Introduction and Set Up, Chapter 10
Last week we looked at the account of the flood of God’s righteous wrath against sin and God’s amazing grace toward sinners as He displayed His power through the flood on the earth and displayed His mercy through saving a man and his offspring. Noah, and his sons, and his wife and his sons’ wives were delivered from the wrath which they deserved because Noah had found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
In order to show that not even humanity’s wickedness can thwart or alter God’s plan to have for himself a people, the blessings and language of creation are repeated to Noah three times after the flood was over. 8.17 just before Noah and his family left the ark; 9.1 just after Noah had offered a sacrifice to God; and 9.7 just before God began speaking specifically of His covenant with His people. Three times God repeats the call to humanity to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. God’s intentions for His people is that they spread out upon the earth and by spreading out as God’s people they would spread God’s influence and glory throughout the earth.
Although we did not read it, Chapter ten gives the impression upon first reading that this is precisely what the offspring or seed or descendants of Noah did. Chapters ten and eleven are called by many the table of nations. Chapter 10 begins by giving a overview genealogy of the three sons of Noah, Japheth, Ham, and Shem. In some places a whole people group is named, in other places just a descendant. In all there are 70 names or nations (if you exclude the parenthetical mention of the Philistines). Japheth’s descendants receive the least ink, just the names of fourteen people or people groups and the summary in verse 5. In fact, this is the summary statement more or less of each of the three groups. Notice verses 20 and 31 and even the final summary of chapter ten in verse 31. It would appear that the sons and grandsons and great grandsons of Noah were obedient to the LORD’s command, they multiplied and spread out and teemed upon or filled the earth. The only head scratcher is this notion that they spread out according to their languages. Odd, but we’ll get back to that.
Now having already read chapter eleven, at least the first nine verses, we know that the spreading out over the face of the earth was not an obedient response to God’s command but a reaction to God’s judgement. Why is it recorded out of order then? This is the close of what is called the prehistorical section of Genesis. Shem is the fifth of ten generational accounts in Genesis, “These are the generations of…” So, it would appear that the order is switched here intentionally so as to end this portion of Genesis with no doubt that humanity, left on his own, will choose sin every day of the week and twice on Sunday, if you will. Some hints that things are not going well come in the listing of the sons and descendants of Ham in verses 6-20. We are told of the sons of Ham in verse 6. Then we are told of the sons of Cush, Ham’s son in verse 7. Then we are told of a descendant, probably a grandson or great grandson of Cush in verse 8, Nimrod. Nimrod is described in verse 9 and again at first glance this appears to be a positive description, but Nimrod is described three times as mighty. He is a mighty man, a mighty hunter, a mighty hunter. Nimrod establishes for himself a kingdom. And where was his first holding? Babel. And where does he go after Babel, after establishing or trying to anyway, Babylon? Assyria, Nineveh. Far from walking with God, Nimrod even in this brief description shows that He is a man who does not need God or God’s people or God’s law. No, the list of Ham’s offspring, especially when read to the Israelites for the first time was practically a who’s who of the enemies of God and therefore of Israel: Egypt, the Philistines, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Hivites, the Canaanites, not to mention cities we’ve already brought up like Babylon and Nineveh; also Sodom, Gomorrah, Zeboiim, Admah. As all these names of people groups and places were read God’s people would have heard with them a foreshadowing of something rather unpleasant forthcoming.
The last group in chapter 10 is the descendants of Shem. And once again there s a set up occurring for chapter eleven. First of all, Moses leapfrogs over two generation getting ahead of himself with excitement to let us know that Shem was the father of all the children of Eber, and in that name I hope you can hear the root of the word Hebrew. Then apparently realizing what he has done, Moses backs up to give the two generations in between Shem and Eber. We also learn that Eber had two sons, one of whom he named Peleg which sounds a lot like the word divided, because the world was divided in his days. Now, Recall with me that Nimrod is about the fourth or fifth generation of Ham and see now that Peleg is the fifth generation from Shem, and we can see that Something big happened around that time. But what? What happened. Chapter ten wraps up as though the Holy Spirit has no intention of letting us in on this little secret that He has dropped hints at from beginning to end of the generations of the sons of Noah.
The Curse of Babel
Verses 1 and 2 of chapter eleven then begins to setup for us the rest of the story. The whole earth had one language. The people were migrating and came to the plain in the land of Shinar, and here they apparently chose to settle.
In verses 3 and 4 we are let in on a conversation or discussion they held. “Come…, Come… let us… let us…” The people have learned how to kiln-fire bricks and decide to use this advancement in technology to build a city and a tower with its heights in the heavens, and thereby make a name for themselves lest they be dispersed. There are three or four issues depending on how you count them, one overarching that drives the others. The driving issue at hand is that they wanted to make a name for themselves. They wanted glory, “make a name for ouselves,” but not for God. They wanted security, “let us build a city,” but not from the hand of God. They even wanted religion, “Let us build a tower whose top is in heaven.” Most scholars agree that this was a temple, a place of worship. They wanted religion, but they didn’t want to follow God’s plan and be beholden to God. They wanted community, “lest we be dispersed,” and were willing to sacrifice God’s commands in order to get it.
