Genesis: Introduction創世記導論 The Book

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  • All races are originated from the same source (Adam) and all are in the image of God (Ac 17:26). Any form of racial discrimination and segregation should not be tolerated.

  • Most important of all, God opens the door of salvation for everyone in the world. As Peter said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Ac 10:34-35)

  1. Gen 11:1-32 Tower of Babel巴別塔(創11:1-32)


Part G. Tower of Babel and Shemites (11:1-32)

G1. Tower of Babel (11:1-9)

G2. Genealogy of Shemites (11:10-32)

  • The first 11 chapters of Genesis appear as a complete cycle. At creation, chaos (Gen 1:2) became order (Gen 2:1-3). At Babel, order (Gen 11:1) became chaos (Gen 11:9). At the beginning, it was environmental chaos; at the end, it was moral chaos. Fortunately, human history did not end at this point. God’s plan to bless the world continued with the chosen family of Abraham.

  • Gen 11 mirrors the incident in Eden (Gen 3). Both were man’s attempt to achieve power independent of God. Both incidents ended with the expulsion of the residents. Further, both occurred near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.


TIMING: The time of Babel was probably in the middle of chapter 10, perhaps at the time of Peleg (Gen 10:25). Jewish tradition places the event of Babel in the year that Peleg died.

11:1 the whole earth: the known world, not the globe, referring to all the known races. Just like the description of the whole Earth in the Flood, here it may not be all races.

one language and the same words: one same language that everyone could understand each other.

  • If ch.11 is chronologically after ch.10, then there would have been many languages on Earth at that time. The “one language” could then be a common language (lingua franca) that everyone could understand while each nation also had their own language, just like Mandarin in China, or like English in world of communication today.

11:2 people: Which group of people is represented here is unknown. It may not be the same as “the whole earth” in v.1.

migrated from the east (ESV, KJV): “From the east” are translated in some versions (NIV, NASB) as “to the east.” “To the east” is probably more in line with the negative image of going eastward. Going eastward in Genesis is a metaphor for departing from God’s blessing, as evident in both the cases of Adam and Cain moving east after expulsion. Also, most of the clans and nations in Gen 10 were located west of Babylon. However, the direction of migration is not an important point.

plain: can be translated “valley” (Dt 8:7; 11:11), probably between Tigris and Euphrates where the water supply could be used for agriculture.

Shinar: southern Mesopotamia, the region from today’s Baghdad to the Persian Gulf coast. It has the same meaning as Babylon. Shinar in Zec 5:11 is commonly translated as Babylonia. Babylon is always symbolically God’s adversary (Zec 5:11; Rev 18:2,4,20).

settled there: permanent settlement, contrary to God’s command of “filling the earth” (Gen 1:28; 9:1). The word “there” (Heb. sam) occurs 5 times in this passage and is a phonetic play with “name” (Heb. sem in v.4) and “heavens” (Heb. samayim in v.4).

11:3 come, let us: The phrase occurs 3 times in this passage and is a phonetic play. The making of bricks (“come, let us make bricks”) led to the building of the city (“come, let us build a city”) and then led to the action by God (“come, let us go down and confuse”).

make bricks, and burn them thoroughly: The Mesopotamian plain did not have sufficient rocks and stones for construction. The Hebrew literal translation is “brick bricks and burn for a burning” (Heb. nilbena lebenim…nisrepa lisrepa), perhaps a deliberate play on words that led to the eventual babbling.

bitumen for mortar: a mineral pitch, which, when hardened, forms a strong cement for attaching the bricks. In Hebrew, bitumen is “heimar” and mortar is “homer”, another play on words.

11:4 a city: for security and protection, especially in the middle of an indefensible plain.

a tower with its top in the heavens: similar to today’s skyscraper; with great height appearing to reach the heavens (Dt 1:28; 9:1). The tower represented a symbol to reach God’s abode and be equal with God. It is an expression of their arrogance like the king of Babylon in Isa 14:13-14 (that passage often interpreted to describe Satan). When man elevate themselves as God, they deserve destruction (Jer 51:53; Dan 8:10). On the other hand, some take this phrase as an attempt to practise astrology in terms of gaining knowledge of the future.

  • The tower was likely similar to a ziggurat, a common structure in Babylonia at this time. Most often built as temples, ziggurats looked like pyramids with steps or ramps leading up the sides. The highest ziggurats stood 90 metres (300 feet) with a square or rectangular base of similar dimensions. The one at Babel was most likely even more massive. It was a monument to their own greatness, something for the whole world to see.

make a name for ourselves: They expressed their objectives: [a] to pursue fame and independence from God, and [b] to avoid being scattered. Only God is worthy of everlasting fame (Isa 63:12) and only God can dispense everlasting fame to His chosen people (Gen 12:2; 2Sa 7:9; 8:13).

