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Tuesday, July 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 11

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

Verses 1-32

Chapter 11

Now in chapter eleven.

The whole earth was of one language, and one speech ( Genesis 11:1 ).

Probably Hebrew because in the earlier record of the book of Genesis, the names of the people were Hebrew names that have Hebrew meanings. And so the original language was perhaps the Hebrew language itself. "The whole earth was of one language, one speech."

And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly ( Genesis 11:2-3 ).

Now this is an interesting thing because it shows that very early after the flood, they had brick kilns and rather than just building their houses out of rocks, they were advanced to the state of making bricks and putting them in the kiln, burning them thoroughly. So rather than just adobe kind of buildings, they were now using a mortar with a cured brick or a burned brick and they began to build, of course, the city of Nineveh, the city of Babylon, all began to be built in this period by Nimrod himself.

And so they said, Let us build a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole eaRuth ( Genesis 11:4 ).

Now God's command was to actually fill the earth. It's an attempt to sort of countermand God's commandment. "Lest we be scattered abroad throughout all the earth." Let's join together. Let's just, you know, congregate in this area.

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded ( Genesis 11:5 ).

Now again we're describing the activities of God in human terms as though God were coming down and looking things over. In reality, God is omnipresent. He was watching the thing the whole while.

The LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they all have one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do ( Genesis 11:6 ).

The developing of this religious system. Now it is very possible that originally God placed the stars in the heavens for signs and that the Gospel is actually given in the Zodiac, the virgin, the lion. But as Satan has always taken the things of God and twisted them and perverted them, so from the original message that God had placed there in the heavens of His plan for the ages, that there was that perversion of it into what is the modern astrology, which began way back again in the Babylonian era here in Babel where they were going to build this tower as an observatory to observe the constellations and so forth at the sky. But it is quite possible that originally the Gospel was there indeed in the stars as far as the message of God to man.

Now it would seem that the Magi who came from the east to find the Christ child were reading correctly the heavens. "We have seen His star in the east, we've come to worship Him". And that they were reading truly the signs that God had placed there. Now the Bible says that God has placed the stars for signs and for seasons. And it is very possible that originally there was indeed the message of God in the stars but has been perverted, as I say, into the modern astrology. And the perversion began way back there where they began to look at the stars for the influence over their lives, rather than looking to God.

And so God in His Word puts down astrologers, stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, those who sought them to govern their lives by the influence of the stars upon them and so forth. And God really speaks out very heavily against that in the prophecy of Isaiah. But it is an ancient, ancient thing, the horoscopes and all. But as with so many things, it is possible that in the beginning it was pure and had a true message of God, but it has been perverted as time has gone on.

So God seeing this development said

Let us go down, and confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. And so the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel ( Genesis 11:7-9 );

Babel, whichever pronunciation you prefer. It really is a word that just sort of it was a word that was adapted because of what the sound sounded like. Just like the word "barbarian" is a word that was developed by the Greeks and the word "barbarian" in Greek literally is barbar. And anybody who didn't speak Greek was a barbar because your language sounded so funny. So anybody who didn't speak Greek, they just considered them uncultured, you know; they're barbar. It just means that they talk some other language rather than the cultured Greek.

And so from that we get the word "barbarian" but it originally was just a, you know, just a sound that they made, unintelligible sound by which they were sort of mimicking any language other than Greek. It's barbar, oh; he's a barbar. And so this "Babel" is the same thing. It's a mimicking of a sound that was not understood. Babel just is somewhat like the barbar. Babel. It's just "I don't understand what you're saying". What do you mean "ba-ba"? And so the word has come to mean confusion, lack of understanding. And so they called the name of the place Babel.

because the LORD did there confound or confuse the languages of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the eaRuth ( Genesis 11:9 ).

And so at this point, the people who were speaking. Of course this was a tremendous miracle indeed, the development of all of these languages. Now the interesting thing about languages is that many times we think of the English language because we grew up with it, you know, it's such an excellent language in communicating ideas. And we think, you know, people who are living in say, primitive cultures, in stone age cultures surely they must have a primitive form of language. Ours must surely be a highly cultured form of language, the English language. And they must have very primitive language, but it is an interesting thing that many of the primitive cultures have the most complex languages, highly complex languages, much more so than English. And thus, there is great difficulty in translating into many of these languages of primitive people.

You think, oh, it would be easy to translate, you know, "The man went to church." But some of these primitive cultures have so many words for "man". So you'd have to know if the man was one that you knew well, or you knew slightly because they have one word for man that you know well, and another one for a man that you know slightly. Then you'd have to know whether you like the man or not. And then you'd have to know whether or not you respected him. And actually they have maybe twenty different words for "man." So you'd have to know all kinds of things about this man before you know which word would fit the text or the translation.

