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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Genesis 11

Verses 1-26


Chapters 1-11 provide an introduction to the Book of Genesis, the Pentateuch, and the whole Bible.

"What we find in chaps. 1-11 is the divine initiation of blessing, which is compromised by human sin followed by gracious preservation of the promise: blessing-sin-grace." [Note: Mathews, p. 60.]

"His [Moses’] theological perspective can be summarized in two points. First, the author intends to draw a line connecting the God of the Fathers and the God of the Sinai covenant with the God who created the world. Second, the author intends to show that the call of the patriarchs and the Sinai covenant have as their ultimate goal the reestablishment of God’s original purpose in Creation." [Note: Sailhamer, p. 19. Cf. Mathews, p. 77.]

"Evidently an interest in the way in which the world and humankind came into existence and in the history of the earliest times was characteristic of the ancient civilized world. At any rate, various ’origin stories’ or ’creation myths’ about the activities of a variety of creator-gods are still extant in what remains of the literatures of ancient Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia. But the combination of such accounts with narratives about more recent times testifies to an additional motivation. The aim of such works was to give their readers-or to strengthen-a sense of national or ethnic identity, particularly at a time when there was for some reason a degree of uncertainty or hesitation about this. . . .

"The placing of Genesis 1-11 as a prologue to the main body of the work also afforded the opportunity to express certain distinctively Israelite articles of faith which it would have been more difficult to introduce into the later narratives, particularly with regard to the doctrine of God." [Note: Whybray, pp. 36-37. See Gordon H. Johnston, "Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths," Bibliotheca Sacra 165:658 (April-June 2008):178-94.]

"Genesis 1-11 as we read it is a commentary, often highly critical, on ideas current in the ancient world about the natural and supernatural world. Both individual stories as well as the final completed work seem to be a polemic against many of the commonly received notions about the gods and man. But the clear polemical thrust of Genesis 1-11 must not obscure the fact that at certain points biblical and extrabiblical thought are in clear agreement. Indeed Genesis and the ancient Near East probably have more in common with each other than either has with modern secular thought." [Note: Wenham, p. xlvii.]

Verses 1-9

E. What became of Noah’s sons 10:1-11:9

This section gives in some detail the distribution of Noah’s descendants over the earth after the Flood (cf. Genesis 9:18-19).

This fourth toledot section (Genesis 10:1 to Genesis 11:9) brings the inspired record of primeval events to a climax and provides a transition to the patriarchal narratives. All the nations of the world in their various lands with their different languages descended from Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Of special interest to the original Israelite readers were the Canaanites and the other ancient Near Eastern powers.

"From this section we learn that the ’blessing’ is for all peoples because all nations have their source in the one man, Noah, whom God favored. Moreover, the disunity among Noah’s offspring that resulted from the tower event [Genesis 11:1-9] did not prevent the blessing God had envisioned for humanity." [Note: Mathews, p. 427.]

"The Tower of Babel incident (Genesis 11:1-9), though following the table in the present literary arrangement, actually precedes chronologically the dispersal of the nations. This interspersal of narrative (Genesis 11:1-9) separates the two genealogies of Shem (Genesis 10:21-31; Genesis 11:10-26), paving the way for the particular linkage between the Terah (Abraham) clan and the Shemite lineage (Genesis 11:27). The story of the tower also looks ahead by anticipating the role that Abram (Genesis 12:1-3) will play in restoring the blessing to the dispersed nations." [Note: Ibid., p. 428.]

1. The table of nations ch. 10

This table shows that Yahweh created all peoples (cf. Deuteronomy 32:8; Amos 9:7; Acts 17:26). Like the genealogy in chapter 5, this one traces 10 main individuals, and the last one named had three sons.

This chapter contains one of the oldest, if not the oldest, ethnological table in the literature of the ancient world. It reveals a remarkable understanding of the ethnic and linguistic situation following the Flood. Almost all the names in this chapter have been found in archaeological discoveries in the last century and a half. Many of them appear in subsequent books of the Old Testament.

". . . the names in chapter 10 are presented in a dissimilar manner: the context may be that of an individual (e.g., Nimrod), a city (e.g., Asshur), a people (e.g., Jebusites) or a nation (e.g., Elam).

"A failure to appreciate this mixed arrangement of Genesis 10 has led, we believe, to numerous unwarranted conclusions. For example, it should not be assumed that all the descendants of any one of Noah’s sons lived in the same locality, spoke the same language, or even belonged to a particular race." [Note: Barry J. Beitzel, The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands, p. 76. See pages 76-79 for discussion of each name in chapter 10.]

"The table of nations is a ’horizontal’ genealogy rather than a ’vertical’ one (those in chaps. 5 and 11 are vertical). Its purpose is not primarily to trace ancestry; instead it shows political, geographical, and ethnic affiliations among tribes for various reasons, most notable being holy war. Tribes shown to be ’kin’ would be in league together. Thus this table aligns the predominant tribes in and around the land promised to Israel. These names include founders of tribes, clans, cities, and territories." [Note: Ross, "Genesis," p. 42.]

In contrast to the genealogy in chapter 5, this one lists no ages. It contains place and group names, which are spoken of as the ancestors of other places or groups, as well as the names of individuals. God built nations from families. Thus it is quite clearly a selective list, not comprehensive. The writer’s choice of material shows that he had particular interest in presenting Israel’s neighbors. Israel would deal with, displace, or subjugate many of these peoples, as well as the Canaanites (ch. 9). They all had a common origin. Evidently 70 nations descended from Shem, Ham, and Japheth: 26 from Shem, 30 from Ham, and 14 from Japheth (cf. Deuteronomy 32:8). Seventy became a traditional round number for a large group of descendants. [Note: Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. 213.] Jacob’s family also comprised 70 people (Genesis 46:27), which may indicate that Moses viewed Israel as a microcosm of humanity as he presented it here. God set the microcosm apart to bless the macrocosm.

Japheth’s descendants (Genesis 10:2-5) settled north, east, and west of Ararat. [Note: For helpful diagrams showing the generational relationships of the descendants of Japheth, Ham, and Shem respectively, see Mathews, pp. 440, 444, and 459.] Their distance from Israel probably explains the brief treatment that they received in this list compared with that of the Hamites and Shemites. The "coastlands" (Genesis 10:5) are the inland areas and the northern Mediterranean coastlands on the now European shore from Turkey to Spain. The dispersion of the nations "according to . . . language" (Genesis 10:5) took place after Babel (ch. 11) all along these coasts as well as elsewhere. [Note: For discussion of the identities of each name, see Wenham, Genesis 1-15, pp. 216-32; or the NET Bible notes on these verses.]

