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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 11

Hampton's Commentary on Selected BooksHampton's Commentary

Verses 1-2

One Language

"Now the sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated" ( Gen_9:18-19 ). A brief description of the various nations which came out of each son is found in chapter 10.

Chapter 11 opens with a statement the modern reader may find startling. "Now the whole earth had one language and one speech." Anyone who has ever been in a foreign country has longed for a common language. Even the simplest request becomes difficult when we cannot understand one another. Immediately after the flood, men understood each other.

The word for "journeyed" literally means, "to pluck up (tent pegs)" according to John T. Willis. Apparently, the people were nomadic. Their journeys eventually brought them to the land of Shinar. Bible students will recognize its later, more familiar name, Babylon, or modern day Iraq ( Gen_10:10 ).

Verses 3-4

Making a Name for Themselves

The text makes it clear the people began to be more interested in their own thoughts than God's will. Three times they used an expression starting with the words, "let us." Much like the man with too great a harvest for his existing barns, they left God out of their planning ( Gen_11:3-4 ; Luk_12:16-21 ). They decided to make bricks, build a city with a tower reaching to heaven and make a name for themselves. The tower is reminiscent of a Babylonian ziggurat. Such were shaped liked Egyptian pyramids. Their bases could be up to several hundred feet wide. On top of the first level would be another with a smaller base and so on until they reached the final height.

Bricks would have been necessary because large amounts of stone are not generally available in that area. The asphalt they used was a very sticky substance sometimes called bitumen. There is no particular sin in building. The problem here is the intent and attitude of the people. A desire for personal fame prevents one from truly giving God the glory. Also, God wanted the earth repopulated, while they intended to stay in one place (Compare Jer_32:17-22 ; Neh_9:7-12 ; Gen_9:1 ).

Verses 5-7

The Lord Came Down

Man was involved in the greatest undertaking since the flood, perhaps in all history. Yet, God is described as having to come down to observe such an insignificant work ( Gen_11:5 ; Isa_40:15-17 ; Isa_40:22-24 ). Remember, God is all knowing ( Psa_139:1-6 ; Pro_15:3 ). He is also everywhere ( Psa_139:7-12 ; Jer_23:24 ). He created all we see and know ( Gen_1:1 ).

The people were united because of their common ancestors and language. Their unity had produced one great act of rebellion. God saw men would continue to use unity in a bad way. No form of rebellion would be out of the realm of possibility. Therefore, he resolved to confuse the languages ( Gen_11:6-7 ).

Verses 8-9

The Gate of God

When God is opposed to any action, the end will always be the same. "Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain" ( Psa_127:1 ). The confusion of languages resulted in the end of the mighty tower project. Not one name of those builders who wanted to be made famous remains. They were scattered to the four corners of the earth ( Gen_11:8 ).

Interestingly, Babel originally meant "the gate of God." It has now come to mean "a confusion of sounds or voices." In a sense, God used the confusion of voices to send people out. So, we might say this city truly served as a gate for God's purposes ( Gen_11:9 ).


Several facts stand out from this simple story. First, God's plan is the only one which will meet with ultimate success. "There are many plans in a man's heart, Nevertheless the Lord's counsel-- that will stand" ( Pro_19:21 ). "Commit your works to the Lord, And your thoughts will be established" ( Pro_16:3 ).

Second, it is important to have unity to accomplish any great goal. The people of Babel were capable of great achievements, for men, as long as they had unity. However, their plans collapsed when confusion ruled in place of unity. We must be careful to unite our speech around God's truth. "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God" ( 1Pe_4:11 ). Paul exhorted the members of the church at Corinth to all speak the same thing ( 1Co_1:10 ). Similarly, he stressed the unity of the Spirit in his letter to the Ephesians (4:1-6).

Third, we can see sin's long range effects. Even today, we are confronted by the language barrier. Though those can be found to interpret, subtle meanings are lost in translation. Thus, man's efforts are thwarted.

Verses 27-32

A Family for God's Purpose

For the Savior to come to earth as the seed of woman and shed his blood, he had to be born. Such a birth would require a family, or lineage. Naturally, we would expect God to choose a righteous man of faith to the father from whom the Seed would eventually come.

Abram was the man of faith God chose. Stephen tells us God first called Abram when he was in Ur of the Chaldees ( Act_7:1-4 ). Perhaps, Terah, his father, moved because of his son's suggestion, or urging ( Gen_11:27-32 ). However, he stopped in Charan, which, like Ur, was a center of moon worship. This may indicate he reverted to the worship of false gods, if indeed he ever changed to the worship of the true God ( Jos_24:2 ). Abram, on the other hand, obviously followed the true God.

Bibliographical Information
Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on Genesis 11". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghc/genesis-11.html. 2014.
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