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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 11

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-9


Verses 1-9:

The original language of earth’s population, following the Deluge, was one. Rabbinical tradition defines this language as Hebrew. Many scholars regard this as unknown. Neither the Scriptures nor secular history reveal what the original language was.

There was a general population shift from the mountains region of Armenia where the ark landed, to the west and the plains of Shinar, later known as Babylon. Both the topography and the climate made life easier than the rugged hill country which they left. How long they lived there before they devised the plan to build a "tower" is unknown. Some suggest it was during the lifetime of Nimrod, that he led in its building. If so, it was during the third generation following the flood.

Life after the flood followed much the same course as life before the flood: rebellion against Jehovah. God instructed Noah’s descendants to disperse over the earth and fill it with their offspring. Man said, "Let’s stay in a close-knit society, and not be

scattered." They devised a means to this end.

The alluvial plain of Babylon was devoid of stone, but filled with rich deposits of clay. Men formed bricks from this clay, and "burned" them, or fired them in a kiln. For mortar they used "slime," chamar, or bitumen (Septuagint asphaltos). Bitumen boils up from subterranean deposits like hot pitch or oil in this area.

Ordinarily bricks were sun-dried, and tended after a time to disintegrate. Fired bricks were quite durable. And joined by mortar of water-proof tar they furnished a long-lasting structure. The men of that day purposed to use these materials to build a world-capital city. The outstanding feature of that city was to be a "tower," a "name," shem, or monument, to man’s ingenuity. Their purpose was not to use the tower as a staircase to heaven. It was likely to be a temple dedicated to the "powers" or signs of heaven as represented by the zodiac.

Jehovah took note of these plans. "To see" denotes seeing with a view to judicial action. "The children of men" is bene ha adam, the "sons of Adam." This implies the effort was universal, including the Semitic people as well as Hamitic and Japhetic. God’s investigation showed mankind united in one race, one tongue, and one purpose. They were united in effort, and were enjoying success in their efforts. In His wisdom God determined that if the people were allowed to succeed in this project, they would progress to yet other and greater areas of defiance. So, He determined to thwart their purpose and make it impossible to continue their unified efforts. He made it impossible for the workers to understand each other. "Confound" is balal, "to mix or mingle." The Greek word is suncheo, and occurs also in Ac 21:27. It denotes the babbling of sounds produced by various languages being spoken at the same time. The text does not denote that each individual spoke in a different "tongue" or language. It refers to families or nations, with each having its own tongue.

The confusion of tongues effectively halted the work on the tower, before it could be completed. The people went their way, scattered according to the various languages they spoke. This marked the end of man’s unified effort of rebellion. It is possible that the Babylonians, or those who remained in that area, completed the city and perhaps even the tower itself.

"Babel" became the name of the city. The word is from balal, the term God used to denote the confusion of the languages. Both the ancient Babylonian and Assyrian histories record their "legend" of the tower, in which the "gods" became angry with presumptuous men and confounded the builders’ speech. These accounts are borrowed from the tradition preserved by Divine Providence.

Verses 10-26

Verses 10-26:

These verses reflect the purpose of the sacred text in tracing the development of the "Faith-line," through the ten generations from the flood to Abram. The reference to the flood denotes the point in time from which these verses are to be reckoned. A significant fact evident in this genealogical table is the decrease in the life-span of the patriarchs, when compared with the pre-flood table.

It appears virtually impossible to reckon the exact number of years from the flood to the birth of Abram. There is a wide divergence between the figures in the Hebrew text, and those given in the Septuagint. Also, the Hebrew text lists Salah as begotten of Arphaxad while Lu 3:36 lists Cainan between Arphaxad and Salah. This apparent discrepancy is no problem, when we remember that the objective of the sacred text is not to furnish a step-by-step chronological account of man’s history, but to trace the lineage of the Promised Seed.

Verses 27-32

Verses 27-32:

Terah, father of Abram, was apparently an idolater (Jos 24:2). Some describe him as a priest of the moon-goddess.

Abram was not the firstborn son of Terah, though he is listed first, in the genealogical table. Haran was the firstborn, and he died in the land of his birth.

Ur of the Chaldees was an important city about 140 miles southeast of the site of ancient Babylon. C. Leonard Woolley carried out extensive archaeological work in that area between 1922 and 1924. Ur was a seaport city, an important site of commerce and education. A large array of clay tablets discovered there reveal that students learned to write and read and do various fornis of arithmetic. Some of these tablets contain business transactions. And some have been found containing the name of Abram.

Terah took his two surviving sons, Abram and Nahor, and his grandson Lot who was the son of Haran, and migrated from Ur of Chaldea northward, into the rich Mesopotamia Valley between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Abram had married his half-sister (Ge 20:12), Sarai, apparently quite some time before this migration. The ultimate destination was not Mesopotamia, but Canaan. How long Abram lived in Haran (apparently named for his brother) is unknown. He did not leave there until after the death of his father.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Genesis 11". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/genesis-11.html. 1985.
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