Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 11:8–9

Genesis 11:8–9
So the LORD scattered them from there across the face of the entire earth, and they stopped building the city.  9 That is why its name was called Babel– because there the LORD confused the language of the entire world, and from there the LORD scattered them across the face of the entire earth.
(NET Bible)

 Opposing God leads to confusion

Whose plans are going to prevail? Will it be humankind’s plan to concentrate power and make a mighty name, or will it be God’s plan to populate the world with those who honor his mighty name?

In the language the Bible speaks, scattering is not a favorable outcome. One illustration of this is the statement by Jesus: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matt. 12:30).

In Genesis 1:28 and 9:1, the original creation and its replacement, God commanded that the people be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth. Contrary to that command, the people gathered on the plain of Shinar in opposition to dispersal.

At times someone will argue that the Hebrew phrase translated as “the entire earth” does not actually mean the whole world. This argument is made, for example, to support a regional flood. But consider how this phrase is used in other locations within Genesis: 1:29; 7:3; 8:9; 9:19; 11:1; 13:9; 13:15; 18:25; 19:31. The only instance that does not mean the entire earth is Genesis 13:15 in which God tells Abraham that he will receive all the land he is looking at. But the norm consists of situations such as God serving as the judge of the entire world (Gen. 18:25) or giving humankind the seed-bearing plants of the entire earth for food (Gen. 1:29).

So, before the people populate the entire world, they pause for rebellion at a city called Babel. When the common language was replaced by as many languages as people, the people stop construction of the city and scatter.

“The Babylonians understood Babel to mean ‘the gate of the god.’ The Hebrews liked to suppose it to mean ‘mixed up, confused.’”[1] Mathews adds, “Our author’s sarcasm bites at the Babelites’ deluded aim of obtaining a ‘name’ through the erection of the city (v. 4).”[2] They got a name—“confused”!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Wenham, Genesis 1-17, 241.

[2] Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, 486.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 11:1–4

Genesis 11:1–4
The whole earth had a common language and a common vocabulary.  2 When the people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.  3 Then they said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” (They had brick instead of stone and tar instead of mortar.)  4 Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise we will be scattered across the face of the entire earth.”
(NET Bible)

Gather for God or don’t gather at all!

Some people have given up on life by surrendering to various addictions, distractions, and pleasures that the world offers. Others are fighting to survive. Those of us who remain want to do something that counts, to lead a life of significance.

Who will define what our significant accomplishments might be? How should we live to make connection with God? Are we to compete with him, depend upon him, replace him, or what?

Many Americans know a few words of Spanish, but hearing one phrase of Chinese, Hebrew or Basque will send most of us home for a rest. So, if all humanity came from Noah’s family, how is it that we cannot now understand each other? The answer involves another instance of human sin and divine intervention.

Concerning the section we begin today, Mathews says: “Genesis 11:1–9 also mirrors the attempt of humanity in the garden to achieve power independently of God. The attempt of the Babelites to transgress human limits is reminiscent of Eve’s ambition (Gen. 3:5–6).”[1]

In the beginning chapters of Genesis, we the readers simply take for granted that God is able to communicate with humanity and the man is able to speak intelligibly with the woman. In other words, the fluid communication goes on without notice. Separate languages are first mentioned in Genesis 10 but not explained until Genesis 11. The story of humanity after the flood begins at a time and place when all humanity spoke the same language with a common vocabulary (Gen. 11:1).

Ancient Mesopotamia, the so-called “cradle of civilization,” was the home of the Sumerian culture from roughly 5000 B.C. According to the translator of a Sumerian epic, the text of the epic “puts it beyond all doubt that the Sumerians believed there was a time when all mankind spoke one and the same language.”[2] The movement of the unnamed people in Genesis 11:2 stops in Shinar, a reference to Mesopotamia, which lies east of Canaan (Gen. 11:2).

