You are here: Home / Part 3 Disruptive Truths of God's Kingdom (Lessons #34–69) / Chapter 1 (#34–38) / Lesson 37 – Table of Nations and Tower of Babel
Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
© Charles A. Clough 1996
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 3: Disruptive Truths of God’s Kingdom
Chapter 1: The Tragic Flaw in Civilized Society
Lesson 37 – Table of Nations and Tower of Babel
31 October 1996
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
We’re going to look carefully at the text because we want to get into some of the structure. Because this class basically moves from topic to topic it means that we are not going to concentrate on details of the text because we want to cover the major ideas of Scripture, the content of our Christian faith, pointing out as we do so the validity the claims of the Bible and also to show that, in fact, it encompasses everything in the world. When we talk about the Bible we’re not talking about a nice, sweet little religious book. We’re talking about a book that is communication from the Creator of the universe and has as much to do with physics and mathematics as it has to do with “religious” issues. That’s the spirit with which we’re doing this, and we keep reiterating the principle that either we will interpret the world by the Word or by default we’re going to let the world interpret the Word of God for us, according to the world system of interpretation.
The other thing we want to remind ourselves as we go into the text is as we move through these events that great ideas attend all of these. The sinful mind of man tries to suppress this. This is history that’s sort of forbidden, it’s not politically correct history, and it’s not the kind of thing that people like to talk about, but we hold that this history, this memory is imbedded indelibly in the cultures of the world. There’s not a tribe on the face of the planet that doesn’t have at least some memory of these events, distorted through mythology maybe, yes, but each tribe, each group of mankind has come from Noah who knew all of this. All of this from Genesis 1-9 was the possession of every subset of the human race.
On page 13, we have one of the two great points about evidences of high technology. I’m pointing this out not because I want to get into a big technical discussion, but because we want to do away with this silly image, unfortunately sometimes we get it even in Sunday School, that Noah and his people were these primitives, very simple rural, non-technological people that were kind of half evolved. And to do away with that and challenge that idea I presented first the evidences of these maps, this is one of the spectacular pieces of evidence that has been found, and it’s so spectacular that it’s just incredible as far as the world is concerned. This is a map of the Antarctica continent. If you look closely at both maps you’ll see there’s a systematic difference between them. The top one is what we now have by way of mapping; this is a present modern day map of Antarctica. You see the Ross Ice Shelf here, and the little protuberance that extends toward South America. There are no rivers, there’s nothing here because it’s under ice, there’s an ice cap there. We said that the ice age, according to a biblical model of Michael Oard, he has the ice age lasting about 700 years, 500 years mass glaciation, 200 years after that for melting down, and during the meltdown phase the ice age was not synchronized. Actually the freezing of the Antarctic continent came later, both in the Bible concept and also in secular ideas.
But what’s startling about this map if you look at it carefully is there’s no Ross Ice Shelf. The other thing that’s startling about that map is it has mountains on it, and it indicates that whoever drew that map, and it also has rivers, these rivers extend a hundred miles inland, so whoever made that map saw Antarctica before it was frozen, and that map stayed in the tradition of the world, passed on through Alexandria, the great library of Alexandria, passed on down to the Middle Ages, and became distorted, etc. and finally wound up in some world maps in the time of Columbus. But the striking fact is that if this dates from the time before the Arctic Continent froze, what we have is a map resulting from probably a concerted series of explorations. Think of how much it takes to map today. We’ve got satellite, we’ve got global positioning systems, we’ve got all kinds of stuff to do mapping today and even today to do mapping…
I’m out at Aberdeen Proving Ground and we have to map the place every day trying to get precision. So think of what was involved here, this map didn’t just appear. People must have had to go in, they must have had to map every one of these rivers, it was more than just one or two people in boats, this was a concerted organized attempt by somebody, some group of the human race, ages and ages ago, to get this done. And they did it before the modern climate set in. So after the flood and before things settled down, this map was completed, and it’s a marvelous illustration of the technological competence of Noah and his immediate generation. These were not idiots, these were people who generated civilization overnight, they were geniuses, very high in their technology.
