Grace Bible Church
Robert R. McLaughlin
Doctrine of Dispensations.
The Tower of Babel.
The third dispensation is known as the Dispensation of Government.
The opening event = Noah worships God and receives a covenant and responsibility - Gen 8:20-22. Man’s Responsibility = Believe and obey - Gen 9:1-6. Man’s failure = Personal disorder, Gen 9:20-23 and Social disorder; Gen 11:1-4. Man’s Tendency = Away from God. Closing Event = Judgment - confusion of tongues at the tower of Babel; Gen 11:5-9. Personal Salvation = By Grace through Faith - Gen 9:26; 11:10-32
The dispensation of Human Government introduced capital punishment ordained by God for the first time.
Gen 9:1-6, And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. “And the fear of you and the terror of you shall be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given. Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.”
The third dispensation extended from the Noahic Flood to the call of Abram. The Scripture portion which covers this dispensation is Gen 8:20-11:32. Inasmuch as man had failed to obey God on the basis of his conscience and the restraint by the Holy Spirit during the second dispensation, once the flood ended God started a new dispensation by instituting a new ruling factor. He brought in human government which would now serve as a guideline for man to follow and obey or else lose his freedom and pay the consequences for his sin and rebellion.
Human government, with its ultimate authority to administer capital punishment, was now the new ruling factor by which God instituted for the third dispensation. God said in effect, innocence in a perfect environment that didn’t work in Gen 3. A dispensation when I allowed man to make his own decisions didn’t work. Now, I will try mankind living together under the rules and laws of a human government---let’s see how this one turns out! And so now we have the second and third ruling factors continuing: which is human conscience and restraint by the Holy Spirit.
So, after noting the definition of the dispensation of Government, the opening Event, man’s responsibility and his personal failure, we are now ready for the great judgment of the Tower of Babel. Let’s read the passage first.
Gen 11:1-9, Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. And it came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
Here we have here the only true record of the origin of nations and the origin of languages, and nations which came into existence by a single act of God. This means that nations and languages were established by God by one divine act of God. Sociologists and anthropologists imagine a slow, long evolutionary process socializing man and somehow evolving into different nations and languages...but that was not so. They believe that man took a while to begin to scatter and after a long period time, man developed new languages. And nothing is further from the truth.
In the last 150 years, through the advance of technology, archeologists have discovered more truth than ever before when it comes to the ancient world. Whether it is the environment of the garden of Eden, or Noah’s ark, and especially the Tower of Babel. The point is that nations and languages came into existence as one act of God, namely known as the Tower of Babel.
Now these first nine verses of Gen 11 are crucial because they give us the event that launched the dispersion and the scattering separation. When they came out of the ark they were a group of eight and they began to reproduce and reproduce. But they were still together as a family and the question is what scattered them everywhere? What catalyst brought that about?
In Gen 11:1-9, the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of whole earth and they stopped building the city and therefore its name was called Babel because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth. This is a very simple and straightforward explanation of how nations developed all over the world and how languages developed; God did it in one single act. It is in a way a profound tragedy as humanity is separated and splintered and scattered from each other already having rebelled from God.
Now the inevitable result is that a negative relationship with God results in a negative relationship toward mankind. It’s likely that the Tower of Babel happened no more than 100 years after the flood. And so they are in need of judgment again and that judgment this time is dispersion and separation.
As many of you know, there comes a time when separation is the only answer to the problem. In the flood, it was judgment by destruction. At Babel it is judgment by dispersion. And frankly the world at the time of Babel was not any different than the world at the time of the flood and God would have had every reason to drown this entire civilization with the exception of whatever few were true to him, but He didn’t do that.
God promised that He would not destroy sinners in that fashion again, this was to be an age of grace and patience and forbearance and so rather than judgment by destruction as with the flood, this is judgment by dispersion. He scatters them over the whole earth and changes their language. Mankind was no better than in Noah’s day, a common grace prevailed and God was patient with man as far as world destruction was concerned. But they had already turned their backs on God. Now when they were scattered, the sons of Japheth went into a certain area and splintered into various people groups. Then the sons of Ham went into other areas and splintered into people groups. And then the sons of Shem did the same.
Now, the structure of the text if very simple; it’s a structure of reversal. Verses one to four, man is building up what he wants. Gen 11:1-4, Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. And it came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
In other words, instead of them spreading out horizontally, they wanted to go vertically and work their way up to heaven. Today, mankind is doing the same thing they did back then: Work their way up to Heaven. In verse five, God steps in and verses six through eight God tears down what man has built up.
