In our study of Genesis chapter eleven, we will look at the big detour that man has taken from the will of God. We will look at its past, present and future consequences.
"Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there." NIV translation
In chapter 10, we saw the origin of all the people of the earth as they descended from Noah through his sons. Here, we see the fact that they all spoke the same language but we do not know what language it was. A better translation of "eastward" is from the east and we see that men started to move from the east (the mountains of Ararat) where the ark had come to rest and they were moving towards the west. Throughout the Bible we see the pattern that the direction of east is associated with being separated from God while west is associated with being near God. Even at the beginning of the world, God had set aside what would be Jerusalem as His city and it appears that men were headed in that direction when they stopped in Shinar.
"They said to each other, 'Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly.' They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.'" NIV translation
They decided to make a city there and a tall tower to glorify themselves. We notice that they used brick instead of stone and that is because there was not stone in the area. Brick was made through man's efforts while stone was made at the beginning of creation by God. This is an indication of their hearts as they turned away from God's instructions and provision to trust in their own efforts.
This same type of thing is happening even more today as more and more people trust in their own works even for salvation.
"But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, 'If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.'" NIV translation
This passage brings to mind questions such as:
Why did the Lord have to come down to see what was going on? The simple answer is that He didn't have to but evidently He brought angels to show them what men were doing.
Was God worried that the men would succeed and be greater than Him? This answer is not as simple in that, we see that God said that they would be successful in building the tower and the city. This would also keep the people together instead of spreading over the earth as He designed. But, no tower could get man to a position where they are greater than the One that created them and so God was not worried about man becoming greater than Him.
If we have "free will", then, why didn't God let them continue to build the tower? The tower was not a part of His plan but it did not catch Him by surprise. God allows us "free will" but that does not allow our disobedience to negate His plan.