Ham’s family (Genesis 10:6-20) moved east, south, and southwest into Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Africa. Canaan’s descendants (Genesis 10:15-21) did not migrate as far south but settled in Palestine. [Note: For explanation of the locations the individuals, cities, tribes, and nations cited in this table, see Allen P. Ross, "The Table of Nations in Genesis 10 -Its Content," Bibliotheca Sacra 138:549 (January-March 1981):23-31.] The length of these Hamite Canaanite lists indicates the importance of these people and places in Israel’s later history. Note the absence of the common sevens in the structuring in Canaan’s genealogy, suggesting chaos. [Note: Waltke, Genesis, pp. 164-65.]

It is possible that Sargon of Agade, whom many secular historians regard as the first ruler of Babylon, may be the Nimrod (meaning "We shall rebel") of Genesis 10:8-10. [Note: Oliver R. Blosser, "Was Nimrod-Sargon of Agade, the First King of Babylon?" It’s About Time (June 1987), pp. 10-13.] Many people in ancient times had more than one name. Reference to him probably foreshadows Genesis 11:1-9.

"The influx of the Amorites in Canaan is disputed. It does not necessarily follow that the original Amorites, attributed to Hamite descent in Genesis 10, were a Semitic people since the term ’Amorite’ in ancient Near Eastern documents does not serve as a definitive source for designating ethnicity. Moreover, linguistic evidence does not always assure true ethnic derivation." [Note: Mathews, p. 456. See also The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Amorites," by A. R. Millard.]

Shem’s posterity (Genesis 10:21-31) settled to the northeast and southeast of the Canaanites. This branch of the human family is also important in the Genesis record of Israel’s history.

"When the two lines of Shem are compared (Genesis 10:21-31; Genesis 11:10-26), there is a striking divergence at the point of Eber’s descendants, Peleg and Joktan [Genesis 10:25]. In chap. 10 Peleg is dropped altogether after his mention, while the nonelect line of Joktan is detailed. It is left to the second lineage in chap. 11 to trace out Peleg’s role as ancestral father of Abraham . . ." [Note: Mathews, p. 459.]

"This Table of Nations, then, traces affiliation of tribes to show relationships, based on some original physical connections.

"It is clear that the writer is emphasizing the development of these nations that were of primary importance to Israel (yalad sections) within the overall structure of the Table (b’ne arrangement)." [Note: Allen P. Ross, "The Table of Nations in Genesis 10 -Its Structure," Bibliotheca Sacra 137:548 (October-December 1980):350. See also Eugene H. Merrill, "The Peoples of the Old Testament according to Genesis 10," Bibliotheca Sacra 154:613 (January-March 1997):3-22.]

"The three geographical arcs of the branches intersect at the center-that is, Canaan, Israel’s future homeland." [Note: Mathews, p. 433. See Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah, The Macmillan Bible Atlas, map 15.]

This section reveals that it was God’s plan to bless the human race by dividing the family of man by languages, locations, and leaders. God formerly blessed the earth by dividing the light from the darkness, the earth from the heavens, and the land from the seas (ch. 1). Some creationists believe that the division of the earth in Peleg’s day (Genesis 10:25) refers to continental drift, but many creationists do not hold this view. [Note: For a creationist discussion of the subject of continental drift, see Ham, et al., pp. 11-12, 41-63; or David M. Fouts, "Peleg in Genesis 10:25," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41:1 (March 1998):17-21.]

"By correlating the number of nations [in ch. 10, i.e., 70] with the number of the seed of Abraham [in Genesis 46:27], he [the writer] holds Abraham’s ’seed’ before the reader as a new humanity and Abraham himself as a kind of second Adam, the ’father of many nations’ (Genesis 17:5)." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 131.]

". . . his intention is not to give an exhaustive list but rather a representative list, one which, for him, is obtained in the number seven." [Note: Ibid., p. 132.]

"The table’s figure of ’seventy’ for the world’s nations is alluded to by Jesus in the sending forth of the seventy disciples, as recounted by Luke (Genesis 10:1-16). Here the evangelist emphasizes the mission of the church in its worldwide evangelistic endeavors." [Note: Mathews, p. 437. See also Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Part II. From Noah to Abraham, pp. 175-80.]

Verses 1-2

Some of the Hamites migrated "east" (specifically southeast) to the plain of Shinar (cf. Genesis 10:10). This was in the Mesopotamian basin (modern Iraq).

"In light of such intentional uses of the notion of ’eastward’ within the Genesis narratives, we can see that here too the author intentionally draws the story of the founding of Babylon into the larger scheme at work throughout the book. It is a scheme that contrasts God’s way of blessing (e.g., Eden and the Promised Land) with man’s own attempt to find the ’good.’ In the Genesis narratives, when man goes ’east,’ he leaves the land of blessing (Eden and the Promised Land) and goes to a land where the greatest of his hopes will turn to ruin (Babylon and Sodom). [Note: Idem, "Genesis," p. 104.]

"Following the Ararat departure, the people migrated southeast to the lower Euphrates valley. Genesis 1-11 then has come full circle from ’Eden’ to ’Babel,’ both remembered for the expulsion of their residents." [Note: Mathews, p. 467.]

Verses 1-9

2. The dispersion at Babel 11:1-9

This pericope is a flashback that explains the division of the earth in Peleg’s time (Genesis 10:25). The main emphasis in this section is not the building of the tower of Babel but the dispersion of the peoples. We can see this in the literary structure of the passage. [Note: Ross, Creation and . . ., p. 235. Cf. J. P. Fokkelman, Narrative Art in Genesis, p. 22; Wenham, Genesis 1-15, pp. 234-38; and Waltke, Genesis, pp. 176-77.]

A All the earth had one language (Genesis 11:1)

B there (Genesis 11:2)

C one to another (Genesis 11:3)

D Come, let’s make bricks (Genesis 11:3)

E Let’s make for ourselves (Genesis 11:4)

F a city and a tower

G And the Lord came down to see (Genesis 11:5; cf. Genesis 8:1)

F’ the city and the tower (Genesis 11:5)

E’ that the humans built (Genesis 11:5)

D’ Come, let’s confuse (Genesis 11:7)

C’ everyone the language of his neighbor (Genesis 11:7)

B’ from there (Genesis 11:8)

A’ (confused) the language of the whole earth (Genesis 11:9)

When people attempted to preserve their unity and make a name for themselves by building a tower, Yahweh frustrated the plan and scattered everyone by confusing the language that bound them together.

"The tower of Babel story is the last great judgment that befell mankind in primeval times. Its place and function in Genesis 1-11 may be compared to the fall in Genesis 3 and the sons of God episode in Genesis 6:1-4, both of which triggered divine judgments of great and enduring consequence." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. 242.]

