Chapter 10 starts with the words “This is the account of …….”. We’ve come across this phrase in a couple of places in Genesis already, 2:4, 5:1. The genealogies do not seem to be chronologies, for example 10:2 speaks of a man bringing forth countries – Gomer, Magog and Tubal are countries – the are plural words in the Hebrew. You see the same thing in verse 13. In verse 7 a man brings forth places – Cush, Seba and Havilah. The author is giving us a picture of the flow of history. It is still true although maybe not be a full description. As with all such mentions the author disposes of the unimportant details rather quickly in order to focus on the important things form his perspective, here the line of Shem, the Shemites, with which the rest of the Bible is concerned. It’s in the lifetime of Peleg, one of the sons of Eber, that the incident at Babel seems to have occurred [10:25]. So, the Bible depicts all mankind having descended from Noah and his family. This is not so improbable as it may sound as genetic research has indicated that it is more than possible that we all descended from the one couple [National Geographic October 29, 2019]. There is much debate over the question but it is scientifically entirely possible.
This account, like previous accounts, shows the blessing of God still at work as the peoples “multiply and fill the earth.”
“Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.” [Genesis 11:1] This is around the time of Peleg. It makes sense if they all trace their ancestry back to Noah.
3 They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’ [11:3-4]
People decide to make a name for themselves and to build a unity based on themselves. Do you recognise that attitude? It’s been the basis of the complete reverse – the disunity of mankind as each person and people group sets about making a name for themselves at the cost of others. Note the movement from the naturally occurring rock for building to man-made bricks, not a bad thing but it’s easy to take pride on our accomplishment is such a way that it can make us think that we can do anything and are in control of life.
How does this humanistic grasp at greatness work itself out in our lives and society today? Is it there in the pursuit of our dreams? Do we see it in the demand to be valued? Do we see it the demand to have rights? Are these things all that bad?
Lord God, you have blessed us immeasurably. Help me to find my value in you and in serving others. Amen
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ [Genesis 11:5-7]
Note in verse 7 the implied reference to the Trinity.
Why is God unhappy with mankind being able to do anything it wants?
Firstly, the declaration of verse 4 has tones of Lamech’s arrogant claims in 4:23-24. Doing anything they want is not so much stopping advancement but stopping an escalation in rebellion.
Secondly their claim to pursue a unity based on themselves is a claim to autonomy. They are rejecting the God who made them in his image and who has taken mercy on them. Thirdly, it was a rejection of God’s commission to mankind to “fill the earth and subdue it” [1:28]. Their plan was to avoid being scattered [11:4]. “Since God does not for them supply that which draws their hearts into a unity of purpose, so a vain thing as this inanimate, useless tower is to weld them into a unity. Such a concentrated spirit of opposition to God is sufficiently serious to call for divine intervention.” [Exposition of Genesis by H.C. Leupold pg. 388].
God’s intervention is a blessing in disguise because it prevented a more serious intervention being necessary, as we saw with the flood. Verse 6 has the sense of “this is merely the beginning of what they will do.”
It’s of note that the only two thing that seem to hold them together is their desire to make a name for themselves and their language. Humanity is no longer unified in its honour of its creator, or of its love for those made, like them, in the image of God: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” [Gen 4:9]
What is it that unifies us? It’s a good question to ask of our church? Is it our denominational label? Is it a sense of duty, or self-interest or a desire to love well the family of God we’re part of? Does church provide a place for us to privately worship our God (and it wouldn’t matter who else was there), or is it the place where we go to build others up in the faith and to be built up ourselves [1 Cor 12:7, 12-27]? Are you more committed to the concept of church, or the organisation, rather than to the members?
When we refer to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, is that indeed how we see ourselves?
What is it in reality that binds us together?
Father, please help me to live out the reality of Eph 2, that I along with my brothers and sisters in Christ, are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives buy his Spirit. Amen
“8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel – because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.” [Gen 11:8-9]
That city was called “Babel” from where our name “Babylon” originates. In Hebrew the word “babel” means confusion. The Babylonians used the word to mean “the gate of God”, so they claimed, “We are the gateway to God.” While the Hebrews said, “No, you are confusion.” Throughout the Bible Babylon is the symbol of all that is evil and stands against God [e.g., Rev 17:1-7].
