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Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Genesis 11

Verses 1-9

- The Confusion of Tongues

1. נסע nāsa‛ “pluck out, break up, journey.” מקדם mı̂qedem “eastward, or on the east side” as in Genesis 2:14; Genesis 13:11; Isaiah 9:11 (12).

6. החלם hachı̂lām “their beginning”, for החלם hăchı̂lām, the regular form of this infinitive with a suffix. יזמוּ yāzmû as if from יזם yāzam = זמם zāmam.

7. נבלה nābelâh usually said to be for נבלה nābolâh from בלל bālal; but evidently designed by the punctuator to be the third singular feminine perfect of נבל nābal “to be confounded,” having for its subject שׂפה śāpâh, “and there let their lip be confounded.” The two verbs have the same root.

9. בבל bābel Babel, “confusion,” derived from בל bl the common root of בלל bālal and נבל nābel, by doubling the first radical.

Having completed the table of nations, the sacred writer, according to his wont, goes back to record an event of great moment, both for the explanation of this table and for the future history of the human race. The point to which he reverts is the birth of Peleg. The present singular passage explains the nature of that unprecedented change by which mankind passed from one family with a mutually intelligible speech, into many nations of diverse tongues and lands.

Genesis 11:1

The previous state of human language is here briefly described. “The whole land” evidently means the whole then known world with all its human inhabitants. The universality of application is clearly and constantly maintained throughout the whole passage. “Behold, the people is one.” And the close is on this point in keeping with the commencement. “Therefore was the name of it called Babel, because the Lord had there confounded the lip of all the land.”

Of one lip, and one stock: of words. - In the table of nations the term “tongue” was used to signify what is here expressed by two terms. This is not undesigned. The two terms are not synonymous or parallel, as they form the parts of one compound predicate. “One stock of words,” then, we conceive, naturally indicates the matter, the substance, or material of language. This was one and the same to the whole race. The term “lip,” which is properly one of the organs of articulation, is, on the other hand, used to denote the form, that is, the manner, of speaking; the mode of using and connecting the matter of speech; the system of laws by which the inflections and derivations of a language are conducted. This also was one throughout the human family. Thus, the sacred writer has expressed the unity of language among mankind, not by a single term as before, but, with a view to his present purpose, by a combination of terms expressing the two elements which go to constitute every organic reality.

Genesis 11:2-4

The occasion of the linguage change about to be described is here narrated. “As they journeyed eastward.” The word “they” refers to the whole land of the previous verse, which is put by a common figure for the whole race of man. “Eastward” is proved to be the meaning of the phrase מקדם mı̂qedem by Genesis 13:11, where Lot is said to journey (מקדם mı̂qedem) from Bethel to the plain of the Jordan, which is to the east. The human race, consisting it might be of five hundred families, journeys eastward, with a few points of deflection to the south, along the Euphrates valley, and comes to a plain of surpassing fertility in the land of Shinar (Herod. 1:178, 193). A determination to make a permanent abode in this productive spot is immediately formed.

Genesis 11:3-4

A building is to be erected of brick and asphalt. The Babylonian soil is still celebrated for these architectural materials. There is here a fine clay, mingled with sand, forming the very best material for brick, while stones are not to be found at a convenient distance. Asphalt is found boiling up from the soil in the neighborhood of Babylon and of the Dead Sea, which is hence called the “lacus Asphaltites.” The asphalt springs of Is or Hit on the Euphrates are celebrated by many writers. “Burn them thoroughly.” Sun-dried bricks are very much used in the East for building purposes. These, however, were to be burned, and thereby rendered more durable. “Brick for stone.” This indicates a writer belonging to a country and an age in which stone buildings were familiar, and therefore not to Babylonia. Brickmaking was well known to Moses in Egypt; but this country also abounds in quarries and splendid erections of stone, and the Sinaitic peninsula is a mass of granitic hills. The Shemites mostly inhabited countries abounding in stone. “Asphalt for mortar.” Asphalt is a mineral pitch. The word rendered mortar means at first clay, and then any kind of cement.

Genesis 11:4

The purpose of their hearts is now more fully expressed. “Let us build us a city, and a tower whose top may be in the skies.” A city is a fortified enclosure or keep for defense against the violence of the brute creation. A tower whose top may be in the skies for escape from the possibility of a periodical deluge. This is the language of pride in man, who wishes to know nothing above himself, and to rise beyond the reach of an over-ruling Providence. “And let us make us a name.” A name indicates distinction and pre-eminence. To make us a name, then, is not so much the cry of the multitude as of the few, with Nimrod at their head, who alone could expect what is not common, but distinctive. It is here artfully inserted, however, in the popular exclamation, as the people are prone to imagine the glory even of the despot to be reflected on themselves. This gives the character of a lurking desire for empire and self-aggrandizement to the design of the leaders - a new form of the same selfish spirit which animated the antediluvian men of name Genesis 6:4. But despotism for the few or the one, implies slavery and all its unnumbered ills for the many. “Lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole land.” The varied instincts of their common nature here speak forth. The social bond, the tie of kinsmanship, the wish for personal safety, the desire to be independent, perhaps even of God, the thirst for absolute power, all plead for union; but it is union for selfish ends.

