United Rebellion Against God Breaks Down
WITH the precarious world situation facing them, the stated purpose of world leaders is to have a united world government. But there are many obstacles, among them the more than two thousand seven hundred different languages spoken by the peoples of the world. They help to create national barriers and divisions so that anything approaching complete unity has been impossible to attain. However, there was a time when all people on earth, except for a small minority, trusted in an effort at united world government. They gave it full support, mentally and actively. Two powerful factors not now present existed, with the aid of which they could actually have accomplished their purpose to hold mankind together under the rule of one human king. These factors were their near kinship and particularly their one common language.
Nevertheless, such a united effort did not succeed. Why not? Was not this plan commendable? Would not the ideas and principles upon which it was based bring success and result to the benefit of all supporting such a government? What was it that interfered to cause its failure? By examining the aims, purposes and principles underlying this united effort we can see why it failed utterly. Because of the efforts today being similar in many ways it will be of tremendous profit to us to investigate and to find just why this plan failed.
It is an interesting fact that this united attempt to govern mankind was the first human kingdom of which history provides a record. At this time Noah was still living. The offspring of his sons had grown greatly in numbers, comprising the human race at that time. Was Noah the one who would be king of this government? No. As a matter of fact he and his son Shem in particular were opposed to such a thing. Noah was the one most eminently in a position to be king. But Noah was a worshiper of God as King. It is certain that God did not appoint Noah to be king over any part of the human family. For this reason Noah refused to take the course that would have meant to be ambitious, greedy for power, and to rebel against the sovereignty of Jehovah God the Creator. Nor would he approve of any of his sons’ or grandsons’ being king. Even so, it was not the opposition of Noah and Shem that brought about the failure of the scheme.—Gen. 6:9, 10; 10:32.
THE LEADER OF THE REBELLION
The one who was king in this united effort was a man named Nimrod. He was a great-grandson of Noah, and a son of Cush. This plan of Nimrod was in defiance of God. It was actually a rebellion against the universal sovereignty of God. Nimrod had not stopped with local kingship at Babylon. He enlarged this rebellion with plans for world rulership, invading the territory of Shem, extending his kingdom from Babylon into Assyria.—Gen. 10:8-11.
Some scholars understand the name Nimrod to be drawn from the Hebrew word marád. The name would be the first person, plural number, of the verb marád, in the jussive mood, and would mean “We will rebel!” or, “Let us rebel!” The Jerusalem Targum, a Jewish interpretative translation of the Bible, says of Nimrod: “He was powerful in hunting and in wickedness before the Lord, for he was a hunter of the sons of men, and he said to them, ‘Depart from the judgment of the Lord, and adhere to the judgment of Nimrod!’” Both the Targum of Jonathan and the historian Flavius Josephus agree with this, Josephus saying: “He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, . . . but to believe that it was their own courage that procured their happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, . . . Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower.”—Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, chapter 4, paragraphs 2, 3, translation by Wm. Whiston, 1737 C.E., revised by Dr. Sam. Burder.
BABYLON SET AGAINST GOD FROM THE START
This name Nimrod, if it has the above-mentioned meaning, must have been given to him after he started his rebellious course and not at the time of his birth. His capital, Babylon, was the seat of a kingdom in rebellion against the universal sovereignty of God. Throughout the entire history of Babylon, even later, when the city was under the control of a different branch of the human family, it was always unalterably opposed to God. Some sixteen hundred years later God through his prophet Jeremiah said of Babylon: “Against Jehovah . . . she has sinned. . . . For it is against Jehovah that she has acted presumptuously.” Addressing Babylon, he said: “It was against Jehovah that you excited yourself.” Then he added: “‘Look! I am against you, O Presumptuousness,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord, Jehovah of armies, ‘for your day must come, the time that I must give you attention. And Presumptuousness will certainly stumble and fall, and it will have no one to cause it to rise up.’”—Jer. 50:14, 29, 24, 31, 32.
Babylon was situated on the plain between two rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris, northwest of Ur on the tip of the Persian Gulf. This plain is about two hundred and fifty miles long and is a hundred miles across at its widest place. It came to be called Mesopotamia, which means “the land between the rivers.” It was a place rich in bitumen, which could be used for mortar, and had plenty of clay for making bricks. The settlers coming here to this plain were well aware of the mandate to Noah and his family to multiply and fill the earth. They knew that they were to divide up and to overspread the earth in obedience to the command of Jehovah and to make his name known to their children so that the fame of Jehovah God and his worship would be made known throughout the entire earth. There was no overcrowded situation existing, no need for conquest for more living room, to take away territory occupied by another. Neither was it the time for people to hole themselves up in cities and to develop a materialistic, militaristic way of life and show indifference to God’s mandate.—Gen. 9:1.
Were these people interested in carrying out God’s command? No. They said, under the direction of Nimrod, who would be their king: “Come on! Let us make bricks and bake them with a burning process. . . . Come on! Let us build ourselves a city and also a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a celebrated name for ourselves, for fear we may be scattered over all the surface of the earth.” So instead of making a name for God they would make a name for themselves, considering themselves to be honored in being known as citizens of this city. They would make a name for men and would have heroes, notably Nimrod, whose name they would exalt.—Gen. 11:3, 4.