This story explains to God’s people how God scattered the nations and why. In judgment for trying to establish a world state in opposition to divine rule (human government run amuck), God struck the thing that bound people together, namely, a common language. Chronologically the Babel incident preceded the dispersal that Moses described with genealogies in chapter 10. One writer argued for the identification of the tower of Babel incident with the demise and dispersion of the last great Sumerian dynasty centered at Ur. [Note: Paul T. Penley, "A Historical Reading of Genesis 11:1-9: The Sumerian Demise and Dispersion under the Ur III Dynasty," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50:4 (December 2007):693-714.]

"By placing the Tower of Babel incident just prior to the patriarchal stories, the biblical writer is suggesting, in the first place, that post-Flood humanity is as iniquitous as pre-Flood humanity. Rather than sending something as devastating as a flood to annihilate mankind, however, God now places his hope in a covenant with Abraham as a powerful solution to humanity’s sinfulness. Thus problem (ch. 11) and solution (ch. 12) are brought into immediate juxtaposition, and the forcefulness of this structural move would have been lost had ch. 10 intervened between the two." [Note: Hamilton, pp. 347-48. See J. Sasson, "The ’Tower of Babel’ As a Clue to the Redactional Structuring of the Primeval History [Genesis 1-11:9]," in The Bible World: Essays in Honor of Cyrus H. Gordon, pp. 218-19.]

"As it is presently situated in the text, the account of the founding of Babylon falls at the end of the list of fourteen names from the line of Joktan (Genesis 10:26-29). At the end of the list of the ten names of Peleg’s line, however, is the account of the call of Abraham (Genesis 11:27 to Genesis 12:10). So two great lines of the descendants of Shem divide in the two sons of Eber (Genesis 10:25). One ends in Babylon, the other in the Promised Land." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 134.]

Verses 3-4

The motivation for building a city was to make the builders a name (cf. Psalms 14:1). Later God would "make a name" for Abram (Genesis 12:2-3). The object of this endeavor was to establish a center by which they might maintain their unity.

"A defensive wall is the hallmark of a city (see Genesis 4:17). Cities in the ancient Near East were not designed to be lived in but were intended for religious and public purposes." [Note: Waltke, Genesis, p. 179.]

God desired unity for humankind, but one that He created, not one founded on a social state. [Note: Mathews, p. 473.] They wanted to "empower" themselves. Both motive and object were ungodly. God had instructed man to fill the earth (Genesis 1:28), to spread over the whole planet.

The builders of the "tower" seem to have intended that it serve as a memorial or landmark, among other things. It was probably a ziggurat used for religious purposes.

"Mesopotamian religion claimed that their cities were of divine parentage. A symbol of this obsession with divinity among the Mesopotamians was the ziggurat (Akk. ziqqurratu) that was erected as early as the third millennium B.C. The ziggurat was a step-ladder edifice, made up of mud bricks, whose bottom was square or rectangular. The precise meaning of the structure is unknown, though it is widely agreed that it formed a stairway between the gods and earth (cf. Genesis 28:12). At the foot of the ziggurat as well as the pinnacle was a temple area serving as a habitation for the god. Ziggurats may have been considered an earthly imitation of the heavenly residence of the gods." [Note: Ibid., pp. 470-71. Cf. Waltke, Genesis, p. 179.]

Verses 5-6

The builders undoubtedly expected to ascend to heaven to meet God. Instead God descended to earth to meet them. If God had allowed this project to continue the results would have been even worse and more serious than they were at this time. The sin of the builders was their refusal to obey God-given directives.

"Depraved humanity are united in their spiritual endeavor to find, through technology, existential meaning apart from God and the means to transgress its boundaries. Unless God intervenes and divides them by confounding their speech, nothing can stop human beings in their overweening pride and their desire for autonomy." [Note: Waltke, Genesis, p. 182.]

The construction of cities by itself was not sinful. God chose Jerusalem for His people, and He will create the New Jerusalem for believers to inhabit. It is the pride and security that people place in their cities that God disapproves.

Verse 7

God’s soliloquy in this verse mimics the language of the tower builders in Genesis 11:3-4 (cf. Genesis 1:26). The tower was so puny that He had to come down to see it (cf. Isaiah 40:22). The confusion of language probably involved more than just the introduction of new words.

"If language is the audible expression of emotions, conceptions, and thoughts of the mind, the cause of the confusion or division of the one human language into different national dialects might be sought in an effect produced upon the human mind, by which the original unity of emotion, conception, thought, and will was broken up. This inward unity had no doubt been already disturbed by sin, but the disturbance had not yet amounted to a perfect breach." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:174-75.]

Some scholars believe that this judgment also involved the implantation of ethnic and racial distinctions in humankind. The Table of Nations in chapter 10 may imply this. [Note: See Merrill, "The Peoples . . .," p. 22.]

Verse 8

The resultant confusion led to a scattering of the people over the "whole earth" (cf. Genesis 11:9). God did not allow human rebellion to reach the level that it did before the Flood. God forced people to do what they refused to do voluntarily, namely, scatter over the face of the earth.

Some interpreters take the confusion of languages to have been a local phenomenon only. One writer believed lightning struck the tower of Babel and the confusion of speech that followed resulted from a scrambling of the electrical circuits in the brains of those struck. [Note: James E. Strickling, "The Tower of Babel and the Confusion of Tongues," Kronos (Fall 1982), pp. 53-62.] This is an interesting idea but impossible to prove. Most interpreters, however, regard this event as the source of the major language groups in the world today.

Verse 9

"Babel" sounds like the Hebrew word for "confuse" (balal), and it means "the gate of gods" in Akkadian.

". . . Genesis 11:1-9, the tower of Babel story, is a satire on the claims of Babylon to be the center of civilization and its temple tower the gate of heaven (E[numa]E[lish] 6:50-80): Babel does not mean gate of God, but ’confusion’ and ’folly.’ Far from its temple’s top reaching up to heaven, it is so low that God has to descend from heaven just to see it! (Genesis 11:4-9)." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 1-15, pp. xlviii-xlix.]

This was the original Babylon that forever after was the city most characterized by rebellion against God’s authority. It stands as a symbol of organized rebellion against God elsewhere in Scripture (e.g., Revelation 17, 18). [Note: See Everett H. Peterson, "Prehistory and the Tower of Babel," Creation Research Society Quarterly 19:2 (September 1982):87-90.]

"Man certainly did not expect his project to take such a turn. He did not anticipate that the name he wanted to make for himself would refer to a place of noncommunication." [Note: J. Ellul, The Meaning of the City, p. 18.]