Genesis 11:5-7

These verses describe the nature of that change by which this form of human selfishness is to be checked. “The Lord came down.” The interposing providence of God is here set forth in a sublime simplicity, suited to the early mind of man. Still there is something here characteristic of the times after the deluge. The presence of the Lord seems not to have been withdrawn from the earth before that event. He walked in the garden when Adam and Eve were there. He placed the ministers and symbols of his presence before it when they were expelled. He expostulated with Cain before and after his awful crime. He said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” He saw the wickedness of man; and the land was corrupt before him. He communicated with Noah in various ways, and finally established his covenant with him. In all this he seems to have been present with man on earth. He lingered in the garden as long as his forbearance could be expected to influence man for good. He at length appointed the limit of a hundred and twenty years. And after watching over Noah during the deluge, he seems to have withdrawn his visible and gracious presence from the earth. Hence, the propriety of the phrase, “the Lord came down.” He still deals in mercy with a remnant of the human race, and has visited the earth and manifested His presence in a wondrous way. But He has not yet taken up His abode among people as He did in the garden, and as He intimates that He will sometime do on the renovated earth.

Genesis 11:6

In like simplicity is depicted the self-willed, God-defying spirit of combination and ambition which had now budded in the imagination of man. “The People is one” - one race, with one purpose. “And they have all one lip.” They understand one another’s mind. No misunderstanding has arisen from diversity of language. “This is their beginning.” The beginning of sin, like that of strife, is as when one letteth out water. The Lord sees in this commencement the seed of growing evil. All sin is dim and small in its first rise; but it swells by insensible degrees to the most glaring and gigantic proportions. “And now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” Now that they have made this notable beginning of concentration, ambition, and renown, there is nothing in this way which they will not imagine or attempt.

Genesis 11:7

Here is announced the means by which the defiant spirit of concentration is to be defeated. From this and the previous verse we learn that the lip, and not the stock of words, is the part of language which is to be affected, and hence, perceive the propriety of distinguishing these two in the introductory statement. To confound, is to introduce several kinds, where before there was only one; and so in the present case to introduce several varieties of form, whereas language was before of one form. Hence, it appears that the one primitive tongue was made manifold by diversifying the law of structure, without interfering with the material of which it was composed. The bases or roots of words are furnished by instinctive and evanescent analogies between sounds and things, on which the etymological law then plays its part, and so vocables come into existence. Thus, from the root “fer,” we get “fer, ferre, ferens, fert, ferebat, feret, ferat, ferret;” φέρε phere, φέρειν pherein, φέρων pherōn, φέει pherei, ἔφερε ephere, φέρῃ pherē, φέροι pheroi, etc.; ברה perēh, ברה pāroh, פרהo poreh, שפרה pārâh, יפרה yı̂preh, etc., according to the formative law of each language.

It is evident that some roots may become obsolete and so die out, while others, according to the exigencies of communication and the abilities of the speaker, may be called into existence in great abundance. But whatever new words come into the stock, are made to comply with the formative law which regulates the language of the speaker. This law has been fixed as the habitude of his mind, from which he only deviates on learning and imitating some of the formative processes of another tongue. In the absence of any other language, it is not conceivable that he should on any account alter this law. To do so would be to rebel against habit without reason, and to put himself out of relation with the other speakers of the only known tongue.

The sacred writer does not care to distinguish the ordinary from the extraordinary in the procedure of Divine Providence, inasmuch as he ascribes all events to the one creating, superintending, and administering power of God. Yet there is something beyond nature here. We can understand and observe the introduction of new words into the vocabulary of man as often as the necessity of designating a new object or process calls the naming faculty into exercise. But the new word, whether a root or not, if engrafted into the language, invariably obeys the formative law of the speech into which it is admitted. A nation adds new words to its vocabulary, but does not of itself, without external influence, alter the principle on which they are formed. Here, then, the divine interference was necessary, if the uniform was ever to become multiform. And accordingly this is the very point in which the historian marks the interposition of the Almighty.

Philologists have distinguished three or four great types or families of languages. The first of these was the Shemitic or Hebrew family. It is probable that most of the Shemites spoke dialects of this well-defined type of human speech. Aram (the Syrians), Arpakshad, (the Hebrews and Arabs), and Asshur (the Assyrians), certainly did so. Elam (Elymais), succumbed first to the Kushite race (Κίσσιοι Kissioi, Κοσσαῖοι Kossaioi) and afterward to the Persian, and so lost its language and its individuality among the nations. Lud (the Lydians) was also overrun by other nationalities. But this type of language was extended beyond the Shemites to the Kenaanites and perhaps some other Hamites. It includes the language of the Old Testament.

The second family of languages has been variously designated Japhetic, Indo-Germanic, Indo-European and Arian. It is spoken by the great bulk of the descendants of Japheth, and embraces a series of cognate modes of communication, extending from India to the various European colonies of America. It includes Greek, the tongue of the New Testament.

A third class, including the Kushite (Babylonian), Egyptian, and other African languages, has been termed Hamitic. Some of its stocks have affinities both with the Shemitic and Japhetic families.