The second interesting point that’s not often brought out in world history courses is the fact that Semitic roots seem to appear in all languages. The example given on page 13 by John Cohane who had done this work, he had originally retired and gone to Ireland, he was one of the people who had a very profitable business so he could retire early so he and his wife went to Ireland to live and they did research on the origins of Irish culture and it turned out that everywhere they went in Irish culture they wound up with Jewish words, and they wondered what is going on with this. One thing led to another and they started finding these words all over the place. On page 13 I give an example. There’s the root, and in Semitic languages, like many languages, the key is the consonants, not the vowels, so these languages are written basically in consonantal form. For example, if you look at a Hebrew text, we would use Eber, he was one of the great patriarchs, and if you look at the consonants it’s Br, then you have the vowels going in like this. That’s how you look at these stems, and most Hebrew stems have three consonants in them, some of them have four,, etc. and you add endings to them, but the stem itself usually has two or three consonants.
What’s interesting is that these reoccur in all the continents. The one given on page 13 is Eber which occurs as Ber and Bar in many, many languages. There’s a noun, Hebrew, that’s where the word “Hebrew” comes from, it’s very interesting, where did that word start? It seems to have a root in Eber, “the name of Abraham and his descendants….” Then there is the Iberian Peninsula, that’s interesting, that’s the Spanish peninsula. Why did Spain have this name deep in its past about that particular peninsula, called the Iberian Peninsula, so here’s “br” again occurring. There’s a river, the peninsula was named from the Ebro River, there’s the “br” again. This goes back to the origins of Spain. He does this on all the consonants, and one of the names for ancient Ireland was Hibernia, and there’s that stem again, that Br stem. There’s an area which is now known as Georgia, in Russia, Soviet Union, Iberia is the title of a region now known as Georgia in the confederation of states in the ex-Soviet Union. So there you have Iber showing up in the Urals. How do you explain this?
Cohane traces other words like Adam, Eve, and Eloah which is the Hebrew from Elohim, The God. Interesting I gave that one because you can see it quickly, in Hawaiian culture look at the word Hawaii, and notice the word Eve, which has the “v” in it which also is “w” because v and w exchange in phonetic structures, you have Eve and you have an Hawah that appears on many continents, particularly in the Pacific, Hawa, and in Hebrew if you pronounce Eve’s name, it’s Evah, so you can see the parallel in Hawaii. There you see the stem in the word “Hawaii.” Aloha is a phonetic equivalent to Eloah, which is a Hebrew word for God. So what he has found is that there’s this undercurrent of Semitic stems in all these languages. One linguistic cited did a study of ancient Aztec language and he found that there’s a 20% lap over between the Aztec language of Central America and the Hebrew language. Why is this, what’s going on? He concludes, that’s the quote on page 14, “In prehistoric times … there were two dispersions from the Mediterranean, the first truly worldwide, the second petering out along the eastern coast of the Americas in one direction, in Japan, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand in the other direction.” This migration was remembered and there was various gods and goddesses associated with it, but a sign that was used on the North American continent and in the eastern hemisphere is the sign of the swastika.
For us, everybody thinks of that as a sign of the Nazis. The Nazis didn’t originate that; Hitler took that from this ancient, ancient tradition. And what’s fascinating about that tradition is that with very little imagination you can see that at the center of the swastika was the Middle East, then it does explain migration patterns, very interestingly. With the Cush and the blacks into Africa, with another subset of the blacks going to India, the yellow races going into Oceania which would be the southeastern Asiatics, the red going up the Urals migrating across and becoming much of the Indians and the whites going off into Europe. This is a very over-simplified thing because actually it turns out migration is far, far more complicated than this. You had whites going in one direction, you have blacks going all over the place, you had reds going all over the place, yellows going all over the place, so this is overly simplified. But what’s fascinating, this was remembered in many cultures, that sign was tied to the issue of migration.
