God told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). After the Flood, God repeated that same command to Noah and his sons (Gen 9:1).
Man was to reproduce and fill the earth. This was a command, not a suggestion.
We do not know how well mankind had spread over the earth prior to the Flood. Presumably man was widely scattered.
However, after the Flood most of the descendants of Noah and his sons failed to migrate throughout the earth as they were told. They instead stayed grouped together in one place. In addition, they hatched a plot to build a very high tower and to make a great name for themselves.
They had been fruitful, and they had multiplied. But they rejected the command to fill the earth.
These verses explained to the new nation of Israel (1440 BC) and explain to us today where all the world’s nations and languages came from.
The whole earth spoke only one language prior to the Tower of Babel experience. God created Adam and Eve with language. They didn’t have to learn to speak. They were created as highly educated, articulate people.
Whatever language God gave Adam and Eve (proto-Semitic?) was passed from generation to generation. No new language developed. Everyone could understand everyone else.
Evidently that was God’s original plan for man. But as a result of this Babel rebellion, this refusal to scatter and fill the earth, God changed the language situation in a major way.
Genesis 11:4 explains why they were making bricks and mortar. They wanted to build a city, which is fine in itself, and “a tower whose top is in the heavens.” They wanted to “make a name for [them]selves, lest [they] be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” They wanted to be exalted like God Himself. This is the original sin of Lucifer.
This was a clear violation of God’s creation mandate.
Genesis 11:5 may imply that the Lord Jesus actually went to Shinar in His pre-incarnate body to inspect what was going on. God already knew what they were up to and why they were doing it. He did not need to come down to Shinar to know what was going on.
Though the Tower of Babel was exceedingly high, the Lord had to come down to see it. Man falls far short of the glory of God. Lucifer’s angelic rebellion and Adam and Eve’s initial human rebellion were sourced in misguided pride. So was the rebellion at Babel.
What God did was not simply give the people there many new languages. Let’s say there were one million people, and He gave them 25 different languages. If that was all He did, they could still all communicate in their first language. Here is the other half of what God did: He took away their first language.
Of course, that had never happened before.
Imagine what that must have been like—you would gather together with the people who speak your new language, and all of you would form a new community. If you lived in the world after the Flood where the whole earth was open to colonize, you would go with the people of your language and pick a land that you really liked and populate it.
Even if you could take a year or more to teach others your new language, you’d still have the fear that the Lord would not take kindly to them not spreading out as He had commanded. That is why He confused their tongues. If they did not spread out, something far worse would surely happen.
God got the people to do what He wanted by confusing their languages.
This is an example of the balance between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. God allows limited free will. God is at work behind the scenes to see to it that we do not veer too far from His plan. He allows lots of freedom and lots of iniquity, but there are limits.
(For example, He won’t allow mankind to destroy itself via nuclear warfare, climate change, man-made viruses, or anything else. The rainbow guarantees it. He is in control, even if we think we are.)
The city was called Babel “because the Lord confused the language of all the earth.”
Babel is a word that means confusion.
The name Babel reminds us that we should fulfill God’s commands. A failure to do what He says will result in consequences, possibly quite painful. In this case, mankind lost the ability to communicate with each other. Suddenly there was a language barrier that had never existed before.
If the descendants of Noah had not decided to clump together in Shinar, if they had scattered over the earth, then there would probably be only one language on earth today, not hundreds.
Today there is a different sort of rebellion against the creation mandate. People rebel against God’s command to be fruitful and multiply. Many people believe the world’s population is way too large and that we need to start decreasing it, by any means possible. Since God never revoked His creation mandate, we can be sure that He still intends for us to be fruitful and multiply and to continue to fill the earth.
The Lord Jesus will return soon and establish His righteous kingdom. Until then, Babel reminds us that it always pays to obey God, and it never pays to disobey Him.