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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 11

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

Introduction

GENESIS CHAPTER Genesis 11:1-32

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASBNKJVNRSVTEVNJB
Universal Language, Babel, ConfusionThe Tower of BabelThe Tower of BabelThe Tower of BabelThe Tower of Babel
Genesis 11:1-9Genesis 11:1-9Genesis 11:1-9Genesis 11:1-9Genesis 11:1-4
Genesis 11:5-9
Descendants of ShemShem's DescendantsGenealogies of AbrahamThe Descendants of ShemThe Patriarchs After the flood
Genesis 11:10-11Genesis 11:10-11Genesis 11:10-11Genesis 11:10-11Genesis 11:10a
Genesis 11:10-11
Genesis 11:12-13Genesis 11:12-13Genesis 11:12-13Genesis 11:12-13Genesis 11:12-13
Genesis 11:14-15Genesis 11:14-15Genesis 11:14-15Genesis 11:14-15Genesis 11:14-15
Genesis 11:16-17Genesis 11:16-17Genesis 11:16-17Genesis 11:16-17Genesis 11:16-17
Genesis 11:18-19Genesis 11:18-19Genesis 11:18-19Genesis 11:18-19Genesis 11:18-19
Genesis 11:20-21Genesis 11:20-21Genesis 11:20-21Genesis 11:20-21Genesis 11:20-21
Genesis 11:22-23Genesis 11:22-23Genesis 11:22-23Genesis 11:22-23Genesis 11:22-23
Genesis 11:24-25Genesis 11:24-25Genesis 11:24-25Genesis 11:24-25Genesis 11:24-25
Genesis 11:26Genesis 11:26Genesis 11:26Genesis 11:26Genesis 11:26
Terah's Descendants The Descendants of TerahThe Descendants of Terah
Genesis 11:27-30Genesis 11:27-30Genesis 11:27-30Genesis 11:27a
Genesis 11:27-30 Genesis 11:27-30
Genesis 11:31-32Genesis 11:31-32Genesis 11:31-32Genesis 11:31-32Genesis 11:31
Genesis 11:32

READING CYCLE THREE (see Guide to Good Bible Reading)

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. Chapters 10-11 are in reversed chronological order.

B. Although the confusion of languages with its resultant scattering of peoples seems to be an act of judgment, remember that it is the development of nationalism which has, up to this point, thwarted the political movement toward a one world government. Therefore, this was in a sense another blessing of God.

For the Christian, Pentecost was the theological reversal of the Tower of Babel!

Verses 1-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 11:1-9 1Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. 2It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. 4They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” 5The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. 6The LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. 7Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech.” 8So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. 9Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.

Genesis 11:1 “the whole earth used the same language” It is obvious that Genesis 11:0 explains the dispersion described in Genesis 10:0.

This one language, which apparently went back to Eden, was not Hebrew. The oldest written language known to moderns is cuneiform Sumerian, dating from 3,000 B.C. (ABD, vol. 1, p. 1213), and the culture from10,000-8,000 B.C.

Genesis 11:2 “they journeyed east” This seems to imply a movement away from the location of the ark, the mountains of Ararat. The literal phrase “journeyed” means “pulled up stakes” (BDB 652, KB 704), Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT). Mesopotamia is southeast of the mountains of Ararat (which run from modern Turkey to Iran).

“the land of Shinar” This refers to lower Mesopotamia or Babylon, also called Chaldea (BDB 11042).

Genesis 11:3 This verse has one Qal IMPERATIVE and two related COHORTATIVE forms. This describes the construction techniques that are historically accurate for Mesopotamia (no trees). There were no rocks in this area, so bricks were fired. King James has “slime,” but it obviously refers to the black, sticky substance that boils up in this area. We would call it tar, asphalt, or pitch (BDB 330, cf. Genesis 6:14).

Genesis 11:4 This verse has one Qal IMPERATIVE and two related IMPERFECTS used as COHORTATIVES. There seem to be four elements involved in this account: (1) the building of a city and a tower; (2) the size of which would rival the other structures of its day; (3) they wanted to make themselves a name; and (4) they did not want to be scattered abroad (i.e. all the earth). The exact connotation of this is uncertain. Many have asserted that it relates to the Babylonian ziggurats, but the Hebrew word is migdal which is translated “fortified tower” (BDB 153, cf. Judges 8:9-17). It is obviously an attempt by mankind to organize themselves apart from God, and thereby to thwart His will. Philo even says that they wrote their name on every brick so that they would not be dispersed. This is the first example of human pride, organized and functioning apart from God (cf. Daniel and Revelation 18:0 and 19).

