28/04/19 Genesis 11:1-9 “And let man make a name for himself”
Genesis 11:1 – And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
the whole earth – ‘erets [whole earth (as opposed to a part); earth (as opposed to heaven); earth (inhabitants)] Thus “all mankind”. That is, there was literally only one language universally spoken by all mankind. This probably permits some minor dialects but being of one speech probably means that what one person spoke was easily understood by all others.
language – literally “lip” but can be seen as pronunciation here.
speech – mostly translated “word” in the Old Testament
Thus all mankind had one pronunciation and one word.
There are some who believe that God’s original language was Hebrew (of course the “KJV Only” mob would say it had to be English!) which would be God’s pure language, but the context does suggest that Hebrew was just one of the many languages that appeared after Babel.
Genesis 11:2 – 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.
as they journeyed – naca‘ (to pull out or up; set out; depart; journey; march; set forth)
Ellicott says: The word literally refers to the pulling up of the tent-pegs, and sets the human family before us as a band of nomads, wandering from place to place, and shifting their tents as their cattle needed fresh pasture.
Isaiah 33:20 – Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle [that] shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed (naca‘), neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.
naca‘ is used 42 times to describe the moving of the camp in the wilderness in Numbers 33. It is translated “removed”, “departed”, “went”, “journeyed” and “took their journey”. This signified their nomadic lifestyle at this time. “they” probably assumed all the national groups as listed in Genesis 10 before they were scattered by the confusion of the languages after Babel.
Shinar was the area in which Babylon would be established, that is, on the Euphrates River NE of Israel. But travelling from the east assumes that they travelled from what we would today call Iran or even Afghanistan. Some believe that it actually says they travelled eastward, but that may be based upon an assumption that Mt Ararat was the same as we call it today. Cambridge though says: The Hebrew word means literally “from the east”. Note that many mountains further east of Mt Ararat are taller and more likely to be the resting place of the ark. And, the main point is not the direction from which they travelled; the main idea here is that mankind in general is on the move (probably from where the ark rested) until they find a land where they can settle down. They seem to have decided that a plains area in the land of Shinar was suitable and so they settled there; they became inhabitants of that land.
Shinar means "country of two rivers" (Euphrates and Tigris) and was the ancient name for the territory later known as Babylonia or Chaldea.
dwelt – dwelt; remained; abode; settled; inhabited. It indicates a ceasing of their nomadic life in order to settle in the one place for an extended period of time.
The land here, being next to the Euphrates River and not far from the Tigris River must have been quite an oasis at that time, fertile and well-watered.
Genesis 11:3 – And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
slime – chemar (slime; pitch; asphalt; bitumen)
burn – burn and thoroughly – sᵉrephah (burning) Thus “burn them to a burning”, or “burn them for a burning”; the idea seems to be completely burned right through, thus “throughly”. (Note similarity to seraphim)
There weren’t many stones or rocks in this area, while clay and sand formed much of the soil. These weren’t just bricks made of clay and left to dry in the sun (as mudbricks are still often made today) but baked in fire, making them much more durable. Not only were they baked hard, they were also put together with asphalt mortar which would have literally glued them together. These buildings were not temporary in any way; they were built to last for a long time. These people intended staying around here permanently.
It is probable that these first buildings may not have been the actual tower of Babel, yet it is also clear that with such building materials they intended making a monument that would require the strength of such materials. If these people were determined to stay here, then building a community through more permanent housing would greatly assist.
Genesis 11:4 – And 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.
top – ro’sh (head; top; summit; beginning; height; chief; sum; total.
heaven – heaven; visible heavens; sky; atmosphere; Heaven (the abode of God)
If we assume that they were building a city to start with and then decided to add the tower in as part of it (which is likely), then the tower must have had something to do with their community, society, togetherness etc. Some suggest that the tower was to be a means of escaping another deluge by being above the water level (and thus avoiding the judgment of God if a flood occurred again). Barnes says: A tower whose top may be in the skies for escape from the possibility of a periodical deluge. However, as this is a plains area, and clearly not a mountainous region, it is difficult to see how the building of a tower could be better than just living on a mountain that would be much taller than any tower they could build. This interpretation is not likely!
However, there are probably 2 other possible reasons for building such a tower. One is to provide a central focal point which would announce to all that this was their community. This idea is still often used by councils to make their areas stand out often by placing nonsensical sculptures and paraphernalia along roadsides, or the building of a tall tower etc like the obelisks scattered around the world. But if this is all of mankind there is, then what purpose does it serve if there are no other groups elsewhere to take note of it?
So the correct interpretation must have something to do with God’s response to their tower-building. There has to be some reason why God would confuse their languages and break up this community. If they were being rebellious or opposing God’s will, then He may act to prevent their actions. In fact, this appears to be exactly what God has done.
let us make a name – shem (name; reputation; fame; memorial; monument; the Name (as designation of God) Note that Shem is Shem (the name of Noah’s son).
