Friday, December 14, 2007

The "Point" of the Tower of Babel Story

In the series of post concerning Genesis, I have introducing the topic of poetry and chiasm so that I could share about the tower of Babel story. To begin with, allow me to say that while the tower of Babel story is written in a poetic form, I do believe that it is a true story. Just because something was written with poetic style does not mean that the story is myth. It is just a creative way for the author to convey the story.

The Tower of Babel story, found in Genesis 11:1-9 is written as a chiasm (I wish this was my own thoughts but most of this thought is from Allen P. Ross' book Creation and Blessing, a great commentary for the book of Genesis). This is based on the word pairs identified throughout the story. The image below shows the phrases in which the words are located. It is my desire that the image clearly shows what I am referring to (click for larger image).

One can see from the visual aid that the point of the story is "the LORD came down to see." All the word was united in a ungodly purpose. Most scholars believe that the tower of Babel was a ziggurat on which the people worshipped false gods or intended to worship false gods. Whatever the case, they were building a very tall tower, something of great human accomplishment. I am sure everyone on earth thought it was an amazing feat of human strength and ingenuity. Nevertheless, God has to bend way, way down to see what these puny humans are up to.

Now we know, first, that God is spirit (John 4:24) and so He doesn't "bend" down. We also know that God is omniscient (Psalm 147:4-5) so He does not need to come down to find out what the humans are doing. The author is using this kind of images to show us how infinitly small man's doings are to the Creator and Sustainer of life. Yes, they made a big tower, but only big in man's eyes. God has to bend down and squint to get a good look at it.

You may say, "I see how each word pair relates in this passage. However, there is one set of words that I do not see how they relate. Specifically, 'Come let us make bricks' and 'Come let us confuse.' Why are these in parallel with each other?" This is what make the whole story interesting, creative, and frankly, almost funny.

In the Hebrew, the word for bricks is LBN and the word for confuse is "NBL." Thus, these words are parallel but only because they are the same word but read in the wrong direction. God is saying, you think that you are going to make bricks but I am going to turn that around on you and then you will be confused. Even the words of the story get turned around and make confusion - literally. (Click for larger image)

The story is not only an amazing story of God's power and sovereignty. It is also evidence that the word of God is not only revelation of God, but it is a work of art. God could have revealed Himself to us in a bland lists and plain stories. Instead, He uses the authors' gifts and style to produce an exciting and living revelation of Himself.

Here is the visual aid with both graphics attached (click for larger image):

If I am not beating a dead horse, I would like to share one more story in Genesis structured similarly to this story. I will share it the beginning of next week.


Kevin O. Gaona said...

The graphical representation of the language and poetry used by Moses is very interesting.

The point you make about God having to bend down to see this great feat of the human race is right on. It appears the language used is intended to humiliate the works of man when compared to the awesome power and majesty of God. But not only are His works greater than man's. God's attributes, which allow Him to do as He pleases, point to His position as the undisputed ruler of the world.

This story reminds me of I Corinthians 1:25. "For the foolishnes of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."

We serve a might God and for that reason we need not fear this life.