Exposition of Genesis 1-11: Genesis 11:5-7

Genesis 11:5-7

But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the people had started building. 6 And the LORD said, If as one people all sharing a common language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be beyond them. 7 Come, lets go down and confuse their language so they wont be able to understand each other.
(NET Bible)

A communications glitch

Eve and Noah proved the tendency toward sin by isolated humans, and the gathering on the plain of Shinar shows the aggressive will of a combined group to rival God.

Why does rebellion find a home in the human heart? What leads willful humanity to ignore what God wants while grasping for its own flawed goals? How can humanity believe that God will not assert his power in reply?

All commentators identify Genesis 11:5 as the crux of the story. Careful analysis of Genesis 11:1-9 reveals the underlying literary structure, pairing scenes 1 & 5, 2 & 4, and the Introduction & Conclusion:

Verse 1 Introduction

Verse 2 Scene 1: The travels of mankind

Verses 3-4 Scene 2: Human plans to build a city and tower

Verse 5 Scene 3: Divine inspection visit

Verses 6-7 Scene 4: Divine plans to frustrate mankind

Verse 8 Scene 5: Mankind is scattered: building stopped

Verse 9 Conclusion: What Babel means[1]

Gordon Wenham points out the dark humor of the climax in Genesis 11:5 when he says:

This tower which man thought reached to heaven, God can hardly see! From the height of heaven it seems insignificant, so the Lord must come down to look at it. . . . It is simply a brilliant and dramatic way of expressing the puniness of mans greatest achievements, when set alongside the creators omnipotence.[2]

Genesis 11:5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the people had started building.

The NET translation explains that the people had only started building (Gen. 11:5) the tower and city. That view may be correct, but other translations do not follow this path. Contrary to the NET Bible view, the mockery works best if the tower had previously been completed, which the verbal form normally suggests, and the city is still under construction. In the latter case, the city construction is what stops in Genesis 11:8.

Genesis 11:6 And the LORD said, If as one people all sharing a common language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be beyond them.

You will recall that the joining of the sons of God with the daughters of humankind (Gen. 6:2) resulted in a world filled with violence (Gen. 6:11). Now the people join in a frantic effort to achieve fame without regard to God. Such arrogance, if unchecked, will prove more and more dangerous to the survival of humanity.

The words nothing they plan to do represent a verb that is too dangerous for humankind. Wenham says, Only God may plan without limit. Man is not supposed to emulate his creator in this way.[3] Humankind has proven from the start that we are not wise enough to plan without limit.

Wenham observes that the language of Genesis 11:6 is very similar to Genesis 3:22. There God took immediate action to expel the man and woman from the garden to prevent them from taking fruit from the tree of life. Once again, dramatic action is imminent! The pattern is building that divine deliberation results in a decision and immediate implementation.

Genesis 11:7 Come, lets go down and confuse their language so they wont be able to understand each other.

The Lords self-exhortation (Come) in verse 7 matches the identical form (Come) in verse 4 by the people. Humankind is combining to rival God, and God is moving to thwart cooperation among the people without destroying them again.

But Genesis has already taught us that there is a limit to Gods mercy and patience.

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

 


[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 115, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 235.

[2] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 240.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 241.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 9:24–25

Genesis 9:24–25
When Noah awoke from his drunken stupor he learned what his youngest son had done to him. 25 So he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves he will be to his brothers.”
(NET Bible)

Sin brings a curse

All actions have consequences. For that reason, the Bible says: “Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). But the collateral damage may last for generations and eventually affect a large number of people.

What do we learn from a cautionary tale such as the drunkenness of Noah? Who is affected by the consequences of sin? How long do the consequences last? What can be done to halt the damage done by sin?

Since the Bible does not shrink from telling graphic details when relevant, there is no reason to imagine anything more than an irreverent, dishonoring glance in the words “what his youngest son had done to him” (Gen. 9:24). “However, the phrase ‘his youngest son,’ literally, ‘his little son,’ is a surprising [name] for Ham, since the usual order of names, ‘Shem, Ham, Japheth’ leads to the supposition that Ham was the second in the family.”[1] But we have to believe Noah knows which son is youngest, and there is some evidence that Israelite names were often listed with the shortest first.

Genesis 9:25  So he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves he will be to his brothers.”