  • Sin has 2 dimensions: [a] excess or exceeding: doing beyond what God allows man to do, and [b] deficiency or lacking: failing to follow God’s commands. These are exactly what the people did.

lest we be dispersed: With protection of the city, they could stay in the same place. Again, to prevent emigration was contrary to God’s command of “filling the earth” (Gen 1:28; 9:1).

11:5 the Lord came down: God was still higher despite their plan to reach heavens. The descent of God implies judgment, not seeking information.

children of man: The word man (Heb. adam) has the same root as dust (Heb. adama), a reminder of man’s corruptible state, yet they were arrogant enough to wish to be like God.

had built: in the process of being built.

11:6 one people, one language: a people unified by the same language. It may also imply that there was only one race because the word “people” in OT often points to kinship ties (while the word “nations” indicate geographic and political relations).

the beginning of what they will do: They wanted to be like God and they disobeyed God’s command. If they succeeded, they would have continued to commit other unimaginable sins.

will now be impossible: It does not mean that they would be successful in achieving their plan, but simply means that it would be difficult to restrain them from more conspiracy to sin. The verse is a hyperbole that explained why God needed to act.

11:7 let us: gathering the angels to complete God’s plan; or possibly expressing the 3 persons of trinity.

confuse their language: The word “confuse” (Heb. balal) can also be translated baffle or babble. It was originally used to describe the mixing of the food in cooking, meaning the components could not be distinguished after mixing.

11:8 dispersed them: The word “disperse” appears 3 times in this chapter (v.4,8,9) and is a main theme. Not dispersed was the main problem and dispersal was the result of God’s action.

Before the Flood, man killed each other and were not at peace and they received God’s judgment. Here, man were in unity and at peace yet they still received God’s judgment. It can be seen that unity of the whole world may not be God’s plan.

left off building the city: The city was the greater problem than the tower so that the tower is not mentioned here. Their intention to stay together was likely more problematic than their arrogance to reach God. However, it is likely that the tower was implied here as part of the city.

Because of the different languages, they could not cooperate so they stopped their construction. It is also possible that their spirit was dampened by the clear signal that God was against their work.

Question: Would God approve of world peace and unity?

Answer: From human perspective, world peace may be an ideal. But, as can be seen from the example of Babel, world peace and unity had a different kind of danger. God intervened supernaturally to prevent world unification in Genesis and Daniel. He told Daniel that He halted Babylonia’s attempt to dominate the world and that He would block the empire at Daniel’s time (Media-Persia) and 3 future empires (Greece, Rome, and an end-time evil empire yet to come) in their attempts. God instituted diversity among nations to restrain the wickedness that a unified sinful humanity might achieve.

What kind of danger is it? The analogy of marketing can be used to illustrate the risks of world peace and unity. If one corporation acquires full control over a product everyone needs, we can anticipate that the price will go up and quality will go down. That is why western free-market economies enact antitrust laws to keep monopolies from practising this kind of exploitation. Free competition has been found to be the best kind of economic system. Total world unity will eliminate competition among citizens and corporations.

Monopoly of power is dangerous because “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We have seen good examples from the widespread corruption at the United Nations. A one world government will unavoidably oppress its citizens and institutions. That is exactly what will happen in the future Great Babylon described in Rev 17—18.

We can see evidence of how large scale institutions today are being dominated by anti-God secularism. For example, the present European Union is constituted entirely of supposedly Christian nations (though nowadays most of them in name only), but the governing parliament of EU has many times rejected the recognition of God in their draft constitution. If there is ever a mega-scale government, it will certainly be a secular one. We have witnessed in the last few decades how secularists attack Christianity and persecute Christians. The future Great Babylon (representing a world system, that will comprise of the political, social, economic, religious, and cultural structures of the entire world) will do its worst in persecuting and murdering Christians.

World unity may be theoretically an ideal state. However, it is most likely against God’s will. The best possible state of world affairs may be a relatively peaceful world where national states can negotiate to settle their differences under the arbitrators from neutral states. It is also important that the most powerful nations be the ones that subscribe to the divine ideal of justice and peace.

  • In the last two centuries, the world has been dominated by western culture which is mainly influenced by Christianity.

  • After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, the United States became de facto the only Superpower in the whole world. The Cold War stopped and the world is in relative peace.

