1.13 The Tower of Babel
Chronologically, this passage precedes the division of humanity into tribes and nations in Gen 10.
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech (Gen 11:1).
It does not say that there was one race. Nevertheless, there were no racial or even family rivalries at this point, as all men could unite in a common undertaking. Significantly, this task was
"to make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth" (Gen 11:4).
This was a work of human pride, attempting to reach the heavens. The "name" men sought to give themselves (i.e. identity) was not the one the Creator assigned. They were, in effect, casting off the plan God had and were saying -- I AM WHO I AM. Like the murder of Abel by Cain, building the Tower was a further consequence and enlargement of the sin of Adam and Eve. What began as a single act of disobedience culminated in a conspiracy to overthrow God in Heaven.
Here, finally, God segregated mankind -- but not as we would expect, by race, ethnicity, or color. Instead, He separated men by language! If we correlate this passage with Gen 10, we can surmise that He did not randomly assign languages to individuals, but to whole clans and families. By confusing their language and scattering them geographically, He curbed their ability, though not their desire, to cooperate in rebellion. The importance of language as a factor in identity will be revisited when we study the book of Acts. In Acts 2, the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost is marked by the phenomenon of speaking in other tongues -- but to unify mankind, not divide them.
Can we not get a clue from this foundational passage in Scripture? -- if skin color or racial type was significant to God, this is the point in history where He would have made that plain for all time: "Here is my Master Race, everyone serve them." Since He did not do this, but instead picked language as the criterion of separation, what possible justification can there be for religious racism?
Much of world history can be viewed as a process of the re-unification of mankind, and the laying of a common foundation for renewed efforts towards the construction of another Tower. It has taken thousands of years to overcome the difficulties of linguistic and geographical isolation, but the outlines of a world civilization are apparent. This second effort is no more subservient to the divine will than was the initial attempt. Thus, students of the Scriptures look forward eagerly to see what form divine intervention will take in our own time.