Was God just being mean?
"And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 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. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth." - Gen 11:1-9
I remember when I first read the story of the tower of Babel I was unsure of why God was upset and why He would want to restrain man from doing what their imaginations conceive of. As I studied the bible, and this story, more over the years I came to have a much better understanding of why God was upset and wanted to restrain man and his wicked imagination.
To have a better understanding we must start out before the flood. We must look at how God describes man,
“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
We see that after Adam’s fall man’s imagination turned wicked. Man was so wicked that every imagination and thought of his heart was evil all the time. This is one of the effects of the fall, the depravity of man. In Adam men are born sinful and desiring to do evil and in rebellion against God. God then flooded the earth and destroyed that civilization. So how does God describe man after the flood?
“…. I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.” - Gen 8:21
So we see that even in the judgement of the flood the heart of man was not changed. Man’s thought and imagination were STILL wicked and depraved, as they are to this day. All that are born in the image of Adam are spiritually dead and depraved (Eph 2:10).
To gain even more understanding about this situation we must also look at the command that God gave to Noah and his son’s when they came off the ark,
“And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” -Gen 9:1
The word “replenish” literally means to fill the earth. God is telling them that they are to have children and humanity is to spread out and refill the whole earth. If we compare this to what these men said at Babel, “lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth”, we can see that they are in direct rebellion to what God has commanded man to do. They are fearful of being spread over all the earth and want to all gather in one place and make a tower to heaven.
This tower brings up the final point we can draw from this story. Man is not interested in making God’s name great, they are interested in making their own name great. Here again we see the fallen nature of man. We see that man desires to be as God. They are not concerned with the glory of their creator and sustainer, but with the glory they could gain for themselves and the greatness of their own name.
God’s solution to this is to confuse all the languages and scatter them over the face of the earth by a divine act. Their rebellion brings the very thing they feared on them, they were scattered (ironically this also accomplished God’s command to Noah and his son’s as well).
The final thought on Babel has to do with a New Testament occurrence. In Babel we see men uniting to rebel against God and build a temple that would glorify man. In the day of Pentecost we see God empower men to be able to speak to people of all types of languages to start the building of a temple that would glorify God, the church (Eph 2:21,22). God reversed this curse so that regenerate men could unite to work together to the glory of God and spread His name and glory over the face of the earth! Praise God!!