It’s just another one of the unknowns of history, and I guess we can summarize this whole thing by saying very little is really authoritatively known here. There are a lot of wide open gaping questions, it’s not a closed circuit, the answers haven’t all been given. So since all this has to do with Genesis, now we want to move to the Genesis text. I want to show some of the structure of the text. Turn to Genesis 10:1, we haven’t had too much time to comment about the structure, but there are several things to remember about the Genesis text. One is that Moses was the final editor of this, so it has to be read in the light of the fact that the first readers of this book were the Jews as they were going into Palestine, in the conquest. This tips us off to certain things. For example, the language that described Ham and the incident with Ham and Noah, if you look at the verse that describes it, that same verse describes the behavior of the Canaanites toward which they were going. So there’s memory there, and anybody who was in the Canaanite generation would have read the Ham/Noah story and would have seen that recognized immediately the connection with Canaan. That’s why we have to learn kind of mentally to read the Genesis narrative as we would have read it had we been in that Exodus generation. This was a background for our relationships at the time.
One of the features of the Genesis text is in Genesis 10:1 you see this formula, and the formula goes somewhat like this, “These are the generations of” X. Let me show you how that formula recurs again and again. Let’s go back to Genesis 5:1, a clear example. “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.” Now that you’ve got that down, go to Genesis 2:4, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created,” literally in the day that they were created, “in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven.” There’s a formula there, in that case the word “generation” doesn’t occur, but you can see the parallels between 2:4, 5:1, and notice in 5:1 it’s the generations of Adam, in other words, the progeny of Adam. After Genesis 5:1 what do you read? You read about all of his progeny, and the adventures and things that happened. Then we come to Genesis 6:9, and lo and behold, here’s the formula recurring again, so whoever composed this text had this formula in mind. “These are the records of the generations of Noah,” then it goes on to describe adventures that have to do with Noah and his children. Then we come to Genesis 10:1, which we have just seen, and we continue past Genesis 10:1 over to Genesis 11:10,” These are the records of the generations of Shem.” What do you notice is happening every time X occurs in the formula?
Let’s list it and see what’s going on here. First you have the heavens and the earth, then you have Adam, then you have Noah, then you have Shem. If you write all that out and look at it, what’s happening? Every time the formula occurs what do you notice is progressing? What’s the scope, what’s going on here? First you have the heavens and the earth, universal scope, the universe. Then we come to Adam: that narrows it down to man. The next time the formula occurs it’s Noah, who starts civilization. The next time it happens, it’s Noah’s sons. The next time it happens it’s Shem, the other two sons have been eliminated from view. This is the sort of thing that makes interpretation of the Scripture objective. This isn’t how I feel about the text, it’s not what I feel, it’s the structure of the literature. It’s telling us something here, and what we want to look at is that between this act and this act, this is where we are tonight in Genesis 10-11, so whatever is going on in Genesis 10-11, it is the last time the Scriptures concentrate on all three sons equally. And after this the Scripture now narrows down to Shem. So the question logically to ask is: are the events of chapter 10-11, do they have something to do with the fact that the Holy Spirit is now focusing on this guy, leaving these other two guys kind of unnoticed? What is the meaning of what’s going on in Genesis 10-11 in the overall structure of how this text is moving?
That’s kind of the background. From Genesis 10 we have a block, now we can isolate the text. What I’m trying to do is warn you that chapter divisions are late editions to the text. When Jesus read His Old Testament He didn’t have chapters like we do. These were the divisions. That’s what we’re looking at. These are far more ancient and far more original in the text than the chapter divisions. The chapter divisions? Editors did that. So what we want to do is isolate the text from Genesis1 we now have a block of text that goes to 11:9. That’s a defined block of text that the original authors of this Scripture said there’s a coherent unity in this block of text. So what are we going to do about that block?