The story of Babel is important for several reasons.

1. It explains the beginning of and reason for the various languages of mankind.

2. It probably explains the origin of the "races" within humankind.

"The separate language groups no longer could inter-marry freely with the rest of mankind. As in-breeding and lack of access to the larger pool of genes occurred, ethnic characteristics developed. Furthermore, each local environment tended to favor selection of certain traits, and eliminate the others. Ethnic characteristics, such as skin color, arose from loss of genetic variability, not from origin of new genes through mutation as suggested by evolution.

"The concept of race is an evolutionary idea . . . (Acts 17:26). All humans possess the same color, just different amounts of it. We all descended from Noah and Adam." [Note: A plaque explaining an exhibit at the Institute for Creation Research Museum, Santee, Calif., which I observed on May 21, 1997.]

"The Bible doesn’t tell us what skin color our first parents had, but, from a design point of view, the ’middle [color]’ makes a great beginning. Starting with medium-skinned parents (AaBb), it would take only one generation to produce all the variation we see in human skin color today. In fact, this is the normal situation in India today. Some Indians are as dark as the darkest Africans, and some-perhaps a brother or sister in the same family-as light as the lightest Europeans. I once knew a family from India that included members with every major skin color you could see anywhere in the world.

"But now notice what happens if human groups were isolated after creation. If those with very dark skins (AABB) migrate into the same areas and/or marry only those with very dark skins, then all their children will have very dark skins. (AABB is the only possible combination of AB egg and sperms cells, which are the only types that can be produced by AABB parents.) Similarly, parents with very light skins (aabb) can have only very light-skinned children, since they don’t have any A or B genes to pass on. Even certain medium-skinned parents (AAbb or aaBB) can get ’locked-in’ to having only medium-skinned children, like the Orientals, Polynesians, and some of my ancestors, the Native Americans.

"Where people with different skin colors get together again (as they do in the West Indies, for example), you find the full range of variation again-nothing less, but nothing more either, than what we started with. Clearly, all this is variation within kind. . . .

"What happened as the descendants of medium-skinned parents produced a variety of descendants? Evolution? Not at all. Except for albinism (the mutational loss of skin color), the human gene pool is no bigger and no different now than the gene pool present at creation. As people multiplied, the genetic variability built right into the first created human beings came to visible expression. The darkest Nigerian and the lightest Norwegian, the tallest Watusi and the shortest Pygmy, the highest soprano and the lowest bass could have been present right from the beginning in two quite average-looking people. Great variation in size, color, form, function, etc., would also be present in the two created ancestors of all the other kinds (plants and animals) as well.

"Evolutionists assume that all life started from one or a few chemically evolved life forms with an extremely small gene pool. For evolutionists, enlargement of the gene pool by selection of random mutations is a slow, tedious process that burdens each type with a ’genetic load’ of harmful mutations and evolutionary leftovers. Creationists assume each created kind began with a large gene pool, designed to multiply and fill the earth with all its tremendous ecologic and geographic variety. (See Genesis, chapter 1.)" [Note: G. Parker, pp. 111, 113-14. See also Ham, et al., pp. 15-16, 131-55. See ibid., pp. 19, 197-207, for discussion of how animals could have reached remote parts of the earth.]

"Many thinkers labor under the illusion that evolution is an empirical science when in fact it is a philosophy." [Note: Norman L. Geisler, "Beware of Philosophy: A Warning to Biblical Scholars," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42:1 (March 1999):7.]

3. The Babel story demonstrates the inclination of fallen man to rebel against God and to try to provide for his needs in his own way rather than by trusting and obeying God.

4. It illustrates that rebellion against God results in (a) broken fellowship with God and man, and (b) failure to realize God’s intention for man in his creation, namely, that he rule the earth effectively.

5. It provides the historical background for what follows in Genesis. Abraham came from this area.

"Irony is seen in the beginning and the ending of this passage. The group at Babel began as the whole earth (Genesis 11:1), but now they were spread over the whole earth (Genesis 11:9). By this time the lesson is clarified: God’s purpose will be accomplished in spite of the arrogance and defiance of man’s own purposes. He brings down the proud, but exalts the faithful.

"The significance of this little story is great. It explains to God’s people how the nations were scattered abroad. Yet the import goes much deeper. The fact that it was Babylon, the beginning of kingdoms under Nimrod from Cush, adds a rather ominous warning: Great nations cannot defy God and long survive. The new nation of Israel need only survey the many nations around her to perceive that God disperses and curses the rebellious, bringing utter confusion and antagonism among them. If Israel would obey and submit to God’s will, then she would be the source of blessing to the world.

"Unfortunately, Israel also raised her head in pride and refused to obey the Lord God. Thus she too was scattered across the face of the earth." [Note: Allen P. Ross, "The Dispersion of the Nations in Genesis 11:1-9," Bibliotheca Sacra 138:550 (April-June 1981):133. See also Sailhamer, "Genesis," pp. 103-4.]

Verses 10-26

F. What became of Shem 11:10-26

"The Babel account (Genesis 11:1-9) is not the end of early Genesis. If it were, the story would conclude on the sad note of human failure. But as with earlier events in Genesis 1-11, God’s grace once again supersedes human sin, insuring the continued possibilities of the promissory blessings (Genesis 1:28; Genesis 9:1). . . . The scaffolding of human pride would be dismantled by the erection of the Shemite line that culminates in obedient Abraham, who likewise is found in the region of Shinar. Abraham would prove to be the nations’ deliverance." [Note: Mathews, p. 487.]

"Without the blessing of God the situation of humanity is without hope: that seems to be the chief thrust of the opening chapters of Genesis." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. li.]

In contrast to the genealogy in chapter 5, this one emphasizes life and expansion rather than death, even though longevity was declining. [Note: For short histories of the prepatriarchal period of ancient Near Eastern history, see John Bright, A History of Israel, pp. 17-37; or Siegfried Schwantes, A Short History of the Ancient Near East.] This genealogy starts with Noah’s son Shem whom God blessed, and it concludes with Abram whom God purposed to bless. This is the line of Israel’s ancestors. It is a vertical list of the type used in the ancient Near East to document legitimate claims to thrones or inheritances. [Note: Ross, Creation and . . ., p. 249.] This genealogy, as the one in chapter 5, appears to be complete. The purpose of the genealogy is to connect Abram to Noah and to give background information essential for understanding the story of Abram that follows. [Note: Mathews, p. 488, included a helpful chart of the 20 generations from Adam to Abram.]

". . . the author’s aim is to show that God’s promise concerning the seed of the woman cannot be thwarted by the confusion and scattering of the nations at Babylon." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 136.]

