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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 11

Trapp's Complete CommentaryTrapp's Commentary

Verse 1

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

And the whole earth was of one language. — Unity without verity, is no better than conspiracy. A legion of devils could accord to get into one man; and, though many, yet they speak and act as one in that possession. That infernal kingdom is not divided against itself. A shame for God’s saints to be at difference. What should sheep do snarling, like dogs, one at another? The children of this world are wiser, a fair deal, in their generation; Hebrews 3:10 they can combine and comply, as here; though their society be as unsavoury as the slime and filth that is congealed, when many toads and other vermin meet together.

Verse 2

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.

In the land of Shinar. — Which was a part of the garden of Eden, as most geographers think, fat and fruitful still above belief (Herodot. lib. i. cap. 93; Plin. lib. vi. cap. 26).

Verse 3

And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.

And they said one to another. — One broached this counsel, and the rest soon consented. Let us consider one another to whet on to love and good works. Hebrews 10:24 One live coal may set a whole stack on fire. When Silas came, Paul "burned in spirit," Acts 18:5 συνειχετο . Intus et apud se aestuabat praezeli ardore . and preached lustily.

Let us make brick, … — Thus, wanting stones, they devised matter for their cursed building. Apud Babylone Traianus Imp. vidit lacum bituminis, ex quo moenia Babylonis aedificata fuerant, cuius tanta vis est, ut permixtum cum lateribus, quovis saxo sit aut ferro potentius . - Dio in Vita Trajan. Good cause hath the Church to be as ingenious and sedulous in building staircases for heaven, as the devil and his imps in digging descents to hell.

And they had brick for stone, and slime for mortar. — And yet though the walls were high and huge, this city was taken first by Cyrus, afterwards by Alexander, and plundered at several times by many other enemies. Shusa in Persia was first built by Tithonus and his son Memnon, who was so exceeding prodigal, that, as Cassiodorus writes, he joined the stones together with gold; so rich it was that Aristagoras thus cheered up his soldiers that besieged it. This city if you can take, you may vie with Jove himself for wealth and riches. Iam cum Iove de divitiis licet certetis . - Cassiod., lib. vii.; Var., epist. xv. Here Alexander found 50,000 talents of gold, besides silver. But what is all this to the heavenly Jerusalem, whose pavement is pure gold, and her walls garnished with all precious stones? Revelation 21:19 Why do we then labour in the fire, to "load ourselves with thick clay"? Habakkuk 2:6 Why doth not this "kingdom of heaven suffer violence by us, sith the violent take it by force," Matthew 11:12 or make a prey, a prize of it (so Hilany Diripiunt metaph. a castris aut arce quapiam, quae irrumpentibus hostibus diripitur . - Hilar. rendereth it) as soldiers do of a city they have taken? Oh that we could say of heaven, as Sextus Ruffus doth of Cyprus, Cyprus famosa divitiis paupertatem populi Rom. ut occuparetur sollicitavit ! This island was anciently called Macaria: Heaven more truly.

Verse 4

And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top [may reach] unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

Let us build us a city and a tower. — This tower raised a head of majesty, 5164 paces from the ground, having its basis and circumference equal to the height. The passage to go up, went winding about the outside, and was of an exceeding great breadth, there being not only room for horses, carts, …, to meet and turn, but lodgings also for man and beast (as Verstegan reports), grass and grain fields for their nourishment. Heyl., Geog.

