Genesis 11 provides the story of the “beginnings” of modern day religion. More specifically, it recalls man’s earliest organized attempts to find satisfaction and purpose outside of God’s design.
Ham received a curse on his family line for disrespecting his father Noah. Perhaps in spite toward God for the curse, his grandson was named Nimrod, which means “Let’s Rebel.” He was raised to be “a mighty hunter before the Lord.” The Jewish Targum, an Old Testament version of the study bible, describes Nimrod from the language of this verse as “a man of wickedness in the face of God.” Nimrod set out to establish his own little empire with the city of Babel at its center. In the original Akkadian, Babel means “a gateway to the god(s),” and it is known as Babylon in Greek. The tower in the city of Babylon was almost certainly a ziggurat with an astrological sign at the peak, which served as a pagan temple. The top of the tower was said to be “in, with, or by the heavens.” The purpose of the ziggurat was not to physically reach the heavens, but to provide spiritual access to heavenly power through idol worship. The people’s goal in creating the tower was to make a great name for themselves rather than God. (Gen. 11:4)
The people of Babylon exchanged the Truth of God for a lie and chose to worship the creation rather than the Creator. Rather than honoring God, they used astrology as a means of honoring themselves.
God did not bring immediate judgment on this rebellion like He did with the flood. Instead, He displays his patience by scattering the people and limiting their ability to be as evil as they possibly could be. (v.6- “nothing will be impossible for them” is like saying “their evil deeds will know no limits”)
The city of Babylon- “a gateway to the gods”- becomes known as Babel to the Hebrews- a name that sounds like the Hebrew word for “confusion.” Immediately, the name represents the place where God confused the languages, but this event also demonstrates how the pursuit of satisfaction and freedom in pagan “religion” leads to nothing but confusion.
The people of Babylon werre scattered to surrounding locations, such as Ur and Egypt. As they went out from Babel, their man made efforts to find purpose and satisfaction went with them. In Ur of Chaldeans, it manifested in worship of the moon. This is the reconstructed footing of the ancient Tower of Ur, which was dedicated to the moon God Nanna.
This is the radical nature of the call of Abraham. He was a man living among a people in rebellion against God. The people of Ur were held captive to the oppression of the harlot of false religion. Then, “the God of Glory appeared to Abraham” (Acts 7) and called him out of darkness and into light.
Babylon shows up again in Revelation 17 where she is identified as the mother of all harlots. These harlots are the false religions that spread out from Babel and sit on the peoples and nations. (v.15) The reality for anyone who is outside of Christ is that they are under the oppression of a harlot and their soul is dead in transgressions and sins. While promising satisfaction, this harlot crushes the life of the soul.
In America, we worship at the altar of sex, status, and materialism more often than astrology. We all know the feeling of oppression that comes from being sat on by these prostitutes. Yet, while we were dead in our transgressions and sins, the God of Glory intervened and appeared to us in the form of Christ. Just as he intervened in the life of Abraham and called him out of the darkness of Ur, God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of light.
1 John 3:8 says that the Son of God appeared to destroy the work of the devil. Jesus’ death has loosened the stranglehold the prostitute Babylon had on our lives. We are no longer confined to the slavery of searching for “a gateway to the gods” outside of God’s design. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 ESV) Whether it is legalism or lust, Babylon and her daughters are alive and well in our culture. But her days are numbered.
“Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.
For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” (Hebrews 10:35-39 ESV)
Our victory in Christ is secure. We will not shrink back and look for comfort in the lies that flow from Babylon. May we not seek satisfaction in the things for which Christ came to die.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
-Julia Ward Howe
Bradley Mooney is the recruiting coordinator at the Kanakuk Institute and graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.