It didn’t take humanity long to get back to rebelling against their Creator. Just a few verses ago, God told the survivors of the ark to “be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it” (9:7). This was a renewing of God’s original command to Adam and Eve to “fill the earth and subdue it” (1:28). They were supposed to fill the earth, to bring order to all of God’s creation and lead it to reflect God’s glory back to him.
But that is not humanity’s stated goal in this chapter: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (11:4). The name they wanted to make great was their own, not God’s. And the way they were going to do that was by building one great city, rather than being dispersed and actually filling the earth as God had commanded.
Babel is the first great self-salvation project. Man began in a Garden that was in the heavens; God was there! We lost that, but we would try pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and make our own way to heaven. Babel was an attempt to build heaven on earth, but Man would be earth’s new god. We would lift ourselves up above the heavens and finally be like God. We would set our throne at the top of Babel’s tower and call all creation to bow to us in worship.
Good thing God has a good sense of humor.
Picture the story in your mind. Man is building a tower “with its top in the heavens,” but the Lord had to come down to see it (11:5, 7). It’s as if God’s saying, “Oh, that’s nice, you guys made a little tower, did you? How quaint. Oh, it’s supposed to go to the heavens? Well, you’ve got a little ways to go, you know. I live up there and I couldn’t even see your little tower. Good luck, anyway!”
These would-be god’s had no idea how far from the heavens they were, and that’s proved by how easy it is for God to halt construction. He doesn’t rain fire and brimstone on them. He doesn’t send an earthquake or a hurricane or a blizzard. He doesn’t even send a wind to knock down the tower. He simply confuses them. Humans are weak and frail compared with God. No wars are fought or famines endured. A mere language barrier is all it takes to send the building crew packing.
Where in your life are you seeking to build heaven on earth? Where are you trying to reach the heavens, to exalt your own work over what God has called you to do? Where are you seeking to make a name for yourself rather than make God’s name great?
We try to build heaven on earth in our lives in so many ways, but we don’t have to reach up to heaven. In the end, heaven will come down to us. Because Christ came down to go through hell on our behalf, he has ensured that at the end of all things the heavenly Jerusalem will come down “out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2).
Our best human efforts to build a city to reach heaven will never measure up, but they don’t have to. Because of Christ, heaven will come down for us. Put your hope in that and find your rest in Jesus.