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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 11

 

 

Verses 1-32

BABEL: THE CITY AND THE TOWER

Up to this time there was only one language. In the world today men wish they could have this advantage, but God is wiser than men. Men desire this for the very same reason that Caused God to impose various languages upon them. They are infected by pride that wants to unite independently of God, so as to have a great civilization.

They journeyed "from the east," literally "from the sun rising." This is strikingly typical of man's turning his back upon the promise of the coming of Christ ("the Sun of righteousness arising with healing in His wings" - Malachi 4:2). Forgetting the promise of God, they want to build a solid, united civilization for themselves. They have left the mountains and come down to the easier circumstance of the plain, where there is not the same exercise and endurance called for. Instead of trusting God they are moved by what appears to be their temporal advantage. They realize there is strength in unity, but they do not seek unity as in subjection to God. On the plain, of course, they found no stone for building, so they made brick from the available clay. "They had brick for stone and they had asphalt for mortar." The Lord draws attention to the fact of these substitutions because He builds with stone -- "living stones" (2 Peter 2:5). Typical of believers who are the workmanship of God, not of men's hands; and He uses the mortar of the Holy Spirit of God to join them together. Of course the brick does not endure as does stone, for it is man made.

Brick laying is much simpler than stone masonry, because the bricks are all cast in the same mold. People who are merely converts of man are formed by the particular teaching of those men -- "burned thoroughly," that is diligently trained along that one line and easily fitted together because their views are identical. But God builds with stone. A stone mason must have far more skill than a brick layer, for he must take stones of various shapes and sizes and fit them together. God converts souls of totally different backgrounds, cultures and persuasions, and so works in their souls as to produce a vital spiritual unity among them that is far stronger than any man -- devised unity, for they are bonded together by the living Spirit of God. This is unity in diversity, for each one retains his own distinctive character and usefulness: their views are not identical, yet the living power of the Spirit of God overcomes such differences, uniting them in a bond of genuine spiritual unity.

The Babel of this chapter is typical of the New Testament Babylon (Revelation 17:1-18; Revelation 18:1-24), a great religious system devised by men, though it claims to be "the church." They have great aspirations, first, "let us build for ourselves a city" (v.4). It is human selfishness that desires "a city," a great company in which they might boast. Abraham was of a different character: "he waited for the city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10 - NKJV). Faith can wait for God to accomplish what is of lasting value. His city will be one of absolute purity (Revelation 21:18) in contrast to the intrigue, violence and corruption that is characteristic of men's cities.

They propose also "a tower whose top is in the heavens." This is a great center that will stand out above everything, a symbol of their pride. But the Center of the church of God is the Lord Jesus Christ, who "has become higher than the heavens" (Hebrews 7:26). The heavens speak of rule and authority (Daniel 4:26), and man would like to take this authority into his own incapable hands. But the Lord Jesus is exalted "far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named" (Ephesians 1:20-21).

The real object of these ambitious builders is expressed plainly in their words, "let us make a name for ourselves." they want a great name for themselves. But the only One whom God gives a great name is the Lord Jesus Christ. "God also has highly exalted Him and given him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow" (Philippians 2:9-10). How wonderful therefore is the privilege of the assembly of the living God to be gathered together unto His name (Matthew 18:20).

They considered their building to be the means of keeping them from being scattered over the earth, but they defeated their own ends, for because of this God scattered them. He "came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built" (v.5). Of course He could see this without coming down, but His coming down shows the reality of the interest He takes in men's affairs, intimating that He comes close enough to know all that is involved in what they do. He sees that they are taking advantage of their being united in order to execute their ambitious schemes, in independence of Him Having begun to accomplish such things, nothing would restrain them from whatever imaginative projects came into their minds.

Just as nothing would restrain the builders of the tower of Babel, so today ambitious leaders in the world will be restrained by no barriers. The nations want to share their technology so that they may out do every past generation in their advances in science and every other element of men's culture. They work hard to overcome all the difficulties of language barriers and of national prejudice, but God continues to work by these things in order to frustrate them. There is constant talk of a one world government, but the great tribulation will prove this to be mere folly. Nations will not co-operate with one another to make this possible. Only when the Lord Jesus takes His throne will this take place, when all shall submit to Him.

The means by which God halted this great undertaking was simple for Him. But it would be a great shock to them to find their languages confused (v.7), some being suddenly unable to understand others, and probably thinking that others had suddenly lost their reason. The world speculates and argues about the origin of languages, but God has settled the matter very simply. All are the result of His great wisdom. Those of the same language would of course be drawn together, and separated from those who spoke different languages. Their city was left unfinished and all were scattered in every direction (v.8).

The name Babel was given to the city afterward, its name meaning "confusion" because of the confusing of languages. The Babylonian empire rose later than this, and many nations (including Judah) had to bow to its authority -- typically bowing to the shame of their own confusion because of disobedience to God The New Testament

Babylon (with headquarters at Rome) has caused confusion in the ranks of Christendom, and will be brought down in judgment at the time of the great tribulation, as shown in Revelation 17:1-18; Revelation 18:1-24.

THE DESCENDANTS OF SHEM

From verse 10 the line of Shem is traced further than in Chapter 10:21-31, which goes as far as Joktan the son of Peleg and stops with his thirteen sons. This genealogy of Chapter 11 continues with Reu the son of Peleg, ignoring Joktan and his sons. The reason is evident, for Reu's line issues in Nahor, Terah and Abram, and God had purposed Abram to be the father of a chosen race whom He would separate from the rest of the nations. There was to be absolutely no doubt of this though Abraham did not receive the son of God's promise until he was 100 years of age. God has been careful to trace that line down through the ages, and Matthew 1:1-25 begins the New Testament by showing that Christ the Messiah of Israel is the official descendant of Abraham, because He was officially the son of Joseph. The actual line is found in Luke 3:23-38, traced backward from the virgin Mary through Abraham to Adam. The marriage of Joseph and Mary was absolutely essential to accomplish the purpose of God in this matter.

Terah had three sons, Abram, Nahor and Haran, and Haran died before his father did (v.28). Then our interest is focused on Abram and Nahor, who were married to Sarai and Milcah respectively. We shall hear more of Nahor, but much more of Abram, for Nahor is only considered insofar as he is connected with Abram's history. The brief mention is made here that Sarai had no child.

From Ur of the Chaldees Terah took his son Abram (not Nahor, however) and his grandson Lot, who was the son of his deceased son Haran) and Sarai, Abram's wife, with the intention of going to the land of Canaan; but they journeyed only as far as Haran (not even crossing the Euphrates River), and stopped there. It may be they named the place after Haran, Lot's father. Terah died there at the age of 205 years. The reason for their move is seen in Chapter 12.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Genesis 11:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/genesis-11.html. 1897-1910.

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