden, then the Flood, and again at Babel. Humanity was ready for a new beginning, and the narrative moves from universal to national history, and a transition from many families and lands (Genesis 10:5, 10:20, 10:31-32), to one family (Genesis 11:10-32), and to one land (Genesis 12:1-3)
A new age begins
After the fall of Babylon, a new age begins, and we are led to the account of Shem, and to the call of Abram in Genesis Ch.12. Since the Fall in Genesis 3:15, humanity’s redemption will be solved by the divine-human seed of the woman. The ethnic and familial boundaries of that seed are revealed with the prophetic promise of His descent from Abraham (Genesis 12:3) and concluding with the prediction of His descent from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10). “To Shem also, sons were born. He was the father [ancestor] of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth, the eldest” (Genesis 10:21). Noah blessed Japheth that he will “dwell in the tents of Shem” (Genesis 9:27). The blessing drew the two brothers together, while Ham is excluded. A similar fraternal bond is emphasised among Shem’s descendants: “To Eber two sons were born. The name of one was Peleg, for in his time the earth was divided, and his brother’s name was Joktan” (Genesis 10:25; 1 Chronicles 1:19). Represented in this chapter are three generations of Japheth’s line and four generations of Ham’s line. But – there is a full six generations of Shem’s line – up to thirteen sons of Joktan. In this family line is an expression of perpetuation and continuity. In Shem’s line with all his great-great-great grandsons is the promise of further generations to come. Shem’s name hints to eternity and to immortality through the birth of children who will carry the name of the family line for ever. The people were concerned to make a name for themselves in Babel. The genealogy of Shem will be followed by a narrative episode that will involve the making of a shem (“name”) for a man. In Genesis 12:2, God declared to Abraham, “I will … make your name (shem) great.” God is building His Kingdom that will never end (Luke 1:33; Psalm 45:6; Psalm 89:35-37); the heaven and the earth will pass away (Matthew 24:35).
The Hebrew word balal “to confuse,” also means “to loosen the coherence of a thing.” As we have seen, the contrast is from “the gate of God” to “the gate of confusion.” What was gathered together in one place – the people, was scattered. In the Babylonian tradition, the name Babel or Babylon, is provided in Enuma Elish (Babylonian creation myth) after the city’s construction. Based on the city’s designation as a gathering place for the gods – where the gods will ascend from Apsu, the watery underworld, and to where the gods will descend from the heavens – Marduk announces, “I shall call its name ‘Babylon,’ “The Homes of the Great Gods’ (Babilim: bitat ilanim rabiutim).” This etymology is based on the reading that “Babel” means “bab-ili,” “the gate of the gods,” where the gods of the upper worlds and the gods of the underworld meet. The polemic in Genesis challenges this tradition. Babylon is not a meeting place. Rather it is the source of universal dispersion, the root of all divergence, the place where everyone was scattered. At the beginning, the people were fully integrated together, but by its end, the uniform mixture has been scattered and separated. While the Babylonians believed that their city and temple represent the place where the gods gather – where the three hundred gods of the heavenly pantheon convene with the six hundred gods of the underworld. But Scripture shows that Babylon was not a place of divine assembly but a place of human dispersion. The verb used to describe how Marduk caused the rivers Tigris and Euphrates to flow describes to “scatter.” The same verb in Scripture usually appears in the context of food, meaning to blend or mix together. The meal offering must be “mixed (belula) with oil.” The mixing of forbidden relations (Leviticus 18:23 and 20:12) is derived from the same root, reflecting a union between two entities who should not mix (I am thinking too of iron and clay [Daniel 2:33]). It is strange to find this verb used to characterize a city in the sense of “scatter.” In this instance, the verb livlol appears to function in an antithetical sense to its usual meaning, and also to the objective of the story as described above. On a semantic level, the act of mixing can be extended to a mixing motion that leads to a mess and confusion – this sense is reflected in the Akkadian verb balalu too. Perhaps a precursor to the Babylon to come, and the final world empire of iron and clay. The verb whose primary sense is “to mix together,” is changed in the text to scattering and dispersion. It was not a place of divine assembly but a place of human separation and dispersion. The name is not based on a stirring motion that brings things together, but a frantic, chaotic stirring motion that drives them apart.
The Book of Daniel, (Daniel 2:41-44), speaks of an empire that is powerfully destructive and easily broken – the opposite to Paul’s “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). “Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay. As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay. In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” These kingdoms, including the feet of iron and clay, were built to hold people together, but a rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands – a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces (Daniel 24:45). God intervenes, as He did with the kingdom builders of Babel.
Revelation 18:2 1says, “Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said: With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again.” With Babylon the great, in Revelation 16:19, the great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nation’s fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath.
Israel and the Babylonian Exile
It is interesting to do a comparison with Israel’s personal highway to Babylon when they were sent into exile. Israel had travelled away from God spiritually and morally. God intervened and Israel was removed from the Temple and from the land. There were no more sacrifices made to the living God. There were many prophetic voices in play at that time – In the North were Amos, Hosea and Jonah. In the South were Isaiah, Micah and others; and Ezekiel and Daniel ministered in Babylon. In Babylon the people lost their political independence but gained their religious soul. Idolatry in the Southern Kingdom was extensive, but living in Babylon was a purification experience which eliminated competing deities. Never again did the Jewish people as a nation become so idolatrous. The exile challenged the faith of most Jews – whose god was the strongest – Marduk or the God of Israel?
The faith of Christians will be tested severely in the days to come. Confusion reigns in today’s world atmosphere, but out of the eventual world chaos will arise a world leader, one who makes himself to be God – “He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). This was the ultimate purpose of Babylon. He will come, and he will go. Messiah and His Kingdom is eternal. Jerusalem is where the Son of God shed His precious blood. It is where Jesus ascended into Heaven. It is where Jesus will return to be crowned King of Kings. It is the city from which Jesus will reign over all the nations of the world – a Kingdom without end (Luke 1:33).
Blessings and shalom