17th May 2024


One of the mysterious but powerful figures in the early chapters of Genesis is Nimrod, great grandson of Noah [Genesis 10, 8-12], perhaps more familiar to us through Elgar’s stirring music from the Enigma Variations than from scripture.

Described as ‘mighty upon the earth‘ [1 Chronicles 1, 10], Nimrod’s name in Hebrew translates as ‘rebel’, forewarning that this powerful ruler tragically set himself against God. In earthly terms he certainly established a significant empire, with ‘the beginning of his kingdom, Babel‘.

Babel’s story is one of godless human endeavour – the construction materials are clay bricks baked by human hands, and bitumen, rather than God-given rocks and mortar, with the builders’ motivation, ‘let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves’. Josephus saw Nimrod as archetypal of the unbelieving tyrant in human history, and reckons the height of Babel’s tower as ‘too high for the waters to reach’. Thus Babel stands for wrongly-conceived urban life, whilst Jerusalem is the symbol of the contrasting ideal. The divine response to this misplaced human ambition was not another flood, but rather to ‘confuse their language so they will not understand one another’. Consequently construction ceased in a world of total incomprehension. Babel [babble] was the name of this ill-fated endeavour.

Pentecost is the New Testament contrast, as Luke describes the possibility of reversing the confusion of language consequent upon the misplaced endeavours of the men of Babel. Pentecost, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, reverses things: defiant ambition is replaced by the glad reception of God’s gift, making it possible for women and men of every race and language to hear what God had done through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, each in their own tongue.

John Briggs