It is probable that the congeries of unclassed languages (Allophylian, Sporadic, Turanian), including even the Chinese tongues, have relations more or less intimate with one or other of these three tolerably definite families. But the science of comparative philology is only approaching the solution of its final problem, the historical or natural relationship of all the languages of the world. It is evident, however, that the principle of classification is not so much the amount of roots in common, as the absence or presence of a given form. The diversity in the matter may be brought about by assignable natural causes; but the diversity in the form can only arise from a preternatural impulse. Forms may wear off; but they do not pass from one constituent law to another without foreign influence. The speech of a strong and numerous race may gradually overbear and annihilate that of a weak one; and in doing so may adopt many of its words, but by no means its form. So long as a national speech retains any of its forms, they continue to be part of that special type by which it is characterized.

Hence, we perceive that the interposition of Providence in confounding the lip of mankind, is the historical solution of the enigma of philology; the existence of diversity of language at the same time with the natural persistency of form and the historical unity of the human race. The data of philology, indicating that the form is the side of language needing to be touched in order to produce diversity, coincide also with the facts here narrated. The preternatural diversification of the form, moreover, marks the order amid variety which prevailed in this great revolution of mental habitude. It is not necessary to suppose that seventy languages were produced from one at the very crisis of this remarkable change, but only the few generic forms that sufficed to effect the divine purpose, and by their interaction to give origin to all subsequent varieties of language or dialect. Nor are we to imagine that the variant principles of formation went into practical development all at once, but only that they started a process which, in combination with other operative causes, issued in all the diversities of speech which are now exhibited in the human race.

That they may not understand one another’s lip. - This is the immediate result of diversifying the formative law of human speech, even though the material elements were to remain much the same as before. Further results will soon appear.

Genesis 11:8-9

The effect of the divine interposition is noted in Genesis 11:8-9. “And the Lord scattered them abroad.” Not understanding one another’s mode of speech, they feel themselves practically separated from one another. Unity of counsel and of action becomes impossible. Misunderstanding naturally follows, and begets mistrust. Diversity of interest grows up, and separation ensues. Those who have a common speech retreat from the center of union to a sequestered spot, where they may form a separate community among themselves. The lack of pasture for their flocks and provision for themselves leads to a progressive migration. Thus, the divine purpose, that they should be fruitful and multiply and replenish the land Genesis 9:1 is fulfilled. The dispersion of mankind at the same time put an end to the ambitious projects of the few. “They left off to build the city.” It is probable that the people began to see through the plausible veil which the leaders had cast over their selfish ends. The city would henceforth be abandoned to the immediate party of Nimrod. This would interrupt for a time the building of the city. Its dwellings would probably be even too numerous for its remaining inhabitants. The city received the name of Babel (confusion), from the remarkable event which had interrupted its progress for a time.

This passage, then, explains the table of nations, in which they are said to be distinguished, not merely by birth and land, but “every one after his tongue.” It is therefore attached to the table as a needful appendix, and thus completes the history of the nations so far as it is carried on by the Bible. At this point the line of history leaves the universal, and by a rapid contraction narrows itself into the individual, in the person of him who is to be ultimately the parent of a chosen seed, in which the knowledge of God and of his truth is to be preserved, amidst the degeneracy of the nations into the ignorance and error which are the natural offspring of sin.

Here, accordingly, ends the appendix to the second Bible, or the second volume of the revelation of God to man. As the first may have been due to Adam, the second may be ascribed in point of matter to Noah, with Shem as his continuator. The two joined together belong not to a special people, but to the universal race. If they had ever appeared in a written form before Moses, they might have descended to the Gentiles as well as to the Israelites. But the lack of interest in holy things would account for their disappearance among the former. The speakers of the primitive language, however, would alone retain the knowledge of such a book if extant. Some of its contents might be preserved in the memory, and handed down to the posterity of the founders of the primeval nations. Accordingly we find more or less distinct traces of the true God, the creation, the fall and the deluge, in the traditions of all nations that have an ancient history.

But even if this two-volumed Bible were not possessed by the nations in a written form, its presence here, at the head of the writings of divine truth, marks the catholic design of the Old Testament, and intimates the comprehension of the whole family of man within the merciful purposes of the Almighty. In the issues of Providence the nations appear now to be abandoned to their own devices. Such a judicial forsaking of a race, who had a second time heard the proclamation of his mercy, and a second time forsaken the God of their fathers, was naturally to be expected. But it is never to be forgotten that God twice revealed his mercy “to the whole human race” before they were left to their own ways. And even when they were given over to their own willful unrighteousness and ungodlincss, it was only to institute and develop the mystery by which they might be again fully and effectually brought back to reconciliation with God.

The new developments of sin during this period are chiefly three - drunkenness, dishonoring of a parent, and the ambitious attempt to be independent of God’s power, and to thwart his purpose of peopling the land. These forms of human selfishness still linger about the primary commands of the two tables. Insubordination to the supreme authority of God is accompanied with disrespect to parental authority. Drunkenness itself is an abuse of the free grant of the fruit of the trees orignally made to man. These manifestations of sin do not advance to the grosser or more subtle depths of iniquity afterward explicitly forbidden in the ten commandments. They indicate a people still comparatively unsophisticated in their habits.

