With the human populations after the flood growing rapidly, things seem to be going according to the original plan and intention from Gen 9:1 when God blessed Noah and his sons saying, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.”
Verse 1 of chapter 11 tells us that these descendants of Noah were still of a common language, speech and expression. And we must also not forget that Gen 9:28 tells us that Noah lived 350 years after the flood before dying at the ripe old age of 950.
At what time these descendants of righteous Noah turned from the living God (and the godly instruction of their ancestor) into mindless and carefree idolatry we are not told, but the dark self-centeredness nature and disposition to evil that man had acquired by the fall in the garden keeps showing up again and again throughout the pages of scripture and of human history.
Humans have an ever-growing affinity for the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; humankind, quick to respond to the world, the flesh and the devil now concoct their own plans and agenda ignoring God’s purposes and claims upon them validated by His creating and sustaining mainkind.
They migrated eastward and found a plain in Shinar (i.e. Babylon) and settled there. They knew very well it was God’s will and command for them to spread and fill the earth and live out their lives for God’s glory and praise; but to them a life lived to the glory of God seemed like an insignificant and meaningless waste.
They wanted the world to revolve around them, and not around their creator. Instead o finding out how best to fulfill their created mandate and assignment, they saw in the technology that they had now recently discovered a way to thwart the divine intention, and build for themselves a name, and a tower that would reach up to the heavens so as to prevent themselves from being scattered over the face of the whole earth (verse 4).
And is not this natural human disposition, to think that the technology that they have discovered from God’s own universe is their trophy to gloat about, and declare their independence from the God who created both matter and all the laws of nature.
They used bricks (burned thoroughly in the furnace) instead of stones and tar instead of mortar, and set about their grand and illustrious project. United by their single language, and fuel by their growing humanistic pride, the work continued to gather momentum and rise ever higher. God allowed them far enough to flatter their proud hearts (egos) and with their false sense of greatness.
The truth of the matter was that the tower of Babel was intended to be no more than a shrine tower. Their intention was to build this tower as high up into the highest heavens, and adorn the very top with the shrines of their gods, so as to set the throne of their idols as the most high over the heavens and the earth.
Babel, in the language of the Chaldens means “the gate of the gods”, but God’s judgment turned their actions and intentions to the “door of confusion”. Satan’s lies in the hearts of mankind proves false again, “and you will be like God (Gen 3:5)” by making a name for yourselves (Gen 11:4).
It is interesting how the Bible puts it, “the LORD came down to see the city and tower the people were building”. The most high is so high that men’s highest towers are still so low that He has to stoop down to see.
Unity is usually a good and desirable thing, but these people were united for the wrongest of reasons. Some misinterpret God’s statement and action here as fear and insecurity on His part which made Him to act and quell the coup de’tat that humankind were fomenting. But this is a misguided and sick perspective.
The truth of the matter was that just a few centuries prior, God had brought down a worldwide flood of judgment upon the inhabitants of the earth; and if the building of this idolatrous tower was not stopped, the wickedness and evil it would have brought upon the earth would have been such as to occasion another drastic act of judgment from God.
So it was the mercy of the triune God to confuse their language and frustrate their idolatrous and vain project. It was the mercy of God who had promised never to bring another world-wide flood, so even though these people had forgotten the former judgments of God (as men often do), God did not forget His promise to sustain the fruitful seasons of the earth.
This passage also affords us the privilege of viewing again the triune God who had earlier on in creation said, “let us make man in our own image (Gen 11:4)”, now the triune God declared, “come let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other (Gen 11:7)”.
Imagine how frustrated the architects of this project must have been to see their prized and evil empire disintegrated before their very eyes as they scream in myriads of varied languages. And it would not be until the day of Pentecost when men of different languages, ethnicities, and from different provinces of the earth would praise God in a miraculous language understood by all ethnicities “the wonderful works of God (Acts 2:5-11)”.
So also this rebellious city of Babylon, which occurs now and again in the scriptures as a thorn in the flesh of God’s people (and representative of all that is arrogant and insulting to the living God), will be replaced with the holy city of the new Jerusalem (Rev 3:12; Rev 21:2).
