1 Now the whole earth had one language and one speech.
2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there.
3 Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar.
4 And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.
6 And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.
7 Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city.
9 Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
The immediate descendants of Noah, of course, all spoke the same language, the same as had been spoken by men in the antediluvian period. It is probable that this was a Semitic language (perhaps even Hebrew), since the proper names of men and places in the pre-Babel period all have meanings only in Hebrew and its cognate languages. — Morris, page 266-267.
[Humanity’s] new status, with time for speculation and activities other than mere survival, would provide the opportunity for either of two future courses of action: (1) systematic colonization and development of all parts of the earth, each with its own local government, in accordance with God’s command (Genesis 1:28; 9:1); or (2) establishment of a strongly centralized society which, with controls over resources and occupations, would soon be able to produce a self-sufficient civilization capable of similarly controlling the entire world. The latter alternative clearly would better serve the purpose of Nimrod and his fellow rebels (and, of course, of the invisible Satanic conspiracy as well). A self-sufficient society, integrated under a powerful and brilliant leader, would be a society no longer dependent on God. And this was Nimrod’s aim. — Morris, page 268.
That all humanity is willingly involved in the Babel rebellion is underscored by the further statement in verse 1 that, as facilitated by their use of the same language, they also shared “identical ideas”—as the expression “the same words” is best understood. — Wechsler, page 169.
The negative event to ensue is already implied by the reference both to Shinar—which is previously mentioned in connection with the rebel Nimrod, in Genesis 10:10—as well as to man’s journeying and settling in the east, which directional orientation is consistently connected with sin or the consequences of sin in its every post-Fall occurrence before this (i.e., Genesis 3:24; 4:16; 10:10 [implied]). — Wechsler, page 169.
Furnace-treated bricks were used instead of stone, and bitumen instead of mortar. This “slime” was probably tarry material from the abundant asphalt pits in the Tigris-Euphrates valley. Archaeology has revealed that this type of kiln-fired brick and asphalt construction was common in ancient Babylon. — Morris, page 268.
The builders were not concerned with God’s plans; they intended “to make us a name.” In fact, they deliberately acknowledged their purpose to be contrary to God’s command: “Lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” Not only the awareness of God’s will, but the basic human drives of curiosity and independence of spirit might impel many among them to want to explore and develop the unknown regions in other parts of the world, if there were not a strong unifying and binding influence tying them to one location.
Even their fears and admiration of their great leader Nimrod might not suffice to keep them together. Nimrod must have realized that they needed a strong religious motivation as well, a motivation powerful enough to overcome their knowledge that God had indeed commanded them to fill the whole earth. The tower was designed to satisfy that need as well. The tower was not designed to reach to heave. The words “to reach” are not in the original. They would build a “tower unto heaven”—in other words, a tower dedicated to heaven and its angelic host. — Morris, page 269-270.
It is not the building project itself that represent’s man’s sin, but rather the purpose for which the building project was undertaken—to wit, to “make for ourselves a name,” in which the phrase “for ourselves” serves to identify and isolate, to the exclusion of all others, those for whom the “name” is to be made. The term “name” here, as commonly elsewhere, is intended in the sense of reputation or memorial, the sin therefore being that by building the tower humanity is seeking to establish a memorial or testimony to themselves in exclusion from God. — Wechsler, page 169.
God now called a “council,” as it were, in heaven, to institute formal action to prevent the accomplishment of Nimrod’s plans. Such a divine council is indicated by the plural pronoun in verse 7, “let us.” … The three persons of the Godhead were involved, as in the primeval councils in Genesis 1:26 and 3:22.
“Go to,” said the Lord, in a sense mocking the foolish decisions of Nimrod’s conclaves. Shall “the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord?” Only if they desire to bring down God’s wrath on their heads. “The Lord shall have them in derision” (Psalm 2:2, 4).
… Men preferred to remain together under one great centralized and highly regimented government, and this union had quickly led to a vast unified anti-God religious philosophy as well. The key was their ability to cooperate and organize together, and this depended on their ability to formulate and implement complex plans. Basic to everything was their ability to communicate with each other. They were all “of one lip and one vocabulary,” speaking with the same sounds and formulating thoughts in the same way.
The decision of the heavenly council was to “confound their language [or ability to make the same sounds with their lips], that they may not understand one another’s speech [even though their thoughts are still the same].” — Morris, pages 273-274.
The statement that “the Lord God came down” should be understood … as a literary-theological device by which the actual futility of man’s goal and the essential “distance” (i.e., distinction) between him and God is being emphasized. At the same time, however, this emphasis on the essential “distance” between man and God (which bodes poorly for humanity) is immediately “bridged” (which bodes well for humanity) by the reference to God’s goal in “coming down”— namely, to see what man had done. The use of this verb “to see” with God as the subject is often employed throughout the Hebrew Bible—and particularly in Genesis—to contextually denote God’s keen interest in the affairs of men (as opposed to a disinterested “looking” or “observing”), specifically as a prelude to or assessment/description of providing that which is best for man. — Wechsler, pages 170-171.
God’s subsequent act of “confusing” (i.e., differentiating) the language of man is intended not only as an act of punishment, but also as an act of grace. It is with an eye towards what is best for man that God “assesses” their building activity, as verbally represented for the reader by the statement “This is what they have begun to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be too difficult for them.” God is not affirming here that man is capable of undertaking any conceivable activity … but rather that, through their continued collective effort, they will inevitably achieve their present purpose by completing the city just as they already completed the tower. … God’s concern here, in other words, rather than reflecting some puerile jealously of man as a potential creative rival, is in fact reflective of His perfect love for man and His consequent desire that they not succeed, either here or at any future point, in establishing a memorial (and hence enduring incitement) to their collective rejection of God—for it is only with God, the sole Source of Peace and Rest, that man can attain what is truly best for him. … Just as God graciously prevented mankind from expressing their collective rejection of Him by “confusing” their language and causing them to scatter, so will He graciously enable mankind to one day express their collective worship of Him by “restoring” to them “a clarified speech … to serve Him in one accord” (Zephaniah 3:9). — Wechsler, pages 171-172.
Eventually, if not immediately, each family became a tribe and moved away from Babel to work out its own manner of life, as God had intended them to do in the first place. … As each family and tribal unit migrated away from Babel, not only did they each develop a distinctive culture, but also they each developed distinctive physical and biological characteristics. Since they could communicate only with members of their own family unit, there was no further possibility of marrying outside the family. hence it was necessary to establish new families composed of very close relatives, for several generations at least. It is well established genetically that variations take place very quickly in a small inbreeding population, but only very slowly in a large interbreeding population. … Thus, in a very few generations of such inbreeding, distinctive characteristics of skin color, height, hair texture, facial features, temperament, environmental adjustment, and others, could come to be associated with particular tribes and nations. — Morris, page 275-276.
In a future day when all nations will follow God’s will in obedience to His Word, “Then will I turn to the people [literally, ‘the peoples’—that is all the nations] a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent” (Zephaniah 3:9), even though there will still be distinct nations (note Zechariah 14:9, 16-19); Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:2; Psalm 72:17; Revelation 21:24-26; etc.). A foregleam of this miraculous future elimination of the language barrier occurred with the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, with His miraculous gift of tongues to the first disciples, enabling them to declare the wonderful works of God in many languages (Acts 2:6-11). — Morris, page 277.
The word “confound” is the Hebrew babal, which means “mingle” or “mix” (usually translated “mingled”), and thus, by extension, “confusion.” — Morris, page 278.