Adam Clarke Commentary
All the inhabitants of the earth, speaking one language and dwelling in one place, Genesis 11:1, Genesis 11:2, purpose to build a city and a tower to prevent their dispersion, Genesis 11:3, Genesis 11:4. God confounds their language, and scatters them over the whole earth, Genesis 11:5-9. Account of the lives and families of the postdiluvian patriarchs. Shem, Genesis 11:10, Genesis 11:11. Arphaxad, Genesis 11:12, Genesis 11:13. Salah, Genesis 11:14, Genesis 11:15. Eber, Genesis 11:16, Genesis 11:17. Peleg, Genesis 11:18, Genesis 11:19. Ragau or Reu, Genesis 11:20, Genesis 11:21. Serug, Genesis 11:22, Genesis 11:23. Nahor, Genesis 11:24, Genesis 11:25. Terah and his three sons, Haran, Nahor, and Abram, Genesis 11:26, Genesis 11:27. The death of Haran, Genesis 11:28. Abram marries Sarai, and Nahor marries Milcah, Genesis 11:29. Sarai is barren, Genesis 11:30. Terah, Abram, Sarai, and Lot, leave Ur of the Chaldees, and go to Haran, Genesis 11:31. Terah dies in Haran, aged two hundred and five years, Genesis 11:32.
The whole earth was of one language - The whole earth - all mankind was of one language, in all likelihood the Hebrew; and of one speech - articulating the same words in the same way. It is generally supposed, that after the confusion mentioned in this chapter, the Hebrew language remained in the family of Heber. The proper names, and their significations given in the Scripture, seem incontestable evidences that the Hebrew language was the original language of the earth - the language in which God spake to man, and in which he gave the revelation of his will to Moses and the prophets. “It was used,” says Mr. Ainsworth, “in all the world for one thousand seven hundred and fifty-seven years, till Phaleg, the son of Heber, was born, and the tower of Babel was in building one hundred years after the flood, Genesis 10:25; Genesis 11:9. After this, it was used among the Hebrews or Jews, called therefore the Jews‘ language, Isaiah 36:11, until they were carried captive into Babylon, where the holy tongue ceased from being commonly used, and the mixed Hebrew (or Chaldee) came in its place.” It cannot be reasonably imagined that the Jews lost the Hebrew tongue entirely in the seventy years of their captivity in Babylon; yet, as they were mixed with the Chaldeans, their children would of course learn that dialect, and to them the pure Hebrew would be unintelligible; and this probably gave rise to the necessity of explaining the Hebrew Scriptures in the Chaldee tongue, that the children might understand as well as their fathers. As we may safely presume the parents could not have forgotten the Hebrew, so we may conclude the children in general could not have learned it, as they did not live in an insulated state, but were mixed with the Babylonians. This conjecture removes the difficulty with which many have been embarrassed; one party supposing that the knowledge of the Hebrew language was lost during the Babylonish captivity, and hence the necessity of the Chaldee Targums to explain the Scriptures; another party insisting that this was impossible in so short a period as seventy years.
As they journeyed from the east - Assyria, Mesopotamia, and the country on the borders and beyond the Euphrates, are called the east in the sacred writings. Balaam said that the king of Moab had brought him from the mountains of the east, Numbers 23:7.
Let us make brick - It appears they were obliged to make use of brick, as there was an utter scarcity of stones in that district; and on the same account they were obliged to use slime, that is, bitumen, (Vulg). ασφαλτος , (Septuagint) for mortar: so it appears they had neither common stone nor lime-stone; hence they had brick for stone, and asphaltus or bitumen instead of mortar.
Let us build us a city and a tower - On this subject there have been various conjectures. Mr. Hutchinson supposed that the design of the builders was to erect a temple to the host of heaven - the sun, moon, planets, etc.; and, to support this interpretation, he says וראשו בשמים (verosho bashshamayim) should be translated, not, whose top may reach unto heaven, for there is nothing for may reach in the Hebrew, but its head or summit to the heavens, i.e. to the heavenly bodies: and, to make this interpretation the more probable, he says that previously to this time the descendants of Noah were all agreed in one form of religious worship, (for so he understands ושפה אחת (vesaphah achath), and of one lip), i.e. according to him, they had one litany; and as God confounded their litany, they began to disagree in their religious opinions, and branched out into sects and parties, each associating with those of his own sentiment; and thus their tower or temple was left unfinished.
And the Lord came down - A lesson, says an ancient Jewish commentator, to magistrates to examine every evidence before they decree judgment and execute justice.
The people is one, etc. - From this, as before observed, we may infer, that as the people had the same language, so they had a unity of design and sentiment. It is very likely that the original language was composed of monosyllables, that each had a distinct ideal meaning, and only one meaning; as different acceptations of the same word would undoubtedly arise, either from compounding terms, or, when there were but few words in a language, using them by a different mode of pronunciation to express a variety of things. Where this simple monosyllabic language prevailed (and it must have prevailed in the first ages of the world) men would necessarily have simple ideas, and a corresponding simplicity of manners. The Chinese language is exactly such as this; and the Hebrew, if stripped of its vowel points, and its prefixes, suffixes, and postfixes separated from their combinations, so that they might stand by themselves, it would nearly answer to this character even in its present state. In order therefore to remove this unity of sentiment and design, which I suppose to be the necessary consequence of such a language, God confounded their language - caused them to articulate the same word differently, to affix different ideas to the same term, and perhaps, by transposing syllables and interchanging letters, form new terms and compounds, so that the mind of the speaker was apprehended by the hearer in a contrary sense to what was intended. This idea is not iii expressed by an ancient French poet, Du Bartas; and not badly, though rather quaintly, metaphrased by our countryman, Mr. Sylvester.
