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GENESIS CHAPTER 11:1-32

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Universal Language, Babel, Confusion The Tower of Babel The Tower of Babel The Tower of Babel The Tower of Babel
11:1-9 11:1-9 11:1-9 11:1-9 11:1-4
        11:5-9
Descendants of Shem Shem's Descendants Genealogies of Abraham The Descendants of Shem The Patriarchs After the flood
11:10-11 11:10-11 11:10-11 11:10-11 11:10a
        11:10b-11
11:12-13 11:12-13 11:12-13 11:12-13 11:12-13
11:14-15 11:14-15 11:14-15 11:14-15 11:14-15
11:16-17 11:16-17 11:16-17 11:16-17 11:16-17
11:18-19 11:18-19 11:18-19 11:18-19 11:18-19
11:20-21 11:20-21 11:20-21 11:20-21 11:20-21
11:22-23 11:22-23 11:22-23 11:22-23 11:22-23
11:24-25 11:24-25 11:24-25 11:24-25 11:24-25
11:26 11:26 11:26 11:26 11:26
  Terah's Descendants   The Descendants of Terah The Descendants of Terah
  11:27-30 11:27-30 11:27-30 11:27a
11:27-30       11:27b-30
11:31-32 11:31-32 11:31-32 11:31-32 11:31
        11:32

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT 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 (reading cycle #3). 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, etc.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. Genesis 10 and 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.

 

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

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: GENESIS 11:1-9
  1
Now 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.

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

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 from 10,000-8,000 B.C. There is a Sumerian epic called "Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta," where it specifically states all people spoke one language.

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 Sumer or Chaldea (BDB 11042).

Special Topic: Chaldeans

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. Gen. 6:14).

The earliest known cities in this valley between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers were the Sumerian cities of

  1. Ur
  2. Eridu
  3. Uruk
  4. Nippur

Each of them would have had a ziggurat for protection, status, but mostly worship.

For a good brief description of a ziggurat see The IVP Bible Background Commentary (OT), p. 42.

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
  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 (John W. Walton, ANE Thought and the OT, pp. 25,120-121), but the Hebrew word is migdal which is usually translated "fortified tower" (BDB 153, cf. Jdg. 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 and 19).

▣ "a tower whose top will reach into heaven" The people of Mesopotamia were astral worshipers (i.e., the 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. See Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, pp. 66-67.

Special Topic: The Heavens and the Third Heaven

▣ "the whole earth" This Hebrew word (BDB 75, KB 90) has a wide semantic range and could refer to a country, a region, or the whole earth.

Special Topic: Land, Country, Earth

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

Special Topic: God Described As Human (anthropomorphism)

11:7 "let Us go down" This verse also has a Qal IMPERATIVE with two related COHORTATIVES. This is a PLURAL form, much like Gen. 1:26; 3:22; see full note there. 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. Romans 1-3).

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

Special Topic: The Trinity

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 (lit. "mixing," BDB 117, KB 134, Qal COHORTATIVE) 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.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: GENESIS 11:10-11
  10
These 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 Gen. 5:3-32 and 10:21-31. This line will continue in Terah/Abraham in Gen. 11:10-25 (cf. Luke 3:23-38).

Special Topic: The Old Testament As History

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: GENESIS 11:12-13
  12
Arpachshad 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 Gen. 11:13 but the Septuagint includes him as does Luke 3:36.

▣ "Shelah" See BDB 1019 II.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: GENESIS 11:14-15
  14
Shelah 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.

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.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: GENESIS 11:18-19
  18
Peleg 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.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: GENESIS 11:20-21
  20
Reu 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.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: GENESIS 11:22-23
  22
Serug 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?

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS 11:24-13:18

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. God chose Abraham to choose a world (cf. Gen. 12:3c; Exod. 19:4-6; 1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6). God wants all people made in His image to be redeemed (cf. Gen. 3:15; Ezek. 18:23,32; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). See Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan.

  5. The Talmud specifies seven blessings of the call of Abraham in Gen. 12:1-3:
    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.

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: GENESIS 11:24-25
  24
Nahor 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.

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

Special Topic: Moon Worship

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

11:26 "seventy years" See Special Topic: Seventy Years

▣ "Abram, Nabor and Haran" This might be the order of importance and not age. The name Abram can mean

  1. "exalted father"
  2. "exalter of father"
  3. "the Exalted One is my father" (BDB 4)

The name Nahor means "panting" or an Assyrian place name (BDB 637), while Haran means "mountaineer" (BDB 248).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: GENESIS 11:27-30
  27
Now 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.

11:27 "Lot" See BDB 532 II.

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

▣ "in Ur of the Chaldeans" The Chaldean culture developed (i.e., built on the strengths of the Sumerian culture) and thrived after Abram's day (BDB 505).

Special Topic: Chaldeans

11:29 "Sarai" See BDB 979.

▣ "Milcah" See BDB 574.

▣ "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.

11:30 "Sarai was barren" The inability of Sarai, Rachel (Gen. 25:21), and Rebecca (Gen. 29:31) to have children (BDB 785) was one of the ways God 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 style of theological aspect to Israel's history is also seen in the fact that the firstborn is not in the Messianic line. Culturally the firstborn was the head of the clan, but not so among YHWH's people. It was His choice (i.e., Jacob, Judah, David, Solomon)!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: GENESIS 11:31-32
  31
Terah 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.

11:31 "they went out" There is much discussion as to whether Terah took his family or if Abram took them. Some postulate God's original calling of Terah but that he lapsed back into idolatry. It seems to me that Abraham 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 a rather cryptic fashion.

11:32 "the days of Terah were two hundred and five years" When one adds Gen. 11:26 with 12:4 which equals 145 years and subtracts this from 205, it becomes obvious that Terah lived 60 years after Abraham left Haran. This seems to conflict with Stephen's sermon in Acts 7:4. Several aspects of Stephen's historical review conflict with our modern understanding of Old Testament history. Possibly he was using rabbinical interpretative methods. Other scholars assert that Abram, though listed first in Gen. 11:26, was born much later and that Stephen was accurate. It is interesting that the Samaritan Pentateuch has "144" here.

Special Topic: Thr Old Testament As History

Special Topic: Old Testament Historical Narratives

Special Topic: Old Testament Historiography Compared with Contemporary Near Eastern Cultures

To summarize then, historicity does not function in the area of inspiration, but in the area of apologetics and evangelism.

Old Testament Timeline

Doctrinal Statement

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