Genesis 11: The Tower of Babel

1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.

-As pointed out last chapter, this event isn’t completely chronological with the previous chapter. The genealogy was given first in full before the event that lead to their spread over the lands. We are told last chapter that each son became a nation and had their own language. So it stands to reason that either during or just before the last generation mentioned in the genealogy is when this event happened which caused them to separate since they didn’t understand each other.

2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.

-Shinar is likely an alternate name for Babylonia which is located between the Tigris and Euphrates in modern day Iraq. http://bibleatlas.org/area/babylonia.jpg

3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

-Interesting that they say that they don’t want to be dispersed. From the additionally genealogy below, we can see that Shem would have been almost certainly alive during this time given the ages everyone was when they had their children. So it seems reasonable to conclude that Shem, Ham, and Japheth told their descendants about God’s command which their son, grandsons, and great grandson collectively decided to defy. They seem to be deciding that they were going to make themselves great and build a great tower so high that’s it’s top would be “in the heavens”. The Hebrew word for heavens here “shamayim” usually means sky and given the plural form that is much more likely then the heaven where God dwells. I’ve heard this story told as people trying to reach God and I do think that’s an accurate interpretation just not in the physical sense. They were trying to reach God in the spiritual sense of being a great being that doesn’t need God. We still see this with the “accomplishments” of man today and our push to be a united world in peace. We certainly aren’t supposed to war with each other and we should tolerate one another but we also aren’t suppose to unite ourselves with evil and what goes contrary to God. This is why, for example, we should tolerate and we should not take any rights away from homosexual couples in terms of their ability to live peacefully on this earth but by no means, as Christians, should we accept this lifestyle as being simply “alternative”. It is alternative alright, alternative to God. This is God’s will and to accept homosexuals as morally equal is the same kind of evil that is being done here. We should not allieourselves with every nation regardless of what they stand for just for the sake of peace and cooperation because all that will happen is our morals will blend with theirs. This is something Israel was strictly warned against when they conquered Canaan and began their nations. They are told to completely wipe out the peoples there. Do not make them slaves, do not intermarry, kill them all or you will blend with their culture and do evil which is exactly what happened all too often. This is a pride problem that we still continue to struggle with as a people to this very day.

5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.

-Does this literally mean nothing will be impossible for them? Is God actually saying that we will be a threat to Him? God only means that our sin will grow greater and greater likely even worse than it was before the flood since we are united. Before the flood Cain and Seth’s lines were divided and they only started joining closer to the time of the flood which made mankind more evil. We must remember that sin is the exact opposite of God. To say that God “hates” sin is an understatement. God and sin repel each other like the same charges of a magnet. They are incompatible to one another. If we sin greater and greater, we will have less and less of God. God does not want us to bring hell on earth. He loves us and gives us a chance to turn to Him in this life. With a society that is truly to evil, we lose that chance. This is one of the reasons why the flood happened. God did not destroy us but rather saved us from being fully lost. Here we see he saves us from true death but scrambling the languages.

7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

-There’s that “us” again. Who is God talking about? Angels? We have seen one mention of a Cherubim but no mention of angels yet. God is again talking to His other persons of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God is never alone and exists in three persons and as we saw in creation itself, it seems nothing is done by God that isn’t done by all three persons. God the Father issues the command, God the Son carries it out as the voice, and God the Spirit is what is sent out from God the Son to perform the work. This event is paralleled somewhat in the Book of Acts when the Spirit descended on disciples at Pentecost and they spoke in other tongues. Perhaps this was also what happened during this event. Perhaps the Spirit of God descended on them, confused their languages, and then returned.

8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

-Twice between these two verses it says the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. Surely given each family their own language did much to disperse them but the way this is written it almost seems like God did something else as well. Perhaps He guided them or gave them some kind of “instinct” to want to go to the places they went. One thing is clear and that is God did not let mankind carry out their free will in this instance. Mankind wanted to defy God and unite yet God would not let them. God essentially forced them to separate to where they had little if any choice. We’ve already talked about why this is a good thing of course but I point it out here as an example that while mankind certain has the ability to choose even when they choice is to not live a life honoring to God, our free will is far from absolute. God is still sovereign and so long as God is sovereign, which is forever, there can never be anything that does not happen without God allowing it to happen. Our free will is not absolute and we are beholden to the Master and Creator of the universe in the end.

Shem’s Descendants

10 These are the generations of Shem. When Shem was 100 years old, he fathered Arpachshad two years after the flood. 11 And Shem lived after he fathered Arpachshad 500 years and had other sons and daughters. 12 When Arpachshad had lived 35 years, he fathered Shelah. 13 And Arpachshad lived after he fathered Shelah 403 years and had other sons and daughters. 14 When Shelah had lived 30 years, he fathered Eber. 15 And Shelah lived after he fathered Eber 403 years and had other sons and daughters.