Noah’s first recorded words are “Cursed be Canaan!” Compare this to Adam’s first words: “This one at last is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh . . .” (Gen. 2:23). Adam’s delight with Eve contrasts with Noah’s contempt for Ham. This contrast provides an example of a principle: the farther one gets from creation, the lower humankind sinks into the degradation caused by sin. By the time we arrive at the end of Genesis, the story has moved from humankind as rulers of the earth, under God (Genesis 1), to the Israelites on the verge of slavery in Egypt (Genesis 50).

It is puzzling at first to see that Noah curses Canaan, the son of Ham, rather than Ham himself. Gordon Wenham says, “Here Noah’s youngest son, Ham, sinned against him; therefore it was appropriate that Ham’s youngest son, Canaan, should be punished for his father’s wickedness.”[2]

The word curse means: “hem in with obstacles, render powerless to resist.”[3] One way to understand the word is that it is used as the reverse of the verb “to bless.” But Noah does not have the power to carry out this action, so we may understand his words as either a prophecy or a request. In any event, the curse comes to pass during the conquest of Canaan and the Israelite monarchy.

The last sentence of Genesis 9:25 can be challenging. In Mark 10:44–45, Jesus told the disciples: “And whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus clearly envisioned voluntary, sacrificial service based in love. That is not what we see in the phrase “lowest of slaves” (literally “slave of slaves,” a construction like “holy of holies”). Canaan’s slavery is involuntary and comes as a consequence of the degradation caused by sin.

The ESV Study Bible correctly states, “This passage was wrongly appealed to in past centuries to justify the enslavement of African people, resulting in a grievous abuse, injustice, and inhumanity to people created in the image of God.”[4]

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) 201.

[2] Wenham, Genesis 1-17, 201.

[3] TWOT, ‘arar, to curse, q.v.

[4] ESV Study Bible, notes for Genesis 9:25.

Exposition of Genesis 1-11: Genesis 9:18-20

Genesis 9:18-20

The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Now Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the sons of Noah, and from them the whole earth was populated.
20
Noah, a man of the soil, began to plant a vineyard.
(NET Bible)

The re-development of humanity

Most of us have never given a second thought to where we came from. Perhaps that sentence makes you think of your parents or where you were born. You might even be among the small group of people who have studied their family tree. Mine goes back about 400 years to England, near Cambridge.

But where did England come from? And how did humanity develop into what we are today? Does our identity stop with our family of origin or does it go much deeper? Why are we oblivious to how things began?

Kenneth Mathews tells us the purpose of Genesis 9:18-19 by saying, These two verses subtly shift the narratives eye from Noah to the sons and their role in the future progression of Gods blessing for humanity.[1]

Keep in mind that the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) explain the events between the creation of the world and the preparation for Israel to invade Canaan. These five books explain to the Israelites how they came to be a people and how they were chosen to be the people through whom God would reach the world.

Returning to our verses, we note that Noah and his sons are the new origin point for all humanity alive today. We must also consider that from one of these sons, Shem, will ultimately come Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. Throughout Genesis the story always contains the story of the family that will include the Messiah; the narrative about other lines ends abruptly. Genesis is not merely a history of the world; it is a theological history of the world for the period it covers.

While we are noticing things, let the name Canaan resonate in your mind. Before Canaan was a place-name, it was a mans name, the man who became the ancestor of the Canaanite peoples who play such a big role in biblical history. How did they become so sexually depraved? Stay tuned!

We know that Shem is the ancestor of the Israelites (and Jesus) while Ham is the ancestor of the Canaanites. How this alignment, one people distinguished and one reviled, eventually came about is a story that will soon emerge.

Genesis 9:19 looks ahead to chapter 10 in which the author of Genesis will present the Table of Nations, showing the spread of humankind. For the moment the author merely states that Shem, Ham and Japheth are the three from whom the nations and peoples dispersed. Gordon Wenham says, The obvious contrast with the small number who emerged from the ark shows that the command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (9:1, 7) was indeed carried out by Noahs descendants.[2]

Before Adam was created, the narrator observed, There was no man to cultivate the ground (Gen. 2:5). When Noah leaves the ark, he is the one who takes up the mantle of Adam in filling that role. He did so by planting a vineyard (Genesis 9:20). Wenham notes, It is interesting that the vine comes originally from Armenia, which is where the biblical ark landed.[3]

In this statement about Noah we again have a blank slate: a man and his vineyard. Will Noah improve on the record of Adam? In tomorrows post, the author of Genesis will give attention to a particular incident that shapes all following events.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. 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) 413.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 198.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 198.