David Lipscomb: A New Take on an Old Story

Actually, what follows is not a new take on the Babel story at all. It was a fairly common hermeneutical move during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nevertheless, when they sat you down in Sunday school and taught you about the tower of Babel, I suspect it was never intended to be an illustration of the evils of government. How did Lipscomb and so many others make this hermeneutical leap? Let’s see:

It is clear that human government had its origin in the rejection of the authority of God, and that it was intended to supersede the Divine government, and itself constituted the organized rebellion of man against God. This beginning of human government God called Babel, confusion, strife. It introduced into the world the organized development and embodiment of the spirit of rebellion, strife and confusion among men. God christened it Babel. It soon grew into the blood-thirsty, hectoring Babylon, and subjugated the surrounding families, tribes and kingdoms to its dominion, and became the first universal empire of the earth, and maintained its sway until the days of Daniel.

When we consider that God and the early inhabitants of the earth named things, persons, and institutions from their chief and distinguishing characteristic, it cannot be doubted, that God
intended in calling this first government established by man “confusion,” and in so speedily confusing the language of its founders, to foretell that the chief and necessary results flowing from the displacement of the Divine will and the establishment and perpetuation of human government, would be confusion, strife, bloodshed, and perpetual warfare in the world. The results have vindicated the truth of the prophecy couched in the name. The chief occupation of human governments from the beginning has been war. Nine-tenths of the taxes paid by the human family, have gone to preparing for, carrying on, or paying the expenses of war.

All the wars and strifes between tribes, races, nations, from the beginning until now, have been the result of man’s effort to govern himself and the world, rather than to submit to the government of God. I am not intimating in this, that human government is not necessary, I believe that it is necessary, and that God has ordained it as a punishment to man for refusing to submit to the government of God and it must exist so long as the human family or any considerable portion of it refuses to submit to the government of God. Human government originated in the rebellion of man against his Maker, and was the organized effort of man to govern himself and to promote his own good and to conduct the affairs of the world independently of the government of God. It was the organized rebellion of man against God and his government. The essential character of this government, as portrayed by God will be given here-after.

Lipscomb’s hermeneutical lens, not to mention his grasp of ancient history, may leave something to be desired, but, for my part, after I first read this interpretation of the Babel story, I never looked at the beginning of Genesis the same way again.

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