-This portion is a repeated genealogy from the previous chapter but it includes an additional bit of information that is important to take note. During Noah’s time and before, we see the men regularly living to at least 700 years old. Now with Shem we see him live to only 600 and Arpachshad and Shelah to 438 and 433 years old respectively. What is suddenly causing mankind to not live so long? There seems to be two explanations with merit: 1) Something has changed since the flood that is causing man to be less healthy which is speeding up the process of aging. Perhaps this is the same thing that changed the decay rates of elements which gives us inflated ages when carbon dating that suggest organisms as being millions of years old rather than closer to 10,000 which is the more likely age of earth given the biblical account. This would have been the layer of water in the sky which likely stopped existing at this time and would have been where the flood waters came from. An argument against this theory is that these effects on aging aren’t instant. Had this had such a profound effect on the lifespan of mankind, Shem would not have lived so much longer after the flood and every child born post-flood would have instantly had a lifespan comparable to today. 2) Genetic degradation is already taking effect over the generations to the point that mankind is no longer living close to 1,000 years and we are soon arriving to the point that brothers and sisters cannot marry and have perfectly healthy children. We already see in Abram’s time that he married his half-sister and there is no complication health-wise with Ishmael and Isaac that is mentioned. It might have been possible that had Abram married a full sister, there could have been.

16 When Eber had lived 34 years, he fathered Peleg. 17 And Eber lived after he fathered Peleg 430 years and had other sons and daughters. 18 When Peleg had lived 30 years, he fathered Reu. 19 And Peleg lived after he fathered Reu 209 years and had other sons and daughters. 20 When Reu had lived 32 years, he fathered Serug. 21 And Reu lived after he fathered Serug 207 years and had other sons and daughters. 22 When Serug had lived 30 years, he fathered Nahor. 23 And Serug lived after he fathered Nahor 200 years and had other sons and daughters. 24 When Nahor had lived 29 years, he fathered Terah. 25 And Nahor lived after he fathered Terah 119 years and had other sons and daughters. 26 When Terah had lived 70 years, he fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

-We continue to see the years mankind lives declining. Eber lived 474 years, Pelag lived 239, Reu lived 239, Serug lived 230, and Nahor lived 148 years. Many believe that in Genesis 6:3 when God said that man’s days will number 120 years that this was God declaring that the lifespan would shorten to a maximum of 120 years of age. We see this progressively starting to happen. To the point that now in Abram’s generation, its likely they have reached this 120 years limit. But as we discussed before, Genesis 6:3 does not say an average and people have been documented as living beyond 120 years of age. Not only this but ages continue to decline and it is only in more recent history that the average lifespan has gotten into the mid to upper 70’s with people living to be over 100 years old becoming more and more common.

Terah’s Descendants

27 Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. 28 Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans.

-Ur is located at the south end of the land of Shinar. It is likely that Ur was either a city or a named region of land within a greater region called Caldea. Elsewhere in the bible, Caldea is referred to as a region associated with Babylon so it would appear Babylon was the name of the people and of the nation but Caldea was the name of the greater region where they lived.

29 And Abram and Nahor took 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 Iscah.

-This is a confusing verse of genealogy. Firstly, there are two Nahor’s. There was a Nahor, son of Serug, father of Terah. Now there is another Nahor, son of Terah, grandson of the first Nahor. This would be the first time mentioned in scripture of the exact same name being used in scripture unless you count the similarities between Cain, Kenan, Canaan, and Tubal-Cain. Not only this, but it says this second Nahor took a woman named Milcah as his wife who just so happened to be the daughter of his brother Haran. So this second Nahor married his niece. Iscah would be both his nephew and brother-in-law. Given this is still early in mankind’s history and the numbers are likely still low, this probably was not uncommon especially given Abram married his half-sister Sarai.

30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. 31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.

-Pay attention to these last 3 verse in this chapter because its going to tell us something about the story in the next chapter as we shift our focus to Abram. These verses say Terah, Abram, and Lot and their families left Ur and headed towards Canaan but instead stopped in Haran and settled there instead. Why did they leave? We find out next chapter that it was because God told Abram to go to Canaan and leave his family. Abram disobeyed taking his father and nephew with him and in going Haran instead. Abram was told to go west but instead went Northwest along the Euphrates River and stopped at a point almost the same distance from where God was telling him to go as where he started. We are not told if there was some reason he wanted to around the territory which is now modern day Saudi Arabia and Jordan but we know that he did not go to Canaan like he was supposed to.

Spanish words:

acontecer = to happen, occur
hallar = to find
llanura = plain
ladrillo = brick
asfalto = asphalt
cúspide = top, summit, cusp
esparcir = to spread, scatter, disseminate
obra = work, dead, task, play
confundir = to confuse, mix up
nuera = daughter-in-law

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