GOD ACTS IN JUDGMENT
What was the real purpose of building this tower? There was certainly no need for a deluge refuge, for God had promised to Noah and his sons: “No more will the waters become a deluge to bring all flesh to ruin.” (Gen. 9:15) Besides, on the low plain of Shinar they could not hope to build a tower high enough to escape such a flood as had covered to a depth of twenty-two feet the highest mountains then existing. No, the purpose of this tower was something else. It would be a tower of religious worship, a ziggurat. Archaeological evidence indicates that it was not to be a circular tower with a spiral staircase, but, rather, a square or rectangular pyramidal tower with a series of terraces. Because of its great height the tower would dominate the city and would give the utmost prominence to religion. It would call attention to the chief god of the city. It would be a religious city.
What was God the Creator’s viewpoint and attitude toward this scheme? The Scriptures go on to say: “And Jehovah proceeded to go down to see the city and the tower that the sons of men had built. After that Jehovah said: ‘Look! They are one people and there is one language for them all, and this is what they start to do. Why, now there is nothing that they may have in mind to do that will be unattainable for them.’” God had not authorized the building of a city to become the seat of an earthly ruler. Neither did he take this united effort lightly, or as an unimportant thing that they were building a tower for false worship. This was rebellion, a treasonous act against his universal sovereignty, an apostasy, a falling away from the worship of the God of Noah. It was disobedience also to the divine mandate for filling the earth with worshipers of Jehovah as God. It was a bad work.—Gen. 11:5, 6.
To what length would they carry their organized efforts in this bad work? It would be only a start. They would ambitiously have one thing after another come to mind that would be attainable in a wrong way, in a wrong direction, by unified, organized effort. In Jehovah’s statement regarding this we can appreciate how correctly he spoke in his ability to foresee the future. Right now, with the two great world blocs aligned against each other, the arms race between them has been carried up far higher than the temple tower there on the banks of the Euphrates, far higher than the water level of the deluge of Noah’s day, yes, even into the higher altitudes of outer space, with the explosion of a thermonuclear device 250 miles above the surface of the earth, without regard to the effect it might have on the health and welfare of all mankind. So we can see that the ambitious organized start in a selfish way at the original Babylon was of no small consequence. Back there, Jehovah God, man’s Creator, well knew it.
On what principles were Babylon and its tower built? These rebels purposed to establish a false religion united with a government denying God’s kingship. It was also to block Jehovah’s command to fill the earth and to make his name known throughout the earth. It was to make a name for men, based upon the unrighteous principles of ambition, selfishness and disobedience to their Creator. They had reckoned on their own, without Jehovah’s authorization and, in fact, against his command. Now they had to reckon with him. He took quick action, saying: “‘Come now! Let us go down and there confuse their language that they may not listen to one another’s language.’ Accordingly Jehovah scattered them from there over all the surface of the earth, and they gradually left off building the city. That is why its name was called Babel, because there Jehovah had confused the language of all the earth.”—Gen. 11:7-9.
The very thing against which they were trying to build, Jehovah brought about, namely, the scattering of them. He caused some change in their mental intelligence that blanked out the memory of their former one original language. They began talking brand-new languages, one group this language and another that, no one being gifted with ability to interpret one language into another. No Pentecostal outpouring of holy spirit was this—a gift of tongues with blessing of God. No, God did give them new tongues, but certainly not in a way of blessing their wrong efforts. It did result, however, in good to humankind because it thwarted their ungodly purposes and forced the carrying out of his purpose. No longer understanding their co-workers on the tower project, they found it perplexing to try to work together. Gradually they left off building the city. They scattered, each one to his own language group. Their unity in rebellion against God broke down.
BABYLON—A NAME OF INFAMY
The city now received a name that has become famous down to the present day. It is not the name by which the first builders wanted to make a name for themselves as citizens. The language of Noah and his faithful son Shem was not confused. They still spoke the language originally spoken by Adam, which came later to be known as Hebrew. The name they called the city bespeaks God’s execution of judgment on it. The name is drawn from the verb balál, which means “to mingle, mix, confuse, confound.” The name was shortened from Balbél to Babél, which means “Confusion.”
Josephus describes the breakdown of the rebellion. He says: “After this they were dispersed abroad on account of the difference of their languages, and went out by colonies every where; and each colony took possession of that land into which God led them, so that the whole continent was filled with them, both the inland and maritime countries. . . . But Nimrod, the son of Chus, stayed and tyrannized at Babylon, as we have already observed.”* The citizens of Babylon did not like the true meaning attached to this name, so a local tradition grew up that claimed that the city’s name was taken from the two words Bab, meaning “Gate,” and El, meaning “God,” to make it a holy name. In ancient times judicial court used to be held at the spacious city gate. Therefore Bab, meaning “Gate,” is the designation given in the Near East to a seat of government. To its citizens, therefore, Babylon was called God’s seat of government, not meaning, of course, Jehovah’s seat.
From this example of the Tower of Babel we can see the fallacy of trusting in human kingdoms. Those who trust in human efforts toward a united world are led into the snare of looking to men as heroes. They actually enter into a Babel-like rebellion against God and certainly will not receive his blessing. This true historical example sets for us a standard of guidance. It helps us to see that the way of peace, not only with our fellowman but, more importantly, with our Creator, who has a specific design and purpose for our earth, is not through our following the schemes of men for world domination, but through the kingdom of God. His Word the Bible gives ample information, pointing out the course to take now to support his kingdom under Christ.
The united rebellion against God’s sovereignty broke down and Babylon failed at that time to become a world power. Not only is it a historical example of a bad effort, but its effects linger today in a very bad way, which we shall discuss in the next issue of The Watchtower.
Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, chapter 5, paragraph 1; and chapter 6, paragraph 3.
[Picture on page 313]
Reconstruction of the tower of Babel