Now the word "he went," did he go once in his life? Or did he go occasionally? Was it something that he was accustomed to doing? Or something that was rare for him to do? And so even in the verb you have so many different words that would describe it, that you get into the translation and really you want to throw up your hands and quit because these languages are so many times so much more complex.

I have a friend who was translating the gospel of Mark into the Choco dialect in Panama and he came to the place where he was working with his translating helper, and he came to the place where Jesus spit in the ground and made mud and put it in the blind man's eyes and told him to go to the pool of Siloam and wash it out. So in translating this word "spit" the native said, But how did he spit? You know there's many different ways to spit. Well, we only have one English word but the Choco Indian has so many different words.

You have a different way of spitting and of course how do you know which word it is? We don't know what word it is. And because you know they have so many different words he said, "Well", he said, "did he hock and spit? Or did he pick up-did he pick up the dirt in his hand and just spit and mix it up? Or did he spit on the ground and mix it up? Or did he put the dirt in his eye and spit in his eye and mix it up?" And he would have a different word for each action. Oh, we don't know what Jesus did, but this development of language.

Now it is interesting that man has in any and every culture, no matter how primitive, highly complex method of communicating of ideas, and I don't care how primitive or ignorant that particular culture may be. Their languages are highly developed in the ability to communicate their ideas, whether they do it through grunts, through a singsong, or whatever. They are able to communicate their ideas no matter how primitive their culture.

This certainly is something that separates man from the animal kingdom. There is nothing in the animal kingdom that even approximates a complex form of communication of ideas. But yet in the most primitive culture of man, and in every culture of man, there is a language communication. So this was the beginning of the separation of languages.

Now after the separation into the basic language groups, there of course have become modifications even within the same language or generalized language. We find the romance languages and similarities between the Spanish and the Portuguese and the Italian and the French. We find that there is certain similarity between the German and the Scandinavian. We find that English is a language that has borrowed much from Latin and from Greek.

So there have been developed languages from the basic language system, but God divided their languages. And instantly they no doubt got together in groups that they could communicate to, family groups and so forth where they could communicate to each other, but it caused the division and the separation. And that spreading out then into the world and scattering abroad upon the face of the earth as is described.

Now we're going to zero in down to Abraham because that's where our story must move.

So these are the generations of Shem ( Genesis 11:10 ):

Getting now again a repetition of the generations of Seth, Shem, but moving definitely just down towards Abraham.

He was a hundred years old, and he begat Arphaxad two years after the flood: he lived after he begat Arphaxad five hundred years, and he begat sons and daughters ( Genesis 11:10-11 ).

So he lived to be about six hundred years old approximately.

Arphaxad lived five, thirty-five years, and begat Salah ( Genesis 11:12 ):

And we get, he begat Eber and we follow down to Abraham, and actually that's the one where we're coming to, so let's go on to verse twenty-six.

Terah lived seventy years, and he begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran ( Genesis 11:26 ).

Now whether or not this is the order in which they were born, we do not know. Whether or not you know how old was Terah when Abraham was born, we don't know. Maybe he was the third son. We have no way of knowing but he lived seventy years and he had these three sons, Abram, Nahor and Haran. Now he lived after that for many years also.

Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot. And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees. And Abram and Nahor took them wives ( Genesis 11:27-29 ):

So their brother Haran died early having married and born one son, Lot. Actually he bore some daughters, too. And they took wives and

the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife was Milcah, for she was also the daughter of Haran ( Genesis 11:29 ),

So he married his niece.

the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah. But Sarai was barren; and she had no child. And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran ( Genesis 11:29-31 )

So with Haran dead, Lot being his son, Abraham sort of adopted Lot because Abraham did not have any sons of his own. So he sort of adopted Lot and Lot became a journeyer with Abraham.

But they altogether went from the Ur of the Chaldees ( Genesis 11:31 ),

Now it was in the Ur of the Chaldees, in this area where this false religious systems, the Pantheism and Polytheism and all began to develop and the perverted religious systems, and so they left the Ur of the Chaldees.

to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran, and dwelt there ( Genesis 11:31 ).

Now the fact that they all left to go to Canaan means that in the beginning, it could be that Abraham's father also received the call of God to leave and get out of this area that had begun to become religiously polluted and to come into a whole new area. But Terah, they came as far as Haran and there they dwelt.

And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran ( Genesis 11:32 ).

