We have started our study of the spiritual realm with an introduction study – An introduction to the spiritual realm and then looked at the impact this could have upon us – How the spiritual realm influences us. In this article we will continue the study and focus on a very specific incident in the Scriptures – The tower of Babel. Most people recall this piece of text only for two effects that it had, the creation of multiple languages and the separation of the nations. There was actually a lot more to this, if we look at this incident now from our spiritual point of view. In this article, we will study the other side of this piece of Scripture and reveal a lot more than normally meets the eye.
What lead up to Babel
Before we can look at the incident at Babel, we need to place this in context of what happened earlier in the story. There were two major events earlier in this chain. The three events together, tell us, the more complete story. The three major events that shaped the interaction between the spiritual and the physical realms are:
- The entry of sin into the world
- The turning point where sin on the earth becomes too much
- Man’s plan to connect the two worlds
Let us shortly recap the first two points before jumping into the details of the third.
At the beginning of the creation, YHVH created mankind and placed them in the garden of Eden. In the garden of Eden, mankind was in a place where the spiritual and physical worlds connected. It was possible for man to hear and speak to YHVH, and most likely other spiritual beings as well. This is why Eve was not surprised when the serpent started speaking to her. The serpent convinced mankind to disobey the instruction of YHVH and with this action sin entered the world. As a result, mankind did not only know good, they now knew good and evil. The result of this was that mankind were removed from the place of intersection between spiritual and physical. They now needed to make a living outside the garden of Eden.
The next key point in this chain is recorded for us in Genesis 6.
1 Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of Elohim saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. 3 Then YHVH said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of Elohim came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. 5 Then YHVH saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 YHVH was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
In this piece of Scripture, we find the incident where spiritual beings decided to leave their heavenly abode and relocate to the physical world.
The sons of Elohim decided to defect from the spiritual realm to the physical realm. The result of this action was that sin started to get more and more, until YHVH decided that this situation cannot continue. He needed to take drastic steps to “reset” the physical world. The flood destroyed all life on earth, except what YHVH has decided to preserve in the ark that Noah built. What we see here is that by their own accord, heavenly beings tried to bring the two worlds together again by crossing over. This did not succeed and the result was a complete disaster.
So, if the one direction did not work, then let us try it the other way round. Thus the tower of Babel came into the story.
What happened at the tower of Babel
The story continued. The people on earth decided that they wanted to join the spiritual and physical worlds. Why exactly they decided to do it, is an interesting point of speculation. Did they want to be gods? Did the fallen sons of Elohim try to find a way back? All interesting points to discuss, but the bottom line is that they wanted to fast track YHVH’s plan to restore the creation to the days of the garden of Eden.
How did mankind go about doing this?
3 They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. 4 They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
They built a tower that would allow them to dwell with the heavenly beings. It is important to understand the context of this time. The belief amongst the nations was that the gods resided in the high places, in a garden, enabling them to transverse between the physical and spiritual worlds. The Scripture recorded for us that the garden of Eden was on a mountain.
13 “You were in Eden, the garden of Elohim; Every precious stone was your covering: The ruby, the topaz and the diamond; The beryl, the onyx and the jasper; The lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, Was in you. On the day that you were created They were prepared. 14 “You were the anointed cherub who covers, And I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of Elohim; You walked in the midst of the stones of fire.
The Scripture tells us that the people wanted to take YHVH’s plan into their own hands. We know that the ultimate goal for YHVH is to once again dwell with His creation on earth. But in this plan, man decided, that rather than wait for YHVH to come down to dwell among them, they will rise to dwell with His heavenly host. YHVH discussed this plan with His heavenly host and then decided to intervene.
6 YHVH said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. 7 “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So YHVH scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.
Please note the switch between plural and singular. This is the same pattern that we saw in Genesis 1:26-27.
Most people are familiar with everything that we have mentioned so far. Nothing new yet, but the spiritual impact of what happened here is only clear if we look in Deuteronomy to complete the picture. Very seldom do we see these verses interconnected.
8 “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, When He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples According to the number of the sons of Israel. 9 “For the YHVH’s portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance.
These two verses are connected to one another around the event of the separation of the sons of man. From this verse in Deuteronomy, we see that after Babel, YHVH elected one nation for Himself. The other nations, He set aside in favor of His chosen people. He would choose for Himself a nation that would worship Him and He would be their Elohim. These people are the descendants of Jacob. But His people begin to exist when He calls Abram out of one of these nations. Israel comes into existence after the separation of the nations. It seems as if YHVH decided that He cannot destroy them all again, thus He will follow the “divide and conquer” approach.