I love verse 5. Whoever said that sarcasm is never the appropriate response has not read all of the Bible and seen the many ways that God responds to people. They build a tower whose top reaches the heavens. God has to come down to even see it. They call themselves mighty men, mighty hunters before the LORD. God calls them children of men. It’s a beautiful thing.
It’s important to grasp this ironic statement in order to understand what God is not saying in verse 6. As a child growing up in Sunday School, I never quite got it. I always thought that God must have acted in just the nick of time and if he hadn’t then the sinful people would have finished the tower that reached to heaven and then a bunch of sinners would have gotten in and ruined everything. This is not the case. This was not as much a statement of the success of man’s ingenuity as it is a statement of the wickedness of man’s heart and of a united people’s heart. As a single nation, with a single language, with hearts that are singularly devoted to wickedness and corrupt from birth, there would be no limit to what humanity would accomplish in building a slip n slide directly to hell. As men had said to one another, “Come, let us,” in verses 3 and 4, so now God says in verse 7, “Come, let us…” Again the diminutive insult, God says let us go down. So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of the earth. This phrase is repeated at the end of the account in verses 8 and 9. The very thing that the people were seeking to protect against, “lest we be dispersed over the face of the earth” God has accomplished as double action, as judgement for sin and also as protection from further sin, “The LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
The Reverse of the Curse
The next section of chapter eleven is one more stutter step forward. Chapter ten had begun and driven forward quickly through generation after generation of the sons of Noah. Then chapter eleven sort of backed up to half way through that record to explain the scattering of the nations and the languages of the peoples. Then, we back up again. We had already seen the first five generations of Shem, but now Moses gives the completed genealogy, the generations of Shem. Just like in chapter five when Moses jumped from Adam to Noah, he did so with a genealogy of ten generations, so he does again in chapter eleven. But unlike chapter 5, there is no summary of the total length of life of each father or the wrap up statement of “And he died.” Also, the length of lives is decreasing significantly. And there is no interruption of the flow as there was in chapter five with the brief account of Enoch’s life. No, this genealogy seeks to drive us forward with intent. There is someplace we are going that bears arriving at without any distractions of anyone’s life or death or whatever. And just like in chapter five, when the brakes need to be applied, we slow down and see not just one descendant of a father, but we see his whole family, verse 26, “When Terah had lived 70 years, he fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran.”
Although it steals some of the thunder, look at chapter 12, when God calls Abram. Look at what He says to him in verse 2. “I will make of you a great nation. I will make your name great.” The people in Babel wanted to be a great nation. They followed after all a mighty hunter. They wanted to make a great name for themselves. The LORD speaks to Abram, I will make you a great nation. I will make your name great. Throughout Exodus and Deuteronomy God speaks of His people Israel, that although they are nothing, less than nothing, He has made them into a great nation. And generations after Abram, after slavery and deliverance, and sin and wandering and deliverance, and occupation of the promised land and forgetting God’s promises and discipline and deliverance, In I Samuel 7, God promises David, King of Israel, to bless him and Israel through him and all the nations of the earth through him by making his name great and establishing his throne forever. And generations later after idolatry and sin and civil war and judgement and exile and return and deliverance and silence, came one a son of David, David’s son yet David’s Lord. Jesus Christ the Son of God the fulfillment of the covenant, the fulfillment of the promise to make a great nation or people for God to make a great name for that people. To bless the nations through that people. Jesus Christ was and is the Israel that Israel never was. Israel was called God’s son, Jesus is the Son of God. Israel’s existence was in order to be a blessing to the nations. Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. There is no better blessing than to be forgiven of your sins and accepted by God. Israel experienced suffering and trial and temptation and at every turn rejected God as their Father and sinned against Him. Jesus experienced suffering and trial and temptation and at every turn was obedient to God His Father and never sinned and yet was rejected by God His Father for our sins on our behalf so that we could be called the children of God and He did it faithfully and willingly and has been now raised to life and ascended to heaven and His name is the greatest name and at His name one day every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God in heaven. And when that day comes, the taunts and the sarcasm will reach a fevered pitch, in Revelation 14.8, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” and another song will be sung the song of the lamb the song of Christ, in Revelation 15, “Great and marvelous are your deeds O Lord God almighty! Just and True are your ways O King of the Nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For you alone are Holy. All nations will come and worship before You, for your righteous acts have been revealed!”
Do you realize that God is right now in the process of spreading that fame that glory, that great name, throughout the nations? Jesus Christ after his resurrection announced, even commanded it to be so. Matthew 28.18,19, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
He announced and then He displayed it at Pentecost, in Acts 2 where Peter and the other apostles received the Holy Spirit and preached the gospel in every known language of the day, and three thousand who were not God’s children repented and became God’s children. And this is what we are called to. So in closing let me say…
Don’t Reverse the Reverse of the Curse
Those temptations that drew the offspring of Noah, still draw us today. We want security, we want high walls around our city, lest we be scattered. We want to worship God our way. We want to make a great name for ourselves. But the way of the cross is the only way of greatness for us. The way up is down. He who would desire to be great must be servant of all. Anyone who would protect his life will lose it, any who would lose his life for my sake will gain it. Anyone who would follow me must deny himself, must take up his cross everyday and follow me.