Genesis 11:6—“Now nothing they propose to do will be withheld from them.” It seems like man united could do anything they wanted, so God confused their language so they wouldn’t be united? God is all-powerful, but this sounds like he felt threatened by man uniting?
In a way that is correct. But, it is, of course, not that God was (or felt) personally threatened. That would be impossible (Isa. 45:9). However, His purpose could be threatened. We learn from this passage a very important lesson: that God always accomplishes His purpose, a purpose which is always governed by His love for His creatures (Gen. 18:25; Isa. 11:4). Even the way in which God prevented the construction of the tower demonstrates His mercy toward mankind. Let’s unpack this thought a bit.
An interesting aspect of this story is that God allowed man to begin constructing the tower in the first place. So, the first lesson is that God seeks man to come to Him. For one to repent and turn to God requires that he recognize the evil that is in his own heart. Abel recognized this and brought a sacrifice (Gen. 4:4), which was the way he owned his need and recognized that God had provided the way to have fellowship with Him. In the case of the tower of Babel, God allowed man to pursue a foolish enterprise for a while. The Scripture says that “the Lord came down to see the city and the tower” (Gen. 11:5; my emphasis). This emphasizes the folly of man trying to reach God by building a tower.
But, man himself must realize this folly. Through the ages, we do not know how many men and women have seen themselves in this story. They recognized the folly of trying to reach God by their own efforts and have turned to God for mercy. So, God in grace allowed mankind to begin to build.
All human religion is essentially building a tower to God. In the case of the tower of Babel mankind was seeking to build their way “to heaven.” Essentially, this is just a religion of works. This began with Cain (Gen. 4:3). The principle is even common today within Christianity. The epistle to the Galatians was written specifically to combat this false doctrine (Gal. 3:3). The tendency to try to please God by our own efforts is deeply embedded in us.
But, how is it that “nothing … will be withheld from them” and how does that threaten God’s purpose, as I have suggested? Eventually, if allowed to continue, the building would have reached some self-appointed goal. Man would become satisfied with his work. But, God’s purpose is for man to rest in a divine work, not his own. So, allowing the building to continue would have in that way threatened God’s purpose. In fact, throughout history, we can see evidence of God intervening providentially to thwart man’s plans. God only allows evil to proceed to the point where it fulfills His purpose (Ps. 76:10). That purpose is always to impress upon man his own wicked folly and to accomplish some other good.
Finally, we have the fact that the languages were confounded. There is both a practical and a spiritual lesson in this. Communication is essential to cooperation and relationship. By disrupting the language God disrupted their unbelieving efforts. Consequently, Babel has become the symbol of confusion, both moral and spiritual down to this day. Departure from the knowledge of God leads to broken relationships and confusion, in the home and in the society. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5b). Violence is often the result.
What is truly remarkable is that God disrupted their rebellious efforts using a method which He would reverse to bring together from all nations men and women into one body united to Christ for His own glory (Acts 2:8–11; 1 Cor. 12:13). This is a profound demonstration that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:17a). We might well exclaim with the apostle: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33, KJV).
Nothing happens but that God allows it for the ultimate good. This is good to remember today when mankind has accomplished so much and has been puffed up with the pride of his own accomplishments seeking to make a god of himself (Gen. 3:5; Isa. 14:14).