Let’s look further; we want to start observing the block of text. Again we’ll write it out so we can see it, Genesis 10:1, that block ends in 11:9. Let’s skim that text and see if you notice something. Notice that before it begins is the Noah story, verse by verse by verse. What do you observe, starting in verse 1, don’t try to read all the details, just let your eye drift down rapidly, verse after verse after verse after verse, all the way down to the end of chapter 10, then go on to Genesis 11:9. If you were to subdivide this block of text, where would you divide it, in terms of its structure, to break it up into sections? Where would you put a section? It has a sort of structure in chapter 10, sort of, and then what do you notice happens when you get into chapter 11? What’s different about the way the text is laid out? [someone answers, can’t hear]
Okay, there’s a structural difference in the text. From Genesis 10:1 down to the end of that chapter, verse 32, do you notice it’s very genealogical, so and so this and that, and this one begat somebody, etc. Then all of a sudden you come to Genesis 11:1-9; is it talking any more about genealogy? It’s talking about an event that happened. So now we can break the text up into those sections. Now let’s go back to the first subunit, we’ll call this unit A, let’s go to unit A and scan it again and see if you don’t notice something interesting about the structure of those 32 verses. Think of it as a piece of music, and it has a beat to it, and it goes and goes. Where do you notice the rhythm changes, if you can think of it in a musical sense? In verse 5 there’s kind of an annotation there. We’ve got verses 1-5, starting at verse 6 things go on, and where does the rhythm sort of change? What happens in verses 8, 9 and 10? See that genealogical pattern, it pauses there, there’s something going on that holds the march forward from generation to generation, there’s something that’s happened here. In verse 8 all the way down through verse 12, from 8-12 there’s something going on, just as there was something going on in verse 5. The first block ends with verse 5 with a formula, do you notice it says “From these the coastlands of the nations were separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations.” Where do you see that formula recur next in the text? Verse 20. So the formula we saw in verse 5 reappears in verse 20, so that ought to signal that we can make that into a block of text. Each of these sub-blocks ends with that formula. So the first part of the text ends with a summary that so and so is divided. Then it comes down and stops in verse 20, so and so divided.
Look from verse 21 and where do you see the formula again? Verse 31, “These are the sons of Shem, according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, according to their nations.” Then verse 32 sort of summarizes all of it. So you have the next block of text from verse 21-31 and then 32 is sort of a grand summary. Just as we saw the note in verse 8-12, do you see any other kind of things where the rhythm shifts a little bit, as though the man was putting a footnote in, and just wants to explain something? Look at v 14, 15ff and what happens, where do you see a note put in there about activity going on? Verse 19. In verse 19 you have a little something going on. Anything between verse 21 and 30? In verse 25 there’s a little something going on. See how fascinating Bible study can be, you observe the text and observe the structures here in the text.
Now that we’ve made some observations, we want to come back and adjust them a little bit. We’ve gotten this subsection A, we’ve divided subsection A into 1, 2, and 3. What do we say subsection A began with? What was that formula that started back in verse 1? What did verse 1 tell us we were going to see? The generations of the sons of Noah, and there were three, Shem, Ham and Japheth. What do you notice about this first block of material? Who is that concerned with? Japheth. So the first block is the first son. Who’s concerned with the second block, from verses 6-20? That’s Ham. And the last one is Shem. So that makes sense, already we’re getting into the structure of the text, very objective, it’s not how we feel, it’s just the inherent structure of the text. The author said he’s going to tell us about Ham, Shem and Japheth. What does he do? He tells us about all three sons. And he concludes in verse 32.
How would you summarize the thought of this chapter, if you just had a sentence? How would you express what’s going on here, in fact it’s already expressed for us. All you have to do is quote verse 32, because between verse 1 and 32, just those two verses tell us what’s going to happen, and they tell us what did happen, in the military a good briefing starts out you tell people what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them. That’s basically the structure of this text. What is the theme, what is the word that you would summarize, if you were to take a verb, an action, what would you summarize that summarizes the majority of motion in chapter 10? What verb would you pick? [someone answers] Migration, okay, in his words the word scattering.
So the theme here is the scattering of the people away from where? Where did the ark land? Ararat, Eastern Turkey. It’s a story of the scattering into the earth. Had God told Noah in chapter 9 what He wanted man to do? What did He say in 9:1? He told him to fill the earth, didn’t He? That’s interesting; do you suppose chapter 10 is related to chapter 9? Chapter 10 narrates the fulfillment of chapter 9:1. Chapter 10 follows very neatly because God said I want you guys to do this, chapter 10 reports that it has been done. But on the way, there’s an adventure that occurs, and we all know because we’ve read Genesis 11:1-9 how does the scattering occur, that’s the fulfillment of 9:1? Does it occur because men were so excited to obey God that they just had to go out there and migrate all over the place? They saluted and said “Yes Sir” and did it? Or did mankind have to be kicked in the nether parts in order to migrate and fill the earth? Do you see a parallel with the church in the book of Acts? Jesus told them we’re supposed to be witnesses into every area, and where was the church for the first 8 chapters in Acts? In Palestine, not doing anything. How did God get the church out of Palestine? Persecution. So here we have a fulfillment of God’s command but no credit to man because he fulfilled it in disobedience. The filling of the earth was a profound act of rebellion and disobedience and God literally had to kick in order to drive men into the continents.
