We have here the quashing of the project of the Babel-builders, and the turning of the counsel of those froward men headlong, that God’s counsel might stand in spite of them. Here is,
I. The cognizance God took of the design that was on foot: The Lord came down to see the city, Gen. 11:5. It is an expression after the manner of men; he knew it as clearly and fully as men know that which they come to the place to view. Observe, 1. Before he gave judgment upon their cause, he enquired into it; for God is incontestably just and fair in all his proceedings against sin and sinners, and condemns none unheard. 2. It is spoken of as an act of condescension in God to take notice even of this building, which the undertakers were so proud of; for he humbles himself to behold the transactions, even the most considerable ones, of this lower world, Ps. 113:6. 3. It is said to be the tower which the children of men built, which intimates, (1.) Their weakness and frailty as men. It was a very foolish thing for the children of men, worms of the earth, to defy Heaven, and to provoke the Lord to jealousy. Are they stronger than he? (2.) Their sinfulness and obnoxiousness. They were the sons of Adam, so it is in the Hebrew; nay, of that Adam, that sinful disobedient Adam, whose children are by nature children of disobedience, children that are corrupters. (3.) Their distinction from the children of God, the professors of religion, from whom these daring builders had separated themselves, and built this tower to support and perpetuate the separation. Pious Eber is not found among this ungodly crew; for he and his are called the children of God, and therefore their souls come not into the secret, nor unite themselves to the assembly, of these children of men.
II. The counsels and resolves of the Eternal God concerning this matter; he did not come down merely as a spectator, but as a judge, as a prince, to look upon these proud men, and abase them, Job 40:11-14. Observe,
1. He suffered them to proceed a good way in their enterprise before he put a stop to it, that they might have space to repent, and, if they had so much consideration left, might be ashamed of it and weary of it themselves; and if not that their disappointment might be the more shameful, and every one that passed by might laugh at them, saying, These men began to build, and were not able to finish, that so the works of their hands, from which they promised themselves immortal honour, might turn to their perpetual reproach. Note, God has wise and holy ends in permitting the enemies of his glory to carry on their impious projects a great way, and to prosper long in their enterprises.
2. When they had, with much care and toil, made some considerable progress in their building, then God determined to break their measures and disperse them. Observe,
(1.) The righteousness of God, which appears in the considerations upon which he proceeded in this resolution, Gen. 11:6. Two things he considered:—[1.] Their oneness, as a reason why they must be scattered: “Behold, the people are one, and they have all one language. If they continue one, much of the earth will be left uninhabited; the power of their prince will soon be exorbitant; wickedness and profaneness will be insufferably rampant, for they will strengthen one another’s hands in it; and, which is worst of all, there will be an overbalance to the church, and these children of men, if thus incorporated, will swallow up the little remnant of God’s children.” Therefore it is decreed that they must not be one. Note, Unity is a policy, but it is not the infallible mark of a true church; yet, while the builders of Babel, though of different families, dispositions, and interests, were thus unanimous in opposing God, what a pity is it, and what a shame, that the builders of Sion, though united in one common head and Spirit, should be divided, as they are, in serving God! But marvel not at the matter. Christ came not to send peace. [2.] Their obstinacy: Now nothing will be restrained from them; and this is a reason why they must be crossed and thwarted in their design. God had tried, by his commands and admonitions, to bring them off from this project, but in vain; therefore he must take another course with them. See here, First, The sinfulness of sin, and the wilfulness of sinners; ever since Adam would not be restrained from the forbidden tree, his unsanctified seed have been impatient of restraint and ready to rebel against it. Secondly, See the necessity of God’s judgments upon earth, to keep the world in some order and to tie the hands of those that will not be checked by law.
(2.) The wisdom and mercy of God in the methods that were taken for the defeating of this enterprise (Gen. 11:7): Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language. This was not spoken to the angels, as if God needed either their advice or their assistance, but God speaks it to himself, or the Father to the Son and Holy Ghost. They said, Go to, let us make brick, and Go to, let us build a tower, animating one another to the attempt; and now God says, Go to, let us confound their language; for, if men stir up themselves to sin, God will stir up himself to take vengeance, Isa. 59:17, 18. Now observe here, [1.] The mercy of God, in moderating the penalty, and not making it proportionable to the offence; for he deals not with us according to our sins. He does not say, “Let us go down now in thunder and lightning, and consume those rebels in a moment;” or, “Let the earth open, and swallow up them and their building, and let those go down quickly into hell who are climbing to heaven the wrong way.” No; only, “Let us go down, and scatter them.” They deserved death, but are only banished or transported; for the patience of God is very great towards a provoking world. Punishments are chiefly reserved for the future state. God’s judgments on sinners in this life, compared with those which are reserved, are little more than restraints. [2.] The wisdom of God, in pitching upon an effectual expedient to stay proceedings, which was the confounding of their language, that they might not understand one another’s speech, nor could they well join hands when their tongues were divided; so that this would be a very proper method both for taking them off from their building (for, if they could not understand one another, they could not help one another) and also for disposing them to scatter; for, when they could not understand one another, they could not take pleasure in one another. Note, God has various means, and effectual ones, to baffle and defeat the projects of proud men that set themselves against him, and particularly to divide them among themselves, either by dividing their spirits (Jdg. 9:23), or by dividing their tongues, as David prays, Ps. 55:9.
