Genesis 11 gives us the story of diversity. After Noah and his sons got off the ark and repopulated the earth – scripture tells us “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words”. Things were common – they came from the ark and their offspring all were from the same background. “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do”. It was a pretty closed circle. Quite a difference from the world we live in today, isn’t it. There was no diversity. They were all of the same fabric.
They begin to think that things are going pretty well and then they utter these words: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth”. Remember that God has told Noah and the boys to go and fill the earth – to multiply and make things happen. But there appears to be a shifting away from God’s plan – the people begin to put their trust in themselves and to become focused on what they could do. In fact – they are building their own little kingdom with a tower that reaches to heaven. Why? Was it to worship God? Nope – they missed the mark on that and want to make a name for themselves. They want to take God’s glory and make it their own. The focus had changed from obedience to God to pride and attention to self.
Even though they began to drift off course – we learn from scripture there is much power in a group that is common minded and focused. “And nothing they propose to do will now be impossible for them”. They are focused, working together, creating their dream. The problem is they forgot God. They were doing things their way in their power for their own glory. It was not about God – in fact He is nowhere mentioned by them at all. So as is often the case when we take things into our own hands and do it our way – God has a way of getting our attention and making us focused again. In this case “the Lord confused the language of all the earth”. The Tower of Babel became remembered as the place where language was confused and the people were dispersed. That day people were separated because they had failed to keep their priorities in line.
The balance of the chapter gives us the lineage of Shem – one of Noah’s sons. And in that line comes Abram, whom we will later know as Abraham. We learn of his wife Sarai (or Sarah). Abram’s father Terah took his family and moved from Ur to go to the land of Canaan. They didn’t quite make it that far and settled in Haran. Shem lived 600 years and by the time we are a few generations down the line at Terah – we find that he lived 205 years. Things are starting to change. Scripture doesn’t explain why the lifespans are getting shorter here – but they definitely are. We just need to keep in mind that the line of Abram comes through Shem. That becomes more important later on our journey through the Old Testament.