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Bible Commentaries

Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Genesis 11

Verse 1

‘OF ONE LANGUAGE’

‘And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.’

Genesis 11:1

The New Testament is always converting into blessings the curses of the Old Testament. The burdens and severities of the Law are not only the types but the very substances of Gospel liberty and truth; the confusion of Babel leads to a greater harmony, and its dispersion ends in a more perfect union.

I. After the Flood the whole earth was of one language and one speech. Now not even one country has one language within itself. No two persons that ever meet have it. The words may have the same spelling, but they do not carry to the hearer exactly the same sense in which they were spoken. There is not on this earth, in any fraction of it, one language and one speech; hence a great part of our sin and misery.

II. Even if there were a language perfectly the same, yet, until there was a setting to rights of disorders which have come into human thought, and until minds were themselves set in one accord, there could not he unity.

III. The men of the old world determined to do two things which real unity never does. They resolved to make a great monument to their own glory, and they thought to frustrate a law of God and to break a positive rule of our being. Their unity was a false unity. They sought their own praise, and it ran contrary to the mind of God. Their profane unity was dashed into hundreds of divergent atoms, and was carried by the four winds to the four corners of the earth.

IV. What were the consequences of this scattering of the race? (1) It carried the knowledge of the true God and of the one faith into all the lands whither they went; (2) God replenished the whole surface of the globe by spreading men over it; (3) it was a plea for prayer, an argument for hope, a pledge of promise.

V. From that moment God has steadily carried on His design of restoring unity to the earth. His choosing of Abraham, His sending of Christ, the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, were all means to this very end.

—Rev. Jas. Vaughan.

Illustration

(1) ‘One of the chief external hindrances to the spread of the Gospel is the confusion of tongues, such as we read of at the building of the tower of Babel. A strange language which the missionary meets when he crosses a sea or a mountain range, is like a wall that stops his progress, saying, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.” The men of Galilee, at Pentecost, surmounting that difficulty by a miracle of Divine power, might have sung with David, “By my God assisting me I overleap a wall.” Should we not break forth on every side and burst through or overleap the barrier of strange tongues and all other barriers that stand in the way, and never rest until the kingdoms of the world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ?’

(2) ‘A Hindoo and New Zealander met upon the deck of a missionary ship. They had been converted from their heathenism and were brothers in Christ; but they could not speak to each other. They pointed to their Bibles, shook hands, and smiled in one another’s faces; but that was all. At last a happy thought occurred to the Hindoo. With sudden joy he exclaimed “Hallelujah.” The New Zealander in delight cried out “Amen.” These two words, not found in their own heathen tongues, were to them the beginning of “one language and one speech.” ’

Verse 9

‘WHAT WILL THESE BABBLERS SAY?’

‘Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth.’

Genesis 11:9

I. God is not the Author of confusion, but of peace.—Yet once, in His wise compassion, He made confusion in order to prevent it; He destroyed peace, that in the end he might restore it.

The history of Babel is far more than a record of the defeated attempt of wicked men to accomplish an impossible folly. The building of that tower was the first great act of presumptuous rebellion against God subsequent to the Flood, and therefore it was meet that a measure of vengeance should fall upon it such as, while the world stood, should never perish from the memory of mankind. And, as God so often orders, the crime of these men became their punishment. ‘Let us make a name,’ they cried, ‘lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth.’ And this very thing it was which caused them to be scattered.

II. God, who hath made of one blood all nations of men, did, by that exercise of His power, the best thing that could be done to check and retard the rapid growth of evil, and to prepare the means by which man might be brought back to obedience. While there was but one tongue, men easily corrupted each other; when there were many, evil communications were greatly hindered. God marred the Babel-builders’ work, but it was in order to mar their wickedness; and meanwhile He had His own gracious designs for a remedy. It was on the day of Pentecost that that remedy was first applied. Those cloven tongues of fire which, on that day, rested on the heads of the apostles, undid, to as great an extent as will be permitted in this world, the confusion of Babel.

Rev. F. E. Paget.

Illustration

(1) ‘Many things which we do are not wrong and sinful in themselves; only sinful because of the bad motives with which they are done. No sin in building a city, nor yet in building a lofty tower; all depends upon the character of the object or motive.

The Babel builders had several motives:

(a) To provide a place of abode. Innocent so far. The whole region had few large stones or rocks, hence they would require to make bricks, as Israelites did later in Egypt, and use slime for mortar. Must have done this largely; industry good. No blame yet.

(b) Ambition. “Let us make a name.” Probably when the city began to grow larger they began to grow proud, and said, “This shall be the greatest and most famous city in the world. All others shall be as nothing to it; we will build ‘a tower whose top may reach unto heaven’ ”—i.e. be exceedingly lofty—“and all the world will talk about it; we shall be famous” (compare Daniel 4:30).

(c) That they might be united. “Lest we be scattered”; no harm in that if they wished for union for good purposes; but God had told them to “replenish the earth.” But they wished to keep together to “ make a name,” merely to gratify vanity and ambition; a kind of ambition which could lead only to tyranny and godlessness.’

(2) ‘ Genesis 11:2 seems to say that Babel was built by men who had come into the land of Shinar, “from the east,” as if the line of migration taken by this race of men had proceeded from its primeval seat in Armenia first southwards and then westwards, a view which disagrees both with the history mentioned above and with the native inscriptions which have been lately deciphered. Accordingly, the phrase “from the east” has been interpreted to mean “towards the east,” as is the case in Genesis 13:11, and is thus made to agree with the view that the men who built Babel entered the country from the south and west. But if the race of Cush came, as we have supposed, by sea, it is evident that their line of advance from the Persian Gulf was in a direction from south-east to north-west, i.e. one which, with no great violence of language, may be described as moving “from the east.” ’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Genesis 11". Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/genesis-11.html. 1876.