That is the background for this strange thing at Babel, which we want to think about because the rest of chapter 10 we’re going to deal with what is going on with this Babel thing. In your notes on page 14 that’s what we’re getting at, is that the filling of the earth is occurring in this chapter. [blank spot] … verse 31, look at those three verses and look at the four ways that mankind is described in each of those formulas. Let’s write them down. Verse 5, they “were separated into their lands,” next, “by their tongue,” next, “by their families,” and “nations.” Now just to check, look at the formula in verse 20. The four words occur but they occur in different order. The first one there is “families,” the families occur first in this one, the next one is “tongues,” next is “their lands,” and “nations.” Now let’s go to the formula in verse 31, “families, tongues, lands and nations.” This is Japheth, [v. 5] this is Ham [v. 20], this is Shem [v. 31]. What do you notice about Japheth? When the Japhetic’s, when Japheth’s domain is presented in Scripture what comes to mind, apparently first, in the mind of this author? They spread out into their lands.
If you look carefully at Genesis 10:1 you’ll notice a little note there, and it says in verse 5, “From these the coastlands of the nations,” some other translations have the borders, so it’s interesting that of the three sons of Noah, the one that seems relative to the biblical writer to have gone the farthest is Japheth, he seems to have gone out into the lands, into the continents. The other two spread out also, but the emphasis there is more on their families, their tribes. So the tribes are closer, and they knew what the difference is, whereas it seems like Japheth went so far away that the tribal structure isn’t well known about. Also, if you count the verses, what do you also notice about Japheth? Very small. Japheth gets lost very quickly, so he’s gone somewhere and his people are so far away from the Middle East that they really aren’t crucial to the rest of biblical history. So there’s a trend here that we want to observe.
After all this grand scheme, it turns out that if you count the number of names in Genesis 10, count all the sons and so forth in here, you come out with seventy. Does that remind you of anything? Hold the place here and turn to Deuteronomy 32:8. This is a commentary, remember we said when you’re reading Genesis 1-9 always look to see how the rest of the Bible interprets the text, you don’t have to guess. How did the rest of the authors of the Bible look back and interpret that text. Here Moses, in Deuteronomy 32:8 is looking back at the migration, at the scattering, and what does he say? “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to” what number, “the number of the sons of Jacob,” who were seventy in the last chapter of Genesis. Isn’t that an interesting thing? Let me pause here and warn you about something. If you ever get in a class in college somewhere and you start studying the Bible as literature, professors see the structure too, but their interpretation of what we’ve just done is that this is a phony structure, imposed by the author on real history. In other words, real history doesn’t have structure, it’s just kind of marbles, and the author wants structure so the author sort of makes history fit this structural mold. That sounds very persuasive when they say it, but if you think about it, what does that tell you about what that person thinks about history? That is has no structure. You see the Bible surprises us, we look upon such a thing as this, the diffusion of the human race and we think of it statistically, as though there are millions of people scattered around, my goodness, you could never tell who belongs to what any more.
But the point is that when God structured this, even from the human point of view, it was not a planned effort, right? The only planning you see in here is how not to do it. Isn’t that the human plan, that’s Babel, that’s the tower project? So man’s plans were to thwart God’s will; that’s what the plan was. Well, it didn’t work out, because God is a perfect chess master and He aced them. He moved the human race out, but lo and behold, in the chaos of moving out; the human race had a seventy-fold structure. And that’s related to the structure of Israel. Now why would this be of concern to a person reading the Old Testament, particularly a Jew in the Exodus generation? Think of yourself as a Jew, moving out in the Exodus, here you are, it’s a new nation, boy are you hot, are you a controversial topic, you are a new nation, never existed before, what’s one of the questions you’re going to have? The meaning of your existence in the rest of the nations. So what does Deuteronomy 32:8 say? It says that Israel is somehow related to the structure of the rest of the human race, that God has built the nation Israel to some of counterpoint or some relationship with the rest of these nations.
