The close of the foregoing chapter tells us that by the sons of Noah, or among the sons of Noah, the nations were divided in the earth after the flood, that is, were distinguished into several tribes or colonies; and, the places having grown too strait for them, it was either appointed by Noah, or agreed upon among his sons, which way each several tribe or colony should steer its course, beginning with the countries that were next them, and designing to proceed further and further, and to remove to a greater distance from each other, as the increase of their several companies should require. Thus was the matter well settled, one hundred years after the flood, about the time of Peleg’s birth; but the sons of men, it should seem, were loth to disperse into distant places; they thought the more the merrier and the safer, and therefore they contrived to keep together, and were slack to go to possess the land which the Lord God of their fathers had given them (Josh. 18:3), thinking themselves wiser than either God or Noah. Now here we have,
I. The advantages which befriended their design of keeping together, 1. They were all of one language, Gen. 11:1. If there were any different languages before the flood, yet Noah’s only, which it is likely was the same with Adam’s, was preserved through the flood, and continued after it. Now, while they all understood one another, they would be the more likely to love one another, and the more capable of helping one another, and the less inclinable to separate one from another. 2. They found a very convenient commodious place to settle in (Gen. 11:2), a plain in the land of Shinar, a spacious plain, able to contain them all, and a fruitful plain, able, according as their present numbers were, to support them all, though perhaps they had not considered what room there would be for them when their numbers should be increased. Note, Inviting accommodations, for the present, often prove too strong temptations to the neglect of both duty and interest, as it respects futurity.
II. The method they took to bind themselves to one another, and to settle together in one body. Instead of coveting to enlarge their borders by a peaceful departure under the divine protection, they contrived to fortify them, and, as those that were resolved to wage war with Heaven, they put themselves into a posture of defence. Their unanimous resolution is, Let us build ourselves a cityand a tower. It is observable that the first builders of cities, both in the old world (Gen. 4:17), and in the new world here, were not men of the best character and reputation: tents served God’s subjects to dwell in; cities were first built by those that were rebels against him and revolters from him. Observe here,
1. How they excited and encouraged one another to set about this work. They said, Go to, let us make brick (Gen. 11:3), and again, (Gen. 11:4), Go to, let us build ourselves a city; by mutual excitements they made one another more daring and resolute. Note, Great things may be brought to pass when the undertakers are numerous and unanimous, and stir up one another. Let us learn to provoke one another to love and to good works, as sinners stir up and encourage one another to wicked works. See Ps. 122:1; Isa. 2:3, 5; Jer. 50:5.
2. What materials they used in their building. The country, being plain, yielded neither stone nor mortar, yet this did not discourage them from their undertaking, but they made brick to serve instead of stone, and slime or pitch instead of mortar. See here, (1.) What shift those will make that are resolute in their purposes: were we but zealously affected in a good thing, we should not stop our work so often as we do, under pretence that we want conveniences for carrying it on. (2.) What a difference there is between men’s building and God’s; when men build their Babel, brick and slime are their best materials; but, when God builds his Jerusalem, he lays even the foundations of it with sapphires, and all its borders with pleasant stones, Isa. 54:11-12; Rev. 21:19.
3. For what ends they built. Some think they intended hereby to secure themselves against the waters of another flood. God had told them indeed that he would not again drown the world; but they would trust to a tower of their own making, rather than to a promise of God’s making or an ark of his appointing. If, however, they had had this in their eye, they would have chosen to build their tower upon a mountain rather than upon a plain, but three things, it seems, they aimed at in building this tower:—
(1.) It seems designed for an affront to God himself; for they would build a tower whose top might reach to heaven, which bespeaks a defiance of God, or at least a rivalship with him. They would be like the Most High, or would come as near him as they could, not in holiness but in height. They forgot their place, and, scorning to creep on the earth, resolved to climb to heaven, not by the door or ladder, but some other way.
(2.) They hoped hereby to make themselves a name; they would do something to be talked of now, and to give posterity to know that there had been such men as they in the world. Rather than die and leave no memorandum behind them, they would leave this monument of their pride, and ambition, and folly. Note, [1.] Affectation of honour and a name among men commonly inspires with a strange ardour for great and difficult undertakings, and often betrays to that which is evil and offensive to God. [2.] It is just with God to bury those names in the dust which are raised by sin. These Babel-builders put themselves to a great deal of foolish expense to make themselves a name; but they could not gain even this point, for we do not find in any history the name of so much as one of these Babel-builders. Philo Judaeus says, They engraved every one his name upon a brick, in perpetuam rei memoriam—as a perpetual memorial; yet neither did this serve their purpose.
(3.) They did it to prevent their dispersion: Lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth. “It was done” (says Josephus) “in disobedience to that command (Gen. 9:1), Replenish the earth.” God orders them to disperse. “No,” say they, “we will not, we will live and die together.” In order hereunto, they engage themselves and one another in this vast undertaking. That they might unite in one glorious empire, they resolve to build this city and tower, to be the metropolis of their kingdom and the centre of their unity. It is probable that the band of ambitious Nimrod was in all this. He could not content himself with the command of a particular colony, but aimed at universal monarchy, in order to which, under pretence of uniting for their common safety, he contrives to keep them in one body, that, having them all under his eye, he might not fail to have them under his power. See the daring presumption of these sinners. Here is, [1.] A bold opposition to God: “You shall be scattered,” says God. “But we will not,” say they. Woe unto him that thus strives with his Maker. [2.] A bold competition with God. It is God’s prerogative to be universal monarch, Lord of all, and King of kings; the man that aims at it offers to step into the throne of God, who will not give his glory to another.