The additional motives brought to bear on the race of man during the interval from Noah to Abraham, are the preaching of Noah, the perdition of the unbelieving antediluvians, the preservation of Noah and his family, the distinction of clean and unclean animals, the permission to partake of animal food, the special prohibition of the shedding of man’s blood, the institution thereupon of civil government, and the covenant with Noah and his seed that there should not be another deluge.

The preaching of Noah consisted in pressing the invitations and warnings of divine mercy on a wicked race. But it bore with new power on the succeeding generations, when it was verified by the drowning of the impenitent race and the saving of the godly household. This was an awful demonstration at the same time of the divine vengeance on those who persisted in sin, and of the divine mercy to the humble and the penitent. The distinction of the clean and the unclean was a special warning against that conformity with the world by which the sons of God had died out of the human race. The permission to partake of animal food was in harmony with the physical constitution of man, and seems to have been delayed until this epoch for moral as well as physical reasons. In the garden, and afterward in Eden, the vegetable products of the soil were adequate to the healthy sustenance of man. But in the universal diffusion of the human race, animal food becomes necessary.

In some regions where man has settled, this alone is available for a great portion of the year, if not for the whole. And a salutary dread of death, as the express penalty of disobedience, was a needful lesson in the infancy of the human race. But the overwhelming destruction of the doomed race was sufficient to impress this lesson indelibly on the minds of the survivors. Hence, the permission of animal food might now be safely given, especially when accompanied with the express prohibition of manslaying, under the penalty of death by the hands of the executioner. This prohibition was directly intended to counteract the bad example of Cain and Lamek, and to deter those who slew animals from slaying men; and provision was made for the enforcement of its penalty by the institution of civil government. The covenant with Noah was a recognition of the race being reconciled to God in its new head, and therefore suited to be treated as a party at peace with God, and to enter on terms of communion with him. Its promise of security from destruction by a flood was a pledge of all greater and after blessings which naturally flow from amity with God.

Thus, we perceive that the revelation of God to the antediluvian world was confirmed in many respects, and enlarged in others, by that made to the postdiluvians. The stupendous events of the deluge were a marvelous confirmation of the justice and mercy of God revealed to Adam. The preaching of Noah was a new mode of urging the truths of God on the minds of men, now somewhat exercised in reflective thought. The distinction of clean and unclean enforced the distinction that really exists between the godly and the ungodly. The prohibition of shedding human blood is the growth of a specific law out of the great principle of moral rectitude in the conscience, apace with the development of evil in the conduct of mankind. The covenant with Noah is the evolution into articulate utterance of that federal relation which was virtually formed with believing and repentant Adam. Adam himself was long silent in the depth of his self-abasement for the disobedience he had exhibited. In Noah the spirit of adoption had attained to liberty of speech, and accordingly, God, on the momentous occasion of his coming out of the ark and presenting his propitiatory and eucharistic offering, enters into a covenant of peace with him, assuring him of certain blessings.

There is something especially interesting in this covenant with Noah, as it embraces the whole human race, and is in force to this day. It is as truly a covenant of grace as that with Abraham. It is virtually the same covenant, only in an earlier and less developed form. Being made with Noah, who had found grace in the eyes of the Lord, and added to the former expression of the divine favor to man, it explicitly mentions a benefit which is merely the first and most palpable of the series of benefits, temporal and eternal, flowing from the grace of God, all of which are in due time made over to the heirs of salvation. We cannot tell how many of the Gentiles explicitly or implicitly consented to this general covenant and partook of its blessings. But it is only just to the God of Noah to be thankful that there was and is an offer of mercy to the whole family of man, all who accept of which are partakers of his grace, and that all subsequent covenants only help to the ultimate and universal acceptance of that fundamental covenant which, though violated by Adam and all his ordinary descendants, was yet in the fullness of time to be implemented by him who became the seed of the woman and the second Adam.

Verses 10-26

- Section IX - The Line to Abram

- XXXV. The Line of Abram

18. רעוּ re‛û, Re‘u, “friend;” verb: “feed, delight in, enjoy.”

20. שׂרוּג śerûg, Serug, “vine-shoot.”

22. נחור nāchôr, Nachor, “snorting.”

24. תרה terach, Terach, “delay?” Aramaic.

26. אברם 'abrām, Abram, “high father.” הרן hārān Haran, “mountaineer.”

The usual phrase, “These are the generations,” marks the beginning of the fifth document. Accordingly, we now enter upon a new phase of human development. The nations have gradually departed from the living God. They have not, however, stopped at this negative stage of ungodliness. They have fallen into polytheism and idolatry. And the knowledge of the one true God, the Maker, Possessor, and Upholder of heaven and earth, is on the verge of being entirely lost. Nevertheless the promises, first to the race of Adam, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head, and next to the family of Noah, that the Lord should be the God of Shem, were still in force. It is obvious, from the latter promise, that the seed of the woman is to be expected in the line of Shem.

