Bible Commentary: Genesis 11

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Genesis 11

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The Postdiluvian Rebellion

When Noah and his family disembarked from the ark, God said, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 9:1 Genesis 9:1And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.
American King James Version×
KJV), and the words suggest that God intended the people to diffuse themselves widely over the land. When they came to Shinar, or Mesopotamia, the people made a fateful decision. They decided to gather together to build large cities, contrary to God’s original intent. “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4 Genesis 11:4And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach to heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad on the face of the whole earth.
American King James Version×
). The statement is revealing on several levels. It reveals that the express purpose for building the city and the tower was to prevent wide population dispersion. The design to build a tower (probably some type of ziggurat or pyramid) indicates that concentration of population would be achieved through highly organized governmental projects. History provides evidence of a centralization of religious authority as well. And the phrase “let us make a name for ourselves” is an idiomatic way of saying “let us get power over others.” Furthermore, the choice of a tower whose top is in the heavens may indicate a deliberate disbelief in God’s promise to not send another great flood, effectively calling God a liar. Thus, we see the formation of a political and religious power center, opposed to God’s will and using its power to dominate others. It appears that the leader of this effort was Nimrod, who built an empire from here (Genesis 10:8-12 Genesis 10:8-12 [8] And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. [9] He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: why it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD. [10] And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. [11] Out of that land went forth Asshur, and built Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, [12] And Resen between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city.
American King James Version×
).

Verse 5 tells us that God “came down” to see the city and the tower. Besides its literal meaning, when God is said to “come down” it is frequently a way of expressing impending judgment (compare Genesis 18:21 Genesis 18:21I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come to me; and if not, I will know.
American King James Version×
; Exodus 3:8 Exodus 3:8And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good land and a large, to a land flowing with milk and honey; to the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
American King James Version×
; 2 Samuel 22:10 2 Samuel 22:10He bowed the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under his feet.
American King James Version×
; Psalms 144:5 Psalms 144:5Bow your heavens, O LORD, and come down: touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.
American King James Version×
; Isaiah 31:4 Isaiah 31:4For thus has the LORD spoken to me, Like as the lion and the young lion roaring on his prey, when a multitude of shepherds is called forth against him, he will not be afraid of their voice, nor abase himself for the noise of them: so shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof.
American King James Version×
; Jeremiah 21:13-14 Jeremiah 21:13-14 [13] Behold, I am against you, O inhabitant of the valley, and rock of the plain, said the LORD; which say, Who shall come down against us? or who shall enter into our habitations? [14] But I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings, said the LORD: and I will kindle a fire in the forest thereof, and it shall devour all things round about it.
American King James Version×
). It is a way of expressing the seriousness of the action as well as God’s personal involvement in the punishment. When God saw the work of the men He said, “Indeed, the people are one and they have all one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them” (Genesis 11:6 Genesis 11:6And 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.
American King James Version×
). Man had once again decided to use his intellect and energies to live contrary to God. The last century bore stark witness to what human beings working together can do. Without God, evil permeates—and among wonderful technological advances comes also the ability to destroy the world. But God is never out of options. To end this ungodly effort, and to accomplish His purpose of widely dispersing men over the face of the earth and preventing rapid technological development that would lead to weapons of mass destruction sooner than His time frame allowed for, God confounded the language of men. And thus the name of this place is Babel, the first Babylon of history. As an aside, notice that God said the people, though many, were one—a plurality in unity, just as Elohim, the Hebrew word for God, indicates a plurality in unity.

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