Let’s look further, let’s go on to block B. We come to the Babel issue. On page 15 of the notes where I list Deuteronomy 32:8, I also gave you Genesis 46:27 so you can verify it for yourself that there were 70, the text is very careful in Genesis 46 to say there were seventy people that came out of Egypt. One other note that I mention in the notes that you should be aware of, before we go any further, let’s look at Genesis 10:11-13. A little warning. Genesis 10 is known in history as the Table of The Nations, that’s the official name, if you want to see in scholarly circles, that’s what it’s known as, the Table of The Nations.
If you have Young’s Analytical Concordance there’s a precious essay either in the front or back of that concordance, it has an interesting comment on the Table of The Nations by Dr. William F. Albright, who for many years was the Dean of American Archeology at Johns Hopkins. He was not a Bible-believing Christian when he first started, and the more discoveries he made, the more he realized that the biblical text is historically accurate, and he came to write that essay that’s preserved in Young’s Analytical Concordance toward the end of his life, and there’s an interesting comment that Dr. Albright has about this Table of Nations. What a unique document. He says that nowhere else in the literature of the world do you ever, ever have a document like this; no other people on the planet ever preserved a universal history of the human race. What you find when you go to the Greeks or what you find when you go to the Indians, or what you find when you go to the Europeans, is great histories about themselves, but only in Israel do you have in the Bible a history of all humanity together. So that’s Genesis 10.
Now we come to block B, this event that occurs. The tantalizing issue that we have to deal with is block B somehow related to those comments we observed going on earlier in Genesis 10. We said look at these strange things going on here in verses 8-12, and look at the strange thing reported in verse 25. Are those interruptions in the flow of Genesis 10 about the same sort of thing that Genesis 11:1-9 is talking about? In other words, this Babel project, is that what it’s talking about, splitting up the nations, etc. That’s something that you have to deal with in interpretation. We want to move on to this last part where it seems to represent.
I had you turn to Genesis 10:11-13 for a point I wanted to make. Genesis 10, Table of Nations, is not strictly speaking a genealogy. If you want to see a genealogy, look at the structure of Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 after verse 9. That’s a genealogy, so and so begat so and so who begat so and so who begat so and so. If you look in the formula in Genesis 10 it’s looser, it’s not so one to one-ish, and in particular verses 11-13, particularly verse 13, you’ll see that one of the sons is called Mizraim. Mizraim, obviously in verse 13 is talking about one son because he became the father, but on the other hand you’ll notice Mizraim ends with “im” and in Hebrew that’s a plural ending. Notice in verse 13 all the nouns are ending in “im,” they’re plurals, they’re groups of peoples. So the question arises is yes, they may have been sons, but in the memory of the writer who authored this, he’s thinking not just of Mizraim as an individual, he’s thinking of Mizraim as the fountain of this group called Mizraim and if you study the Old Testament the Mizraim are the Egyptians. So the issue there is that Mizraim is a noun that applies both to the son and to the nation itself. And what did we observe? There were four ways that this thing was categorized, lands, tongues, families and nations. So the names, while they refer to sons in one sense, are also sometimes referring to nations. Another example of that would be verses 16-18, those are more than sons, those are nouns that refer to entire nations. So once again there’s this quadratic structure of the text. So we can summarize Genesis 10:1-32 as telling us that the human race diverged.
In Genesis 11:1-9, how did it diverge? What was the means? Again, let’s pause for just a minute and look at something. Remember when we dealt with Genesis 1 and 2, people asked the question, I always get this question, oh, there’s two conflicting accounts of creation in Genesis. They always say there’s the seven days of creation Genesis 1 and then in Genesis 2 it’s talking about man, Adam and Eve being created. And we said that the style of narration in the Hebrew text here is very much like if you were writing a story for a newspaper, did you ever notice a news story, news stories are not written chronologically, are they? What does a news writer do in his first paragraph? He tries to summarize the whole story, and then what does he do in paragraph two, three, four and five? Then he goes back and rehashes details. That’s the way the Bible is written. You have the big story in Genesis 1, then you go back in Genesis 2 to rehash the details of the sixth day, particularly the creation of man.