The present passage contains the pedigree of Abram from Shem. From this it appears that the sacred writer here reverts to the second year after the flood - a point of time long before the close of the preceding narrative. “Shem was the son of a hundred years,” or in his hundredth year, two years after the flood, and therefore in the six hundred and third year of Noah, and consequently three years after Japheth. Abram was the twentieth, inclusive, from Adam, the tenth from Shem, and the seventh from Heber. A second Kenan is inserted after Arpakshad in the Septuagint, and in the Gospel according to Luke. But this name does not occur even in the Septuagint in 1 Chronicles 1:24, where the genealogy of Abram is given. It is not found in the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Targums, or the ancient versions. It does not appear in Josephus or Philo. Neither is it found in the Codex Bezae in the Gospel of Luke. It must therefore be regarded as an interpolation.

The following table is a continuation of that given at the fifth chapter, and will serve for the comparison of the different forms in which the numbers are presented:

Line of Abram

Hebrew Sam. Pent. Septuagint Josephus Date

11. Shem (97) 2 600 (97) 2 600 (97) 2 600 (97) 12
1559 2150
12. Arpakshad (Καινᾶν) 35 438 135 438 135 535 135
1658 2096
13. Shelah 30 433 130 433 130 460 130
1693 2126
14. Heber 34 464 134 404 134 404 134
1723 2187
15. Peleg 30 239 130 239 130 339 130
1757 1996
16. Reu 32 239 132 239 132 339 130
1787 2096
17. Serug 30 230 130 230 130 330 132
1819 2049
18. Nahor 29 148 79 148 175 304 120
1849 1997
19. Terah (Haran) 70 60 205 70 60 145 70 60 205 70 292 205 1878 2083
20. Abram cd. Enters Ken. 70




2008 2078
Sum 422

D. of Flood 1656

D. of Call 2078

From this table it appears that in the total years of life the Hebrew, Samaritan, and Septuagint agree on Shem; the Hebrew and Septuagint on Terah; the Samaritan and Septuagint on Heber; and the Hebrew and Samaritan on all the rest. In regard, however, to the years of paternity, the Hebrew stands alone, against the Samaritan and Septuagint agreeing, except in Terah, where they all agree. The difference is not in units or tens, but in the addition to the Hebrew numbers of a hundred years, except in the case of Nahor, where the addition is fifty years, or a hundred and fifty according to the Codex Vaticanus (B) of the Septuagint. Here, again, it is remarkable that Josephus while agreeing with the Samaritan and Septuagint in most of the separate numbers before paternity, agrees with the Hebrew in the sum of years from the flood to the 70th year of Terah (292 years, Josephus I. 6, 5). In Reu and Serug the numbers are transposed, seemingly by a mistake arising from the inverted order in which he gives the numbers.

In Nahor he, or his transcriber, seems to have added one hundred years according to the uniform law, and neglected the nine. To make up for this omission, the inexact round number 10 has been apparently added to the number of years after the flood, when Arpakshad was born. We have already noticed that some MSS. of Josephus gave 1656 as the sum-total of years from the creation to the flood, in which case the sums of Josephus and the Hebrew exactly agree. We find him also stating (viii. 3, 1) that the world was created 3102 years before Solomon began to build the temple, and that the deluge took place 1440 before the same point of time. Hence, we obtain 1662 years between the creation and the deluge; and this, if we only deduct from it the six years added to Lamek, agrees with the Hebrew. In the same passage he states that the entrance of Abram into Kenaan was 1020 years before the building of the temple.

Hence, we infer that 420 years elapsed from the flood to the call of Abram, which, if we count from the birth of Arpakshad, allow sixty years to elapse between the births of Haran and Abram, and date the call of Abram at 70, will exactly tally with the Hebrew. These sums cannot in any probable way be reconciled with the details in his own text, or in the Septuagint, or Samaritan. Again, Josephus calculates (x. 8, 5) that the temple was burnt 3513 years from the creation, and 1957 from the flood. Hence, the interval from the creation to the deluge would be 1556 years, differing from the Hebrew by 100 years, and reconcilable with it, if we suppose the 500th year of Noah to be the terminating date. He also concludes that the burning of the temple took place 1062 years after the exodus, thus making the interval from the flood to the exodus 895 years, while the Hebrew makes it 852. If we reckon the 100 years from the 500th year of Noah to the flood, the 292 which Josephus gives from the flood to the birth of Abraham, the 75 years to the call of Abraham, and the 430 from that to the exodus, we have 897 years, which will be reduced to Josephus’s number by omitting the 2 years from the flood to the birth of Arpakshad; and to the Hebrew number by omitting the 100 years before the flood, adding the 60 between Haran and Abram, which Josephus here neglects, and dating the call of Abram at 70 years. But by no process that we are aware of can these calculated numbers of Josephus be reconciled with the details of his own text, or the Samaritan, or Septuagint. It seems perfectly clear that the Hebrew numbers lie at the basis of these calculations of our author.

The age of paternity in the Samaritan from Peleg down is beyond the middle age of life, which is contrary to all experience. The editor of the Septuagint seems to have observed this anomaly, and added 100 years to three of these lives, and 156 to that of Nahor, against the joint testimony of the Hebrew and Samaritan. If the year of paternity in the Vatican be the correct reading, a much greater number should have been here added. The Samaritan deducts 60 years from the age of Terah, against the joint testimony of the Hebrew, Samaritan, and Josephus, seemingly because the editor conceived that Abram was born in his seventieth year.