This has led some to believe that mankind here was trying to set himself up in opposition to God, thus literally a rebellion. This would require the tower to be some sort of statement, possibly a monument, concerning the empowerment of man in defiance of God. This has to assume that man has probably chosen himself as his own god, giving himself the name of God rather than the God who created man. Thus man is stating that he rules his life, his circumstances, independently of God. In this there appears to be little difference with so much of the world today!
Man is taking control of his future (or so he thinks). He will make a name for himself, not God. This brings to mind satan’s reasons in Isaiah 14:12-15 where he desires to be the name in heaven – I will; I will; I will; I will; I will! (5 times)
God might have won the first round before the flood, but man (with satan pushing him) is determined to keep control of the next round! He will not be scattered abroad across the face of the whole earth; he will maintain his community in spite of what God might want. Man is defiant. This is his city, and his tower will define who he is.
Some say that the tower is actually a centre for worship, and this may well be so, for satan will be behind any effort of man to assert his independence from God. However, there is no mention of any form of worship being planned here; this has to be an assumption based upon the logic which assumes that the tower was built to present a high place of worship. The high places were preferred for worship of especially false gods, and in a plains area this tower would have stood higher than anything else. It is likely that this tower (or ziggurat) was planned to include some form of worship including fire and sacrifices. But it seems man himself is the god of worship here. He owns heaven, he is higher than God; making a name for himself would be a clear statement that man is sufficient in himself without God.
Of course, while man might consider himself to be self-sufficient without any God to guide him, it would still be satan and his demons who would ultimately be behind this desire of man to rebel and take control of his own destiny.
Genesis 11:5 – And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
And God came down – but God didn’t really have to come down to see what was happening! He knew what was happening before it happened. But just as you cannot send a man to gaol for murder before he has murdered anyone, God waits until man has demonstrated his rebellion before He acts. He notes the tower and what it means in terms of man’s rebellion. He has quite correctly assessed the problem and the solution before it occurred and here is depicted as acting now that man’s rebellion is proven.
Genesis 11:6 – And 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.
imagined – to have a thought; devise; plan; consider; purpose
God has assessed that the root cause of their rebellion is man’s desire to be united as one against God. Man is greatly assisted by having the one language common to all. They have now begun to seriously rebel, and if they continue they will be so deep into that rebellion that they will have passed the point of no-return; they will have crossed that line in the sand. They want to rebel so much that they could go too far. And it is all because they are able to speak to each other as one with the one language, one speech.
It’s a bit like a bush fire getting going. If the wind is just right, and the fuel is plentiful, it still doesn’t mean it’s out of control. But just let it build up enough heat and it will soon begin to drive itself. It becomes literally unstoppable. The only way to beat it is to reduce its ability to build that necessary heat: remove fuel, cool it off with water, remove fuel (by backburning etc), and if there is more than one front, try to stop them from joining up. In the case of Babel, breaking up the people via language confusion was what was needed to reduce the intensity of the rebellion. It’s like the law that some countries have that that limit the number of people at public meetings, especially if they have no permit to hold the public meeting. The idea is to reduce the intensity of the feeling by limiting the number who may take part. In atomic terms it’s called critical mass.
This tower may be a place of sacrifice and worship of false gods, but it does seem primarily to be a place of gathering of man for the purposes of uniting to devise plans for rebellion against God.
Genesis 11:7 – Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
Except that God doesn’t make a rule that limits the ability of man to meet together to plan such rebellion; He just makes it hard if not impossible to understand each other by the simple process of confounding their languages. If you can’t understand what the other person is saying, how may you join with him in agreement?
Genesis 11:8 – So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
So by the simple process of confounding their languages, they were forced to seek others of like language in order to plan their rebellion. But that would probably lead to many different plans for rebellion, such that the rabble-rouser leaders would fail to get their plans off the ground. (And I’m certain that there would have been no multi-lingual speakers here yet!) Those who had little desire to cause trouble would go away and the trouble-makers would be left with few followers to support them. In most societies it is the ones who make the most noise who are often listened to. Minority groups today do not engender support because they have rights so much as they get in people’s faces causing strife until the more moderate ones of society often give in just to keep the peace. Non-calvinist Christians often do this with calvinists; they agree to some compromise in order to keep the peace, and the calvinists certainly work on this!
Genesis 11:9 – Therefore 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 of course in Hebrew means “confusion (by mixing)” but the original meaning may well have been Gateway to God in the original Assyrian language, remembering that it was here that the languages were all mixed up. Clearly we are to understand that the meaning of Babel here is “confusion”, because that’s what the situation represented to whoever recorded these words in the Old Testament.
Confusing communications via the mixing up of the languages certainly would slow down any serious planning between people of different languages! They would literally be compelled to move away to an area of like-speaking people so that they could build their communities without confusion.
