The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 10: The Tower of Babel
Those dwelling in Shinar disbelieved God's promise
that He would never again flood the entire world.
Pacific Press Publ. Assoc.
To repeople the desolate earth, which the Flood had so
lately swept from its moral corruption, God had preserved
but one family, the household of Noah, to whom He had declared,
"Thee have I seen righteous before Me in this generation."
Genesis 7:1. Yet in the three sons of Noah was speedily developed
the same great distinction seen in the world before the
Flood. In Shem, Ham, and Japheth, who were to be the founders
of the human race, was foreshadowed the character of their
Noah, speaking by divine inspiration, foretold the history of
the three great races to spring from these fathers of mankind.
Tracing the descendants of Ham, through the son rather than
the father, he declared, "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants
shall he be unto his brethren." The unnatural crime of Ham
declared that filial reverence had long before been cast from
his soul, and it revealed the impiety and vileness of his
character. These evil characteristics were perpetuated in Canaan and
his posterity, whose continued guilt called upon them the judgments
On the other hand, the reverence manifested by Shem and
Japheth for their father, and thus for the divine statutes, promised
a brighter future for their descendants. Concerning these sons
it was declared: "Blessed be Jehovah, God of Shem; and Canaan
shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall
dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant."
The line of Shem was to be that of the chosen people, of God's
covenant, of the promised Redeemer. Jehovah was the God of
Shem. From him would descend Abraham, and the people of
Israel, through whom Christ was to come. "Happy is that people,
whose God is the Lord." Psalm 144:15. And Japheth "shall dwell [p. 118]
in the tents of Shem." In the blessings of the gospel the
descendants of Japheth were especially to share.
The posterity of Canaan descended to the most degrading
forms of heathenism. Though the prophetic curse had doomed
them to slavery, the doom was withheld for centuries. God bore
with their impiety and corruption until they passed the limits of
divine forbearance. Then they were dispossessed, and became
bondmen to the descendants of Shem and Japheth.
The prophecy of Noah was no arbitrary denunciation of
wrath or declaration of favor. It did not fix the character and
destiny of his sons. But it showed what would be the result of
the course of life they had severally chosen and the character
they had developed. It was an expression of God's purpose
toward them and their posterity in view of their own character
and conduct. As a rule, children inherit the dispositions and
tendencies of their parents, and imitate their example; so that the
sins of the parents are practiced by the children from generation
to generation. Thus the vileness and irreverence of Ham were
reproduced in his posterity, bringing a curse upon them for
many generations. "One sinner destroyeth much good." Ecclesiastes
On the other hand, how richly rewarded was Shem's respect
for his father; and what an illustrious line of holy men appears
in his posterity! "The Lord knoweth the days of the upright,"
"and his seed is blessed." Psalm 37:18, 26. "Know therefore that
the Lord thy God He is God, the faithful God, which keepeth
covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His
commandments to a thousand generations." Deuteronomy 7:9.
For a time the descendants of Noah continued to dwell among
the mountains where the ark had rested. As their numbers increased,
apostasy soon led to division. Those who desired to
forget their Creator and to cast off the restraint of His law felt
a constant annoyance from the teaching and example of their
God-fearing associates, and after a time they decided to separate
from the worshipers of God. Accordingly they journeyed to the
plain of Shinar, on the banks of the river Euphrates. They were
attracted by the beauty of the situation and the fertility of the
soil, and upon this plain they determined to make their home.
Here they decided to build a city, and in it a tower of such
stupendous height as should render it the wonder of the world. [p. 119] These enterprises were designed to prevent the people from
scattering abroad in colonies. God had directed men to disperse
throughout the earth, to replenish and subdue it; but these Babel
builders determined to keep their community united in one body,
and to found a monarchy that should eventually embrace the
whole earth. Thus their city would become the metropolis of a
universal empire; its glory would command the admiration and
homage of the world and render the founders illustrious. The
magnificent tower, reaching to the heavens, was intended to stand
as a monument of the power and wisdom of its builders,
perpetuating their fame to the latest generations.
The dwellers on the plain of Shinar disbelieved God's covenant
that He would not again bring a flood upon the earth. Many of
them denied the existence of God and attributed the Flood to the
operation of natural causes. Others believed in a Supreme Being,
and that it was He who had destroyed the antediluvian world;
and their hearts, like that of Cain, rose up in rebellion against
Him. One object before them in the erection of the tower was
to secure their own safety in case of another deluge. By carrying
the structure to a much greater height than was reached by the
waters of the Flood, they thought to place themselves beyond all
possibility of danger. And as they would be able to ascend to the
region of the clouds, they hoped to ascertain the cause of the
Flood. The whole undertaking was designed to exalt still further
the pride of its projectors and to turn the minds of future generations
away from God and lead them into idolatry.
When the tower had been partially completed, a portion of it
was occupied as a dwelling place for the builders; other apartments,
splendidly furnished and adorned, were devoted to their
idols. The people rejoiced in their success, and praised the gods of
silver and gold, and set themselves against the Ruler of heaven
and earth. Suddenly the work that had been advancing so prosperously
was checked. Angels were sent to bring to naught the
purpose of the builders. The tower had reached a lofty height, and
it was impossible for the workmen at the top to communicate
directly with those at the base; therefore men were stationed at
different points, each to receive and report to the one next below him
the orders for needed material or other directions concerning the
work. As messages were thus passing from one to another the
language was confounded, so that material was called for which [p. 120] was not needed, and the directions delivered were often the reverse
of those that had been given. Confusion and dismay followed.