From the Targum of Onkelos and the Peshito it is evident that the Hebrew text was the same as now up to the Christian era. Before that time there was no conceivable reason for shortening the chronology, while national vanity and emulation might easily prompt men to lengthen it. It is acknowledged that the text of the Septuagint is inferior to that of the Hebrew.

The age of puberty in the Hebrew affords more scope for the increase of population than that in the other texts. For if a man begin to have a family at thirty, it is likely to be larger than if he began a hundred years later and only lived the same number of years altogether. Now the Hebrew and Samaritan agree generally, against the Septuagint, in the total years of life; and in two instances, Heber and Terah, the Samaritan has even a less number than the Hebrew. It is to be remembered, also, that the number of generations is the same in every case. Hence, in all human probability the Hebrew age of paternity will give the greater number of inhabitants to the world in the age of Abram. If we take the moderate average of five pairs for each family, we shall have for the estimated population 4 X 5(to the 9th power) pairs, or 15,625,000 souls. This number is amply sufficient for all the kingdoms that were in existence in the time of Abram. If we defer the time of becoming a father for a whole century, we shall certainly diminish, rather than increase, the chance of his having so large a family, and thereby the probability of such a population on the earth in the tenth generation from Noah.

In these circumstances we are disposed to abide by the Hebrew text, that has descended to us in an original form, at least until we see some more cogent reasons for abandoning any of its numbers than chronologers have yet been able to produce. And we content ourselves, meanwhile, with the fact that the same system of numbers manifestly lay at the basis of all our present texts, though it may be difficult in some cases to determine to the satisfaction of all what was the original figure. The determination of the chronology of ancient history is neither a question of vital importance, nor, to us now, a part of the primary or direct design of the Hebrew records.

Verses 27-32

- Section X - Abraham

- XXXVI. The Father of Abram

27. לוט lôṭ, Lot, “veil;” verb: “cover.”

28. אוּר 'ûr, Ur, “light, flame.” כשׂדים kaśdı̂ym, Kasdim, Cardi, Kurds, Χαλδαῖοι Kaldaioi. כסד kesed, “gain?” Arabic. Ur Kasdim has been identified with Hur, now called Mugheir (the bitumened), a heap of ruins lying south of the Euphrates, nearly opposite its jucnction with the Shat el-Hie. Others place it at Edessa, now Orfa, a short way north of Carrhae.

29. שׂרי sāray, Sarai, “strife;” שׂרה śārâh “strive, rule.” מלכה mı̂lkâh Milkah, “counsel, queen;” verb: “counsel, reign.” יסכה yı̂sekâh, Jiskah, “one who spies, looks out.”

31. הרן hārān, Haran, “burnt place.” Χαῤῥαι Charran, Κάῤῥαι Karrai, a town on the Bilichus (Bililk), a tributary of the Frat, still called Harran. This has been identified by some with Harae, on the other side of the Frat, not far from Tadmor or Palmyra.

This passage forms the commencement of the sixth document, as is indicated by the customary phrase, “These are the generations.” The sense also clearly accords with this distinction; and it accounts for the repetition of the statement, “Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran.” Yet the scribe who finally arranged the text makes no account of this division; as he inserts neither the Hebrew letter פ (p) nor even the Hebrew letter ס (s) at its commencement, while he places the threefold פ (p), marking the end of a Sabbath lesson, at its close. We learn from this that the Jewish rabbis did not regard the opening phrase as a decided mark of a new beginning, or any indication of a new author. Nevertheless, this passage and the preceding one form the meet prelude to the history of Abram - the one tracing his genealogy from Shem and Heber, and the other detailing his relations with the family out of which he was called.

God has not forsaken the fallen race. On the contrary, he has once and again held out to them a general invitation to return, with a promise of pardon and acceptance. Many of the descendants of Noah have already forsaken him, and he foresees that all, if left to themselves, will sink into ungodliness. Notwithstanding all this, he calmly and resolutely proceeds with his purpose of mercy. In the accomplishment of this eternal purpose he moves with all the solemn grandeur of longsuffering patience. One day is with him as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. Out of Adam’s three sons he selects one to be the progenitor of the seed of the woman; out of Noah’s three sons he again selects one; and now out of Terah’s three is one to be selected. Among the children of this one he will choose a second one, and among his a third one before he reaches the holy family. Doubtless this gradual mode of proceeding is in keeping with the hereditary training of the holy nation, and the due adjustment of all the divine measures for at length bringing the fullness of the Gentiles into the covenant of everlasting peace.

The history here given of the postdiluvians has a striking resemblance in structure to that of the antediluvians. The preservation of Noah from the waters of the flood, is the counterpart of the creation of Adam after the land had risen out of the roaring deep. The intoxication of Noah by the fruit of a tree corresponds with the fall of Adam by eating the fruit of a forbidden tree. The worldly policy of Nimrod and his builders is parallel with the city-building and many inventions of the Cainites. The pedigree of Abram the tenth from Shem, stands over against the pedigree of Noah the tenth from Adam; and the paragraph now before us bears some resemblance to what precedes the personal history of Noah. All this tends to strengthen the impression made by some other phenomena, already noticed, that the book of Genesis is the work of one author, and not a mere file of documents by different writers.

