BABEL AND SODOM VERSUS ABRAHAM’S TENT
Noah’s example of walking in God’s presence and being for God’s building did not last long. Soon after the flood Noah’s descendants began to fall. They joined together and forgot about living in a tent with an altar. Instead they began to build a city named Babel. “And they said one to another go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:3-4).
Notice that these fallen people built their city with mud, straw, and brick, rather than stone. These are the exact materials used later by Pharaoh of Egypt. Stone is a creation of God, while brick is a product of human hands. God’s building is always of stone, while Satan’s counterfeit building is always made with brick, the work of human hands.
The people of Babel began to build a tower, for their intention was to reach unto heaven. Fallen man always has the thought of going to heaven, but God’s desire is to come down to earth. Basically, this tower signified man’s intention to accomplish something in opposition to God. These fallen builders, in the same character as Cain, said “Let us make us a name…” They forgot God’s name and sought to make a name for themselves. How many cities there are today which are named after famous men. Human builders always seek to enhance their own names.
But “the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded” (Gen. 11:5). God beheld a strange sight in this city. The people were one, for they had one language. They were built up, but not in the way of God. Their building and the way of their building was Satan’s counterfeit. And the Lord said, “Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language” (v. 7). The Lord said, “Let us…” This signified the three persons of the Godhead. The Triune God came down and judged this city, destroying fallen man’s work. The name of the city was called Babel, because “the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth.” Babel is an Old Testament Hebrew name of which the Greek rendering is Babylon. Both have the same meaning. Babel was the source, the commencement of Babylon.
Let us now see the building of God in contrast to this second city built by fallen man. God called a man named Abraham out of Babel. Abraham was typical of the local people but God separated him from the building of fallen man. Notice now what Abraham did. He did not start to build another city, calling it by his own name. He did not even build a city in the name of God. God brought Abraham to an elevated place called Canaan and there told him to build an altar. Abraham obeyed, erecting an altar and pitching a tent for his dwelling. Again we see the tent with an altar in contrast to the city built by fallen man. Again God recovered the life of His building. Noah’s descendants had lost it, but God recovered His building with the calling out of Abraham.
However, Abraham in the land of Canaan was still in a dangerous position. On one side was the city of Babel, and on the other side the city of Sodom. Abraham was separated from Babel and kept also from Sodom. But Abraham’s nephew Lot drifted into the city of Sodom.
One day while Abraham was sitting in the door of his tent three men appeared. It was the Lord with two angels (Gen. 18:1). The Lord asked Abraham, “Where is Sarah thy wife?” He replied, “In the tent.” That is a good answer. After a time of fellowship Abraham’s visitors arose and journeyed toward Sodom, the city of sin. Abraham, unwilling to leave their presence, brought them on their way. As they went towards Sodom, “Abraham stood yet before the Lord” (v. 22). He was in the presence of the Lord, not in the city of sin.
Chapter 19 of Genesis tells a pitiful story. There came two angels to Sodom (the Lord was not included—He would not go there). The angels did not visit the city in the day while the sun was shining, but in the evening at the setting of the sun. As darkness was descending, the two angels followed Lot, sitting not at a tent door like Abraham, but in a gate of Sodom. This is a picture of a man in a fallen state, fallen in the darkness.
History reveals that Babel was principally a city of idol worship. But Sodom was a city of sin. Many today find it easy to be separated from the “building” of idol worship. But it is not so easy to be kept from drifting into the city of sin. We must see these contrasts. Abraham lived in a tent opposite to Babel. And then he lived in a tent opposite to Sodom. Here we see the contrast between a tent and the fallen cities of man.
Notice also how Abraham trained his son Isaac. Genesis 24:67 reveals how Isaac brought his new bride into his mother’s tent. And in Genesis 26 Isaac is again shown in his old age pitching his tent in the valley of Gerar. This is all very meaningful. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, also dwelt in a tent (Gen. 25:27). Esau, Jacob’s brother, was a hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a man who dwelt in a tent. Therefore, three generations—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—dwelt in a tent, not in any city. God is called the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Spiritually speaking, this signifies that these men lived in God’s building rather than in the building of the fallen human race.
(The Vision of God's Building, Chapter 3, by Witness Lee)