Genesis | Chapter 11

Genesis 11:1-32

“All in the family”

  1. Intro.
  2. Vs. 1-9 Together in being apart
  3. Vs. 10-32 From Shem to Abram


The first 11 chapters of Genesis covers a span of over 2000 years and includes five important events:

  • Creation
  • The fall of mankind
  • The flood
  • The tower of Babel
  • The birth of Abram

From chapter 12 to the end of the book (chapter 50) only 350 years are covered. So as you can see we have come to the last two of the five events “the tower of Babel and the birth of Abram”. Thus these final two events also serve as a bridge between the first half of the book and the second half.

Vs. 1-9 Together in being apart

Vs. 1 There are two words used here to describe the people’s ability to communicate with each other:

  1. One language”: Literally that is one “lip” which refers to the manner in which they spoke. In other words they all spoke the same dialect thus the words formed universally sounded the same.
  2. One speech”: This refers to the stock of words or if you will their vocabulary. Simply put the words meant the same thing.

The generation after the flood spoke words that sounded & meant the same things the results of which would have led to complete unity in technology and culture, as ideas were easily communicated and could build upon each other.

Vs. 2 Their ability to communicate led them to desire to be in a place of better opportunities, thus they migrated toward the west from the east ending up in the plain of Shinar. This is a fertile valley in modern day Iraq that lies between two rivers the Tigris and Euphrates. It appears as though this area reminded them the Garden of Eden as they name the rivers after the two that existed prior to the flood.

We know that this area was inhabited by Ham’s descendants and by this time Nimrod was the leader of the population and sought a dictatorship establishing a one-world government, so Nimrod was the first globalist. Thus in defiance to the Lord’s command to fill the earth they decided to make their permanent home there. God’s design was multiple government’s independent of each other. Acts tells that “men were to dwell on all the face of the earth, and that they were to have determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” God recognized that the greater the population center the greater dependence upon man and the less dependent upon God.

Vs. 3 Their common speech led quickly to advancements in building materials as they baked the clay into bricks using the tar for mortar. Interestingly archeologists have found ancient temples called Ziggurats in this area that have a bottom layer of unbaked bricks while the upper layers are of baked bricks. This also shows us that the intent of the people was to have a permanent dwelling structure. Now these temples or Ziggurats (stepped towers) were the prototypes of others found throughout the world after the confusion of the language, such as the ones found in Egypt, Central and South America.

Vs. 4 The blessing of a common language for the ability to exchange ideas led not towards God but away from Him. Now with the blessing of a common language notice the use of first person pronouns in verse 4, five times in this one verse we see the use of the words, let us, we and ourselves. Mankind could sound the same and words meant the same but all everyone wanted to do was talk about themselves. Common language brought with it an increased self-centeredness. Two things are mentioned as being the motive for their building project:

  1. Come, let us build ourselves a city”: As today cities offer the population that lives within them an easier way of life that creates mutual dependence upon each other. Commerce, culture and comfort are in greater quantity and availability. Clearly the motive was personal ease and satisfaction, although not evil in its self, it would help move people away from a need for God, which seems to be inferred in the phrase “lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.
  2. a tower whose top is in the heavens”: These towers were obvious centers of worship and based upon the signs of the Zodiac that have been found in some of them. It appears that the goal of these religious centers were expose man to heavens mysteries without a relationship to the God of grace. It was an attempt to approach the creator through the creation based upon self-effort. Like most religions, as well as people, we don’t want to eliminate God instead we just want to be able to approach Him based upon our works and not His grace. This is further brought out in the phrase, “let us make a name for ourselves”. Today we would call this statement a definition of secular humanism that sees mankind as the center of the universe and his effort is what is worshipped.

These thoughts have crept into evangelical Christianity and as seen in the individual controlling God and using Him for our glory rather than us being used for His glory. The word for “name” here is the Hebrew word “Shem” and seems to suggest that the population was saying, “that they were wanting another way to God other than the way of Shem.

Vs. 5 Man attempts to go up to God apart from dealing with sin and so God comes down in judgment. How proud is mankind of their achievements? They build this great structure in an attempt to bypass God the one whose span of His hand stretches over all the heavens. Our works and self-effort may impress each other but compared to God it’s just kiln-dried mud and tar!

Vs. 6 How horrible is it to see God given talents and abilities wasted upon trying to glorify self instead of the giver of those talents and abilities? God saw three things about mankind:

  1. Indeed the people are one and they all have one language”: God saw their unity.
  2. and this is what they begin to do”: He saw their creativity.
  3. now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them”: He saw their purpose. God gave them language which created unity, He blessed them with creativity but their purpose was to glorify themselves.

Think what society could do if only they united their creativity to achieve God’s purposes instead of their own? Think of what His Church could do if they united with their God given creativity to further His kingdom and not their own!

Vs. 7 It appears that somehow God altered the brains ability to comprehend speech upon family lines creating distinct sound and word meanings yet He did so without changing what mankind was in thought or character. The signal came into the receiver scrambled different so that only like receivers heard the same sounds. Mankind obviously could in time learn each other’s sound and word meanings but this would take time and was not universal with all of mankind. Mankind wanted to reduce his need for God and become the center of his own universe so God confused the language so that he would again have to find his dependence upon God.