The present paragraph is of special interest for the coming history. Its opening word and intimates its close connection with the preceding document; and accordingly we observe that the one is merely introductory to the other. The various characters brought forward are all of moment. Terah is the patriarch and leader of the migration for part of the way. Abram is the subject of the following narrative. Nahor is the grandfathcr of Rebekah. Haran is the father of Lot the companion of Abram, of Milcah the wife of Nahor and grandmother of Rebekah, and of Iskah. Iskah alone seems to have no connection with the subsequent narrative. Josephus says Sarai and Milkah were the daughters of Haran, taking no notice of Iskah. He seems, therefore, to identify Sarai and Iskah. Jerome, after his Jewish teachers, does the same. Abram says of Sarai, “She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother” Genesis 20:12.

In Hebrew phrase the granddaughter is termed a daughter; and therefore this statement might be satisfied by her being the daughter of Haran. Lot is called the brother’s son and the brother of Abram Genesis 14:12, Genesis 14:16. If Sarai be Haran’s daughter, Lot is Abram’s brother-in-law. This identification would also explain the introduction of Iskah into the present passage. Still it must be admitted, on the other hand, that persons are sometimes incidentally introduced in a history of facts, without any express connection with the course of the narrative, as Naamah in the history of the Cainites. The studied silence of the sacred writer in regard to the parentage of Sarai, in the present connection, tells rather in favor of her being the actual daughter of Terah by another wife, and so strictly the half-sister of Abram. For the Mosaic law afterward expressly prohibited marriage with “the daughter of a father” Leviticus 18:9. And, lastly, the text does not state of Iskah, “This is Sarai,” which would accord with the manner of the sacred writer, and is actually done in the Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan.

Genesis 11:28

And Haran died in the presence of his father Terah. - There is reason to believe that Haran was the oldest son of Terah. Though mentioned in the third place, like Japheth the oldest son of Noah, yet, like Japheth, also, his descendants are recounted first. He is the father of Lot, Milkah, and Iskah. His brother Nahor marries his daughter Milkah. If Iskah be the same as Sarai, Haran her father must have been some years older than Abram, as Abram was only ten years older than Sarai; and hence her father, if younger than Abram, must have been only eight or nine when she was born, which is impossible. Hence, those who take Iskah to be Sarai, must regard Abram as younger than Haran.

In the land of his birth. - The migration of Terah, therefore, did not take place until after the death of Haran. At all events, his three grandchildren, Lot, Milkah, and Iskah, were born before he commenced his journey. Still further, Milkah was married to Nahor for some time before that event. Hence, allowing thirty years for a generation, we have a period of sixty years and upwards from the birth of Haran to the marriage of his daughter. But if we take seventy years for a generation, which is far below the average of the Samaritan or the Septuagint, we have one hundred and forty years, which will carry us beyond the death of Terah, whether we reckon his age at one hundred and forty-five with the Samaritan, or at two hundred and five with the other texts. This gives another presumption in favor of the Hebrew average for a generation.

In Ur of the Kasdim. - The Kasdim, Cardi, Kurds, or Chaldees are not to be found in the table of nations. They have been generally supposed to be Shemites. This is favored by the residence of Abram among them, by the name Kesed, being a family name among his kindred Genesis 22:22, and by the language commonly called Chaldee, which is a species of Aramaic. But among the settlers of the country, the descendants of Ham probably prevailed in early times. Nimrod, the founder of the Babylonian Empire, was a Kushite. The ancient Babylonish language, Rawlinson (Chaldaea) finds to be a special dialect, having affinities with the Shemitic, Arian, Turanian, and Hamitic tongues. The Chaldees were spread over a great extent of surface; but their most celebrated seat was Chaldaea proper, or the land of Shinar. The inhabitants of this country seem to have been of mixed descent, being bound together by political rather than family ties.

Nimrod, their center of union, was a despot rather than a patriarch. The tongue of the Kaldees, whether pure or mixed, and whether Shemitic or not, is possibly distinct from the Aramaic, in which they addressed Nebuchadnezzar in the time of Daniel Daniel 1:4; Daniel 2:4. The Kaldin at length lost their nationality, and merged into the caste or class of learned men or astrologers, into which a man might be admitted, not merely by being a Kaldai by birth, but by acquiring the language and learning of the Kasdim Daniel 1:4; Daniel 5:11. The seats of Chaldee learning were Borsippa (Birs Nimrud), Ur, Babylon, and Sepharvaim (Sippara, Mosaib). Ur or Hur has been found by antiquarian research (see Rawlinson’s Ancient Monarchies) in the heap of ruins called Mugheir, “the bitumened.” This site lies now on the right side of the Frat; but the territory to which it belongs is mainly on the left. And Abram coming from it would naturally cross into Mesopotamia on his way to Haran. Orfa, the other supposed site of Ur, seems to be too near Haran. It is not above twenty or twenty-five miles distant, which would not be more than one day’s journey.

Genesis 11:29, Genesis 11:30

But Sarai was barren. - From this statement it is evident that Abram had been married for some time before the migration took place. It is also probable that Milkah had begun to have a family; a circumstance which would render the barrenness of Sarai the more remarkable.

