Genesis chapter 11.

The Confusion of Tongues and One Line of Shem’s Descendants.

The building of the tower. — V.1. And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech. Much of the explanatory matter in the preceding chapter, as well as the mention of various languages, belongs to a later period of history, being indicated there merely for the sake of offering a complete picture. The story which is now told belongs to a period only about one hundred years after the Flood, if we may assume that it occurred at the time when Peleg was born. At that time all the people of the world still had but one speech and one language. V.2. 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. From the highlands of the Ararat range the survivors of the Flood and their families moved down, by degrees, in an easterly direction until they reached the great plain where the Euphrates and Tigris rivers flow. It is a rich and fertile plain, or was in those days, and the people were constrained to give up their nomadic form of living and establish permanent sites for homes. V.3. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. Not only Ham and Canaan had meanwhile forsaken the religion of Noah, but other members of his family had likewise turned from the living God to the vanity and pride of their own imagination. This is indicated by the manner of their speech in proposing to build a city and a tower. V.4. 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. Their plans were made with care. Instead of the usual sun-dried brick they proposed to use burnt brick, which would be able to withstand the ravages of the weather so much the better. And instead of merely laying the bricks loosely, they planned to set them firmly by the use of asphalt, which is found in large quantities near the ruins of Babylon. Just what motive prompted them to undertake the building of such a city and tower whose top should reach to the sky is shown in their words: And let us make for us a name, lest we be scattered over the face of the whole earth. An arrogant, blasphemous pride was here combined with a cringing fear of the avenging justice of the Lord. They were full of enmity toward God; their purpose was to defy His almighty power and to make this city with its tower the center of the world, to which they might return even if it should happen that the Lord would scatter them into the four winds.

The beginning of the various languages. — V.5. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the children of men builded. God could not let this challenge to His almighty government of the world go unanswered. He made arrangements to interfere. For though it was a mighty city which the children of men were building, a city whose dimensions astonish the explorer even today, the foundations of whose tower and of the many other architectural adornments are a source of constant surprise, it was but as a grain of dust in the hands of the almighty God. V.6. 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. V.7. Go to, let us go down and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. The Lord first sets forth the situation as He found it: Behold, one people they are, one connection, one association, one community, and one speech they all have. These two factors made the people strong in the pursuit of a common interest. What they had begun to do they would work for with all possible energy; and nothing would be restrained, held back, from them. The result would be the eventual destruction of true freedom, of personal life, and of the plans which God had concerning the Messiah. So God confounded their language, confused their speech, the miracle consisting in an inward process by which the old association of ideas connected with words was taken away, and new and utterly different modes of expression were immediately implanted. The confusion was so complete that the people could no longer understand one another, and all working together was excluded. V.8. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city. That was the consequence of the miracle. A great migration of families and tribes over the whole earth began, by which men were scattered to the four winds. The great project as planned naturally had to be abandoned. Even if some few people, whom we may now term Babylonians, remained in the city, to be conquered afterward by Nimrod, the purpose of the human race in its blasphemous pride was not realized. V.9. 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. Babel means confusion, and the result of the confusion of tongues is before our eyes to this day. The human race is divided, one nation separated from the other by the difference of speech. Even today, however, the blasphemous arrogance of mankind is apparent. In the erection of many great buildings, in the invention of many new arts, man is not seeking the welfare of his neighbor and the honor of God, but his own glory. It is necessary, time and again, for the Lord to interfere with a mighty hand, even as the day of the Lord will finally be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and he shall be brought low, Is. 2, 12.

The generation of Shem — V.10. These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old and begat Arphaxad two years after the Flood. The genealogical table of Shem is now repeated in detail, because the narrative gradually tends toward the story of the people of God, whose progenitor was Abraham, a descendant of Shem through Eber. V.11. And Shem lived, after he begat Arphaxad, five hundred years, and begat sons and daughters. V.12. And Arphaxad lived five and thirty years and begat Salah; v.13. and Arphaxad lived, after he begat Salah, four hundred and three years and begat sons and daughters. V.14. And Salah lived thirty years and begat Eber; v.15. and Salah lived, after he begat Eber, four hundred and three years and begat sons and daughters. Up to this point the ancestry of the Joktanites and of the Abrahamites follows the same line. V.16. And Eber lived four and thirty years and begat Peleg; v.17. and Eber lived, after he begat Peleg, four hundred and thirty years and begat sons and daughters. V.18. And Peleg lived thirty years and begat Reu; v.19. and Peleg lived, after he begat Reu, two hundred and nine years and begat sons and daughters. V.20. And Reu lived two and thirty years and begat Serug; v.21. and Reu lived, after he begat Serug, two hundred and seven years and begat sons and daughters. V.22. And Serug lived thirty years and begat Nahor; v.23. and Serug lived, after he begat Nahor, two hundred years and begat sons and daughters. V.24. And Nahor lived nine and twenty years and begat Terah; v.25. and Nahor lived, after he begat Terah, an hundred and nineteen years and begat sons and daughters. A careful comparison of this list with the genealogical table of chap. 5 shows a very decided shortening of the average life of man after the Flood. While Noah still reached the age of 950 years, the age of man, with Arphaxad, sank down below 500 years; this again, was reduced, with Peleg, to 239 years and with Nahor to 148 years. In the short space of eight generations, therefore, the average age of man was reduced almost to the level which it has maintained since. This was due partly to the change of climate on the surface of the earth, partly to the different mode of living. V.26. And Terah lived seventy years and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran. That is, the oldest son of Terah was born when he was seventy years old, and three sons are mentioned in this instance, Abram, afterward Abraham, as the father of the Jewish race, Nahor as the grandfather of Rebekah, and Haran as the father of Lot.

The generations of Terah. — V.27. Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot. Haran may have been the oldest son, and his son Lot was nearer to Abraham’s age. V.28. And Haran died before, that is, during the lifetime of, his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees. This, then, was the ancestral home of this family of the descendants of Shem. V.29. 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. Marriages of comparatively close relatives were still the rule at that time, for Nahor married his niece, and Abram his half-sister, chap. 20, 12. V.30. But Sarai was barren; she had no child, a fact which was, among the Jews, considered a great calamity, almost a curse, just as the fruitfulness of the mother was considered a great blessing. V.31. 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. These all went forth together, or with one another, under the leadership of Terah and Abram. In the case of Abram, he had, even now, received God’s command to journey forth, Acts 7, 3, while in the case of Terah the migration was a part of God’s dispensation, the first step of the journey which would bring Abram to the land of his inheritance. V.32. And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran. This notice rounds out the story of Terah, for he evidently died after Abram had gone forth to Canaan. Thus the less important personage is disposed of before the main history proceeds. It is the story of Abraham which now follows, for it was his generation and people that the Lord chose for His own; and from the seed of Abraham, in the fullness of time, the salvation which had been promised to the patriarchs before the Flood was to come upon the whole world.