  • It is only under God’s providence that the U.S., as the most powerful nation on Earth, is a Christian nation, in terms of its Constitution. The supremacy of God is still recognized in its currencies and by most of its citizens. It is the nation with the largest group of Christians on Earth (250 million professed Christians, possibly 120 million committed Christians). It subscribes to the Christian ideal of justice and peace in international relations. Just imagine what the world would be like if the Nazi Hitler, or the communist Stalin, or the terrorist Bin Laden were the dictator controlling the U.S. The world would then be a total disaster.

11:9 Babel: Hebrew for Babylonia or Babylon; sounds like the Hebrew (balal) for “confused”.

11:10 generations: a new “toledot” section (the 5th of 10 in Genesis).

Shem (11th generation from Adam): Shem was 100 years old 2 years after the Flood. As Noah got his 3 sons after he was 500 years old (Gen 5:32), Shem was born when Noah was 502. However, the number 100 may be a rounded number so Shem might be 102 at that time.

11:11 Shem lived 600 years, compared to Noah’s 950 years. The life span of Shem was already shorter.

  • Note that there is no mentioning of death in this genealogy (different from the genealogy in ch.5). The suggested reasons are: [a] new optimism leading to the new era starting with Abraham; [b] producing a faster pace for the chronology; [c] the emphasis here is life and expansion as opposed to death resulted from Adam’s sin in ch.5.

11:12 Arpachshad (12th generation): apparently the third son of Shem (Gen 10:22). Since he was born only 2 years after the Flood, he could be the eldest son. However, Biblical genealogies typically record only the individuals who were chosen by God or who were important in salvation history. Because of this, the line from Arpachshad to Abram may not always be the eldest son.


11:14 Shelah (13th generation): According to Lk 3:36, there is one skipped generation between Arpachshad and Shelah: Cainan.


11:16 Eber (14th generation): Eber is famous possibly because his name was associated with the word Hebrew. Eber was the one with the longest life span (464) among all those born after the Flood. This is possibly a reward for his adherence to the ways of God.


11:18 Peleg (15th generation): The Tower of Babel was probably built during his lifetime. Jewish tradition puts the year of Babel in the year that Peleg died.


11:20 Reu (16th generation): His name could be related to “Ruel” meaning “friend of God” or “God is friend.”


11:22 Serug (17th generation):


11:24 Nahor (18th generation): meaning “blow away”; same name for Abram’s brother.


11:26 Terah (19th generation): The name could mean “mountain goat” or could be close to the word for “moon” (Heb. yareh). It is likely that Terah’s family was involved in the worship of moon god (called Sin) which was common in ancient Ur. This is confirmed by Joshua (Jos 24:2,15). On the other hand, Laban later referred to God as “the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father (referring to Terah)” so that these 3 might all be believers of Yahweh. Also, it was Terah who led his children on the way to Canaan.

  • There will be a logical difficulty if Abram was the eldest son. Consider: [a] Terah was 70 years older than Abram (Gen 11:26). [b] Terah moved from Ur to Haran (Gen 11:31) and he died in Haran at the age of 205 (Gen 11:32). At Terah’s death, Abram should be 135 years old. [c] Abram moved from Haran to Canaan after Terah died (Ac 7:4) so the move happened when Abram was 135 years old or older. [d] Yet, Gen 12:4 recorded that Abram moved from Haran to Canaan when he was 75 years old. Conclusion: [c] and [d] are in contradiction.

  • The proper reading should be: If Abram (age 75) left Haran soon after Terah died (age 205), then Terah was 130 years older than Abram. If there is an elapsed time period between Gen 11:32 and Gen 12:1, then the difference in age between Terah and Abram was even greater than 130. Since Terah’s eldest son was born when Terah was 70, Abram was at least 60 years younger than his elder brother (Haran or Nahor).

While Abram was named before the other 2 sons of Terah, it does not mean that Abram was the eldest son (see the example of Shem, Ham, and Japheth). It only means that Abram was in the chosen line. The verse simply points out that Terah had a son when he was 70 years old and two more afterwards.

As Haran died even before his father, and Nahor (Haran’s brother) married his niece (Haran’s daughter) Milcah (Gen 11:29); it is most probable that Haran was the eldest son.

Similar to the chronology in ch.5, the numbers in this chronology are also different in the Masoretic Text (MT, the Hebrew Bible), the Greek Septuagint (LXX), and the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP). [Masoretes were Jewish scribes who standardized the OT Bible during 5th to 10th century AD.]

