In our study of Genesis chapter eleven, we will look at the big detour that man has taken from the will of God. We will look at its past, present and future consequences.
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The whole earth used the same language, the same words. It came about that as they traveled from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shin'ar and lived there.
In chapter 10, we saw the origin of all the people of the earth as they descended from Noah through his sons. Here, we see the fact that they all spoke the same language but we do not know what language it was. A better translation of "eastward" is from the east and we see that men started to move from the east (the mountains of Ararat) where the ark had come to rest and they were moving towards the west. Throughout the Bible we see the pattern that the direction of west is associated with being separated from God while east is associated with holiness and being near God. Even at the beginning of the world, God had set aside what would be Jerusalem as His city and it appears that men were headed in that direction when they stopped in Shinar.
They said to one another, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them in the fire." So they had bricks for building-stone and clay for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let's build ourselves a city with a tower that has its top reaching up into heaven, so that we can make a name for ourselves and not be scattered all over the earth."
They decided to make a city there and a tall tower to glorify themselves. We notice that they used brick instead of stone and that is because there was not stone in the area. Brick was made through man's efforts while stone was made at the beginning of creation by God. This is an indication of their hearts as they turned away from God's instructions and provision to trust in their own efforts. We see that the reason given for making the city and the tower was to create a reputation for themselves so that others would join them there and not be spread out across the earth. In simple terms, they wanted to make an earthly kingdom for themselves and this was in direct contradiction to God's will as they were to spread out and populate the entire earth. Even as Christians, we each need to ask ourselves whether what we are currently doing is to build up our own reputation or to glorify God. Are you looking for the praise and fame of men or are you seeking approval from God?
ADONAI came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. ADONAI said, "Look, the people are united, they all have a single language, and see what they're starting to do! At this rate, nothing they set out to accomplish will be impossible for them! Come, let's go down and confuse their language, so that they won't understand each other's speech."
This passage brings to mind questions such as: Why did the Lord have to come down to see what was going on? The simple answer is that He didn't have to but it is put this way so that we would understand that God was very aware of what the people were doing as well as their motives for doing it. Was God worried that the men would succeed and be greater than Him? This answer is not as simple in that, we see that God said that they would be successful in building the tower and the city. This would also keep the people together instead of spreading over the earth as He designed. But, no tower could get man to a position where they are greater than the One that created them and so God was not worried about man becoming greater than Him. The key to understanding it is the fact that the people were united in their opposition to following the will of God which is sin. So, if we have "free will", then, why didn't God let them continue to build the tower? The tower was not a part of His plan but it did not catch Him by surprise. God allows us "free will" but that does not allow our disobedience to negate His plan.
So from there ADONAI scattered them all over the earth, and they stopped building the city. For this reason it is called Bavel - because there ADONAI confused the language of the whole earth, and from there ADONAI scattered them all over the earth.
Construction on the city of Bavel (Babel or Babylon), whose name means confusion, was halted because the people could not communicate with each other. This led to them separating and spreading over the earth like God had intended. God often uses difficult circumstances to get people to moving and accomplish His will. The same type of thing happened when God used the persecution in the early church to get the disciples to leave Jerusalem.
Here is the genealogy of Shem. Shem was 100 years old when he fathered Arpakhshad two years after the flood. After Arpakhshad was born, Shem lived another 500 years and had sons and daughters. Arpakhshad lived thirty-five years and fathered Shelach. After Shelach was born, Arpakhshad lived another 403 years and had sons and daughters. Shelach lived thirty years and fathered 'Ever. After 'Ever was born, Shelach lived another 403 years and had sons and daughters. 'Ever lived thirty-four years and fathered Peleg. After Peleg was born, 'Ever lived another 430 years and had sons and daughters.
Moses shares with us again the family tree of Shem but, this time, we are going to continue with the line. Here, we see an apparent error in the Bible as, in Luke 3, we are told that Shelach was the son of Kenan who was the son of Arpakhshad but here we see it said that Arpakhshad "fathered" Shelcah. The text we see here was translated from the Masoretic text while the lineage in Luke 3 was translated from the Dead Sea Scrolls which listed Kenan. At any rate, the Hebrew understanding is that all the generations that follow from a man's relatives are in fact "fathered" by the man and not just his sons. We saw before that, at the time of Peleg, there was a division among the descendants of Shem as Peleg would not take part in the events at Babel. We followed his brother Joktan's line to Babel and now we will follow Peleg's line to God's calling.
Peleg lived thirty years and fathered Re'u. After Re'u was born, Peleg lived another 209 years and had sons and daughters. Re'u lived thirty-two years and fathered S'rug. After S'rug was born, Re'u lived another 207 years and had sons and daughters. S'rug lived thirty years and fathered Nachor. After Nachor was born, S'rug lived another 200 years and had sons and daughters. Nachor lived twenty-nine years and fathered Terach. After Terach was born, Nachor lived another 119 years and had sons and daughters. Terach lived seventy years and fathered Avram, Nachor and Haran.
In Hebrew, Reu means friend and we see that through this line of Peleg will come the friends of God. The name Serug means branch and it is this branch of the tree of Noah that will be called God's people. The name Nahor means snorting or snoring and gives us the picture of someone who is sleeping while the name Terah speaks of one who is spirited or inspired. We notice that all of the men mentioned were about 30 years old when they had children except for Terah who was 70. The name Avram means exalted father while Haran refers to a mountain climber.
Here is the genealogy of Terach. Terach fathered Avram, Nachor and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died before his father Terach in the land where he was born, in Ur of the Kasdim. Then Avram and Nachor took wives for themselves. The name of Avram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nachor's wife was Milkah the daughter of Haran. He was the father of Milkah and of Yiskah. Sarai was barren - she had no child.
Ur of the Chaldeans would be in what we call southern Iraq today. While they were still there, Haran died and left a son. Haran, whose name means "mountain climber", reminds us that man always wants to work for their salvation but, in the end, that leads to death.
Terach took his son Avram, his son Haran's son Lot, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Avram's wife; and they left Ur of the Kasdim to go to the land of Kena'an. But when they came to Haran, they stayed there. Terach lived 205 years, and he died in Haran.
We remember that the name Terah means spirited or inspired and we see that God had inspired him to leave the land of idolatry (Ur of the Chaldeans) and to go to Canaan. We see that when it got tough, he stopped and settled in Haran. We also notice that Nahor was comfortable in Ur and so he did not go with them. This speaks to those who are comfortable with the things of this world and do not think that they need the direction of God. We also see that Terah wasn't willing to continue when the road became difficult but instead died close to where he had left.