“a tower whose top will reach into heaven” The people of Mesopotamia were astral worshipers (i.e. heavenly lights were gods). These towers were raised platforms to observe the night sky. They were the place where the gods were worshiped and encountered.

Genesis 11:5 This is very anthropomorphic (cf. Genesis 18:21; Exodus 3:8).

Genesis 11:7 “let Us go down” This verse also has a Qal IMPERATIVE with two related COHORTATIVES. This is a PLURAL form, much like Genesis 1:26; Genesis 3:22. Although this passage seems anthropomorphic in English, it is not referring to a weakness on God's part but to an act of grace whereby He stops sinful mankind from trying to run their lives in their own fallen way (cf. Rom. 1-3).

The “Let Us” of divine activity thwarts the “let us” of human rebellion (cf. Genesis 11:3, Genesis 11:4, Genesis 11:7).

Genesis 11:9 “Babel” It is interesting to note that archaeology has unearthed literary documents from the Sumerian culture in Mesopotamia which assert that at this time all people spoke in one tongue (i.e. Samuel Noah Kramer in his article “The Babel of Tongues: A Sumerian Version” in Journal of the American Oriental Society, 88:108-111). The popular Hebrew etymology is “confusion” (i.e. balal, BDB 93), which seems to describe God's confusing their one language. Babel literally means “the gate of God” (Akkadian bab-ilani), which is very similar to some of the names of Ziggurats, which were large structures with a temple on top to worship the astral deities. Babylon becomes a symbol of a fallen world power, exemplified in Nimrod, later in Nebuchadnezzar, and finally in the sea beast of the book of Revelation.

Verses 10-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 11:10-11 10These are the records of the generations of Shem. Shem was one hundred years old, and became the father of Arpachshad two years after the flood; 11and Shem lived five hundred years after he became the father of Arpachshad, and he had other sons and daughters.

Shem's descendants continue the Messianic line from Seth from Genesis 11:2 and 10:21-31. This line will continue in Terah/Abraham in Genesis 11:10-25 (cf. Luke 3:23-38).

Verses 12-13

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 11:12-13 12Arpachshad lived thirty-five years, and became the father of Shelah; 13and Arpachshad lived four hundred and three years after he became the father of Shelah, and he had other sons and daughters.

The Masoretic Text excludes Kainan in Genesis 11:13 but the Septuagint includes him as does Luke 3:36.

“Shelah” See BDB 1019 II.

Verses 14-15

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 11:14-15 14Shelah lived thirty years, and became the father of Eber; 15and Shelah lived four hundred and three years after he became the father of Eber, and he had other sons and daughters.

“Eber” See BDB 720.

Verses 16-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 11:16-17 16Eber lived thirty-four years, and became the father of Peleg; 17and Eber lived four hundred and thirty years after he became the father of Peleg, and he had other sons and daughters.

“Peleg” See BDB 811 II.

Verses 18-19

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 11:18-19 18Peleg lived thirty years, and became the father of Reu; 19and Peleg lived two hundred and nine years after he became the father of Reu, and he had other sons and daughters.

“Reu” See BDB 946.

Verses 20-21

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 11:20-21 20Reu lived thirty-two years, and became the father of Serug; 21and Reu lived two hundred and seven years after he became the father of Serug, and he had other sons and daughters.

“Serug” See BDB 974.

Verses 22-23

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 11:22-23 22Serug lived thirty years, and became the father of Nahor; 23and Serug lived two hundred years after he became the father of Nahor, and he had other sons and daughters.

“Nahor” See BDB 637.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. What was the tower of Babel?

2. What was man trying to do against God in Genesis 11:0?

INTRODUCTION TO Genesis 11:24-18

A. This section of Genesis begins the fuller discussion of the line of the Messiah through Abraham.

B. Genesis' fifty chapters are concerned with the redemption of God's covenant people, not creation. Calling one to call all is the focus of the book.

C. Abram is seen in his weaknesses as well as in his faithfulness. The God of election and mercy calls him out for His own redemptive purposes.

D. God chose Abraham to choose a world (cf. Genesis 12:3c; Exodus 19:4-6; 1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6). God wants all people made in His image to be redeemed (cf. Genesis 3:15; Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 18:32; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9) See SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan.

