THE BUILDING OF THE TOWER OF BABEL
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
- God, who made man as the one creature with whom He could speak (1:28), was to take the gift of language and use it to divide the race, because the apostate worship at Babel indicated that man had turned against God in pride(vv.8,9).
And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
- God had restated His commission for man to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (9:7).
- It was in the course of spreading out that the events of this account occurred.
And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
- While dispersing, a portion of the post-Flood group, under the leading of the powerful Nimrod (10:8-10), decided to stop and establish a city as a monument to their pride and for their reputation.
- The tower, even though it was a part of the plan, was not the singular act of rebellion.
- Human pride was, and it led these people to defy God. They were refusing to move on, i.e., scattering to fill the earth as they had been instructed.
- In fact, this was Nimrod’s and the people’s effort to disobey the command of God in 9:1 and, thus, defeat the counsel of heaven.
- They had to make bricks, since there were few stones on the plain.
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.
- The tower would not actually reach to the abode of God and the top would not represent the heavens.
- They wanted it to be a high tower as a monument to their abilities, one that would enhance their fame.
- In this endeavor, they disobeyed God and attempted to steal His glory.
And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
- Just as the emphasis in the “upward” part of the inversion is on man’s activity to the exclusion of God, the emphasis in this “downward” arm is on God’s activity to the exclusion of man-the only activity that man “undertakes” in this section was that of “ceasing” to build.
- The statement that the LORD came down should be understood as a literary-theological device emphasizing the actual futility of man’s goal and the essential “distance” between him and God.
- At the same time this “distance” between man and God is immediately “bridged” by God’s goal in “coming down,” namely, to see what man had done.
And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
- Concerned for what is best for man, God “assessed” their building activity, as represented by the statement, this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.
- They were so united that they would do all they desired to do.
Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
- Consistent therefore with this well-established pattern, God’s act of “confusing” (i.e., differentiating) the language of man was intended not only as an act of punishment, but also as an act of grace.
So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
- God addressed their prideful rebellion at the first act.
- They had chosen to settle; He forced them to scatter.
- This account tells how it was that the families of the earth “were separated, everyone according to his language” (10:5) and “were divided on the earth after the flood” (10:32).
Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
- This is linked to a Hebrew word meaning “to confuse.” From this account, Israel first understood not only how so many nations, peoples, and languages came about, but also the rebellious origins of their archetypal enemy, Babylon (cf 10:5, 20, 31).
- Because they would not fill the earth as God had commanded them, God confused their language so that they had to separate and collect in regions where their own language was spoken.
FROM SHEM TO ABRAHAM
Now we will take up the line of Shem since it is the line which will be followed throughout the Old Testament.
These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood:
- The Tower of Babel incident of Genesis 11:1–9 is tied to the genealogical table of chapter 10 by the reference to Nimrod, a grandson of Noah’s son Ham, at 10:8–12. The Babel narrative serves to explain what has preceded and what will follow by connecting the development of distinct nations and cultures to the corresponding distribution of languages. Following this story, the author resumes the account of the line of Noah’s son Shem.
- The list in Genesis 11 shows that God’s earlier promise in 3:15—that Eve’s “seed” would bruise the head of the serpent, an allusion to Christ’s victory on the cross—ultimately could not be stopped by the chaos following Babel. Even though Noah’s descendants are scattered and divided, God’s purpose to redeem His creation through a chosen line is not compromised.
And Shem lived after he begat Arphaxad five hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.
- The present genealogy, moreover, being that of Shem, also serves as an adept literary-theological transition to the next thematic “half” of Genesis.
- The expectation is thus laid that the present genealogy of Shem will likewise be followed by a narrative episode involving the making of a shem (“name”) for a man.
And Arphaxad lived five and thirty years, and begat Salah:
- Observe here, That nothing is left upon record concerning those of this line, but their names and ages; the Holy Ghost seeming to hasten thro’ them to the story of Abraham.
- How little do we know of those that are gone before us in this world, even those that lived in the same places where we live!
- Or indeed of those who are our contemporaries, but in distant places. That there was an observable gradual decrease in the years of their lives.
- Shem reached to 600 years, which yet fell short of the age of the patriarchs before the flood; the three next came short of 500.
And Arphaxad lived after he begat Salah four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters.
- In all, he lived four hundred and thirty eight years;
- Not mentioned by name: he died, as the above and a Jewish writer says he died in the forty eighth year of Isaac, and who also says, that in his days they began to build the city of Babel.
And Salah lived thirty years, and begat Eber:
- He had a son born to him five years sooner than his father had.