Let us make us a name. — This is a disease that cleaves to us all, to "receive honour one of another, and not to seek the honour that cometh from God only". John 5:44 A rare man he is surely, that has not some Babel of his own, whereon he bestows pains and cost, only to be talked of. Hoc ego primus vidi , was Zabarelle’s επινικιον . Dr Prid., Contra Eudoemon. Joh . Epicurus would have us believe, that he was the first that ever found out the truth of things. Palaemon gave out, that all learning was born and would die with him. Secum literas esse natas, et morituras . - Sueton. Aratus the astrologer, that he had numbered the stars, and written of them all. Archimedes, the mathematician, that if he had but where to set his foot, he could move the earth out of its place. Herostratus burnt Diana’s temple for a name. Aug. de Civit. Dei ., lib. xvi. And Plato Plato in Menone Tusc . iii. writes of Protagoras, that he bragged, that whereas he had lived sixty years, forty of them he had spent in corrupting of youth. Cicero Pro Archia Poeta . tells us, that Gracchus did all for popular applause; and observes, that those philosophers that have written of the contempt of glory, have yet set their names to their own writings, which shows an itch after that glory they persuaded others to despise. These two things, saith Cicero somewhere of himself, I have to boast of, Optimarum artium scientiam et maximarum rerum gloriam , my learned works, and noble acts. Julius Caesar had his picture set upon the globe of the world, with a sword in his right hand, a book in his left, with this motto, Ex utroque Caesar . Vibius Rufus used the chair wherein Caesar was wont to sit, and was slain; he married also Cicero’s widow, and boasted of them both, as if either for that seat he had been Caesar, or for that wife an orator, Epist. Famil ., lib. vii. - Gabriel Simeon in Symbolis . - Dion Cass. in Tyberio . When Maximus died in the last day of his consulship, Caninius Rebilus petitioned Caesar for that part of the day, that he might be said to have been consul. O vigilantem Consulem qui tuto consulatus sui tempore, somnum non vidit . So many of the Popish clergy have with great care and cost procured a cardinal’s hat, when they have lain a dying, that they might be entitled cardinals in their epitaph, as Erasmus writes. But for men’s ennobling themselves by building, those seven wonders of the world were made merely for a name. Pharos, a watch-tower in Egypt, being one of the seven, was built by Ptolomy Philadelph, all of white marble. The chief architect was Sostratus of Gnidos, who engraved on the work this inscription, "Sostratus of Gnidos, son of Dexiphanes, to the gods protectors, for the safeguard of sailors." This inscription he covered with plaster, and thereon engraved the name and title of the king the founder: that (that soon wasted and washed away) his own that was written in marble, might be eternised to posterity. This tower, saith Wickam, is a known story. And Phidias, the famous carver, so cunningly set his own countenance into Minerva’s shield at Athens, that it could not be defaced, but the shield itself must be disfigured. The Hague, in Holland, has two thousand households in it. The inhabitants will not wall it, as desiring to have it counted rather the principal village of Europe, than a lesser city. And Sextus Marius, being once offended with his neighbour, invited him to be his guest for two days together. The first of those two days he pulled down his neighbour’s farmhouse; the next, he set it up again, far bigger and better than before. And all this for a name, that his neighbours might see and say, what good or harm he could do to them at his pleasure. Heylin’s Geog., p. 750, - B. Godwin’s Catalogue. - Heylin’s Geog., p. 240. - Dio in Tiberio.

Verse 5

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

And the Lord came down.Non motu locali, sed actu iudiciali .

To see the city, & c. — That so his sentence, grounded not upon hearsay, or uncertain information, might be above all cavillation or exception. A fair precedent for judges. Caiaphas first sentenced our Saviour, and then asked the assessors what they thought of it. The chief captain first commanded Paul to be scourged, and then examined. Acts 22:24-25 This was preposterous. God, though he knew all before, is yet said to come down to see. Let his actions be our instructions. No man must be rashly pronounced a leper: and the judges must "make diligent inquisition," Deuteronomy 19:18 as flints must carry fire but not easily express it. Potiphar was too hasty with Joseph, and David with Mephibosheth. Aeneas Sylvius Aene. Sylvius., Europ., cap. xx. tells us of some places, where thieves taken but upon suspicion, are presently trussed up, and three days after they sit in judgment upon the party executed. If they find him guilty, they let him hang till he fall. And if not, they take down the body and bury it honourably at the public charge. This is not Godlike, nor a point of wisdom: for Nervus est sapientiae non temere credere .

Which the children of men builded. — Nimrod chiefly, with his fellow Hamites. But that some of Shem’s and Japheth’s posterity had a hand in it, is more than probable, by their common punishment, the confusion of tongues. Heber and his had nothing to do with them; and therefore retained the Hebrew tongue, called thenceforth "the Jews’ language," Isaiah 36:11 until they were carried captive to Babylon, where grew a mixture among them of Hebrew and Chaldee, whence came up the Syriac tongue, common in our Saviour’s time, as appears by many Syriac words in the Gospels.