Gen 11:5-8, And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.
Verses one to four the action of man, verses five to eight the action of God. Verse nine is a summary by Moses, the writer of the book of Genesis.
Gen 11:9, Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.
It’s interesting to notice that the action of man is indicated in verse three verse with this statement: “They said to one another ‘Come let us.’” That was sort of the statement indicating that they were going to launch their great ambitious act of rebellion. However, notice the action of God is described in verse seven, same words only this time God says, “Come let us.”
So you have then the action of man in verses one to four, the action of God in verses five to eight. The contrast in this brief text is between what man desires to achieve directed at self-glory, self-fulfillment, and what God does is to show man’s impotence and emptiness before Him. And this is a battle that goes on till this day. Man showing God who he thinks he is and then God showing man what he really is.
Rom 12:3, For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment,
1Co 3:18, Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise.
1Co 10:12, Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
Gal 6:3, For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
These verses all describe the attitude of those who lived during this dispensation. It is man at his best and his noblest trying to achieve his greatest anti-God act and God steps in and undoes the whole thing. Frankly the attitude of the people at Babel is essentially as the same as the attitude of Adam and Eve in the garden. It is an attitude of rebellion. It is an attitude of wanting to live apart from God driven by personal ambition and personal pride, and interestingly enough the locations are the same. It’s also interesting that in Gen 11:2, when it says And it came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.
Shinar, the plain in which they built Babel, was very near to the location of the Garden of Eden. Both of them were in the Mesopotamian valley, the lower Euphrates valley between the Tigris and the Euphrates River. So man is twice thrown out of what was one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Once it was just Adam and Eve thrown out of Eden, now it’s the whole of the population of the world thrown out of the plain of Shinar.
Now God has instructed the leader of the family, Noah, in chapter nine verse one, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Fill the earth. It was a reiteration of exactly what he had said to Adam. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” The command of God was to take people and search the planet, find all of the wonderful things that God had prepared for man and populate the planet. But that was not what man wanted to do so there was a defiant, rebellious disobedience at this point.
Gen 11:1, Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.
That’s not redundant because those two are not synonymous. The same language means language. The same words mean vocabulary. They not only had the same language, but they spoke with the same vocabulary. I know the English language, that’s obviously my language.
I can say things in England and South Africa and Australia and other places where English is spoken. Sometimes they do not clearly understand because, although we have a common language we have variations in the vocabulary. And I have said things in some places which have horrified audiences and I will not even tell you the things that I said lest I embarrass myself. But in this case you had the same language and the same vocabulary. They all spoke the same, obviously because they spoke the language that was spoken by Noah and his family.
Now there were then no barriers to communication, none at all and therefore no barriers to unity. The Hebrew here says they had one lip and one set of words. We will see in the last half of chapter 11 the event regarding Babel occurred about 100 years after the flood, the flood is 1656 after creation - this is about 1,756 years after creation. So they were still speaking the same language. Languages hadn’t developed; they were just one people, all descendants of Noah, united around one form of language and one vocabulary. This is very beneficial. Very beneficial.
They all had the same history. They all had the same freedom of communication, nothing at all like the world in which we live where everybody’s got a different history and every nation’s got a different tale to tell and people speak so many different languages. But there was a seriously deadly and dark side to this unity because they were sinful and rebellious against God. And because they were proud and wicked, that unity allowed for a concentration of evil that was unacceptable to God. Power corrupts and ultimate power corrupts ultimately. One nation, all speaking the same language, all under the power of the same influence, essentially led by the same man, as we will see relatives of Cain especially. They lacked the checks and balances against evil that help preserved man in sinful world but this really became a problem when the language barrier came into effect. Once they couldn’t understand each other immediately they started doubting what the other one was saying, and being evil, they thought the worse. Remember what David said in Psa 19:13, “Keep Your servant from the great transgression, presumptuous sins, let them not have dominion over me.”
How many times have we presumed things, only to find out our presumption was wrong? Can you imagine what it was like not to be able to understand what someone was saying, especially when mankind was corrupt? You had to think it was evil! You did not believe the best. You believed the worse because even when you could understand what others were saying you didn’t trust them. Now what? You believe the worse. As Pro 28:1 says, “The wicked flee when no man pursues him.”
So now, at the Tower of Babel, man had become truly confused! In verse six, you will see that God recognizes this when it says Gen 11:6, And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.” In other words, this is what they began to do and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them because nobody’s going to stop them.
That is what Satan wants - he wants one person to be in the ultimate authority and in control of the human race and that is, of course himself!