- This man was the progenitor of the Hebrews (i.e., Eber’s descendants).
And Salah lived after he begat Eber four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters.
- In all, he lived four hundred and thirty three years.
And Eber lived four and thirty years, and begat Peleg:
- Eber lived a total of 464 years. This distinguishes him as the longest living person who was born after the flood.
And Eber lived after he begat Peleg four hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters.
- All the years of his life were four hundred and sixty four:
- One of which is elsewhere mentioned, whose name is Joktan, Genesis 10:25 according to the above Jewish writer, he died in the seventy ninth year of Jacob.
And Peleg lived thirty years, and begat Reu:
- He was 30 years old when he fathered Reu.
And Peleg lived after he begat Reu two hundred and nine years, and begat sons and daughters.
- He was 239 years old, and he fathered other sons and daughters.
And Reu lived two and thirty years, and begat Serug:
- He was 32 years old when he fathered Serug.
And Reu lived after he begat Serug two hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters.
- He was 239 years old, and he fathered other sons and daughters.
And Serug lived thirty years, and begat Nahor:
- He was 30 years old when he fathered Nahor.
And Serug lived after he begat Nahor two hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.
- He was 230 years old when he fathered other sons and daughters.
And Nahor lived nine and twenty years, and begat Terah:
- He was 29 years old when he fathered Terah.
And Nahor lived after he begat Terah an hundred and nineteen years, and begat sons and daughters.
- He was 148 years old when he fathered other sons and daughters.
And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
- This was the age that Terah began to father children. Abram was born later when Terah was 130 (c. 2165 B.C.). Cf 11:32 with 12:4.
THE DESCENDANTS OF TERAH
Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot.
- Now we see why the author focuses on Shem: it is his line that leads to Terah, the father of Abram.
And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.
- A prosperous, populous city in Mesopotamia.
And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.
- Sarai means “Princess,” implying a person of noble birth. Sarah (as she is later called; see 17:15) has the same meaning.
- The name Milcah is related to the verb that would be translated “to reign” and means “Queen.”
- Evidently, Nahor married his niece. We learn later that Sarai was Abram’s half sister.
But Sarai was barren; she had no child.
- The sad fact that Sarai was barren marred her life and yet led to an opportunity for God to accomplish a miracle on her behalf (see 21:1–5).
TERAH MOVES FROM UR TO HARAN
And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.
- Terah’s clan had settled in the city of Ur (Genesis 11:28)—likely located in southern Mesopotamia at the mouth of the Euphrates River by the Persian Gulf (in modern Iraq). Modern archaeological research has revealed that this was among the most advanced civilizations in antiquity, with a well-developed legal and political system and a strong economy. Ur was a major trade center, and its archaeological remains are impressive for the sophistication of its buildings and infrastructure. The city was one of the wealthiest in the world at the time Abram was born there.
- Some think that Abram received his initial call from God to leave home while still in Ur. They base their conclusion on Genesis 15:7; Nehemiah 9:7; and especially Acts 7:2, 3.
- On the other hand, Genesis 12:1–4 (in the context of 11:31, 32,) suggests that God appeared to Abram in the town of Haran. And 12:1 refers specifically to Abram’s need to leave his “father’s house,” which he proceeds to do by leaving Haran with only Lot and the respective families. A trip from Ur would not be entirely consistent with this command, since Abram’s father, Terah, left Ur with him. Perhaps God had already appeared to Abram in Ur and then came to him again after his father died (11:32).
- A command to depart from Ur would be consistent with the larger story line of God’s creation and re-creation that runs through the early chapters of Genesis. After the creation was ruined by sin (Genesis 6:1–7), God worked through Noah’s family to renew the world following the flood. While God had intended for humans to spread out and populate the earth (1:28; 9:1, 7), various clans attempted to stay together and build a large city, including the Tower of Babel (11:4).
- God foiled this plan by scattering them (Genesis 11:5–9). Generations later, however, major cities like Ur emerged, with advanced political and economic systems and religions with a multitude of deities (see Joshua 24:2). Another solution to human rebellion was needed.
- After leaving Ur, Terah decides to stop in Haran, a town that later becomes a major stop on the caravan trade network. Haran is located in what is now southern Turkey, near the border of Syria. While this appears to be an indirect route from Ur to Canaan, it reflects the practice of traveling northwest around the Syrian desert and then southwest near the Mediterranean coast.
And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.
- Terah’s death leaves Abram, apparently the oldest of his children (Genesis 11:26, 27), as the head of the clan.
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