All work came to a standstill. There could be no further harmony
or co-operation. The builders were wholly unable to account for
the strange misunderstandings among them, and in their rage
and disappointment they reproached one another. Their confederacy
ended in strife and bloodshed. Lightnings from heaven,
as an evidence of God's displeasure, broke off the upper portion
of the tower and cast it to the ground. Men were made to feel
that there is a God who ruleth in the heavens.
Up to this time all men had spoken the same language; now
those that could understand one another's speech united in
companies; some went one way, and some another. "The Lord scattered
them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth."
This dispersion was the means of peopling the earth, and thus
the Lord's purpose was accomplished through the very means
that men had employed to prevent its fulfillment.
But at what a loss to those who had set themselves against God!
It was His purpose that as men should go forth to found nations
in different parts of the earth they should carry with them a
knowledge of His will, that the light of truth might shine
undimmed to succeeding generations. Noah, the faithful preacher
of righteousness, lived for three hundred and fifty years after the
Flood, Shem for five hundred years, and thus their descendants
had an opportunity to become acquainted with the requirements
of God and the history of His dealings with their fathers. But they
were unwilling to listen to these unpalatable truths; they had no
desire to retain God in their knowledge; and by the confusion of
tongues they were, in a great measure, shut out from intercourse
with those who might have given them light.
The Babel builders had indulged the spirit of murmuring
against God. Instead of gratefully remembering His mercy to
Adam and His gracious covenant with Noah, they had complained
of His severity in expelling the first pair from Eden and
destroying the world by a flood. But while they murmured
against God as arbitrary and severe, they were accepting the rule
of the cruelest of tyrants. Satan was seeking to bring contempt
upon the sacrificial offerings that prefigured the death of Christ;
and as the minds of the people were darkened by idolatry, he led
them to counterfeit these offerings and sacrifice their own children [p. 123] upon the altars of their gods. As men turned away from God, the
divine attributes—justice, purity, and love—were supplanted by
oppression, violence, and brutality.
The men of Babel had determined to establish a government
that should be independent of God. There were some among
them, however, who feared the Lord, but who had been deceived
by the pretensions of the ungodly and drawn into their schemes.
For the sake of these faithful ones the Lord delayed His judgments
and gave the people time to reveal their true character. As
this was developed, the sons of God labored to turn them from
their purpose; but the people were fully united in their
Heaven-daring undertaking. Had they gone on unchecked, they would
have demoralized the world in its infancy. Their confederacy was
founded in rebellion; a kingdom established for self-exaltation,
but in which God was to have no rule or honor. Had this confederacy
been permitted, a mighty power would have borne sway
to banish righteousness—and with it peace, happiness, and security
—from the earth. For the divine statutes, which are "holy and just
and good" (Romans 7:12), men were endeavoring to substitute
laws to suit the purpose of their own selfish and cruel hearts.
Those that feared the Lord cried unto Him to interpose. "And
the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children
of men builded." In mercy to the world He defeated the
purpose of the tower builders and overthrew the memorial of their
daring. In mercy He confounded their speech, thus putting a
check on their purposes of rebellion. God bears long with the
perversity of men, giving them ample opportunity for repentance; but
He marks all their devices to resist the authority of His just and
holy law. From time to time the unseen hand that holds the scepter
of government is stretched out to restrain iniquity. Unmistakable
evidence is given that the Creator of the universe, the One infinite
in wisdom and love and truth, is the Supreme Ruler of heaven and
earth, and that none can with impunity defy His power.
The schemes of the Babel builders ended in shame and defeat.
The monument to their pride became the memorial of their folly.
Yet men are continually pursuing the same course—depending
upon self, and rejecting God's law. It is the principle that Satan
tried to carry out in heaven; the same that governed Cain in
presenting his offering.
There are tower builders in our time. Infidels construct their [p. 124] theories from the supposed deductions of sciences, and reject the
revealed word of God. They presume to pass sentence upon God's
moral government; they despise His law and boast of the
sufficiency of human reason. They, "because sentence against an
evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons
of men is fully set in them to do evil." Ecclesiastes 8:11.
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In the professedly Christian world many turn away from the
plain teachings of the Bible and build up a creed from human
speculations and pleasing fables, and they point to their tower as
a way to climb up to heaven. Men hang with admiration upon
the lips of eloquence while it teaches that the transgressor shall
not die, that salvation may be secured without obedience to the
law of God. If the professed followers of Christ would accept
God's standard, it would bring them into unity; but so long as
human wisdom is exalted above His Holy Word, there will be
divisions and dissension. The existing confusion of conflicting
creeds and sects is fitly represented by the term "Babylon," which
prophecy (Revelation 14:8; 18:2) applies to the world-loving
churches of the last days.
Many seek to make a heaven for themselves by obtaining riches
and power. They "speak wickedly concerning oppression: they
speak loftily" (Psalm 73:8), trampling upon human rights and
disregarding divine authority. The proud may be for a time in
great power, and may see success in all that they undertake; but
in the end they will find only disappointment and wretchedness.
The time of God's investigation is at hand. The Most High
will come down to see that which the children of men have
builded. His sovereign power will be revealed; the works of
human pride will be laid low. "The Lord looketh from heaven;
He beholdeth all the sons of men. From the place of His
habitation He looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth." "The
Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: He maketh
the devices of the people of none effect. The counsel of the Lord
standeth forever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations."
Psalm 33:13, 14, 10, 11.
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"The Call of Abraham"