God ends the pride of humanity by confusing their language and furthers his purpose for mankind to fill the earth and subdue it [v 8]. Why is it that confusion of language has such a deleterious effect? Did the effort to communicate far outweigh their shallow and sin-based unity? Flip forward now some thousands of years to the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is poured out on people and the confusion of languages is reversed [Acts 2:5-13]. With the work of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit real unity can now be found in the gospel. Did you notice all the talk surrounding the Olympic games about world unity – about how our young athletes can bring the world together, and there were some wonderful highlights of sportsmanship that warmed the heart, but then there is the fierce competition between China and the United States arguing about which country performed better at the games. Russia has been banned from the games for state-sponsored drug cheating, and drug-testing is part of the whole process of competition because people and countries can’t be trusted to compete fairly. If the games are the hope for world unity, then we are in real trouble.
In the plans of God, world unity is not to be found in the Olympic Games, or in the new ability to communicate widely and across language barriers, nor in a common enemy in the form of a pandemic. It’s only in the gospel. In Eph 2 Paul talks about the great division of his day, between Jew and Gentile, and says of Jesus, “14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” [Eph 2:14-16]
As we saw yesterday, the church is the place where unity should be displayed for the world to see. We are to be a working model, a colony of heaven here on earth.
Great God of grace, teach me by your Spirit to do my part to bring peace to our divided world. Amen
With the genealogy of chapter 11 we come to the end of pre-history. It ends with Abraham whom we are able to date by, correlating with secular history, at around 2,000 BC.
What have we seen in these first 11 chapters of the Bible? We’ve seen an increase in the spread of humanity’s wilfulness against any sort of rule by God, initiated by Adam and Eve but carried on by their offspring. There was the lack of trust with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, there is the murder of Cain by his brother, just one generation from the fall. There is Lamech who boasts of his murder of a man who hurts him and who basks on his attitude of pay back way in excess of the damage done to him. We move on to God’s assessment of humanity in the times of Noah, that “every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” [6:5] God starts again with Noah, a righteous man, but withing two chapters we are back with humanity discarding any regard for God and establishing itself as its own god at Babel.
The New Testament comments on the fall. Romans 5 says “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned - “[Rom 5:12]. Adam and Eve brought sin into the world but for all who think it unfair that we should all suffer for the sin of our forebears, the second part of the verse points out that we all sin. We can’t really blame Adam because no one is forcing us to sin; we choose it. We like our sin. Adam opened to door to sin, but mankind embraced it. The early chapters of Genesis very clearly set out the problem or our existence. What will God do about his creation gone wrong? He gives chance after chance and he will start again with Abraham in chapter 12. But even that is ultimately a failure. All along God has been setting the scene for the coming of Jesus who will bring the ultimate solution. As Jesus said, our problem is a heart issue. He says, ‘Listen and understand. 11 “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.’ [Matthew 15:11]. That is the issue God will deal with in Jesus, but more of that tomorrow.
Loving Father, I am prone to wander and even disregard your right to direct my path. Please forgive me. Thank you for the death and resurrection of your son for me. Amen
In these first 11 chapters we’ve seen the spread of sin, but along with that we see the spread of God’s grace. His longsuffering patience is enormous. His commitment to his creation, and especially to humanity, stands firm.
He does not destroy Adam and Eve for their disobedience and their grasp as divinity. Instead, he graciously clothes them and prevents them from living in their sin forever by cutting them off from the tree of life. He makes a promise of a descendant to come who will destroy evil. He provides a way for Cain to survive despite his murder of his brother. He gives us hope in the life of Enoch and Noah, both of whom showed it was possible to walk with God and find favour with him. At Babel he scatters people to the four winds, in fulfilment of his plan for humanity to fill the earth and subdue it, and in chapter 12 he chooses a family to carry his plans forward through Abraham. It seems part of God’s plan to work his rescues through people. Noah and Abraham are two cases in point in Gen 1-12, and of course the promised descendant of Adam and Eve who will crush the head of the evil one [Gen 3:15].
“through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[c] And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” [Rom 8:2-4]
Now in Christ it is possible to have our hearts of stone taken away and be replaced with a new heart. 26” I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” [Ezekiel 36:26] There is the solution – take away my heart from which evil comes and replace it with a new one that is not tainted. That is the only solution to the problem of evil. If we are sinful by nature from birth, we don’t need a renovation, we need a knock-down-rebuild of our heart. “17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ ..” [2 Cor 5:17 & 18]
With the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit at Pentecost [Acts 2] we can now walk with God without rebellion ruling our lives. 14 “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, ‘Abba,[g] Father.’ 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” [Romans 8:14-17]
What a glorious Saviour!
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Gal 2:20].
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thank you for your grace that allows me to live by faith in Christ. Keep me ever on the path. Amen