  • According to MT, presuming that there are no gaps in the genealogy, the first son of Terah (probably Haran) was born 292 years after the Flood or 390 years after the birth of Shem. In that case, Noah who lived 350 years after the Flood (Gen 9:28) could have seen Terah’s sons. This is of course possible in real life. However, because of this possible difficulty, LXX and SP apparently attempted to harmonize it by adding 100 years to the ages of the patriarchs when they had their recorded son. With these adjustments, Terah’s eldest son would have been born 1,040 years (according to SP) or 1,170 years (according to LXX) after Shem’s birth.

  • In addition, the Septuagint recorded a generation (Kainan) between Arpachshad and Shelah.
















































































Years after Shem




NOTE: The numbers show the age of each patriarch at the birth of the recorded son and at death.

The italics are the numbers that differ from the Hebrew Bible.

11:27 generations: a new “toledot” section (the 6th of 10 in Genesis).

Abram (20th generation): His name means “exalted father”; later God changed his name to Abraham at the age of 99 (name meaning “father of a multitude” or “father of many nations”, Gen 17:5). According to the genealogy in this chapter, Abram was the 10th generation after Shem, and Noah was the 10th generation after Adam. And 10 is a symbolically perfect number. However, because of skipped generations, it is unsure how many generations passed from Adam to Abram.

  • According to the genealogy in Lk 3, there were no gaps between Adam and Noah and Noah was indeed the 10th generation after Adam. Jude 1:14 clearly says that Enoch was the 7th generation from Adam. Further, the descent from Enoch to Methusaleh to Lamech to Noah was clearly without gaps.

  • What about between Shem and Abram? According to Lk 3, there was at least one skipped generation between Shem and Abram. Further, only the father-son relationship of Terah and Abram was clear. There may be more unrecorded gaps.

Nahor: Both Isaac and Jacob had their wives from Nahor’s family. Nahor had 12 sons (Gen 22:20-24).

Haran: name meaning “holy place”; probably Terah’s eldest son. He was born when Terah was 70 years old; he died in Ur before Terah migrated north. Haran was also the name for the settlement where Terah died. However, there is no confusion in Hebrew as Haran the person uses the Hebrew letter heh while the place name uses the letter het.

11:28 Ur of the Chaldeans: name meaning “light” or “fire”, perhaps originated from the moon worship; present day city of Orfa in Iraq. It was an idolatrous country, where even the children of Eber themselves degenerated. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of a flourishing civilization at Ur in Abram’s day. The city carried on extensive trade with its neighbours and had a vast library. Growing up in Ur, Abram was probably well educated.

  • Some point out that Chaldeans appear only after Abraham’s time. However, there are 2 explanations: [a] The original Hebrew is “Ur Casdim” where the name Casdim might have derived from Arpachshad, which is Arp-casad. [b] Even if it actually refers to the Chaldeans, the name was probably used by Moses (the author of Genesis) to show its location.

11:29 Sarai: Some (such as the Jewish historian Josephus) believe that she was the same as Iscah (the name is rendered Jessica in English), the daughter of Abram’s elder brother Haran. This was hinted later when Abraham said (Gen 20:12) that Sarai was the daughter (meaning descendant) of his father (Terah) but not the daughter of his mother. She was 10 years younger than Abraham. Later God changed her name to Sarah (Gen 17:15). [Both Sarai and Sarah mean “princess”.]

Marriages to close relatives might have taken place because these men did not want to marry pagan women around them. Besides Abraham, Isaac married his niece Rebekah (Gen 24:15; daughter of Bethuel, granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor); Jacob married his nieces Leah and Rachel (Gen 29:12; daughters of Laban who was Rebekah’s brother, great granddaughters of Abraham’s brother Nahor). Since both Isaac and Jacob married their nieces (one generation below them) from Nahor’s family, Abram was most likely younger than Nahor. So, in terms of age, Terah’s 3 sons in order were: Haran, Nahor, Abram, with large age gaps between them and a total age gap of 60+ years.


11:31 to go into the land of Canaan: Canaan was Terah’s final destination. Yet, when they reached Haran, they settled down, possibly because the old man was unable, through the infirmities of age, to proceed in his journey. The route followed the Fertile Crescent region: Ur going northwest to Haran, then Haran going southwest to Palestine.

11:32 Terah died in Haran: The life span decreased gradually from Shem to Abram [600—438—433—464—239—239—230—148—205—175]. The average is 317 years compared with the average of 912 years from Adam to Noah (excluding Enoch).

  • The city Haran was about 600 miles northwest of Ur and about 400 miles northeast of Palestine.

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