Was the Tower of Babel an attempt by the ancients to construct an epic structure like our modern day Burj Khalifa? Were they really trying to build a tall structure, a kind of ladder, by which they could enter into the very throne of God? Or is there something more to the story that we may be missing?
Did the Tower of Babel reach into heaven?
In Genesis 11:4 we read;
“And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven…”
This verse gives the impression that the tower was extremely tall. However, let us focus on the last part of this statement: “whose top may reach unto heaven”.
In Hebrew this is וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם (werō’šô baššāmayim), and when we translate this literally we get “and its top with the heavens”.
Here we see that the words “may reach” are not present in the Hebrew text, although they are added in many modern English translations. This raises the possibility that the Tower of Babel may have been something other than an extremely tall building.
The literal Hebrew translation seems to indicate that the Tower of Babel was a structure which had in its top, or in its ceiling, a depiction of the heavens in the form of a planisphere.
This is an interesting perspective, but is there any supporting evidence?
Birs Nimrud and the Tower of Babel
In the province of Babylon, in modern-day Iraq, is the Birs Nimrud archaeological site. Talmudic and Arabic culture associate this site with the Tower of Babel, whilst modern scholarship proposes that the structure was built to honour the god Nabu.
Archaeological evidence at the site does indicate the presence of a tower dating back to 2000BC, to the time of Nimrod, who is associated with the construction of the Tower of Babel.
Further evidence shows that King Nebuchadnezzar II restored this tower during his reign between 605 and 562BC.
According to Nebuchadnezzar the tower which he restored had been founded but never finished, further supporting the possibility that the original structure is the Tower of Babel.
At the completion of its restoration, Nebuchadnezzar’s tower rose to a height of 70 metres in 7 terraces. Inscriptions found at the site describe the tower as “the temple with seven spheres”. Each terrace featured a colour corresponding to the planet to which it was dedicated, and it is believed that at its summit the zodiac and other astronomical figures were represented.
The tower represented the cosmos and the astronomical understandings of the day.
Combining these archaeological findings with the Biblical text we can conclude that the original intent of the Tower of Babel was to depict the heavens.
But what is so significant about this perspective?
What was the purpose of the Tower of Babel?
The scriptures tell us that the heavens declare the glory of God.
In the heavens we see the 12 signs of the zodiac which illustrate the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel, through whom the glory of God will be manifested.
The gospel message, written in the stars, reveals to us His Wisdom, His Word, His knowledge and His story. It declares the glorious name of our God.
The building of the Tower of Babel was therefore more than an epic building project. It was either an attempt by the ancients to preserve the pre-flood knowledge of the heavens, and therefore the knowledge of God given to the patriarchs, or it was an attempt to corrupt this knowledge for their own purpose – to subvert the sovereignty of God.
The fact that God was not at all pleased with this building project seems to indicate that they were attempting to corrupt, rather than preserve, the divine message.
The corrupt motivation that lay behind the building of the Tower of Babel is recorded in Genesis 11:4:
“…Let us build us a city and a tower, and its top with the heavens; and let us make us a name…”
The motivation of the people in building the tower was not to see the name of God glorified but rather their own.
The Tower of Babel and the Gospel Message
Unfortunately the corrupt motivation displayed by the ancients is also present in many of the modern day presentations of the gospel message. The emphasis of the gospel message has shifted. It no longer emphasises “what God has done”, but “what has been done for us”. This is a subtle but significant shift of focus – from God to man.
The gospel message, as written in the stars, declares the name of God – that Jesus has conquered death, and has thereby become our Lord and King.
When the emphasis of the entire gospel message rests on this fact we receive power to confront the fallen social structures of our world today, thereby declaring and exercising the righteousness and justice of God, so that His glory and name is manifested, giving witness to what is written in heaven.
Unfortunately today, in many Christian circles, the emphasis of the gospel message has subtly shifted away from “what God has done” to what “man gets out of it”. We see the rise of the gospel of prosperity, one which promises a life of ease, blessing and abundance, and an entrance into a select inner circle. It doesn’t seek to elevate the name of God, it seeks to elevate its own.
The corruption of the gospel written in the stars
The fact that the gospel is written in the stars is something that has largely been forgotten today. We can gaze into the night sky and be awe struck by its magnificence and beauty, yet we are blinded to the most powerful message that it declares – the name of God, revealed by what He has done and is doing.
Being now blinded to this message, the interpretation of the stars has been corrupted into astrology – where one seeks to consult the horoscope for advancing one’s own agenda and name.
Our language is confused
As a result our language has become confused. There is no unified vision. This is what happens when we challenge the sovereignty of God – when we elevate our own name, instead of His.
This is why, when God looked down from heaven, and saw that those building the Tower of Babel were doing so in order to pervert His Word and name, that He came down and confused the pure language they possessed – so they could no longer understand each other.
But will it always be this way?
A return to one language
In Zephaniah 3:9 we read:
“For then I will restore to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent”.
Some scholars believe this verse alludes to the reversal of what happened at the Tower of Babel, where God confused the people’s language.
This makes me wonder that as we turn back to our Almighty God, giving Him our full allegiance, that He will reveal to us the fullness of His most glorious gospel message, the pure Word as written in the stars… so that our language is cleansed and made pure, and that as a result He is manifested in the world by Israel exercising His righteousness and justice, thereby declaring His name.
It will be then that the words of the Psalmist will ring true;
“And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord”.