We also need to look at the correct “version” of Deuteronomy 32:8 to get the correct image of what happened to the other nations. As you can see from the NASB translation above, most English translations read “the number of the sons of Israel.” However, there is a bit of a problem here. “Israel” does not yet exist at the point where the nations are separated. If you look at Genesis 10 where all the nations are described, you will not find any reference to Abram and Israel. How can the nations be divided according to the number of something that does not yet exist?
Maybe we should have something different here. Let us look at the other source texts than the Masoretic text. If we investigate the Septuagint and the Dead Sea scroll manuscripts (4QDeutj), which all predate the Masoretic text, we get a different source text. These manuscripts give us the phrase “according to the sons of Elohim.” Here are translations according to the Dead Sea Scroll and Septuagint manuscripts:
Deut 32:8-9 Dead Sea Scrolls
8 When [the Most High] gave [to the nations] their inherit[ance, when] he separated [humankind, he set the bounds of the peoples according to the number of] the children of God. [9 For the LORD’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of] his [inher]itance. 1
Deut 32:8-9 Septuagint
When the Most High distributed nations
as he scattered the descendants of Adam,
he set up boundaries for the nations
according to the number of the angels of God. 2
We see from both these translations that the other nations we separated according to the number of “the sons of Elohim.” This interpretation of the source text is now also included as a note in the ESV and NRSV translations. We have seen this phrase before when the Scriptures speak about the heavenly beings that are in the spiritual realm with YHVH. What does this mean? It indicates that YHVH allocated the nations according to the number of heavenly beings. In Genesis 10 we have the table of nations. Here we see that the decedents of Noah divide into seventy nations. How does this correlate with the number of the sons of Elohim?
We know from second temple period writings, like 1 Enoch, that the Jewish people of this time were well aware of the Mesopotamian roots and what these people believed. We know that the Mesopotamian texts include stories like the flood of Noah. It is called the “Erra Epic.” In their texts we see that the heavenly council comprised seventy beings. This approach has been studied in detail by academics like Dr Mike Heisser, who notes in his book “Unseen Realm” the following:
“The number is telling. Israel’s nearest religious competition, the worship of El, Baal, and Asherah at Ugarit and in Canaan, held that their divine council had seventy sons.” 3
Thus, we see that the number seventy, is not a random number, but also connects the number of nations with the lesser elohim in the minds of the original readers of this text.
What is the result of what happened at Babel
The spiritual result of Babel was that YHVH divided the nations according to the number of lesser elohim. He in fact assigned each of these nations one of these lesser elohim to worship, while He chose for Himself a new nation that will worship Him. He also assigned to each nation an allotment of ground. See Genesis 32:8 – “He set the boundaries of the peoples According to the number of the sons of Elohim.” Splitting them into different territories also made them obey the instruction that He gave to Noah and his sons in Genesis 9:1. They are to fill the earth.
In the covenant with Abram we find the promise of the allotted land to His people. He took Abraham to this land and showed him the land that He will give to Abraham’s decedents. Once YHVH took the children of Jacob out of Egypt, He leads them to the land that He had promised Abraham. When they arrived at the land, the gods that had occupied this land, used the spirit of fear to keep the people from claiming their inheritance. Ten of the twelve spies saw the people, giants/ Nephilim, and started fearing. In a future study, we will investigate the Nephilim to see the role they played in this story.
31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” 32 So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. 33 “There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”
The result was that because these people still relied on their own power, they would perish in the wilderness. The next generation of people would be given the privilege of taking possession of their inheritance. When they got there, the other gods and their nations were still in the land that was given to Abraham. Thus, YHVH tells His people that He will drive these nations and their gods out.
22 “For if you are careful to keep all this commandment which I am commanding you to do, to love YHVH your Elohim, to walk in all His ways and hold fast to Him, 23 then YHVH will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you.
We also see that at the first battle, the conquest of Jericho, it was YHVH Himself that lead the charge.
13 Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” 14 He said, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of YHVH.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” 15 The captain of YHVH’s host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
Where did we see this last instruction before? Correct, Exodus 3:1-6. Moses at the burning bush, where the angel of YHVH appeared to him. Note in this section the merging of the “angel of YHVH” and YHVH. How did Joshua know that this “man” standing in front of him needed to be worshiped (bow down)? He heard the voice. He must have known the voice from the time he went up the mountain with Moses.
We see in another verse confirmation of this notion that other nations serve other elohim that YHVH had assigned to them.