When Noah and his family emerged from the ark, they built an altar to worship God (Gen. 8:20). In contrast, these people emerge from their journey with the intent to build a great monument to themselves; the theme of gradual degradation comes to the fore. Being unified with one language and located in one place, the people plan a great construction project (Gen. 11:3–4). Mathews tells us that unlike Israelite building practices: “Production of brickware for construction was a common feature in early Mesopotamia. Its technology was invented in Babylonia during the fourth millennium [B.C.] and later exported to other countries.”[3]

The two instances of the command “Come” (Gen. 11:3, 4) initiate frantic activity. (Similar frantic activity by a group occurs in Genesis 19, the depravity of Sodom.) The people pursue the construction of tower and city with unusual intensity, a fact the English translation does not convey.[4] Mathews points out the irony of the story by saying, “What they most feared, namely, the loss of security and power by ‘scattering’ (v. 4), came to pass as a result of their own doing (v. 8–9).”[5]

The meaning of this tower has special significance in the history of Babylon, the capital of Shinar. Wenham says, “It was a commonplace of Babylonian thought that temples had their roots in the netherworld and their tops reached up to heaven.”[6] But this is not the way to approach God.

All of us want to do something that counts, to lead a life of significance. The moral here is to gather for the glory of God and not our own!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1–11:26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996) 467.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 236, quoting S.N. Kramer.

[3] Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, 481.

[4] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 11:3.

[5] Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, 469.

[6] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 237.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 9:28–29

Genesis 9:28–29
After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 The entire lifetime of Noah was 950 years, and then he died.
(NET Bible)

A man who honored God and lived

However long we may live, our lives have significance only to the degree that they connect with God first and then with humanity.

Someone will write your epitaph; someone will stand over your grave and declare what your life was about. What will they say?

Our verses today close the history of Noah and the great flood. Gordon Wenham observes that the flood story has numerous dates (Genesis 7:11; 8:4; 8:5; 8:13; 8:14) and carefully defines the length of various episodes. Then he adds:

No other event in Genesis is dated at all (excluding births and deaths)?not creation, the fall, the tower of Babel, nor the call of Abram [later Abraham]?and usually only the vaguest indications are given as to how long particular episodes lasted. The flood story is unique.[1]

Perhaps you have wondered where the ancient myths arose, the ancient stories that may be found in every culture. It seems likely that they developed from stories told by Noah and his family after they survived the deluge. Of course, the stories became twisted out of shape in many cultures, but the human race has a collective memory of the ancient world before the flood.

Looking back, we may realize that little has been said about Noah; he has spoken rarely and been presented generally as a man obedient to God. From this silence we may learn that the story is more about God than about Noah. Wenham says: “In Genesis there is but one God who plans and executes the flood and delivers Noah. . . . The God of Genesis is portrayed as loyal and a rewarder of the righteous.”[2] Wenham adds that God is moral and just in dealing with his creation; humanity was destroyed for its depravity and not for some trivial cause.

When Noah and his family came out of the ark, Noah offered sacrifices to God. Afterward, the Lord “said to himself, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, even though the inclination of their minds is evil from childhood on’” (Gen. 8:21, emphasis added). This was a profoundly important decision in light of Ham’s sin, which amounted to a new fall in a new world. Wenham insightfully says, “Were it not for the changed logic of God, in that he now cites man’s depravity as a ground for his mercy rather than for judgment, the descendants of Noah would be heading for extinction in another deluge.”[3]

At the end of the story of the flood, what shines through the gathering clouds of sin is the abundant grace of God.

As a footnote to the life of Noah, most Christians do not realize that Noah was like a rock star in ancient Asia Minor. Karen Jobes describes his fame:

Noah was nevertheless the most prominently known biblical figure in Asia Minor even among the Gentiles. His enduring fame is attested by an amazing series of Noah coins minted over the reigns of five Roman emperors from Septimus Severus (A.D. 193–211) through Trebonianus Gallus (A.D. 251–53). The coins depict Noah and his wife on one side, with the image of the Roman emperor on the other.[4]

Fame is a popular goal, but it does not surpass the profound fact that “after the flood Noah lived” (Genesis 9:28).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 204.

[2] Wenham, Genesis 1-17, 205.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 206.

[4] Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005) 245.