This does appear to be one of those situations where satan has tried to take complete control of man’s destiny; as satan tried to corrupt man’s genealogy before the flood, he now tried to take control by getting all mankind under his influence. All it would have taken is a few vocal strong-minded people rabble-rousing the rest such that all the others may have been caught up with the group feeling and been pressured into submission to the will of the stronger ones. Like people being swayed by emotion and feeling to vote for corrupt politicians, they are voting for satan through pressure from others to cast off God as their Protector. They would desire to take control of their destiny, not realising that by doing so they are actually serving the interests of satan who desires nothing less than mankind completely subjugated to his will. Man thinks he is making a name for himself, but in order to do so, he has to reject any idea that God has created man in His own image and desires only good for all mankind. And, if all mankind can be brought under satan’s control, then man may well go so far as to literally destroy himself, which may then explain why the Bible says that now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. (Genesis 11:6) In other words, if this had worked, then satan might not have had to destroy mankind; mankind would have literally destroyed himself!
The church scene today is not much different, either. Church leaders are all too often loud-mouthed rabble-rousers who would prefer to mould man to their own requirements rather than teach biblical truth. Churches today are filled with people who desire to emulate the desirability of their leaders. What the leader does becomes the model for his followers. The members merely become little clones of the supposedly successful leaders; if God is blessing the leaders, then you may be likewise blessed by being like the leaders! Follow the leader becomes the order of the day; they are like blind men following their blind leaders, and all will fall into the ditch together. And satan is overjoyed at man apparently taking such delight in destroying himself.
Man is told today that he is in charge of his own destiny. If you want to belong to a minority group, have minority sexual preferences, or whatever, if it makes you happy and you feel fulfilled because of it, then do it. Morality (according to God’s law) has gone out the window; the only morality that matters now is that you have a right to be happy. There is no thought of accountability to anyone anymore, especially to God. If the Bible says that God created the universe, He therefore has authority, and that denies man his rights and therefore God has to be denied. Thus evolution becomes the most scientific option available! If the Bible has moral rules that restrict man’s enjoyment of life, then that also denies man his rights and therefore God has no right to interfere. God is thus progressively removed from having anything to do with life of man on earth. Any mention of God brings cries of old-fashioned morality; we’ve matured far beyond that now, haven’t we!
In order to fully deny God’s right to any part of our lives, we have to establish ourselves as gods in our own right. We have to take charge of our futures, our destinies. God must not be permitted to interfere in any way, or if He does, then it must be minimal and should not get in the way of our enjoyment of the world. Man exists in his own right and God may be permitted to partake of our lives by the good pleasure of man himself who is busy making a name for himself untainted by the claims of any creator God. Man tried to take charge of his future at Babel and he’s still trying to do it today. And we’re playing right into the hands of satan who wants nothing more than to take total control of man, for by doing so he can rule the world, something he’s always desired.
“Christian” groups use this methodology all the time today. While they appear to give man the right to demand how he should worship (via seeker-sensitive theology), they are really just getting people in the door so they can then indoctrinate them according to their rules (and, most importantly, take their money!). Churches all over the world are dictating to man how he should live in order to get to heaven. Some use spiritual manifestations, others promise health and wealth for obedience, and others again make up rules of their own that must be obeyed in order to be acceptable. None of these is acceptable if they overrule the requirements of the Bible. The Bible states quite clearly and simply how we may obtain eternal life, but all these other pathways avoid the truth and add other requirements instead. But mankind is determined to do things his way; it is said that hell will be full of people singing, “I did it my way!” We are so taken with being able to do it our way that we would turn our backs on Christ, the only biblical way to the Father.
But, say the calvinists, we are not like that. We are biblical. We accept the Bible alone; sola scriptura is our catch-cry! Yet they are no different from all the rest who are simply trying to make a name for themselves as part of mankind. While the Bible says clearly that we must call upon the name of the Lord to be saved, calvinists say that we must belong to their unconditional election or else we have no option at all of salvation. But how do they explain all those Christians who claim that they are saved because they called upon the name of the Lord to be saved (especially those who say they are not calvinists)? Well, calvinists cannot accept that they might be wrong, so they then say that if we were to choose to accept God’s gift of salvation, then that would be a work of our salvation and therefore we couldn’t really be saved (despite this being what the Bible actually requires man to do to be saved). They also say that their God is so sovereign that no-one may have a will that can oppose him at any time. This, they say, proves that man cannot have a free will in any matter of salvation. Therefore, they say, man cannot choose to be saved. Therefore their sovereign God must be the only one who decides the list of those going to heaven.
Calvinism, along with all these other non-biblical “Christian” beliefs, is therefore man’s teachings on what God requires of man. No-one (except for the few who believe the Bible to be truly God’s word) seems to care these days what God actually says He requires from man. Rather than try to fit in with the requirements of God, man would rather dictate to God what man should require of Him!
Matthew 15:9 – But in vain they do worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men.
The only true Christians are those who seek God’s kingdom first and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). All those who seek God to fit in with their ideas of what he should be like are really trying to change God into something they can control, someone they can explain and manipulate. But the God of the Bible is beyond the control of man; He is never to be explained; He may never be manipulated. And one day in the judgment all mankind will learn whether or not their “truth” about God was actually true!