"If the message of Genesis is essentially one of redemption, Genesis 3-11 explains why man needs salvation and what he needs to be saved from. Chaps. 1-2, in describing the original state of the world, also describe the goal of redemption, to which ultimately the world and humanity will return when the patriarchal promises are completely fulfilled." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. lii.]

"An extensive statistical analysis of the life-spans of the patriarchs, as given in Genesis Chapter 5 and 11, shows that statistically the life-span can be considered constant before the Flood, while after the Flood the data can be fitted by an asymptotic exponential decay curve. Also, it is concluded that as for the life-spans reported in Genesis Chapter 11, the data in the Masoretic text are the authentic ones; those in the Septuagint have been tampered with. Moreover, it is statistically unlikely that there are gaps in the genealogies in Genesis Chapter 11." [Note: William L. Seaver, "A Statistical Analysis of the Genesis Life-Spans," Creation Research Society Quarterly 20:2 (September 1983):80.]

The genealogies in Genesis 11:10-26 and 1 Chronicles 1:17-27 are identical, but the one in Luke 3:34-36 inserts the name Cainan between Arpachshad and Shelah. The inclusion of Cainan may indicate that Luke used the Septuagint to compose his genealogy since this name appears in this translation but not in the Hebrew Bible genealogies. Cainan appears elsewhere in Luke’s list as Adam’s great-grandson (Luke 3:37-38), so this may be a scribal error. [Note: See M. S. Mills, "A Comparison of the Genesis and Lukan Genealogies (The Case for Cainan)" (Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1978).]

Most scholars regard "Eber" (Genesis 11:14) as the individual from whom the Jews received the name "Hebrew." Adam, Noah, and Abram all fathered three named sons linking them as saviors of humanity. In Abram’s case these sons (descendants) were Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.

The genealogy of Shem (Genesis 11:10-26) in this pericope prefaces the story of Abram (Genesis 11:27 to Genesis 25:11). This structure serves as a prototype for the narrative that follows in Genesis. Similarly the genealogy of Ishmael (Genesis 25:12-18) introduces the story of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:19 to Genesis 35:29), and the genealogy of Esau (Genesis 36:1-43) introduces the story of Joseph (Genesis 37:2 to Genesis 50:26).

"With Genesis 11:26 the scene has finally been set for the patriarchal history to unfold. The opening chapters of Genesis have provided us the fundamental insights for interpreting these chapters properly. Genesis 1 revealed the character of God and the nature of the world man finds himself in. Genesis 2, 3 portrayed the relationship between man and woman, and the effects man’s disobedience has had on man-woman and divine-human relations. Chap. 5 sketched the long years that passed before the crisis of the great flood (chaps. 6-9), which almost destroyed all humanity for its sinfulness. The table of the nations (chap. 10) started the process of Israel’s geographical and political self-definition with respect to the other nations in the world, but Genesis 11:1-9 reminded us that the nations were in confusion and that mankind’s proudest achievements were but folly in God’s sight and under his judgment.

"However, according to Genesis 11:10-26, just five generations after Peleg, whose lifetime according to Genesis 10:25 saw the confusion of languages at Babel, Abram arrives. As Genesis 12:3 will declare, it is through him that all the families of the earth will be blessed. Man is not without hope. The brevity of this genealogy is a reminder that God’s grace constantly exceeds his wrath. He may punish to the third or fourth generation but he shows mercy to thousands (Deuteronomy 5:9; Deuteronomy 7:9)." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 1-15, pp. 253-54.]

The chronological framework for the patriarchal stories (Abraham through Joseph) rests on two important texts.

1. 1 Kings 6:1 states that the Exodus took place 480 years before the fourth year of Solomon’s reign (i.e., 967 B.C.). This makes the date of the Exodus close to 1446 B.C.

2. Exodus 12:40 records that "the sons of Israel lived in Egypt" 430 years before the Exodus, or about 1876 B.C. This is the probable date when Jacob’s family moved to Egypt (ch. 46).

From these two texts we can calculate other dates in the patriarchal period. [Note: For a helpful survey of the recent history of scholarly opinion regarding the historical reliability of the patriarchal narratives, see Kenneth L. Barker, "The Antiquity and Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives," in A Tribute to Gleason Archer, pp. 131-39; Emil C. Wcela, "The Abraham Stories, History and Faith," Biblical Theology Bulletin 10 (October 1970):176-81; and Nahum M. Sarna, "Abraham in History," Biblical Archaeology Review 3 (December 1977):5-9.]

The historicity of the patriarchs continues to be a matter of scholarly debate. The problem is the lack of explicit reference to the patriarchs in nonbiblical literature and in archaeology. Scholars who reject the biblical testimony as unauthentic have been labeled "minimalists," and those who belive the Hebrew Bible credibly supplements nonbiblical material are known as "maximalists." I am one of the latter believing that the biblical records reliably testify to historical individuals and events recorded in this section of Genesis. [Note: For a good discussion of the historicity of the patriarchs and the authenticity of the patriarchal accounts, see Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, pp. 24-55, or Wolf, pp. 113-17.]

"It is . . . not because scholars of to-day begin with more conservative presuppositions than their predecessors that they have a much greater respect for the patriarchal stories than was formerly common, but because the evidence warrants it." [Note: H. H. Rowley, "Recent Discovery and the Patriarchal Age," in The Servant of the Lord and Other Essays on the Old Testament, p. 318.]

"It is beyond question that traditional and conservative views of biblical history, especially of the patriarchal period, will continue to be favored by whatever results accrue from ongoing Ebla research." [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, "Ebla and Biblical Historical Inerrancy," Bibliotheca Sacra 140:550 (October-December 1983):318. See also Giovanni Pettinato, "The Royal Archives of Tell Mardikh-Ebla," Biblical Archaeologist 39 (May 1976):44-52.]