Here in this block of text from Genesis 10:1-11:9 you have the migration of man, the destiny of the three sons of Noah, that’s the theme, you have the big idea in chapter 10 and now in chapter 11 we come in and zoom in for a close up shot of a particular event that occurred during that era. One of the observations I mentioned that we should be making when we read the text like this, is this is taking five centuries, between the time of Noah and Abraham, five centuries! Think of all the different things that must have happened in five centuries. We just went through the map of Antarctica, all those expeditions to Antarctica were done, mapped the world, built the great pyramids in both western and eastern hemispheres, so lots of things to talk about in 500 years. Here’s the clinker? Why did the Holy Spirit not choose those events, and did choose this event? Why of all the things that happened in those five centuries is the tower of Babel mentioned and nothing else? Obviously it tells you that from the Holy Spirit’s point of view there’s something about the tower of Babel that’s more important than the pyramids, it’s more important than the explorations, more important than the ice age, more important than all these other things combined. He wants to teach us, something happened at the fountain and origin of civilization that we must learn about, because as you see the heading on the notes the next time is, the issue theologically going on here is how did all this grand potential in Noah get derailed?
[can’t understand word/s] in the New Testament when Jesus Christ was tempted by Satan, what does Satan say, what is the third temptation? Bow down to me because I rule the kingdoms of the world. The New Testament writers refer to the world system as the cosmos, the world system. The old-fashioned fundamentalists used to say the world, the flesh and the devil, something is worldly; that was the term that used to be used in fundamental circles, worldliness. What do you mean by worldliness? Blending in with the theme of our environment. So the question here is what went wrong? Something profound went wrong spiritually when civilization began, and it goes all the way back to those founding centuries. It wasn’t technology that went wrong, they built great pyramids. It wasn’t exploration that went wrong, something else went wrong.
With that in mind, let’s observe the text in verses 1-9. What things strike you as unusual? What is the first thing that strikes you that is obviously not true today? The whole earth was of one language. That is a profound observation. The whole world was of one language. One of the habits of thinking about the Scriptures as a mature Christian, one of the things you want to do is don’t take pieces of truth out of the Bible like marbles, think of them as pieces of beads on a necklace that’s woven into a pattern. If we believe Noah’s story, what would be logical as to how many languages his sons spoke? If the entire civilization came off one boat, is it unexpected to have one language. Why would you have fifteen languages when you only had eight people on the boat? So this fits, the first verse of chapter 11 fits with the theme that the whole human race came from a small family, they all spoke the same language. There hadn’t been linguistic diversity, not until then. However, what do we read in Genesis 10? Tongue – tongue – tongue. So in the Genesis 10 process something happened to fracture the languages. So this is the answer to what happened to fracture the languages.
As you look at the text, can we build a bridge and say that what we’re observing in Genesis 11:1-9 is actually connected to this notation, remember we made the notation in verses 8-12 something funny was going on with Nimrod. Where did you notice was the location of the something funny going on with Nimrod? Where was the beginning of his kingdom? First, notice the word “kingdom.” Underline that, that’s the first occurrence of that word in the Bible. The first kingdom mentioned is a bad thing, not a good thing. So we have the kingdom, and where was the first kingdom? At Babel, which is another synonym for a word that occurs later in the Bible, all the way down to the Book of Revelation, the great evil city of all time, Babylon. That’s interesting. So right at the origin of civilization, whatever this strange event was, it occurred at Babylon, which is reflected upon in Revelation.