“Bring me,” quoth one, “a trowel, quickly, quick!”
I shall not examine how the different languages of the earth were formed. It certainly was not the work of a moment; different climates must have a considerable share in the formation of tongues, by their influence on the organs of speech. The invention of new arts and trades must give birth to a variety of terms and expressions. Merchandise, commerce, and the cultivation of the sciences, would produce their share; and different forms of government, modes of life, and means of instruction, also contribute their quota. The Arabic, Chaldee, Syriac, and Ethiopic, still bear the most striking resemblance to their parent, the Hebrew. Many others might be reduced to a common source, yet everywhere there is sufficient evidence of this confusion. The anomalies even in the most regular languages sufficiently prove this. Every language is confounded less or more but that of eternal truth. This is ever the same; in all countries, climates, and ages, the language of truth, like that God from whom it sprang, is unchangeable. It speaks in all tongues, to all nations, and in all hearts: “There is one God, the fountain of goodness, justice, and truth. Man, thou art his creature, ignorant, weak, and dependent; but he is all-sufficient - hates nothing that he has made - loves thee - is able and willing to save thee; return to and depend on him, take his revealed will for thy law, submit to his authority, and accept eternal life on the terms proposed in his word, and thou shalt never perish nor be wretched.” This language of truth all the ancient and modern Babel builders have not been able to confound, notwithstanding their repeated attempts. How have men toiled to make this language clothe their own ideas; and thus cause God to speak according to the pride, prejudice and worst passions of men! But through a just judgment of God, the language of all those who have attempted to do this has been confounded, and the word of the Lord abideth for ever.
Go to - A form of speech which, whatever it might have signified formerly, now means nothing. The Hebrew העה (habah) signifies come, make preparation, as it were for a journey, the execution of a purpose, etc. Almost all the versions understand the word in this way; the Septuagint have δευτε , the Vulgate venite, both signifying come, or come ye. This makes a very good sense, Come, let its go down, etc. For the meaning of these latter words see Genesis 1:26, and Genesis 18:21.
Therefore is the name of it called Babel - בבל (babel), from בל (bal), to mingle, confound, destroy; hence Babel, from the mingling together and confounding of the projects and language of these descendants of Noah; and this confounding did not so much imply the producing new languages, as giving them a different method of pronouncing the same words, and leading them to affix different ideas to them.
These are the generations of Shem - This may he called the holy family, as from it sprang Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the twelve patriarchs, David, Solomon, and all the great progenitors of the Messiah.
And Arphaxad lived - The Septuagint bring in here a second Cainan, with an addition of one hundred and thirty years. St. Luke follows the Septuagint, and brings in the same person in the same way. But the Hebrew text, both here and in 1 Chronicles 1:1-28, is perfectly silent on this subject, and the best chronologists have agreed in rejecting this as a spurious generation.
And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran - Haran was certainly the eldest son of Terah, and he appears to have been born when Terah was about seventy years of age, and his birth was followed in successive periods with those of Nahor his second, and Abram his youngest son. Many have been greatly puzzled with the account here, supposing because Abram is mentioned first, that therefore he was the eldest son of Terah: but he is only put first by way of dignity. An in stance of this we have already seen, Genesis 5:32, where Noah is represented as having Shem, Ham, and Japheth in this order of succession; whereas it is evident from other scriptures that Shem was the youngest son, who for dignity is named first, as Abram is here; and Japheth the eldest, named last, as Haran is here. Terah died two hundred and five years old, Genesis 11:32; then Abram departed from Haran when seventy-five years old, Genesis 12:4; therefore Abram was born, not when his father Terah was seventy, but when he was one hundred and thirty.
Milcah, the daughter of Haran - Many suppose Sarai and Iscah are the same person under two different names; but this is improbable, as Iscah is expressly said to be the daughter of Haran, and Sarai was the daughter of Terah, and half sister of Abram.
They went forth - front Ur of the Chaldees - Chaldea is sometimes understood as comprising the whole of Babylonia; at other times, that province towards Arabia Deserta, called in Scripture The land of the Chaldeans. The capital of this place was Babylon, called in Scripture The beauty of the Chaldees‘ excellency, Isaiah 13:19.
1.The peopling of the whole earth;
2.The preservation of the true religion by the means of one family; and
When God makes a discovery of himself by a particular revelation, it must begin in some particular time, and be given to some particular person, and in some particular place. Where, when, and to whom, are comparatively matters of small importance. It is God‘s gift; and his own wisdom must determine the time, the person, and the place. But if this be the case, have not others cause to complain because not thus favored? Not at all, unless the favoring of the one for a time should necessarily cut off the others for ever. But this is not the case. Abram was first favored; that time, that country, and that person were chosen by infinite wisdom, for there and then God chose to commence these mighty operations of Divine goodness. Isaac and Jacob also received the promises, the twelve patriarchs through their father, and the whole Jewish people through them. Afterwards the designs of God‘s endless mercy were more particularly unfolded; and the word, which seemed to be confined for two thousand years to the descendants of a single family, bursts forth on all hands, salvation is preached to the Gentiles, and thus in Abram‘s seed all the nations of the earth are blessed.
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