Patriarchal Chronological Data [Note: From Eugene H. Merrill, "Fixed Dates in Patriarchal Chronology," Bibliotheca Sacra 137:547 (July-September 1980):248.]
2296Birth of TerahGenesis 11:24
2166Birth of AbramGenesis 11:27
2091Abram’s departure from HaranGenesis 12:4
2081Abram’s marriage to HagarGenesis 16:3
2080Birth of IshmaelGenesis 16:16
2067Reaffirmation of covenantGenesis 17:1
2067-66Destruction of Sodom and GomorrahGenesis 19:24
2066Birth of IsaacGenesis 21:2-3; cf. Genesis 21:5
2029Death of SarahGenesis 23:2
2026Marriage of IsaacGenesis 25:20
2006Birth of Jacob and EsauGenesis 25:26
1991Death of AbramGenesis 25:7
1966Marriage of EsauGenesis 26:34
1943Death of IshmaelGenesis 25:17
1930Jacob’s journey to HaranGenesis 28:2
1923Jacob’s marriagesGenesis 29:23; Genesis 29:28; Genesis 30:4; Genesis 30:9
1918Birth of JudahGenesis 29:35
1916End of Jacob’s 14 year labor for his wivesGenesis 29:30
1916Birth of JosephGenesis 30:23
1910End of Jacob’s stay with LabanGenesis 31:41
1910Jacob’s arrival at ShechemGenesis 33:18
1902Rape of DinahGenesis 34:1-2
1900Marriage of JudahGenesis 38:1-2
1899Selling of JosephGenesis 37:2; Genesis 37:28
1888Joseph imprisonedGenesis 39:20; cf. Genesis 41:1
1886Joseph releasedGenesis 41:1; Genesis 41:46
1886Death of IsaacGenesis 35:28
1879Beginning of famineGenesis 41:54
1878Brothers’ first visit to EgyptGenesis 42:1-3
1877Judah’s incest with TamarGenesis 38:18
1877Brothers’ second visit to EgyptGenesis 43:1; Genesis 43:15; Genesis 45:6; Genesis 45:11
1876Jacob’s descent to EgyptGenesis 46:6; cf. Genesis 47:9
1859Death of JacobGenesis 47:28
1806Death of JosephGenesis 50:22

1. Terah and Abram’s obedience 11:27-12:9

All that Moses wrote in this pericope (Genesis 11:27 to Genesis 12:9) deals with Abram and his future in the Promised Land. Abram obeyed the Lord’s command to relocate to a land that God would give to him and his descedants with the promise that he would become a blessing to the rest of the world. Abram’s example of obedience is a model for all believers to forsake all else to obtain the promised blessings of God and to serve Him by becoming a blessing to others.

"Within the book of Genesis no section is more significant than Genesis 11:27 to Genesis 12:9." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. 281.]

A. What became of Terah 11:27-25:11

This is the sixth and central (most important) of the 11 toledot sections in Genesis.

A major theme of the Pentateuch is the partial fulfillment of the promises to the patriarchs. The promises in Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 12:7 are the fountainhead from which the rest of the Pentateuch flows. [Note: See Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50, p. 169.] Walter Kaiser labeled the three things promised Abram as an heir, a heritage, and an inheritance. [Note: Walter Kaiser, Toward an Old Testament Theology, pp. 35, 84-99.] David Clines called them posterity, relationship with God, and land. [Note: David Clines, The Theme of the Pentateuch, pp. 29, 45-60.] J. Dwight Pentecost and Robert L. Saucy referred to them as seed, blessing, and land. [Note: J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pp. 65-94; Robert L. Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, p. 42.]

God progressively revealed more information about each of these promises. He gave more information about the land promise in Genesis 13:15; Genesis 13:17; Genesis 15:7-8; Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:8; Genesis 24:7; Genesis 26:3-4 (plural "lands"); Genesis 28:4; Genesis 28:13; Genesis 35:12; Genesis 48:4; and Genesis 50:24. Repetition of the seed promise occurs in Genesis 13:15-16; Genesis 15:5; Genesis 17:2; Genesis 17:5-10; Genesis 17:13; Genesis 17:16; Genesis 17:19-20; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 21:12; Genesis 22:17-18; Genesis 26:3-4; Genesis 26:24; Genesis 28:13-14; Genesis 32:12; Genesis 35:11-12; Genesis 46:3; and Genesis 48:4; Genesis 48:16.

"A line of successive representative sons of the patriarchs who were regarded as one with the whole group they represented matched the seminal idea already advocated in Genesis 3:15. Furthermore, in the concept of ’seed’ were the two aspects of the seed as a future benefit and the seed as the present beneficiaries of God’s temporal and spiritual gifts. Consequently, ’seed’ was always a collective singular noun; never did it appear as a plural noun (e.g., as in ’sons’). Thereby the ’seed’ was marked as a unit, yet with a flexibility of reference: now to the one person, now to the many descendants of that family. This interchange of reference with its implied corporate solidarity was more than a cultural phenomena [sic phenomenon] or an accident of careless editing; it was part and parcel of its doctrinal intention." [Note: Kaiser, Toward an . . ., pp. 88-89.]

The promise of universal blessing recurs in Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:18 (to Abraham); Genesis 26:4 (to Isaac); and Genesis 28:14 (to Jacob). God reiterated His purpose with additional detail to Abraham in Genesis 13:14-17; Genesis 17:1-21; and Genesis 22:15-18; to Isaac in Genesis 26:3-5; Genesis 26:24; and to Jacob in Genesis 28:13-15; and Genesis 35:9-12 (cf. Genesis 46:1-4).

"While this promissory triad of blessing, seed, and land is the thematic cord binding the Book of Genesis, we find that the counterthemes of fratricide, violence, uncreation, and expulsion are the literary-theological foil for the promissory blessing." [Note: Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, p. 59.]

Genesis 12-50 focuses on the promise of posterity (an heir, seed), though the other promises receive much attention. Exodus and Leviticus deal more with the promise of worldwide influence (relationship with God, heritage, blessing), and Numbers and Deuteronomy emphasize the promise of real estate (land, inheritance, and rest).

In Genesis 12-25 the problems of possessing the land and obtaining an heir dominate the story of Abram’s life. How will Abram obtain the promised land, and who will be Abram’s promised heir? These are the great questions that the thoughtful reader continually asks as he reads the story of Abram. At least one of these questions is central in every incident in Abram’s life that God has chosen to record in Genesis. These questions form the unifying theme of the Abram narrative. [Note: See Larry Helyer, "The Separation of Abram and Lot: Its Significance in the Patriarchal Narratives," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 26 (June 1983):77-88; Claus Westermann, "Promises to the Patriarchs," Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible Supplement, pp. 690-93; Dixon Sutherland, "The Organization of the Abraham Promise Narrative," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 95:3 (1983):337-43; Whybray, p. 55; and Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. 262.]

One writer called the form in which Moses revealed Abram’s story an "obstacle story."

"Few literary techniques have enjoyed so universal and perennial a vogue as the obstacle story. It is found in ancient and modern literature from the Gilgamesh epic and the Odyssey to the Perils of Pauline and the latest novel. Its character is episodal in that it is not self-contained but finds its raison d’etre in its relation to the larger story or narrative of which it is a part. Its purpose is to arouse suspense and sustain interest by recounting episodes which threaten or retard the fulfillment of what the reader either suspects or hopes or knows to be the ending of the story." [Note: Peter E. Ellis, The Yahwist, the Bible’s First Theologian, p. 136.]