In Genesis 11:1-9 what do you notice about the spirit, the spirituality that was going on? How would you characterize that in verse 3-4? What is glaringly obvious from the text about the spirit in which this project was entertained? It was an engineering project, the human race represented in this great, grand view, but what is the motive behind it? What leads you to suspect there’s something wrong here? First of all, let’s look at the purpose clause at the end of verse 4, what are they trying to thwart? “…lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” What did God say in Genesis 9:1? That’s what I want you to do guys. So right away we have a purpose clause to thwart the Word of God in Genesis 9:1. That purpose clause at the end of verse 4 is a diametric opposition to Genesis 9:1. God said fill the earth and they said we don’t want to. Then they said, we want to, instead of filling the earth, we want to “make for ourselves a name.” This is a profound thought, and I don’t pretend at all in the notes to have mastered this. This is something for you to chew on for years. Why, if you visualize yourself involved in that grand building project, why do you think building a tower and making a name for yourself is going to help you not go into all the world? What’s the process going on here? These people all get together, great effort, you can imagine this engineering project.
It’s says let’s make it reach unto heaven, that idiom fortunately occurs elsewhere in the Bible, you can check it out. Deuteronomy 1, the cities and the lands said they made their walls unto heaven; it’s just an idiom for a big, tall structure. So it was a massive, massive undertaking. In the notes, page 16 is a quote from Josephus, two quotes. This is Josephus reporting, and he’s getting the information from ancient Jewish tradition, this is not the infallible Scripture, but it does show you how the Jews thought about the tower of Babel. “This is confirmed by Jewish tradition through Josephus: [Nimrod] persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it was through his means they were happy, but not believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the go into tyranny—seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence upon his power.” What did he build? He built a kingdom.
Notice something else in a quote from Josephus, “The Tower of Babel itself, according to Josephus, was to secure man against another flood-judgment of God, ‘being made of burnt brick, cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water.’” If that’s so, what does that tell you that was spiritually going on in the psyche of the human race at this time? What was their concern? They were afraid of the power physically of God, were they not? Now if that’s so, they were afraid of a flood, what does that tell you? What had God just done in a contract? What was the heart of the whole contract with the human race? He wouldn’t send a flood? So why are they concerned about a flood? Why do you suppose they might be concerned about the flood? Might they be concerned as covenant breakers, that the God who had made the covenant, just as I broke the covenant on my end He’s going to break it on His. See the guilty conscience starts to ascribe things to God that are not true. This is done race wide, every race on earth is implicated here, this is not a white man, a black man, a red man or yellow man, this is all men that are involved in the tower of Babel project. It says the whole earth was involved here.
This harps back to an ancient sin at the root of civilization itself, and it constantly manifests itself, we’ll study more on it next week, read pages 16-17, look particularly on page 16 how the theme of Babylon goes on and on and on and on in Scripture, all the way to the return of Christ. Mankind always wants to build projects and the projects always have to do somehow with getting security for himself, and if you look back at verse 4, at least we can say this about verse 4, “let us make for ourselves a name,” must at least mean this: that I, finite man, generates my own meaning of my life by myself, without external interference from God. What it is, is a flagrant rebellious statement by finite creature that I define my existence, and I will define my existence and I will make my existence water tight against any interfering God in my life, and when I can live in my castle, and I can know that whatever I do is protected, that I define my way in my life and He can’t interfere with it, now I’m happy. Do you see what we’re talking about here? This is not some immorality, this is deeper than that.
This is a profound arrogant pride, and what the Bible seems to be teaching us here, the reason the Holy Spirit picked out the Babel project, was that it was here that civilization is defined for us from God’s point of view. And this has something to do with why He had to call Abraham “out of” Babylon, “out of” Ur, “out of” to another land, and begin to develop something new, because all of the human race is contaminated. It’s not saying that the human race was stupid, they were brilliant. It’s not saying they were ugly, they were beautiful, but there’s something wrong structurally and spiritually that has infected our civilization, and it’s that that God in the rest of the Old Testament will attack again, and again, and again, over and over and over and over again. It’s not your kingdom, it’s My kingdom. Then we hear about the kingdom of God, only after first we’ve heard about the kingdom of man.
So this where we’re going, I want you to think about this and look at the notes, if you have any insights we’ll talk about it and discuss it because what we’re trying to do here is get a basis for our approach to the Old Testament, what is the Old Testament all about.