The tower of Babel is an interesting chapter in scripture wrapping up a sweeping view of human history from Adam to Noah. Sweeping is the operative word here. It would not be possible to offer a detailed account of such things, the way Luke does in his gospel. So the Babel narrative is rather typical of a new human condition, post-flood. Namely, that humanity is now about building an empire, where God is no longer needed.
God is not too happy about such projects. Israel really isn’t either. If any people group across history knows the evils of powerful imperial forces across history, it is the Jews. And as soon as Israel grows large enough to be deemed a “people group”, or what the Old Testament refers to as a “Nation” (this is not the Hebrew word from nation-state, or empire), they are oppressed by whatever new power-broker is on the block. Egypt, then Assyria, then Babylon, then Assyria, then Babylon… you get the picture.
The desire to build empires and amass power, influence and wealth was against God’s laws. This is best seen in I Samuel 8, when the seduction to “be like the other kingdom’s was too powerful”
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead [a] us, such as all the other nations have.”
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”
10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle [b] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.”
19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. 22 The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”
And this has been from the time of the Tower of Babel until now. We find faith in God to be too difficult and not tangible. So we opt for Babel Faith. Babel offers security through militaristic might. God’s security is merely hoped for, we assume. Babel offers tangible goods that we may consume at our every desire. God provides as needed. Babel takes control of history in tangible ways – ways that produce visible results. To believe that history belongs to God requires deep faith and a radical trusting lifestyle. That life is just too hard. Babel faith, it seems, is much easier.