III. The execution of these counsels of God, to the blasting and defeating of the counsels of men, Gen. 11:8, 9. God made them know whose word should stand, his or theirs, as the expression is, Jer. 44:28. Notwithstanding their oneness and obstinacy, God was too hard for them, and wherein they dealt proudly he was above them; for who ever hardened his heart against him and prospered? Three things were done:—
1. Their language was confounded. God, who, when he made man, taught him to speak, and put words into his mouth fit to express the conceptions of his mind by, now caused these builders to forget their former language, and to speak and understand a new one, which yet was common to those of the same tribe or family, but not to others: those of one colony could converse together, but not with those of another. Now, (1.) This was a great miracle, and a proof of the power which God has upon the minds and tongues of men, which he turns as the rivers of water. (2.) This was a great judgment upon these builders; for, being thus deprived of the knowledge of the ancient and holy tongue, they had become incapable of communicating with the true church, in which it was retained, and probably it contributed much to their loss of the knowledge of the true God. (3.) We all suffer by it, to this day. In all the inconveniences we sustain by the diversity of languages, and all the pains and trouble we are at to learn the languages we have occasion for, we smart for the rebellion of our ancestors at Babel. Nay, and those unhappy controversies which are strifes of words, and arise from our misunderstanding one another’s language, for aught I know are owing to this confusion of tongues. (4.) The project of some to frame a universal character, in order to a universal language, how desirable soever it may seem, is yet, I think, but a vain thing to attempt; for it is to strive against a divine sentence, by which the languages of the nations will be divided while the world stands. (5.) We may here lament the loss of the universal use of the Hebrew tongue, which from this time was the vulgar language of the Hebrews only, and continued so till the captivity in Babylon, where, even among them, it was exchanged for the Syriac. (6.) As the confounding of tongues divided the children of men and scattered them abroad, so the gift of tongues, bestowed upon the apostles (Acts 2:1-13), contributed greatly to the gathering together of the children of God, who were scattered abroad, and the uniting of them in Christ, that with one mind and one mouth they might glorify God, Rom. 15:6.
2. Their building was stopped: They left off to build the city. This was the effect of the confusion of their tongues; for it not only incapacitated them for helping one another, but probably struck such a damp upon their spirits that they could not proceed, since they saw, in this, the hand of the Lord gone out against them. Note, (1.) It is wisdom to leave off that which we see God fights against. (2.) God is ale to blast and bring to nought all the devices and designs of Babel-builders. He sits in heaven, and laughs at the counsels of the kings of the earth against him and his anointed; and will force them to confess that there is no wisdom nor counsel against the Lord, Prov. 21:30; Isa. 8:9, 10.
3. The builders were scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth, Gen. 11:8, 9. They departed in companies, after their families, and after their tongues (Gen. 10:5, 20, 31), to the several countries and places allotted to them in the division that had been made, which they knew before, but would not go to take possession of till now that they were forced to it. Observe here, (1.) The very thing which they feared came upon them. That dispersion which sought to evade by an act of rebellion they by this act brought upon themselves; for we are most likely to fall into that trouble which we seek to evade by indirect and sinful methods. (2.) It was God’s work: The Lord scattered them. God’s hand is to be acknowledged in all scattering providences; if the family be scattered, relations scattered, churches scattered, it is the Lord’s doing. (3.) Though they were as firmly in league with one another as could be, yet the Lord scattered them; for no man can keep together what God will put asunder. (4.) Thus God justly took vengeance on them for their oneness in that presumptuous attempt to build their tower. Shameful dispersions are the just punishment of sinful unions. Simeon and Levi, who had been brethren in iniquity, were divided in Jacob, Gen. 49:5, 7; Ps. 83:3-13. (5.) They left behind them a perpetual memorandum of their reproach, in the name given to the place. It was called Babel, confusion. Those that aim at a great name commonly come off with a bad name. (6.) The children of men were now finally scattered, and never did, nor ever will, come all together again, till the great day, when the Son of man shall sit upon the throne of his glory, and all nations shall be gathered before him, Matt. 25:31, 32.