We often refer to the Bible as a story, and this might be a good time to pause and clarify what we mean when we say that. What we don’t mean is that the Bible is fiction. Some people are uncomfortable with saying the Bible is a story because they hear that as a work of fiction, which would, of course, undermine Scripture. So let me say clearly that we at The Gospel Project affirm the historical nature of Scripture. We use “story” in connection with the Bible because we want people to understand that we are to read it as such—as one big story instead of many isolated stories. We would add that “story” doesn’t have to mean fiction. Have you ever asked someone to tell you their story? You weren’t looking for them to tell you a made-up account, were you? No, you wanted them to tell you about themselves—truly who they are.
We Learn from What God Says and How He Says ItSo hopefully with that clarified, here’s what I want us to think about as we approach the account of the tower of Babel this week—the bigger flow of the story around this account. Last week, we looked at the flood—God judging humanity for their wretchedness and starting over with Noah and his family. In Genesis 10, between the end of that account and the tower of Babel, we read the family records of Noah’s sons showing how the earth was repopulated after the flood. Then we come to the tower of Babel. Don’t miss what the flow of the story is telling us here. As students of the Bible, we want to focus not only on what God says, but how He says it as well. How this true story is arranged and told matters, and it communicates much in of itself.
The Context of the Tower of BabelTo see this, let’s push into the story of the tower of Babel for a minute. You likely know the account. After the flood, God had told Noah and his sons to spread out and fill the earth (9:1), a restatement of the instructions He had given to Adam and Eve (1:22). Spreading out and stewarding all of creation for His glory was God’s intention from the very beginning. After the flood, that was unchanged. And that is what we see happening (10:32). That is until we get to the tower of Babel.
Rebellion Was the Tower of Babel’s FoundationNotice what the people decided—they would not spread out. Instead they would settle in one place and make a name for themselves instead of making a name for God. Do you see their wickedness? Do you see their raised fists shaking angrily at God in defiance? “No, we will not spread out as You have commanded! No, we will not bring glory to You as You have commanded! We will stay right where we are and glorify ourselves instead!” Here is what we see here—even after the flood, the sin condition of humanity was unchanged. That is what God is telling in how He is telling the story here. In other words, the flood was not the cure for sin—the flood was not what crushed the serpent’s head. We still needed that deliverer—and that is where the story goes next, when we meet a man named Abram, the one through whom the snake crusher would come. God is a great storyteller, isn’t He?
At Babel God halts the unbridled human efforts to build a united, secular city,which would leave no room for the kingdom of God.” — Sidney Greidanus Preschool Tip: One big take-away for preschoolers this week is to focus on God rather than themselves. That’s hard for a preschooler! It’s hard for us as adults! But it is so important, especially for our little friends who can be quite self-absorbed at times. Focusing on God instead of themselves is a huge jump for preschoolers, so this week you may want to give them a very helpful intermediate step—focusing on others. A practical application that can nurture their hearts toward focusing on God is to encourage them to work on thinking of others first this week because God loves other people too. Encouraging preschoolers to share, to let others get their snack first, and so forth may not feel like a gospel home run, but it can be, if it is part of the process of our preschoolers being less selfish and more selfless. Kids Tip: Make sure that your kids don’t miss the very last part of the last verse of this account: “and from there the Lord scattered them throughout the earth.” Let me translate: God had His way! Remember that God’s command to the people was to spread out and fill the earth. Settling in Babel was part of their rebellion. But what happened in the end? The people obeyed God, although they had missed the opportunity to obey willingly with joy. Here they obeyed grudgingly in despair. We have an opportunity to teach our kids something important here. God’s ways cannot be thwarted. We can and should find comfort in that. But at the same time, we should take this as a warning. We too are prone to rebel, and God will do whatever He desires to break that rebellion and bring us to obedience. I don’t know about you, but I think we’d be better off obeying in the first place. Help your kids see that this week.  Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Genesis (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 125.