Genesis 11:31, Genesis 11:32

And Terah took Abram. - Terah takes the lead in this emigration, as the patriarch of the family. In the Samaritan Pentateuch Milkah is mentioned among the emigrants; and it is not improbable that Nahor and his family accompanied Terah, as we find them afterward at Haran, or the city of Nahor Genesis 24:10. “And they went forth with them.” Terah and Abram went forth with Lot and the other companions of their journey. “To go into the land of Kenaan. It was the design of Terah himself to settle in the land of Kenaan. The boundaries of this land are given in the table of nations Genesis 10:19. The Kenaanites were therefore in possession of it when the table of nations was drawn up. It is certain, however, that there were other inhabitants, some of them Shemites probably, anterior to Kenaan, and subjected by his invading race. The prime motive to this change of abode was the call to Abram recorded in the next chapter. Moved by the call of God, Abram “obeyed; and he went out not knowing whither he went” Hebrews 11:8.

But Terah was influenced by other motives to put himself at the head of this movement. The death of Haran, his oldest son, loosened his attachment to the land of his birth. Besides, Abram and Sarai were no doubt especially dear to him, and he did not wish to lose their society. The inhabitants also of Ur had fallen into polytheism, or, if we may so speak, allotheism, the worship of other gods. Terah had himself been betrayed into compliance with this form of impiety. It is probable that the revelation Abram had received from heaven was the means of removing this cloud from his mind, and restoring in him the knowledge and worship of the true God. Hence, his desire to keep up his connection with Abram, who was called of God. Prayerful conversation with the true and living God, also, while it was fast waning in the land of the Kasdim, seems to have been still maintained in its ancient purity in some parts of the land of Kenaan and the adjacent countries. In the land of Uz, a Shemite, perhaps even at a later period, lived Job; and in the neighboring districts of Arabia were his several friends, all of whom acknowledged the true God. And in the land of Kenaan was Melkizedec, the king of Salem, and the priest of the Most High God. A priest implies a considerable body of true worshippers scattered over the country. Accordingly, the name of the true God was known and revered, at least in outward form, wherever Abram went, throughout the land. The report of this comparatively favorable state of things in the land of Kenaan would be an additional incentive to the newly enlightened family of Terah to accompany Abram in obedience to the divine call.

Terah set out on his journey, no doubt, as soon after the call of Abram as the preparatory arrangements could be made. Now the promise to Abram was four hundred and thirty years before the exodus of the children of Israel out of Egypt Exodus 12:40. Of this long period his seed was to be a stranger in a land that was not theirs for four hundred years Genesis 15:13. Hence, it follows that Isaac, his seed, was born thirty years after the call of Abram. Now Abram was one hundred years old when Isaac was born, and consequently the call was given when he was seventy years of age - about five years before he entered the land of Kenaan Genesis 12:4. This whole calculation exactly agrees with the incidental statement of Paul to the Galatians Galatians 3:17 that the law was four hundred and thirty years after the covenant of promise. Terah was accordingly two hundred years old when he undertook the long journey to the land of Kenaan; for he died at two hundred and five, when Abram was seventy-five. Though proceeding by easy stages, the aged patriarch seems to have been exhausted by the length and the difficulty of the way. “They came to Haran and dwelt there.” Broken down with fatigue, he halts for a season at Haran to recruit his wasted powers. Filial piety, no doubt, kept Abram watching over the last days of his venerable parents, who probably still cling to the fond hope of reaching the land of his adoption. Hence, they all abode in Haran for the remainder of the five years from the date of Abram’s call to leave his native land. “And Terah died in Haran.” This intimates that he would have proceeded with the others to the land of Kenaan if his life had been prolonged, and likewise that they did not leave Haran until his death.

We have already seen that Abram was seventy-five years of age at the death of Terah. It follows that he was born when Terah was one hundred and thirty years old, and consequently sixty years after Haran. This is the reason why we have placed one hundred and thirty (seventy and sixty), in the genealogical table opposite Terah, because the line of descent is not traced through Haran, who was born when he was seventy, but through Abram, who by plain inference was born when he was one hundred and thirty years old. It will be observed, also, that we have set down seventy opposite Abram as the date of his call, from which is counted the definite period of four hundred and thirty years to the exodus. And as all our texts agree in the numbers here involved, it is obvious that the same adjustment of years has in this case to be made, whatever system of chronology is adopted. Hence, Abram is placed first in the list of Terah’s sons, simply on account of his personal pre-eminence as the father of the faithful and the ancestor of the promised seed; he and his brother Nahor are both much younger than Haran, are married only after his death, and one of them to his grown-up daughter Milkah; and he and his nephew Lot are meet companions in age as well as in spirit.

Hence, also, Abram lingers in Haran, waiting to take his father with him to the land of promise, if he should revive so far as to be fit for the journey. But it was not the lot of Terah to enter the land, where he would only have been a stranger. He is removed to the better country, and by his departure contributes no doubt to deepen the faith of his son Abram, of his grandson Lot, and of his daughter-in-law Sarai. This explanation of the order of events is confirmed by the statement of Stephen: “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Charran; and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell” Acts 7:2-4.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Genesis 11". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.