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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Genesis 11

Verses 1-4

The Tower of Babel Built

According to some, there are about thirty thousand people on earth at this time. They are all still together. Together they head east. It is the direction in which Cain went (Genesis 4:16; cf. Genesis 3:23-Jeremiah :). It is the direction that speaks here of leaving God. In the east, they find a plain, which speaks here of complacency. Abraham later seeks the mountains (Genesis 12:8), which speaks of wanting to be close to God.

The plain is in the land Shinar. There lies the origin of Babel (Genesis 10:8-2 Samuel :) and idolatry (Zechariah 5:5-1 Kings :). Here people want to make a joint effort: they want to build a city with a tower that serves as a bridge to reach the sky. There seems to be interest in God.

It is remarkable that the first builders of cities, both in the old world (Genesis 4:17) and here in the new world, are not men of the best character or the best name. Tents are the homes of those who fear God, while the first cities are built by those who rebel against Him and apostatize from Him. We see that also here. The people want to build this city with the tower to their own honor and name. They want to make a name for themselves on earth. They also build with self-made stones. This is in opposition to God’s actions. God does everything in honor of His own Name (Isaiah 63:12; Isaiah 63:14; Jeremiah 32:20).

The material they use, bricks, is made of clay from the earth and is therefore fragile and vulnerable. It suits man in his earthly, fragile existence (Job 33:6). Because man is not aware of this, he dares to build such a structure. God builds His city with very different materials: precious stones (Isaiah 54:11-2 Kings :; Revelation 21:18-Ecclesiastes :). He builds his spiritual house with living stones (1 Peter 2:5).

What is happening here is the contemporary Christianity to the core. The nominal Christians want to be included, they want their opinion to be taken into account in political issues and decision-making. And do they not have great names in their history to boast of, theologians of name? But having a big name on earth does not automatically mean that that name is also written down in the heaven. In the construction of the city and the tower of Babel it is in any case a pursuit of unity and power. This is what we see in the ecumenical movement, the unity struggle of the churches led by the roman-catholic church, the spiritual Babylon, become reality.

Verses 5-9

The Confusion of Language

God’s response to this endeavor will not take long in coming. People have said to one another: “Come, let us …” (Genesis 11:3-Numbers :). Now the LORD says: “Come, let Us …” – “Us” is the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To involve the human being as it were in His considerations the LORD comes down to take note of their works. It is to convince man of what He knows as the Omniscient. After His conclusion God speaks right. He pronounces the verdict and carries it out. He does not do this by a new flood or by opening the earth, but by a confusion of language.

Through the judgment of the confusion of language, God breaks man’s striving together. A large and powerful stronghold is being demolished. The confusion of language is being undone on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-1 Kings :), when the Holy Spirit is poured out. Baptism with the Spirit creates a unity that is according to God’s thoughts. This unity, the unity of God’s church, is based on the work of Christ as the Lamb. Christ will receive the honor for this from the mouth of those whom He has purchased for God with His blood “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9; Romans 15:6). In the kingdom of peace there will also be a unity among the nations of the earth in serving God (Zephaniah 3:9-2 Samuel :).

The unfinished city is named “Babel”, which means ‘confusion’. This city will be the leading power in the world. It is a concentration of ungodly powers. At the same time it becomes clear that the unity that has been pursued and that has been seen as power by man is judged by God with a confusion of languages. What they wanted to prevent by their efforts, scattering (Genesis 11:4), is exactly what happens by God’s judgment.

With this, the story of the early history of man on earth has come to a fitting conclusion. She describes how the generations of the earth have become hopelessly scattered and wandering around on earth, with no view. The solution comes in the next section. From the scattered nations God builds a people that will become the channel of His grace. God does not yet deal with the human race. The following section prepares us for God’s work for and with His people.

Verses 10-26

Descendants of Shem to Terah

The records of the generations of Shem are given. This shows that the descendants of Shem finally also fell into idolatry (Joshua 24:2). Then the LORD calls Abram. His calling and his person are the subject of this records of generations and the following chapters. God’s answer to the construction of the city and the tower of Babel is the judgment of the confusion of language. Then God now goes on to call a man, Abram, who, as a heavenly minded man, is brought by Him to a land where he may live before God.

If everything is immersed in idolatry, God does not, according to His promise, put an end to it by a new judgment. He lets the nations go on their own ways (Acts 14:16) and starts something new with Abram. With Abram’s calling, God will teach us a principle of great significance: separation from evil. God is going to teach that to Abram, step by step. He also wants to teach us this, step by step.

Verses 27-32

Terah and Abram

Genesis 11:31 shows that Terah, Abram’s father, takes the initiative to leave for Canaan. God, however, did not appear to Terah, but to Abram in Ur of the Chaldeans: “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘LEAVE YOUR COUNTRY AND YOUR RELATIVES, AND COME INTO THE LAND THAT I WILL SHOW YOU.’ 4 Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, [God] had him move to this country in which you are now living” (Acts 7:2-Numbers :).

God has ordered Abram to leave his family and go to Canaan. It seems that family ties are still too strong to respond fully to God’s call. That this is so, seems to be confirmed by the stay of Abram in Haran. That is still not Canaan. Abram goes to Canaan, when his father Terah died in Haran. Only then is he free to go.

We must all learn this lesson. When it comes to the voice of the Lord in our lives, family ties should not prevent us from obeying that voice. Then we must get away from it, learn to apply death to it, so that these bonds do not prevent us from going the way the Lord wants us to go. The Lord Jesus says: “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Genesis 11". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/genesis-11.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.