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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Genesis 11

 

 

Verse 1-2

Genesis 11:1-2. The whole earth was of one language — This even heathen writers acknowledge; and that language was, probably, the Hebrew. They journeyed from the east of Shinar, where Noah had settled when he left the ark. They were, therefore, now travelling westward.


Verse 3-4

Genesis 11:3-4. Let us make brick, let us build a city — The country, being a plain, yielded neither stone nor mortar; yet this did not discourage them; but they made brick to serve instead of stone, and slime instead of mortar; a kind of clay or pitch called bitumen, which, as Pliny testifies, is liquid and glutinous, and fit to be used in brick buildings, as Strabo, Dion, and others observe. And that Babylon was built with this and with brick, as is here said, we have the joint testimony of Berosus, Etesius, Dion, Curtius, and many others. It has been thought that they intended hereby to secure themselves against the waters of another flood; but if they had, they would have chosen to build upon a mountain rather than upon a plain. But two things, it seems, they aimed at in building. 1st, To make them a name — A great name; out of pride and vain glory to erect a monument that should remain to all posterity: and, 2d, To prevent their dispersion; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth — It was done (saith Josephus) in disobedience to that command, Genesis 9:1, Replenish the earth — That they might be united in one glorious empire, they resolve to build this city and tower, to be the metropolis of their kingdom, and the centre of their unity.


Verse 5

Genesis 11:5. And the Lord came down to see the city — This is an expression after the manner of men; he knew it as clearly as men know that which they come upon the place to view.

Genesis 11:6-9. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, &c. — And if they continue one, much of the earth will be left uninhabited. Let us confound their language — This was not spoken to the angels, as if God needed either their advice or their assistance; but God speaks it to himself, or the Father to the Son. That they may not understand one another’s speech — Nor could they well continue to be united in any undertaking when their tongues were divided; so that this was a proper means, both to take them off from their building, and to dispose them to separate; for if they could not understand one another, they could neither help nor enjoy one another. Accordingly, 1st, Their language was confounded. God, who, when he made man, taught him to speak, now made those builders to forget their former language; and to speak a new one, which yet was the same to those of the same tribe or family, but not to others. We all suffer hereby to this day, in all the inconveniences we sustain by the diversity of languages, and all the trouble we are at to learn the languages we have occasion for; nay, and those unhappy controversies, which are strifes of words, and arise from our misunderstanding of one another’s language, are partly owing to this confusion of tongues. The project of some to frame a universal character, in order to a universal language, how desirable soever it may seem, yet is but a vain thing; for it is to strive against a divine sentence, by which the languages of the nations will be divided while the world stands. As the confounding of tongues divided the children of men, and scattered them abroad, so the gift of tongues bestowed upon the apostles, Acts 2., contributed greatly to the gathering together of the children of God which were scattered abroad, and the uniting of them in Christ, that with one mind and mouth they might glorify God, Romans 15:6. 2d, Their building was stopped. The confusion of their tongues not only disabled them from helping one another, but probably struck a damp upon their spirits, since they saw the hand of the Lord was gone out against them. 3d, The builders were scattered abroad from thence upon the face of the whole earth — They departed in companies, after their families and after their tongues, (Genesis 10:5; Genesis 10:20; Genesis 10:31,) to the several countries and places allotted to them in the division that had been made, which, it seems, they knew before, but would not go to take possession of, till now they were forced to it. So that the very thing which they feared came upon them; that dispersion which they thought to avoid. And they left behind them a perpetual memorandum of their reproach in the name given to the place; it was called Babel, confusion. The children of men were now finally scattered, and never will come all together again till the great day when the Son of man shall sit upon the throne of his glory, and all nations shall be gathered before him, Matthew 25:31-32. Reader, how wilt thou then appear?


Verse 10

Genesis 11:10. Observe here, 1st, That nothing is left upon record concerning those of this line, but their names and ages; the Holy Ghost seeming to hasten through them to the story of Abraham. How little do we know of those who are gone before us in this world, even those that lived in the same places where we live! Or, indeed, of those who are our contemporaries, but in distant places. 2d, That there was an observable gradual decrease in the years of their lives. Shem reached to six hundred years, which yet fell short of the age of the patriarchs before the flood; the three next came short of five hundred, the three next did not reach to three hundred, and after them we read not of any that attained to two hundred but Terah; and not many ages after this Moses reckoned seventy or eighty to be the utmost men ordinarily arrive at. When the earth began to be replenished, men’s lives began to be shortened; so that the decrease is to be imputed to the wise disposal of Providence, rather than to any decay of nature. 3d, That Eber, from whom the Hebrews were denominated, was the longest lived of any that were born after the flood; which perhaps was the reward of his strict adherence to the ways of God.


Verse 27

Genesis 11:27. Here begins the story of Abram. We have here, 1st, His country: Ur of the Chaldees — An idolatrous country, where even the children of Eber themselves degenerated. 2d, His relations, mentioned for his sake, and because of their interest in the following story. His father was Terah, of whom it is said, Joshua 24:2, that he served other gods on the other side the flood; so early did idolatry gain footing in the world. His brethren were, Nahor, out of whose family both Isaac and Jacob had their wives; and Haran, the father of Lot, of whom it is here said, Genesis 11:28, that he died before his father Terah. It is likewise said that he died in Ur of the Chaldees, before that happy removal of the family out of that idolatrous country. His wife was Sarai, who, some think, was the same with Iscah, the daughter of Haran. Abram himself saith, she was the daughter of his father, but not the daughter of his mother, Genesis 20:12. She was ten years younger than Abram. 3d, His departure out of Ur of the Chaldees, with his father Terah, and his nephew Lot, and the rest of his family, in obedience to the call of God. This chapter leaves them in Haran or Charran, a place about the midway between Ur and Canaan, where they dwelt till Terah’s head was laid; probably because the old man was unable, through the infirmities of age, to proceed in his journey.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 11:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/genesis-11.html. 1857.

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