Now there is a seeming contradiction of scripture here when you get in the New Testament and Stephen is talking about Abraham being called of God to leave the Ur of the Chaldees and to go to Israel, how that after he said Terah died, Abraham then went on to Canaan. But when you start putting the ages together, you find that Abraham actually left, if Terah lived to be two hundred and five years old, then he was seven years old when Abraham was born then, and Abraham was seventy-five when he left. The seventy-five and the seventy makes a hundred and forty-five years, and yet he lived to be two hundred and five years old. So you have a discrepancy in mathematics here. So what is the solution or what is the answer?

There are a couple possible suggestions. Number one, Abraham may not have been the firstborn son. They may not be listed in the order of their births but in the order of precedence of their son, and Abraham could have been born many years after. In other words, seventy years and maybe Haran was born when he was seventy years old. And it doesn't give his age at the time of Abraham's birth. That's one possibility. So that Abraham was sort of a late child and that indeed by the time he was seventy-five his father was two hundred and five years old, very possible.

Another possibility is that Stephen is talking in sort of a spiritual sense that he died. You remember one day a young fellow came to Jesus and said, "I'll follow you but allow me first to go bury my father". And Jesus said, "Let the dead bury the dead. Come and follow Me" ( Matthew 8:21-22 ). Now the "let me first bury my father" was a common term. It didn't mean that his father was dead. It isn't that Jesus is showing a disrespect for a father who had died, but it is a term whereby a person was saying "I don't want to do it now. I want to wait until my father dies". It's just a term of procrastination or putting something off until later. I want to do it later. Wait till my father dies. Your father can be alive and healthy. He may be good for another fifty, sixty years. But it was a term of procrastination, a common term of procrastination.

Now knowing the use of Jesus in this term in the ideas that were given by it, it could be that Stephen is using it in the same sense and that Terah, when they came to Haran, died spiritually because Terah began to actually apostatize and became also a worshipper of false gods. So it could be that he's referring to the spiritual death of Terah when he turned to spiritual apostasy. And it was at that point, when Terah spiritually was dead unto God, that Abraham realized he had to make his journey alone. And he took off with his -with Lot and the servants and so forth, and his wife Sarah. And they began then to journey onto the land that God had promised to show him.

Actually going from the area of the Ur of the Chaldees going to Haran, they were going about six hundred miles northwest. It was about four hundred miles from Haran, down to the land of Canaan to the area of Shechem where he was ultimately to end up. But Abraham started off journeying in obedience to God from the Ur of the Chaldees. They stopped with his father. It could be that his dad said "hey, this is good. Let's settle here. Let's settle in this area. It's nice, you know, it's productive and all".

Let's settle here and there was a spiritual death of Terah to the call of God and awareness of God or the spiritual death. And Stephen could be referring to that when Terah died, then that spiritual death, Abraham realized that he had to leave now his father and that family and journey on by himself to the land that God had promised to show him.

So don't cast off your faith because of a bit of mathematics here. There are possible explanations for and which one is correct, of course, we don't know.

Chapter 12

Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy family ( Genesis 12:1 ),

So Abraham really wasn't totally obedient at this point. And this to me is interesting, because Abraham is always held as the model of faith in the New Testament, the model of a man who believed and trusted God. He's the prime example of the man who believes. And so many times when we read about faith and the exploits of faith, we think, "But I'm so weak and I've blown it so many times, surely I can't do it". It's good to know that Abraham wasn't perfect nor was his faith perfect. It's good to know that you don't have to be perfect and your faith doesn't have to be perfect for God to honor you.

So God said, "Get away from your family". He took his dad with him from the Ur of the Chaldees to Haran. That was an incomplete obedience. Stopping at Haran was incomplete obedience to God. So even men noted as men of faith have their moments. And just because you slipped back and have your moments doesn't mean that God won't honor you and honor your faith, or that God doesn't love you and wants to still work in a powerful way in your life, just because you blow it and you stop at Haran. It doesn't mean that the call of God is going to be removed and there's no chance for you to go on and fulfill that which God has laid upon your life and your heart to do.

Many people have stopped at Haran, but the time came for him to move on, which he did. Maybe the time has come for you to move on from your Haran. "The Lord said, Get thee out of thy country, from thy father's family."

from your father's house, to a land that I will show you ( Genesis 12:1 ):

So by the very virtue of the fact that Terah went with him, it could be the old man was saying, "Oh no, don't leave. I want to go with you, son". Or it could be Abraham was saying, "Okay, dad, all right", you know. And he could have been weak in this area. But then his dad began to drag him down and slow him down, until his father died spiritually following after the pagan practices, and Abraham moved on.

I will make of thee [God said] a great nation ( Genesis 12:2 ),

Now God is establishing covenant with Abraham. "Get away from your family, your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I'll make you a great nation".

I will bless you, I will make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing ( Genesis 12:2 ):

All of these promises God fulfilled to Abraham. He made of him a great nation. God has blessed him and made the name of Abraham great. It's honored and respected. "And thou shalt be a blessing."

