Genesis Chapter Eleven


Read Genesis 11:1-10 – The Tower of Babel


v.1  And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.”


            After the flood the descendants of Noah were divided into tribes, nations and lands (Genesis 10:5).  It was God’s purpose for them to spread out, fill and replenish the earth.  We learn from God’s recording of the dispersion at Babel that they were reluctant to do that.  That would not be unusual as the Israelites exhibited the same tendency:


Joshua 18:3And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the LORD God of your fathers hath given you?”


One of the things that helped them continue in this situation was that they were all of one language.


v.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.”


            Shinar is the broad plain in Mesopotamia watered by the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers the middle of the modern day country of Iraq.  They settled in this fertile plain and became comfortable in their surroundings and did not wish to disperse over the world.


v.3-4And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. 4And 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.”


            Far from being the ignorant cave men depicted by evolutionary science these men exhibit skills still practiced 4400-4500 years later.  They knew how to make brick; they did not have mortar but knew what would work as a substitute.  What is slime?  Its pitch, tar but with a high mineral content and consequently stronger that the product that we refine from oil today; strong enough to be used as mortar.  They had the skills to build building of multiple stories, the political ability to bring large groups of people together in a common cause and many other things that would be necessary to undertake this kind of an endeavor.  And what was the reason they wanted to do this great building?  They didn’t want to be scattered over the earth.  They are still in the shadow of the ark, they flood that destroyed man because of his rebellion against God is a recent memory, but man returns to his mindset of defiance and rebellion.  They want to make a name for themselves in the eyes of men, they have become selfish and self-centered.


v.5-6And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. 6And 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.”


            God acknowledges that this creature that he has given the ability to reason can do whatever his imagination can devise.  So God came down to see what the children of men were up to.  What is the significance that the term “children of men” that we learned in our earlier studies?  They did not follow God or respect God’s covenants.  Even though God knows all; in various places in scripture he is said to visit a local situation in order to see more clearly what is being done.  Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:21 are another example.

            Paul tells the Athenians on Mar’s Hill:


And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;” Acts 17:26


But in addition to being of one blood, as we can readily see here, at this time man is also of one language.


v.7-8Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. 8So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.”


            God knows what to do to correct this problem.  He confounds their language so that they could not understand one another.  We don’t know how many languages he created, we don’t know how many tribes or groups of people this great congregation became but we are told that he scattered them across the face of all the earth.  So where did the American Indian, the Australian native, the South Seas Islanders and all of these diverse people come from?  Their ancestors came from the plain of Shinar in Mesopotamia.  We don’t know if they came immediately, the language of scripture indicates that perhaps they did.  We don’t know how they got to what became their homelands, whether God placed them there directly or through his providence, scripture doesn’t tell us.  Historians would indicate that it was over time through God’s providence.


v.9Therefore 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.”


            Babel, a term that even today still means “a confused mixture of sounds or voices” “a scene of noise and confusion” (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, 2nd Ed. 1997) and we say that people who talk incoherently babble.  Paul equated this situation with the desire of the Corinthian church to excel in speaking in tongues:


I Corinthians 14:23If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?”


This city in later history became Babylon and the country round about became Babylonia.


Read Genesis 11:10-26 – The Generation of Shem


v.10-11These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood: 11And Shem lived after he begat Arphaxad five hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.”


            We now have the generations of Shem.  A more detailed listing than was given in chapter 9.  Again, this is given to provide us with the linage of the seed promise, the Messiah that God will eventually send to provide mankind a release from the curse brought upon them by sin.


v.12-1312And Arphaxad lived five and thirty years, and begat Salah: 13And Arphaxad lived after he begat Salah four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters.”


            In the linage of Joseph given in Luke we find Salah:


Which was the son of Cainan, which was the son of Arphaxad, which was the son of Sem, which was the son of Noe, which was the son of Lamech,” Luke 3:36


Is there a contradiction here between Genesis 11 and Luke 3?  No, we simply have a situation where not every generation is listed.  Even the word beget today means simply to “generate offspring”, it does not distinguish between whether that is done directly or indirectly through a succeeding generation. (ibid).


v.14-15 “And Salah lived thirty years, and begat Eber: 15And Salah lived after he begat Eber four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters.”


            Again we find Eber, Heber in the New Testament, the man credited with being the father of the Hebrew peoples.


v.16-17And Eber lived four and thirty years, and begat Peleg: 17And Eber lived after he begat Peleg four hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters.”


            Again we find a parallel to the genealogy of Joseph with a little different name spelling:


Luke 3:35Which was the son of Saruch, which was the son of Ragau, which was the son of Phalec, which was the son of Heber, which was the son of Sala,”


v.18-19And Peleg lived thirty years, and begat Reu: 19And Peleg lived after he begat Reu two hundred and nine years, and begat sons and daughters.”


            As we noted in our study of the generations of chapter 10, Peleg was born during the time of the division due to language at the Babel and his name means divided.


v.20-23And Reu lived two and thirty years, and begat Serug: 21And Reu lived after he begat Serug two hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters. 22And Serug lived thirty years, and begat Nahor: 23And Serug lived after he begat Nahor two hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.”


            This is the first Nahor, he also had a grandson, a brother to Abram by that name.


v.24-26And Nahor lived nine and twenty years, and begat Terah: 25And Nahor lived after he begat Terah an hundred and nineteen years, and begat sons and daughters. 26And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran.


            Thus we have the generations of Shem down to Abram or Abraham.  Again confirmed by Luke:


Luke 3:34Which was the son of Jacob, which was the son of Isaac, which was the son of Abraham, which was the son of Thara, which was the son of Nachor,”


Their names are spelled a little differently in the record written directly in the Greek language than they are in the Greek translation of the Old Testament Hebrew but they are still the same men.  This same genealogy can also be found in Joshua 24:2.


Read Genesis 11:27-32 – The Move from Ur to Haran


v.27-28Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot. 28And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.”


            The home of Terah and his sons, specifically Abram, was the city of Ur.  In a good study Bible the map of the ancient trade routes will show Ur on the Euphrates River in what is today southeastern Iraq.  Abram, later called Abraham, was a Chalean.  The Chaldeans were allied with Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and among those the Lord sent to destroy Jerusalem and take Judah captive (II Kings 24 and 25).  This is also part of Ezekiel’s prophecy in Ezekiel 11:24.


v.29-30And 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. 30But Sarai was barren; she had no child.”


            The Holy Spirit records for us the names of the wives of Abram and Nahor, perhaps because it is from the descendants of Nahor that both Isaac and Jacob take their wives.  Nahor was married to his niece, the daughter of his brother but Sarai was barren.  This situation allowed Isaac, the ancestor of our Lord, to be conceived by a miracle, God setting aside his natural law.  This is another sign of God’s directing, preparing and bringing to reality His plan for man’s redemption from sin.


v.31And 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.”


            The call from God to Abram to travel to the land of promise is not recorded in this chapter.  We’re simply told that Terah took parts of his family and traveled to Haran.

            Again if you go to your trade route map, the city of Haran is located on one of the tributaries of the Euphrates called the Belikh River some 1200-1300 miles northwest of Ur.  The trade routes in those days traveled these river valleys to escape the rigors of the Syrian Desert.  This city is thought to be the modern city of Harran, in the Sanhurfa province of southeastern Turkey.

            This record says nothing about Nahor moving to Haran but as noted above we know that later his descendants were located in this city as well; or at least the name was carried forward.


v.32And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.”