-by Mimi Rothschild
Genesis 11: 1-9 tells the story of how the people got together to build a wonderful tower for themselves. God saw that they were gathering glory for themselves, not for Him, and made it impossible for them to talk together and communicate easily.
Genesis 11: The Tower of Babel
1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As men moved eastward, [a] they found a plain in Shinar [b] and settled there.
3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel [c] —because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
The story of the Tower of Babel is told in a special form called a chiasmus: the words in one side of the sentence or story match and reverse the same words in the other side. Since the story is about a tower, this a great time to study this kind of structure. Take blocks and make a tower of them, noticing how the sentences of the story build on each other.
First, the world had one language(1); later, God confused the language of the world (9) – lay down blocks next to each other to show these verses.
The people said to each other, “Come, let us make bricks”(3); later, God said, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language.”(7) – set blocks on top of the first layer.
The people planned to build a tower going up to heaven (4); later, God came down from heaven to see the tower (5) – set blocks on top.
Use your fingers to climb up the tower as you read the story, telling how the world had one language and the people used it to plan a tower for their own glory. Then climb back down on the other side of the tower with your fingers, telling how God decided not to allow them to complete their plan.
Depending on the ages of your children, there are many possible discussion points for this story. Young children might think about all the languages they’ve heard, and learn greetings in one or two. Have your older students think about their plans for their own lives: are they planning for God’s glory or their own? Or have them discuss how history might have been different if everyone had continued to speak the same language and communicate easily. For what long-term reasons might God have chosen not to allow that?
Then look again at the idea of the chiasmus. Here’s another example from Genesis:
A Whoever sheds
B the blood
C of man
C’ by man
B’ shall his blood
A’ be shed
Here’s an example from Mark’s gospel:
A The Sabbath was made for man
A’ and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)
And one from the book of Matthew:
A But many who are first will be last,
A’ and many who are last will be first. (Matthew 19:30)
The chiasmus is a common structure in the Bible, especially when it’s read in its original languages. But we can find examples of chiasmus in other places, too. President Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” An advertising jingle says, “I’m stuck on Band-Aid ‘cause Band-Aid sticks on me.” Chiasmus can be small, like these examples with only two parts, or long, like the story of the tower of Babel.
After this lesson, watch for examples of chiasmus as you go through the day, and keep a list. You’ll be amazed how often you see or hear this structure!
Mimi Rothschild is the Founder of LearningByGrace.org the nation’s leading provider of online PreK-12 online Christian educational programs for homeschoolers.