E. The Talmud specifies seven blessings of the call:

1. Abram would be the father of a great nation.

2. He would be blessed in his lifetime.

3. His name would be renowned.

4. He would be a blessing to others.

5. Others will be blessed who honor him.

6. Others will be cursed who reject him.

7. His influence would be universal.

Verses 24-25

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 11:24-25 24Nahor lived twenty-nine years, and became the father of Terah; 25and Nahor lived one hundred and nineteen years after he became the father of Terah, and he had other sons and daughters.

Genesis 11:24 "Terah" "Terah" (BDB 1076) possibly means "tarrying," "delaying," or "migrating." From Joshua 24:2 it is obvious that he and his family were polytheists. The names of his family suggest that they primarily worshiped the moon goddess Zin (see Special Topic at Genesis 12:4). She was worshiped in Ur, Tema, and Haran. However, Genesis 31:53 implies that he knew of YHWH.

Verses 24-32

INTRODUCTION TO Genesis 11:24-18

A. This section of Genesis begins the fuller discussion of the line of the Messiah through Abraham.

B. Genesis' fifty chapters are concerned with the redemption of God's covenant people, not creation. Calling one to call all is the focus of the book.

C. Abram is seen in his weaknesses as well as in his faithfulness. The God of election and mercy calls him out for his own redemptive purposes.

D. God chose Abraham to choose a world (cf. Genesis 12:3c; Exodus 19:4-6; 2 Peter 2:5, 2 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6). God wants all people made in His image to be redeemed (cf. Genesis 3:15; Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 18:32; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).

E. The Talmud specifies seven blessings of the call.

1. Abram would be the father of a great nation.

2. He would be blessed in his lifetime.

3. His name would be renowned.

4. He would be a blessing to others.

5. Those who honor him would be blessed

6. Those who rejected him would be cursed.

7. His influence would be universal.

Verse 26

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 11:26 26Terah lived seventy years, and became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran.

Genesis 11:26 "Abram, Nahor and Haran" This might be the order of importance and not age. The name Abram (BDB 4) can mean (1) "exalted father"; (2) "exalter of father"; or (3) "the Exalted One is my father." The name Nahor means "panting" or an Assyrian place name, while Haran means "mountaineer."

Verses 27-30

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 11:27-30 27Now these are the records of the generations of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran; and Haran became the father of Lot. 28Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29Abram and Nahor took wives for themselves. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife was Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30Sarai was barren; she had no child.

Genesis 11:27 See note at Genesis 25:12, Genesis 25:19; Genesis 36:1, Genesis 36:9; Genesis 37:2.

Genesis 11:28 "Haran died in the presence of his father Terah" This is a Hebrew idiom for Haran dying before his father.

"the Ur of the Chaldeans" The Chaldean culture developed (i.e., built on the strengths of the Sumerian culture) and thrived after Abram's day.

Genesis 11:29 "and Iscah" This person (BDB 414) and the reason for her presence in this verse is unknown. The rabbis (also Josephus, Jerome, and Augustine) say it is Sarai, but the text asserts that they have different fathers.

Genesis 11:30 "Sarai was barren" The inability of Sarai, Rachel, and Rebecca to have children was one of the ways YHWH used to exhibit His power and control of human history and genealogy. Human sexual generation is not the key aspect to the lineage of the Messiah.

This same theological aspect to Israel's history is also seen in the fact that the firstborn son never became the head of the family (i.e., in the Messianic line). Culturally the firstborn was the head of the clan, but not so among YHWH's people. It was His choice!

Verses 31-32

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 11:31-32 31Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife; and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans in order to enter the land of Canaan; and they went as far as Haran, and settled there. 32The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.

Genesis 11:31 "they went out together" There is much discussion as to whether Terah took his family or if Abram took them. Some postulate God calling Terah but he lapsed back into idolatry. It seems to me that Abram is the focus of the entire section, not Terah. By leaving Ur Abram was leaving not only his extended family, but also their national deities. He left a comfortable, settled life to follow a new God who had spoken to him in rather cryptic fashion.

Genesis 11:32 "the days of Terah were two hundred and five years" When one adds the years in Genesis 11:26 with those in Genesis 12:4, which equals 145 years, and subtracts this from 205, it becomes obvious that Terah lived 60 years after Abram left Haran. This seems to conflict with Stephen's sermon in Acts 7:4. Several aspects of Stephen's historical review conflict with our understanding of Old Testament history. Possibly he was using rabbinical interpretation. Others assert that Abram, though listed first in Genesis 11:26, was born much later and that Stephen was accurate.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Genesis 11". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/genesis-11.html. 2021.
 
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