Twelve crises arise as the story of Abram’s life unfolds. Each of these must be overcome and is overcome by God who eventually does provide Abram’s descendants. Each of these problems constituted a challenge to Abram’s faith. Is God faithful and powerful enough to provide what He promised? In the end we can see that He is.

Each problem Abram encountered is typical of problems that every believer has to deal with in seeking to live by faith. Consequently each episode in Abram’s life teaches us something about God’s power and faithfulness and should enable us to live by faith more consistently. Moses originally recorded these lessons for Israel’s benefit so the Israelites would emulate Abram’s faith. Abram was not without his flaws, and his failings prove as instructive as his successes, as is true of all biblical characters.

The problems Abram’s faith encountered were these.

1. Sarai was barren and incapable of producing an heir (Genesis 11:30).

2. Abram had to leave the Promised Land, which God had told him he would inherit (Genesis 12:10).

3. Abram’s life was in danger in Egypt (Genesis 12:11-20).

4. Abram’s nephew (heir?), Lot, strove with him over the land (ch. 13).

5. Abram entered a war and could have died (Genesis 14:1-16).

6. Abram’s life was in danger from retaliation in the Promised Land (Genesis 15:1).

7. God ruled Eliezer out as Abram’s heir (Genesis 15:2-3).

8. Hagar, pregnant with Abram’s son (heir?), departed (Genesis 16:6).

9. Abimelech threatened Sarai’s reputation and child (heir?) in Gerar (ch. 20).

10. Abram had two heirs (Genesis 21:8-11).

11. God commanded Abram to slay his heir (ch. 22).

12. Abram could not find a proper wife for his heir (Genesis 24:5).

". . . the narrator has skillfully woven this material together in such a way as to involve the reader/listener in a drama of increasing tension between, on the one hand, the promise of Yahweh that Abram would have an heir and, indeed, would become the father of many nations, and, on the other, the threat to the fulfillment of this promise by a series of crises." [Note: Helyer, p. 80. See Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, p. 90, for a diagram of the chiastic structure of the Abraham narrative.]


One of the significant changes in the emphasis that occurs at this point in Genesis is from cursing in the primeval record to blessing in the patriarchal narratives. The Abrahamic Covenant is most important in this respect. How Abram’s family gained and provided these blessings unfolds. Israel could, and we can, identify with their experiences.

"Chapters 1-11 are set in Babylonia; chs. 12-36 are set in Palestine; chs. 37-50 are set in Egypt. (The same kind of tripartite geographical focus emerges from Exodus: [1] Exodus 1:1 to Exodus 12:36, in Egypt; [2] Exodus 12:37 to Exodus 18:27, to Sinai; [3] Exodus 19:1 to Exodus 40:38, at Sinai.) In other words, each part of the Mediterranean world is highlighted in some part of Genesis. The crucial center section of Genesis (chs. 12-36) is bracketed geographically by two sections of the Near Eastern world with whose history that of Israel would be constantly interlocked. . . .

"In chs. 1-11 we read of individuals who had land, but are either losing it or being expelled from it. In chs. 12-50 the emphasis is on individuals who do not have land, but are on the way toward it. One group is losing; another group is expecting.

"Genesis is moving us progressively from generation (chs. 1-2), to degeneration (chs. 3-11), to regeneration (chs. 12-50)." [Note: Hamilton, pp. 10, 11.]

Chapters 1-11 present a structural pattern that carries over into the rest of the Pentateuch.

"The importance of Genesis 1-11 for the rest of the Pentateuch can be seen in the fact that its narrative structure provides a pattern by which the author often shapes subsequent pentateuchal narratives. Thus the order and arrangement of the Creation accounts in Genesis 1-2 exhibit the same pattern as the description of the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 25-31); the tabernacle is portrayed as a return to the Garden of Eden. The instructions given to Noah for building the ark foreshadow those given to Moses for building the tabernacle. Furthermore, one can demonstrate that whole sections of laws in the Pentateuch have been grouped and arranged in patterns that parallel the narrative structure of Genesis 1-11." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 39.]

"The ancient oriental background to Genesis 1-11 shows it to be concerned with rather different issues from those that tend to preoccupy modern readers. It is affirming the unity of God in the face of polytheism, his justice rather than his caprice, his power as opposed to his impotence, his concern for mankind rather than his exploitation. And whereas Mesopotamia clung to the wisdom of primeval man, Genesis records his sinful disobedience. Because as Christians we tend to assume these points in our theology, we often fail to recognize the striking originality of the message of Genesis 1-11 and concentrate on subsidiary points that may well be of less moment." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. l.]

Some notable changes take place in the second part of Genesis, though both parts begin with a creation initiated by the word of God (Genesis 1:1; Genesis 12:1). Instead of the genealogies being prominent and the stories secondary, as in chapters 1-11, the reverse becomes true now. God retreats farther into the background of the events recorded than was the case earlier, and there is corresponding emphasis on the personalities of the patriarchs. The promises to the patriarchs form the central theme of this section, especially those concerning descendants, land, and divine blessing. There also seems to be increasing depth in the moral awareness of the patriarchs as generation follows generation from Abram to Joseph. [Note: Ibid., p. 258. See also Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, p. 25]

Verses 27-32

Abram’s ancestors 11:27-32

"The function of this genealogy is not so much to connect Abraham with the preceding events, as the previous genealogies have done, but to provide the reader with the necessary background for understanding the events in the life of Abraham. The list includes eight names. All the individuals named are relevant for understanding the events of the following narrative except ’Iscah’ (Genesis 11:29). The inclusion of this otherwise insignificant name in the list suggests that the author is seeking to achieve a specific number of names. Thus far in the Book of Genesis, the author has followed a pattern of listing ten names between important individuals in the narrative. In this short list only eight names are given, hence if we are expecting ten names, the number of individuals in this list appears to be short by two names. By listing only eight names, the author leaves the reader uncertain who the ninth and, more importantly, the tenth name will be. It is only as the narrative unfolds that the ninth and tenth names are shown to be the two sons of Abraham, ’Ishmael’ (Genesis 16:15) and ’Isaac’ (Genesis 21:3)." [Note: Sailhamer, "Genesis," p. 109.]

Abram evidently grew up in the city of Ur. A few scholars believe that the Ur in view was located just east of Haran, near the top of the Fertile Crescent. [Note: E.g., Beitzel, pp. 80-81.] However most hold that it was the Ur in southern Mesopotamia. Since the Chaldeans later lived in southern Mesopotamia, this seems to be the correct site.