19 “And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which YHVH your Elohim has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 20 “But YHVH has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, from Egypt, to be a people for His own possession, as today.
However, Israel was also given the clear instruction to drive out all these nations from their land and to destroy all their places of worship.
51 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you cross over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 52 then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images and demolish all their high places; 53 and you shall take possession of the land and live in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it.
In Judges 1:27-36 we see that they did not do this. They left some of the nations among them and this led to the lessor gods still having a representation in this land. The result was that the people of YHVH continued to be lured to serve these other gods and these other nations taking away the land allotted to the people of YHVH. This picture is still repeating itself today. The fight for the land is still an ongoing spiritual battle.
Once again, the angel of YHVH is the one that appeared to the people to remind them of what has happened here. He told them that because they made covenants with the other nations and kept their altars, He, YHVH, will not drive out the other nations anymore.
1 Now the angel of YHVH came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you, 2 and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done? 3 “Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.’ ”
We see that the gods of these nations will remain a problem for the nation of Israel because they did not do what they were instructed to do.
The kingdom of priests
YHVH chose a people for Himself out of the nations by making a covenant with Abraham. In this covenant He had already revealed how these other nations will be able to return to Him.
2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
The other nations will return to Him via the descendants of Jacob, His people. We see this also when YHVH made the covenant with His people at Mount Sinai. He told them specifically that they would be His set apart people and that they would be a kingdom of priests to Him.
5 ‘Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”
Priests have two main functions: they are to serve Him and they are to teach the people. So we see that the nation of Israel must serve YHVH and they must teach the other nations about Him. Then the other nations will know that YHVH is the real Elohim and that the gods they serve are the lesser gods.
After the creation of the nation of Israel, with the covenant with Abraham, and again later at Sinai, we see the constant battle of the other nations and their lesser gods trying to destroy the firstborn son of YHVH and take away their allotment.
22 “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says YHVH, “Israel is My son, My firstborn. 23 “So I said to you, ‘Let My son go that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.” ’ ”
Scriptural support for this view
You may be thinking: this is an interesting take on it, but where do you get it from? This view of different nations with different land allotments serving lesser gods is actually a well supported view in the rest of Scripture. I will provide you with a couple of interesting quotes from Scripture to show that this is how this concept was understood by some of the other authors of Scripture. Let us start with the story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5.
The dirt of Naaman
Most of you will be able to recall the story of the healing of the Aramean general by the prophet Elisha. He was cleansed from leprosy by washing himself in the river Jordan. The healing in itself is very interesting in the fact that an unbeliever was healed, but what is even more interesting in this case is what Naaman did after he was healed. You most likely recall that he offered the prophet a reward including money and clothes. But there is a really interesting bit that we always seem to skip over because it does not make sense. That is, up to now. Read it again and see if you read some new insight into this passage after our discussion about the land being allotted to nations and gods.
2 Kings 5:17–19
17 Naaman said, “If not, please let your servant at least be given two mules’ load of earth; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering nor will he sacrifice to other gods, but to YHVH. 18 “In this matter may YHVH pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, YHVH pardon your servant in this matter.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace.” So he departed from him some distance.
Two questions that should now pop into your head:
- Why did he need two loads of dirt in order to be able to sacrifice to YHVH?
- Why would the prophet tell him to go in peace if he asks if it is OK to bow to another god in Aram?
Naaman knew that the land where he was healed belonged to Israel and that YHVH was the Elohim of this nation and the land. He wanted some of YHVH’s allotted land so that he would be able to worship and sacrifice on this land, even when he was back in Aram. He understood this principle.
We also see that he and Elisha understood that the god Rimmon was in charge of the land of Aram. The people of Aram were to serve this lesser god while they were in the land allotted to Rimmon’s people. But Naaman could choose to serve and worship YHVH, even in the land of Rimmon. A really fascinating story now that we understand the world they were living in.
The princes of Daniel
The next proof point comes from the book of Daniel. Most of you may be familiar with this part of Scripture.
10 Then behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 He said to me, “O Daniel, man of high esteem, understand the words that I am about to tell you and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. 12 Then he said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your Elohim, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. 13 “But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia. 14 “Now I have come to give you an understanding of what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision pertains to the days yet future.”
The question we should be looking at now is: why did the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstand the angel that YHVH sent to Daniel? The answer lies in the location of Daniel at the point he made the prayer. Daniel was in Babylon when he prayed. Thus, he was in the allotment of another nation and another lesser god when the angel that YHVH sent, came to help. Thus, we here have a case where the angels of YHVH had to come into the territory of another. This angel did not have the power to defeat him and needed the assistance of a more powerful prince. We see that Michael the chief prince, also translated as “arc-angel”, was required to remove this prince of Persia. This indicates to us some sort of a hierarchy in the heavenly structures. More about that in a future article.