Vs. 8 The very thing mankind tried to avoid came to pass, as families, except that of Nimrod, departed from Babel. It is interesting that this story appears in varying forms from different cultures including a written account on a tablet excavated at Ur.

Vs. 9 What we are told is that all they understood was that to each other the language appeared to be mixed or confused “Babel”. As a result of this the family groups migrated to different regions and became distinct cultures and ethnicity’s which got refined and changed as each migrated into new areas developing unique speech and even written language. Depending upon the migration they would need to harness the raw materials found in each area this too no doubt led to unique cultures as well as physical characteristics.

What is interesting is to compare the confusion of language here in Genesis with that of the Pentecost in Acts 2:6-11 and what language will be in heaven.

  • Here language is confused because man refused to glorify God and instead glorified himself.
  • In Acts 2:6-11 God grants language to man so that mankind could hear the praise to God from man who was indwelt by Him.
  • Finally in Rev. 7:9 in heaven we will see people from every tribe and tongue crying out with a loud voice praising God saying “salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.

Vs. 10-32 From Shem to Abram

Here were are given Abram’s ancestry and background and Terah Abram’s father (11:27) no doubt wrote this. This genealogy of Abram is important for two reasons:

  1. The ages of Abram’s ancestors give us great assurance as to the reliability of the Bible. You see Adam lived to at least the time of Methuselah and Methuselah lived to the time of Shem. Shem lived to the time of Jacob’s 48th Noah lived to the time of Abram’s 50th year. This shows us how the original truth that was written down passed on from living generation to living generation.
  2. He is mentioned in 16 books of the OT and 11 in the NT. In fact 14 chapters out of the 50 here in Genesis are devoted to telling his story. Abram is one of the central figures in all the Bible and as such as we understand God’s purpose and plan for his life we will be encouraged in our own growth.

Vs. 10-26 Abram’s ancestry enables us to trace God’s heart to save a fallen race. Out of the three sons of Noah God selects one to be the seed of the women. Then out of The’-rakh’s three sons again one is selected. Noah was the 10th from Adam Abram was the 10th from Shem.

Vs. 10-13 Shem, ham and Japheth were born 100 years before the flood. Then in chapter 10:22 we were told that Shem had two other sons born before Ar-pak-shad who was born two years after the flood, so they were born right after each other.

Ar-pak-shad, is thought by some to be another name for an area northeast of Nineveh. It is obvious that based upon the ages of this genealogy that the longevity of mankind began to steadily decline. This was no doubt based upon the climate change as well as mutations caused by inbreeding and a more difficult life style. Eventually we are told in Ps. 90: 10 that mankind’s average life span was 70 years.

Vs. 14-26

Ay’-ber: Is thought to mean “the man from across” because he was from the other side of the Euphrates.

Peh’-leg: This is where we see that the human life span drops almost in ½ from what it had been the generation prior. It was at his time that the languages were divided. Shem lived 600 years, then after him only 3 lived to over 400 years. Four lived to over 200 years and one lived only to 148. Yet still in Abram’s time there would have been over 10 million upon the earth.

Reh-oo’: His name means friend or delight.

Ser-oog’: His name means “vine shoot” and the area he is from is thought to be Mesopotamia.

Naw-khore: His name means snorting or snorer and he shares the name with his grandson through The’rakh.

Vs. 27-32 Much is made of how a person is raised in life as to which path they will follow but with Abram this has nothing to do with any excuse not to follow God.

Vs. 27-28 Covers the early history of Abram.

The’rakh: In Josh. 24:2 we are told that the “the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods.” Only 400 years had passed since the flood and even the godly line of Shem has become idol worshipers. They lived 125 miles from Babylon and excavations in this region have uncovered a culture that worshipped the moon god Sin. After Haran dies it seems that The’rakh desires to leave the land as well as we shall see that Haran’s son Lot will follow them. Ur was a prosperous city and archaeologists have uncovered a vast library, which has thousands of clay tablets suggesting that the ancient world was quite literate.

Vs. 29-32 The phrase “to take a wife” means to get married and Abram marries his ½ sister whose name “Saw-rah’ee” means princess. Naw-khore marries his niece Haw-rawn’s first daughter Mil-caw’ who is the grandmother of Isaac’s wife Rebekah. Saw-rah’ee’s barrenness is mentioned here as it will play an important part in the story of latter chapters.

Naw-khore and Mil-caw’ stay behind in Ur but in chapter 24:10 they too will have moved. Abram and his father travel 600 miles and stop for a time where his father disobeys the Lord according to Acts 7:4 Stephen says that The’rakh dies before Abram leaves for Canaan yet 12:4 of Genesis says that Abram left when he was 75 which was 130 years before his father died. The answer is found in the truth that disobedience to the Lord left The’rakh dead spiritually so Abram left him and followed the Lord. So 267 years since the confusion of languages and already perhaps as many as 300 million were populating the earth and establishing their cultures.