Genesis XI: The Lord versus the City of Man


Try as we might, we cannot ignore the reactionary relationship between “the Lord” and the humans that occurs in the book of Genesis. Routinely, the humans make propositions in order to prevent an undesired condition, and God responds by forcing the unwanted condition upon the humans.

Consider the story of the Tower of Babel found in Genesis XI. All of the earth has become one single language -a phrase echoed five times in the story. In a post diluvian world, the humans have moved from the east, presumably to the west, in order to settle in the valley of Shinar.

Utilizing new technology, namely brick and mortar rather than stone, the humans make a proposition. They propose to build a “city” and a “tower” with the express purpose of making a name for themselves, and also to prevent them from being scattered throughout the earth. The humans are concerned with greatness. They long to transcend their current condition by forming a city, whose tower reaches into the heavens. They are also concerned with endurance, not unlike Gilgamesh who faces a forgotten legacy when many people do not recall the time before the great deluge.

The Lord comes “down” to the city to discover its dangers. If the humans create this city, they will be able to do anything. They will become proud and confident. This prospect is particularly threatening to the Lord. He beckons “us,” perhaps referring to multiple deities, to go down and baffle their language so they will scatter throughout the earth.

The need for the Lord to confuse the language, balal in Hebrew like the word babble in Akkadian, is unclear. Regardless, it can be said that the Lord finds His authority in direct contest with the human desire to form a city. The shepherd longs to control and regulate the human beings because they cannot be trusted to rule themselves. Human greatness and pride is a challenge to God, and therefore He finds himself in conflict with the humans, opposing their will to power.


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