The terms and terminology of Paul
One of the best places to start investigating Paul’s understanding, is to look at the address he made in Athens. While in Athens, Paul was led in the spirit to speak up against the idols of the city. The result of this was a confrontation with the philosophers of the city. Here is a part of what he explained to these people:
24 “The Elohim who made the world and all things in it, since He is Elohim of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek YHVH, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
We see here that Paul also teaches that YHVH created all the nations, as notes in the “Table of nations” in Genesis 10, and that He has allocated boundaries of their habitation. What Paul also confirms is that YHVH still wants all people, including us, to find Him and become part of His people. Paul is also very clear on this topic in his epistle to the Galatians.
6 Even so Abraham believed YHVH, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 The Scripture, foreseeing that YHVH would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
26 For you are all sons of Elohim through faith in Messiah Y’Shua. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Messiah have clothed yourselves with Messiah. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Y’Shua. 29 And if you belong to Messiah, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
All nations are blessed via the descendants of Abraham. Paul also used these concepts when he showed us what his mission was.
8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Messiah, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in YHVH who created all things; 10 so that the manifold wisdom of YHVH might now be made known through the assembly to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.
He was given the instruction to preach Messiah to the Gentiles, so that the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, the false gods that rule over these gentile nations, can see the manifold wisdom of YHVH. Paul saw himself as working for YHVH to bring this plan of all the nations coming to YHVH one step closer to the end.
Thus, we have seen that if we open our eyes to the spiritual realm and re-look at our Scriptures, we will discover some amazing truths that have been hidden from us. This, however, leads us to the next question: what does this mean for me?
Impact of this upon us
From these verses we see that the ultimate result of Babel was not just a mixing of languages, but also the separation of nations, allocation of territories and the distancing of YHVH from these nations. This also led to YHVH creating a new nation, not mentioned in Genesis 10, for Himself. This separation and selection drew the battle lines in the spiritual world. We have YHVH, the Host of hosts, still in charge of His complete creation, while He assigned a lesser elohim to each of the nations. We see that these elohim are still under the control of YHVH if we look at Psalm 82. YHVH is still in charge of the heavenly congregation and He judges these other elohim as to how they rule their nations.
6 I said, “You are elohim, And all of you are sons of the Most High. 7 “Nevertheless you will die like men And fall like any one of the princes.” 8 Arise, O Elohim, judge the earth! For it is You who possesses all the nations.
As we can see from the teachings of Paul, the ultimate choice of who we serve is up to us. We need to choose every day, which elohim is it that we will serve. This was also the choice that Joshua put in front of the nation in Joshua 24.
“If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve YHVH, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the elohim which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve YHVH.”
Joshua clearly stated that they were living in the land of the Amorites, but he would choose to serve YHVH. This is the decision we need to keep on making, every day, no matter where we live. Every choice you make needs to reflect the fact that you choose to follow YHVH and that you will show this by doing what He wants you to do. It needs to remain an active choice in our lives, every day of our lives. It is not a once-off decision that we make when we return to Him. The other gods will keep on trying to make it as difficult as possible for us, because they want to delay the return of all the people of the world to YHVH. We know from Scripture that this will happen. We know that all the nations will return to worship YHVH in the city where He chose to put His name.
16 Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, YHVH of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. 17 And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, YHVH of hosts, there will be no rain on them. 18 If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which YHVH smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths.
Here we see that YHVH will destroy the nations that come up against Jerusalem and the people that remain will return for Sukkot to worship YHVH in Jerusalem. This result is well known to all in the spiritual realm. Thus, all that is happening is that these other elohim are playing for time. They are trying to delay the return of all people to YHVH by destroying His people who are supposed to be bringing these other nations back to YHVH. We regularly experience this in our lives. The world makes it difficult for us to keep the ways of YHVH. Yet, we need to persist and make the choice to serve Him with all our actions. If we serve Him and teach those around us via our actions, we become the kingdom of priests to Him.
- Abegg, M., Jr., Flint, P., & Ulrich, E. (1999). The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English (Dt 32:8–9). New York: HarperOne.
- Brannan, R., Penner, K. M., Loken, I., Aubrey, M., & Hoogendyk, I. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Septuagint (Dt 32:8). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
- Heiser, M. S. (2015). The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (First Edition., p. 156). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
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