Where Was the Tower of Babel and What Was Its Significance?
- Clarence L. Haynes Jr. Contributing Writer
- Updated Jun 03, 2021
Where is the Tower of Babel? In Genesis 11 we are introduced to the tower of Babel. At the time it was going to be an engineering marvel; however, it represented more than that. You may wonder where was the tower of Babel and more importantly what was its significance? I want to take you into Genesis 11 to read this whole story and then come back and pull some truth from it.
"Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 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; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.' But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people 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.' So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth." – Genesis 11:1-9
Where Is the Tower of Babel?
Where is the Tower of Babel located? The tower of Babel was built in the plain in Shinar. Shinar is the Hebrew name for Babylonia. This location of Shinar is first mentioned in Genesis 10 in relationship to Nimrod and the building of his kingdom. If you want a modern-day reference, Shinar is located in what we now know as Iraq.
"Cush was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; that is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.” The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Uruk, Akkad and Kalneh, in Shinar." – Genesis 10:8-11
What Was the Significance of the Tower of Babel?
Let’s take a closer look at each part of the story and then define the significance both then and the significance now.
There was one language – "Now the whole world had one language and a common speech." – Genesis 11:1
Significance then: During this time there was only one language that was spoken which made communication easy. With everyone speaking the same language they were able to accomplish great things. In fact, God said this same thing.
"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." – Genesis 11:6
Their common language meant they could set up and achieve common goals. In essence, they were all pulling in the same direction. The only problem was the direction they were going was not toward God but away from him.
Significance now: This tower of Babel story is a wake-up call for the body of Christ for the same reason God mentions in verse six. If the church as one people can start speaking the same language, nothing will be impossible. This is a reminder of how important unity is in the church. One of the problems plaguing the modern church, especially here in America is we are not united. We have allowed other languages and other voices to come in and rob us of the common language we should be speaking. Sadly, we are not most divided over spiritual things we are most divided over political and social things. We carry these divides into public spaces like social media and the whole world watches them play out. Is there any wonder we have no effectiveness in preaching the gospel? Before Jesus left he prayed this prayer.
"That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." – John 17:21
Please pay attention to what happens when the body of Christ is one. The world believes that Jesus is who he said he is. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. If we are not one, then the world does not believe in the Jesus who we profess. Honestly, why should they? If the people who proclaim they believe in him can’t get their act together then why should the world even pay attention? The significance of the tower of Babel reminds us that if the church can get on one accord, we can truly shine light and make a difference in this world.
They sought their own glory – "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; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.'” – Genesis 11:4
Significance then: The builders of this tower of Babel had no desire or interest in God’s glory, they were only interested in their own. Their name mattered. Their fame mattered. Their concern was making something that would cause people to remember who they were. If there ever was a prideful motivation to do something, this was it. We should not be surprised that God’s response to pride then is similar to his response to it now. He resists it. The Bible reminds us that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6). Their pride led to their downfall because it caused God to stand against them.
Significance now: We deal with the same issue of pride today both in the world and in the church. Whenever pride is present God will always stand against it. In the verse in James, that word means to set yourself up against. This means when you become prideful God is against you. This is a reminder of two things.
- Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought. – Romans 12:3
- Do everything for the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10:31
When your motivation becomes the glory of God and the benefit of other people you position yourself to be effective and used by God in all situations.
God always has the last word – "'Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.' So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth." – Genesis 11:7-9
Significance then: The fascinating this is these people thought they could do whatever they wanted with no recourse for their actions. They were going to build a tower and make their names great and there wasn’t a thing anyone could do about it. Or so they thought. Notice what the Psalmist said.
"Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain." – Psalm 127:1
There could not be a more perfect description of what the people of Shinar experienced with the tower of Babel. They labored and toiled yet their efforts came to nothing because as much as you plan it is God who brings it to pass.
Significance now: "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps." – Proverbs 16:9
This proverb is a humble reminder that no matter what you plan or think you are going to accomplish, God always has the last word. We are also reminded of this in James.
"Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.'" – James 4:13-15
If there is any significance that can come from the tower of Babel it is to lay everything at God’s feet. It is ok to plan, but you must recognize that plans only come to be as God wills them. The people who attempted to build the tower of Babel forgot this. Let’s not make the same mistake.
When you look at the significance of the tower of Babel you will discover that the root issue was pride. Pride to think you could build something to puff yourself up. Pride to think you could make it reach the heavens. Pride to think that there is nothing anyone could do about it. What was true then is true now, pride is destructive. If we want to be one body and unite then the wall that must fall is pride or it will never happen. God knows this and for this reason, I want to leave you with this one last verse.
"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." – Proverbs 16:18
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. His most recent book is The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. Clarence is also committed to helping 10,000 people learn how to study the Bible and has just released his first Bible study course called Bible Study Basics. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.
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Although it is human nature to question and try to find the reasoning behind God’s ways, I truly believe most of our “why” questions result from ignorance about Who God is or a lack of faith in what He is doing. Read more here.
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