God confused their language and scattered them over the face of the whole earth. Now in this account and genealogy the scriptures focus on the line of Shem through to Eber, and through Peleg, down to Nahor the father of Terah, who is the father of Abram our well known patriarch, and progenitor of the Jewish nation.
So in the literary context and setting of these passages, God rejects Nimrod’s humanistic Babel, and instead chooses the family line of Abraham to reveal Himself and construct a relational bridge that will reach to the entire family of humanity.
All of that said, there are some features in this genealogy that are also worth our taking note of in comparison to the genealogy of Genesis 5:1-32. First of all the Genesis 11 genealogy shows the shortening of human life span. When we add up the period of their lifetimes we see that Shem lived a total of 600 years (350 years short of his father Noah).
Arphaxad, Shelah, and Eber lived a total of 438, 433, and 464 years respectively, and Peleg, Reu, and Serug lived 239, 239, and 230 years respectively. Nahor lived a total of 148 years, Terah lived a total of 205 years, and Abraham lived a total of 175 years. It is obvious that the prevalence of sin in the earth corresponded to the shortening of the human lifespan.
Another thing to note is that this generation after the flood seemed to have their children earlier than those before the flood. Arphaxad had Shelah at age 35, Shelah had Eber at age 30, Eber had Peleg at age 34, Peleg had Reu at age 30, Reu had Serug at age 32, Serug had Nahor at age 30 and Nahor had Terah at age 29. So something looked somewhat abnormal for Terah to have Abraham at the age of 70, and even more Abnormal for Abraham to have Isaac at the age of 100.
When we plot their ages on a timeline, we actually find that three of Abraham’s ancestors (Shem, Shelah, and Eber) actually outlive Abraham, underscoring the fact that it is not a function of how long one lives that determines success and fulfillment.
Rather it is a function of how one lives in harmony and in tune with God’s divine purposes, and that is the life that Abraham lived. More so, it must have been a continues and unhappy torment for Shem and his contemporaries to have lived so many years in a fallen and corrupt earth in the sinful state. We do not know how much light of relationship and fellowship with the true God that they had.
This is the sixth occurrence of the account of a family line expounded upon this book of Genesis, and is clearly a strategy that the author of Genesis (Moses) uses to signal a sectional division in this book.
This account of Terah’s family line will continue until Genesis 25:11, and would contain the entire story of Abraham’s life. This last section in Genesis 11 summarizes the names, and introduces us to the following characters of the story: Terah’s sons, their wives names, and his grandson Lot.
Gen 11:31 tells us that Terah had started the journey from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan, but settled in Harran and died there at the age of 205 years. We can only wonder and guess whether Terah had himself received the same call that Abram would receive from God in the next chapter, but we can only build biblical teaching on fact, and not conjecture.
- The time and season of our lives belong to God (Psalm 31:15), and the only full and fulfilling way we can live is to live for the glory of God, and in answer to God’s call upon our lives. Human life today is so brief that to live any other way will prove a complete waste.
As humans we need to bring all of our innovative technologies to worship and praise God’s holiness. As the book of proverbs say, “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord (prov 21:30).
Although we the people of this present world are of different ethnicities, races, and dialects, we need to understand that when our purposes and goals align with that of the LORD, and bringing Him glory, then will the walls of our ethnic and tribal divisions collapse as we receive the gift of unity and harmony to serve our God and do good without limitation.
- God rejected the proud institution of Babel’s tower and cities, but chose a single family – the family of Abraham to manifest His rescue plan for all of humanity. This should teach us not to look up to the proud institutions of men for answers and solutions. God can bypass human wisdom and monuments, and use humble means to bring about His glory and salvation in the earth.
In this life all of us will live for different lengths of time; some will live longer than others. But no matter how long we live, we shall all one day die (if our Lord Jesus tarries). So it doesn’t really matter how long we live – even righteous people still die. What is most important is that we answer to God’s calling and live out His divine purpose for our lives; that is success; that is victory and fulfillment.
Comment and share our post as well as contribute to our post on allofthescriptures.org
God Bless You.