Verse 6

And the LORD said, Behold, the people [is] one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

Behold the people is one, … — This benefit they abused to their pride and ambition, which they should have used to the help of the humane society, and common intercourse. They built, and God bare with them for a time, that he might make fools of them in the end. And this he doth daily.

Verse 7

Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

Go to, let us go down. — "Go to," say they: "Go to," saith He. "Let us build to heaven," say they: "Let us go down and see it," saith He. "Let us make us a name," say they: "Let us confound their language, that they may not so much as know their own names," saith He. "Lest we be scattered," say they: "Let us scatter them abroad the world," saith He. Thus God words it with them, and confutes their folly from point to point. Thus he sets himself in battle array against the proud, as St James has it, αντιτασσεται , James 4:7 and overthrows them in plain field. He dealt more severely with David for numbering the people than for the matter of Uriah. He turned Nebuchadnezzar grazing among beasts, for pruning and priding himself upon this Babel. "Is not this great Babel, that I have built?" Why, no; Nimrod built it, and Ninus, and Semiramis: Nebuchadnezzar only beautified it, or, at utmost, enlarged it. But pride detracts from God and man, and is therefore justly hated and scorned of both.

And there confound their language. — When men began once θεομαχειν , they were compelled by God λογομαχειν .

“Bring me, quoth one, a trowel quickly; quick

One brings him up a hammer; hew this brick,

Another bids, and then they cleave a tree;

Make fast this rope, and then they let it flee.

One calls for plank; another mortar lacks:

They bring the first a stone, the last an axe.” - Dubartus.

Neither is there any better understanding and agreement among the Babel builders at this day ( Babylon enim altera, nempe propinquior atque recentior adhuc stat, cito itidem casura, si essetis viri , said Petrarch long since); witness their many sects and deadly dissensions among themselves, of which read the "Peace of Rome," "Rhemes against Rome," De Rom. utriusque Fort. Dial. , 118. and various other English treatises to the same purpose. Bellarmine teaches, that the bread in the sacrament is not turned into Christ’s body productive, but adductive. And this, saith he, is the opinion of the Church of Rome. This Suarez denies, and saith, it is not the Church’s opinion. Cade Of the Church , 247. Thus these great master-builders are confounded in their language, and understand not their own mother. The greatest clerks among them cannot yet determine how the saints know our hearts and prayers - whether by hearing or seeing, or presence everywhere, or by God’s relating or revealing men’s prayers and needs unto them. All which ways some of them hold as possible or probable; and others deny and confute them as untrue. Morton’s Appeal, lib. ii. cap. 12, sec. 5. Alsted calls Baronius’s "Annals" the Tower of Babel. And another saith, Baronius doth not write annals, but maketh them. How he takes up St Paul for reproving Peter at Antioch, and contradicts the Holy Ghost, is well known; as also how he thunders against the king of Spain, his sovereign, concerning the kingdom of Sicily; for the which rudeness, when he was reprehended by another cardinal, he thus defended himself: An imperious zeal hath no power to spare, no, not God himself. Was not this an apology well befitting a Babel builder? Christchurch, in Oxford, like the tower of Babel, saith one, began with such stupendous magnificence, under the pride of Wolsey (another cardinal of the Church of Rome), who resolved to make it a work of wonder, that the Controller of men’s actions determined to make it a work of confusion; and so, when the cardinal fell, the walls had fallen too, had not Henry VIII. looked graciously upon it, to set it up, to some purpose. Gainsf. Glor. of England.

Verse 8

So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

So the Lord scattered them abroad. — Which was the evil they feared, and by this enterprise, sought to prevent. But there is neither counsel, power, nor policy against the Lord. "The fear of the wicked shall come upon him". Proverbs 10:24 As it befell those wretched Jews, John 11:48 "The Romans shall come," …, and come they did accordingly. Pilate, for fear of losing his office, delivered up Christ, and was by Caius kicked off the bench.

