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Genesis 11: Babel and Divine Judgment

Men seek to unite around one area, but God confounds them by a miraculous judgment of languages.
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Aside Notes

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Chapter Notes

Overview

  • This chapter details how the division referred to in Genesis 10 took place. There was one language in the world, but an ungodly unity and ambition results in a judgment that brings confusion through different languages.

  • It then narrows in on the redemptive story of God’s work through the descendants of Shem.

Commentary

  • v. 1-2 - It opens with the population of the world huddled together in Shinar (southern Mesopotamia), or around the area of modern day Iraq. Men are being fruitful and multiplying, but they are not filling the earth. Partial obedience is disobedience. 

  • v. 3 - I find it interesting that the first generation to read this would have been those coming out of Egypt, where they would have been well acquainted with making brick to build structures designed to glorify man. 

  • v. 4 - Four things here: build a city, a tower, a name for themselves, and refuse to spread across the world. The tower was likely a ziggurat, a massive pyramid-like structure built with multiple stories or levels where their god lived at the top. It’s not that they wished to reach heaven, but that they wished to create heaven, a place where God would dwell. To make a place of significance that would unite everyone to the area, doing the opposite of what God had commanded; namely, to fill the earth.

  • v. 5 - God comes down to look at what the “children of men builded” i.e. the sons of Adam. This is a magnified version of Adam sewing fig leaves. 

  • v. 6–8 - This division was caused by confusion when God imposed new languages on the people. They subsequently separated and spread to different regions, developing unique skills and traits.  

  • v. 10–32 - the chapter closes by picking up where the previous chapter left off concerning the details of the line that leads to the Messiah. The next chapter begins with the word God gave the Abram, and two things appear in this chapter that threaten the fulfillment of God’s promise: one is the influence of Abram’s father, who leads the family to Haran and needs to die before Abram can proceed. The second is the barrenness of Sarai, which becomes a picture of God’s ability to bring life out of death. 

Application

  1. Children, note in v. 3 how people prompt others to do things. We can either encourage others to sin, or provoke them to love and good works. How do you influence siblings and friends?

  2. How quickly men forget the judgment of the flood. But now we are given a second global reminder of our need of Christ. Different languages are like weeds in the garden of humanity. They function as a reminder of our fallen condition and wicked inclinations. Pray that God helps the Church overcome these challenges for the sake of the gospel. All over the world there are missionaries learning languages for the sake of the Kingdom. Pray for their success.

  3. Pentecost, with its miraculous gift of languages that God bestowed upon the Church during the apostolic era, indicated that it is not a tower that would unite humanity, but Christ. Only the faithful preaching of the gospel achieves meaningful human unity. Reject social efforts, some of which masquerade in Christian-like language, that try to unify while compromising the gospel. False unity inflates the pride of man and displeases God. 

  4. It is hard to miss the contrast between those trying to build the tower and make their name great, and the promise of God to Abram to make his name great (12:2). Whatever the world says, there is no such thing as a truly great name separate from Christ. Celebrities, sportsmen, politicians, businessmen; most that men say are great are fools in the presence of God. Young person, if you aspire to success in your chosen craft, to be a person of skill according to God’s gifting and grace, make sure you first surrender your life to Christ. That is the foundation of true greatness. “If any man serve me, him will my Father honour.” (John 12:26).

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Authors
Armen Thomassian