And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed ( Genesis 12:3 ).

And from that is the promise that the Messiah would come from Abraham. "In thee all the families of the earth." Not just the Jews but all the families of the earth will be blessed from Abraham's progeny, even Jesus Christ.

So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed out of Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go to the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came ( Genesis 12:4-5 ).

Four hundred-mile journey, which in those days, with all of the animals and everything else, must have taken quite a long time indeed.

And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Shechem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanites [or the descendants or Canaan] were then in the land. And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there he built an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him ( Genesis 12:6-7 ).

Now the promise of giving the land to Abraham's seed at this point would also include the Palestinians, because the Arabs also were descendants of Abraham through Ishmael. So at this point, the land is promised not just to the Jews but also to thy seed, which would include the Arabs, Palestinians. But later on, when God repeats it to Jacob, it excludes the Arabs.

And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai [or Ai] on the east ( Genesis 12:8 ):

Now when Joshua came in later to conquer the land, he came up from Jericho and conquered Ai and then onto Bethel. Abraham now has a favorite spot there near Bethel in between Bethel and Ai. It's the highest part of the land in that particular area. It gives you just a fabulous view. It's about ten miles north of Jerusalem and about twenty miles or so from Shechem. But from there you can see down into the Jordan valley, you can see up towards the area of Samaria, you can see Jerusalem and the area south. You can look over towards the Mediterranean. It just is a beautiful vantage-point in that mountainous area between Bethel and Ai. And when Abraham came to this area, he built an altar. "And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed I give this land."

he built an altar unto the LORD, and called on the name of the LORD. And Abram journeyed, going on down now to the south. And there was a famine in the land: so Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land ( Genesis 12:8-10 ).

So there was a drought in the-of course, he went on south towards Beersheba. There is always a drought down there. The place is really dry. It's 'deserty'.

And it came to pass, when he was come near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife ( Genesis 12:11 ),

Now here's our great man of faith, our example.

Behold now, I know that you are a beautiful woman to look upon ( Genesis 12:11 ):

Hey, that's saying a lot to your wife when she's sixty-five years old. But because of the longevity, at sixty-five you were still really, you know, in your prime of youth in a sense of beauty. Abraham lived to be over one hundred and sixty. So at sixty-five you're really not that old yet in those times. But it does, you know, when you think of sixty-five years old and talking about her great beauty, it does sound to be very interesting. "I know that you are a beautiful woman to look upon."

Therefore when it comes to pass, when the Egyptians will see you, they will say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, and keep you alive ( Genesis 12:12 ).

They'll take you into their harem. Now this was a common practice among the Egyptian kings is to just, if a man, if he saw a beautiful woman, he'd kill her husband and take her as his wife. And so he said,

I pray that you'll tell them that you are my sister: that it might be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee ( Genesis 12:13 ).

Hey, this is our great man of faith, Abraham. You see, even great men of faith have their weaknesses and their moments. Now that encourages me for some silly reason because I also have my moments of weaknesses. But I have the concept that when I get weak, God just says, "All right, that's it. You had your chance". You know, wipe out, but not so. God continued to honor Abraham. God continued to bless Abraham. He wasn't perfect.

God doesn't use perfect people because they don't exist. So don't worry that you're not perfect. Don't think that God is going to reject you because you're not perfect. Don't think that God can't use you because you're not perfect. God blessed Abraham. God used Abraham though he had his lapses of faith, just like we have our lapses of faith.

So it came to pass, that, when Abram was come to Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very beautiful. And the princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and they commended her before the Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into the Pharaoh's house. And he entreated Abram [or he treated Abraham] well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and asses, and menservants, maidservants, she asses, camels. And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife. And the Pharaoh called Abram, and said, What have you done to me? Why didn't you tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, She is my sister? I might have taken her to be my wife: now behold your wife, take her, go your way. And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had ( Genesis 12:14-20 ).

So he came under then a special protective edict of the Pharaoh so that he would not fall prey to the men in order that they might take Sarai his wife.

So an introduction now to Abraham. We're beginning now to follow and we will from now on follow Abraham as we come on down towards Christ, as the Bible now is the developing of the nation and from the nation the coming forth of the Savior of the world.

So next week we'll continue on beginning with chapter thirteen. Shall we stand? God bless you and enrich your heart and your mind in the things of the Spirit, giving you understanding of His Word. And may God increase your faith and your knowledge and understanding of Him. God go with you and bless you and watch over you and keep you in all your ways, strengthening you and ministering to you through His love. In Jesus' name. "

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Genesis 11". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/genesis-11.html. 2014.
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