Verse 9

Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

The Lord did there confound the language. — A sore cross and hindrance of interchange of commodities between nation and nation. This great labour also hath God laid hereby upon the sons of men, that a great part of our best time is spent about the shell (in learning of language) before we can come at the kernel of true wisdom, Scripture wisdom especially. Our Saviour’s epitaph, written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, as it sets forth Christ unto us to be; First, The most holy (for the Hebrew tongue is called the holy tongue); Secondly, The most wise (for in Greek is all human wisdom written); Thirdly, The most powerful (for the Latins were lords of the earth, and propagated their tongue among all the nations). So it signifies that God would have the dignity and study of these three tongues to be retained and maintained in the churches of Christ to the world’s end. Hebricians, saith Reuchlin, drink of the fountains; Grecians of the rivers; Latinists of the standing pools only. Hebraei bibunt fontes, Greci rivos, Latini paludes . There were that mocked at the multitude of tongues. Acts 2:13 And the monks were mad almost at such Camilli literarii as chased out barbarism and brought in the learned languages. Joh. Manlii. loc. com., p. 130. But let us acknowledge it a singular gift of God, as for the gathering of the Church at first, Acts 2:1-4 so still for the edifying of the body of Christ, "till we all come unto a perfect man," Ephesians 4:13 to speak the language of Canaan, in the kingdom of heaven.

And from thence did the Lord scatter them. — The Hebrew doctors say, R. Menahem in Gen. xi. that at this dispersion there were seventy nations, with seventy various languages. Epiphanius saith, that their one language was divided into seventy-two; for so many men were then present, and each man had his own dialect, and went his own way with it. Cleopatra is famous in history for her skill in tongues. She could give a ready answer to ambassadors that came, whether they were Ethiopians, Hebrews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes, or Parthians. Yea, she could tune and turn her tongue, as an instrument of many strings, saith Plutarch, την γλωτταν ωσπερ οργανον τι πολυχορδεο, ευπετως τρεπουσα προς ην βουλοιτο διαλεκτον . Plut. to whatever language she pleased. This minds me of those cloven tongues, and of that utterance the Spirit gave them. Acts 2:1-47 "Parthians, Medes, Elamites, strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians heard" the apostles speak "in their own tongue the wonderful works of God," to the singular advantage of the Church, that was then out of all nations to be collected, and that by a like means as these rebels were scattered.

Verse 10

These [are] the generations of Shem: Shem [was] an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood:

These are the generations of Shem. — To whose genealogy Moses here returneth, that he may come to the history of Abraham, the father of the faithful.

Verse 11

And Shem lived after he begat Arphaxad five hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.

And Shem lived after he begat, … — He saw ten generations, and lived till Isaac was fifty years old, who might well be his pupil, which (if Shem were Melchisedec) is so much the more likely. Heber also lived till Abraham was dead; a singular blessing to them both. This comfort the patriarchs had of their tiresome and tedious pilgrimage, that as Shem saw Lamech, so Lamech saw Adam, and Isaac saw Shem. Now, ipse aspectus viri boni delectat , saith Seneca. How much more, when "they that fear the Lord speak often one to another" Malachi 3:16 for mutual edification and encouragement? This the mad world calls faction and capriciousness. But what saith Tertullian to it? Cum boni, cum probi coeunt, cum pii, cum casti congregantur, non est factio dicenda, sed curia: et e contrario illis nomen factionis accommodandum est, qui in odium bonorum et proborum conspirant. Tert. Apol. advers. Gentes, cap. 39, n. 520.

Verse 12

And Arphaxad lived five and thirty years, and begat Salah:

And begat Salah. — Cainan, say the seventy interpreters, but not according to the Hebrew verity. See for this the note on See Trapp on " Luke 3:36 "

Verse 16

And Eber lived four and thirty years, and begat Peleg:

And begat Peleg. — Whether Peleg were Heber’s firstborn, Buxtorf Dissertat. 2 Thes 75 . doubteth and disputeth; but without any just cause. But, cum errat eruditus, errat errore erudito , saith the Arabic proverb. Erpenius. Centuricae duae Prov. Arab., 82.

Verse 22

And Serug lived thirty years, and begat Nahor:

And begat Nahor. — Who, first of the patriarchs, fell to idolatry: for Laban sware by Nahor’s gods.

Verse 24

And Nahor lived nine and twenty years, and begat Terah:

And begat Terah. — Who also at first "served other gods, beyond the flood". Joshua 24:2

Verse 27

Now these [are] the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot.

Terah begat Abram. — Who whether he were Terah’s firstborn, is a great question; but, being an important man, he is first mentioned. (Abram was not Terah’s first born. Genesis 11:32 ; Genesis 12:4 This means that Terah was 130 years old when he begot Abram. Editor.)