"Ur is well known as an important center in the land of Sumer; it reached its zenith under the kings of the third dynasty of Ur, who around 2060-1950 B.C. [Abram was born ca. 2166 B.C.] revived for the last time the ancient cultural traditions of the Sumerians. The names of several of Abram’s relatives are also the names of known cities: . . . Terah . . . Nahor . . . Serug . . . Haran . . . and Laban the Aramean, Jacob’s father-in-law, was from the city Haran in Paddan-aram. All these are places around the river Balih in northern Mesopotamia. Haran and Nahor are often mentioned in the Mari documents of the eighteenth century B.C., and cities named Tell-terah and Serug are known from later Assyrian sources." [Note: The Macmillan Bible Atlas, p. 28.]

A later writer probably added the reference to the Chaldeans in Genesis 11:28 since the Chaldeans did not enter Babylonia until about 1,000 B.C. [Note: Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. 272; Mathews, 11:27-50:26, p. 100.]

"The movement between Ur and Haran becomes easy to understand when we recall that Ur was the greatest commercial capital that the world had yet seen . . . ." [Note: W. F. Albright, "Abram the Hebrew: A New Archaeological Interpretation," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 163 (October 1961):44. See The Macmillan Bible Atlas, map 25.]

God first called Abram to leave his home when the patriarch still lived in Ur (Genesis 12:1-3; cf. Genesis 15:7; Nehemiah 9:7; Acts 7:2). Abram’s family members were polytheists (Joshua 24:2).

"Several of Abram’s relations have names that suggest adherence to lunar worship (cf. Sarah, Milcah, Laban), a cult that was prominent in Ur and Harran [sic Haran]." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. 252. Cf. Joshua 24:2.]

Abram married his half-sister, Sarai, which was not contrary to God’s will at this early date in history (cf. Leviticus 18:9; Leviticus 20:17; Deuteronomy 27:22). Endogamy is the practice of marrying within a family group. God’s call was pure grace; there is no evidence in the text that God chose Abram because he merited favor. God was beginning to form a family of faithful followers for Himself. He called them to leave this urban center in trust and obedience. Abram’s exodus from his homeland and Israel’s exodus from Egypt were two key events in the formation of national Israel.

Abram’s family stayed in Haran for some time (Genesis 11:31-32).

"The difference between Terah and Abraham was one thing only: a response of faith to God’s call." [Note: George Van Pelt Campbell, "Refusing God’s Blessing: An Exposition of Genesis 11:27-32," Bibliotheca Sacra 165:659 (July-September 2008):282.]

When the patriarch Terah died, Abram continued his trek toward Canaan in obedience to God’s call.

"Like Nuzi, Haran was also part of the Hurrian Mitanni Empire whilst the Hurrians were at the height of their power, so that the tablets discovered at Nuzi would also reflect the way of life in Haran. In this manner, scholars have ascertained from a careful study of the Nuzi tablets that they are very helpful in explaining many of the Biblical episodes relating to the Patriarchs, which had hitherto been somewhat puzzling.

"Although the Bible indicates that Abram eventually left Haran (Genesis 12:4), the Patriarchs nevertheless kept in close contact with that city. Abram sent his servant back to Aram-naharaim, the region in which Haran was situated, in order to find a wife for his son Isaac (Genesis 24:2-10). Isaac later told his younger son Jacob to flee to his uncle Laban in Haran, in order to escape the wrath of his brother Esau, whom he had tricked out of his birthright blessing (Genesis 27:43). Jacob indeed fled to Haran, subsequently marrying there his cousins Leah and Rachel (Genesis 29:1-30).

"The influence of Hurrian society on the Patriarchs was undoubtedly very strong, not only because of the origins of Abram in Mesopotamia, but also because all the Patriarchs maintained contact with the area. This is borne out by the fact that many of the incidents in the Biblical narratives relating to the Patriarchs in reality reflect Hurrian social and legal customs, and prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Patriarchal way of life had its roots in Hurrian society." [Note: Stuart West, "The Nuzi Tablets," Bible and Spade 10:3-4 (Summer-Autumn 1981):66.]

Archaeologists have dated the Nuzi tablets four or five hundred years after the patriarchs, but they reflect customs that had been prevalent for centuries. [Note: See M. J. Selman, "The Social Environment of the Patriarchs," Tyndale Bulletin 27 (1976):114-36.] We should be careful not to overemphasize the influence of Hurrian civilization, however. [Note: Ephraim Speiser did this in his commentary on Genesis.]

"In the period (the first part of the Middle Bronze Age [ca. 2000-1750 B.C.]) Palestine was receiving an infusion of population as semi-nomadic groups infiltrated the land. . . .

"That these newcomers were ’Amorites,’ of the same Northwest-Semitic stock as those whom we have met in Mesopotamia, can scarcely be doubted. Their names, so far as these are known, point unanimously in that direction. Their mode of life is splendidly illustrated by the Tale of Sinuhe, but especially by the stories of Genesis-for it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the migration of Israel’s ancestors was a part of this very movement. These people brought to Palestine no fundamental ethnic change, for they were of the same general Northwest-Semitic stock as were the Canaanites." [Note: Bright, pp. 48-49.]

Major Historical Periods of the Promised Land
Stone (Neolithic) Ageto ca. 4000 BC (?)
Copper (Calcolithic) Ageca. 4000-3150 BC (?)
Early Bronze Age I3150-2850 BC
Early Bronze Age II2850-2650 BC
Early Bronze Age III2650-2350 BC
Early Bronze Age IV2350-2200 BC
Middle Bronze Age I2200-2000 BC
Middle Bronze Age IIA2000-1750 BC
Middle Bronze Age IIB1750-1630 BC
Middle Bronze Age IIC1630-1550 BC
Late Bronze Age I1550-1400 BC
Late Bronze Age IIA1400-1300 BC
Late Bronze Age IIB1300-1200 BC
Iron Age I1200-1000 BC
Iron Age II1000-586 BC
Babylonian/Persian Period586-332 BC
Hellenistic Period I (Ptolemaic and Seleucid)332-152 BC
Hellenistic Period II (Hasmonean)152-37 BC
Roman Period I (Herodian)37 BC-AD 70
Roman Period IIAD 70-180
Roman Period IIIAD 180-324
Major Historical Periods of the Promised Land (cont.)
Byzantine Period (Christian)AD 324-640
Arab Period (Moslem)AD 640-1099
Crusader Period (Christian)AD 1099-1291
Mameluk Period (Moslem)AD 1291-1517
Turkish Period (Moslem)AD 1517-1917
British Mandate Period (Christian)AD 1917-1948
State of Israel Period (Jewish)1948 - today
Copyright Statement
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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 11". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.