Verse 28

And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.

And Haran died before his father Terah. — The Hebrews say he died a martyr, being burnt with fire by his countrymen the Chaldees, because he would not worship the fire, which they had made their god. Martyrdom came early into the world, as we know in Abel, who as he was the first that died, so he died for religion. Now if this be true of Haran, as the Jewish doctors will have it; then he had, for aught we know, the maidenhead (as a certain martyr phrased it) of that kind of martyrdom. The first that were burnt for religion, since the Reformation, are said to be Henry and John, two Augustinian monks at Brussels, anno 1523, under James Hogostratus the Dominican Inquisitor. The executioner, being demanded whether they recanted in the flames, denied there was any such thing; but said, that when the fire was put to them, they continued singing the creed, and Te Deum , till the flame took away their voice. All this Erasmus testifieth, Erasm., lib. xxiv., epist. 4. though he was no Lutheran; and thereupon maketh this good but wary note, Damnari, dissecari, suspendi:, exuri, decollari, piis cum impiis sunt communia: damnare, dissecare, in crucem agere, exurere, decollare, bonis iudicibus cum piratis ac tyrannis communia sunt. Varia sunt hominum iudicia, ille foelix qui iudice Deo absolvitur . Our protomartyr in Queen Mary’s days was Reverend Master Rogers; he gave the first adventure upon the fire. His wife, and children, being eleven in number, ten able to go, and one sucking at her breast, met him by the way as he went toward Smithfield. This sorrowful sight of his own flesh and blood could nothing move him, but that he constantly held out to the death, and so received a crown of life. Act. and Mon., fol. 1356. Neither hath God left himself without witness among the very heathens. For in the city of Lima, in Mexico, not two months before our coming there, saith Captain Drake, The World Encompassed, by Sir F. Drake p. 59. twelve persons were condemned by the Spaniards there for profession of the gospel; of which, six were bound to one stake and burnt; the rest remained yet in prison, to drink of the same cup within a few days.

Verse 29

And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram’s wife [was] Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.

And the father of Iscah. — The Chaldee Paraphrast addeth Hi Sara ; , the same is Sarah. It was not yet flatly forbidden to marry a brother’s daughter, as afterwards it was. Leviticus 18:14 Why then should Burgensis on the text say, that such marriages were never prohibited?

Verse 30

But Sarai was barren; she [had] no child.

But Sarai was barren. — Till she had prayed for a child thirty years, and then she had him with abundance of joy. At first she believed not the promise, but laughed at the unlikelihood, and was checked for it. But when she had better bethought herself, "through faith she received strength to conceive seed, because she judged him faithful who had promised". Hebrews 11:11 She was (when past age) delivered of a child; who was not more the child of her flesh, than of her faith. Whether she were that Iscah spoken of in the verse next aforegoing, the doctors are divided. Some say that Iscah, in Chaldee, signifieth the same that Sarai in Hebrew. Others more probably make Sarai another woman, and the daughter not of Haran, but of Terah: how else could Abram say of her, that she was the daughter of his father, but not of his mother? Genesis 20:12 Ea quae clavum administrationis tenet .

Verse 31

And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.

And Terah took, … — Being admonished of the Divine oracle, Acts 7:2-3 by his son Abram, he rebuked him not, neither charged him, upon his blessing, to abide in his native country, as many a father would have done (for what was he wiser and better than his forefathers?) but abandoned his idols, and went as far as his old legs could carry him toward the country that God should show them. For as yet they "went forth, not knowing whither they went". Hebrews 11:8 But having God by the hand, they knew they could not go amiss. This was a blessed blind obedience, not to dispute, but to despatch; to wink, and put themselves into God’s hand, to be led about at his pleasure, to follow him without sciscitation. Instar caeci oculos clausit, vocantemque Deum secutus est. - Bucholcer.

Verse 32

And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.

Terah died in Haran. — And so fell short of the earthly, but not of the heavenly Canaan; to the which, there is as ready a way and as speedy a passage, from one place, as from another. But as the body, when once glorified, shall soon be wheresoever the soul will: so soon shall be the soul where God wills, when once delivered.

Bibliographical Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Genesis 11". Trapp's Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jtc/genesis-11.html. 1865-1868.
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