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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Genesis 11

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Mankind after the Flood; the Tower of Babel

A. The tower of Babel.

1. (Gen 11:1-4) A tower in the land of Shinar.

Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, “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.”

a. Now the whole earth had one language and one speech: If we accept the Biblical teaching that mankind has a common origin in Adam, then this simply makes sense; that there was a time when humanity spoke one language instead of the hundreds on the earth today.

b. The land of Shinar: Shinar was a term used also of Babylon (Genesis 10:10). The multiplied descendants from the ark came together to build a great city and tower, in rebellion against God’s command to spread out over the earth (Genesis 9:1).

c. “Let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly” … they had asphalt for mortar: Using baked bricks and asphalt for mortar, men built a tower that was both strong and waterproof, even as Noah used the same material in waterproofing the ark (Genesis 6:14). Later Moses’ mother used the same material in waterproofing Moses’ basket (Exodus 2:3).

i. “Archaeology has revealed that this type of kiln-fired brick and asphalt construction was common in ancient Babylon.” (Morris)

d. Come, let us build ourselves a city: The heart and the materials relevant to the tower of Babel show that it was not only disobedient to God’s command to fill the earth (Genesis 9:1), but it also shows man did not believe God’s promise to never again flood the earth. A waterproof tower was made to “protect” man against a future deluge.

i. This was a strong statement of self against God. When they said let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens, they meant it.

e. A tower whose top is in the heavens: The top of the tower was intended to be in the heavens. It is doubtful they thought they could build a tower to heaven. It is more likely they built the tower as an observation point of the heavens; it was built “unto the heavens.” Most astrological and occult practices have a history back to Babel.

i. If they really wanted to build a tower to reach heaven, it is unlikely they would start on the plain of Shinar, which is about Sea Level. Common sense says they would start on one of the nearby mountains.

ii. This tower was real. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus said the tower of Babel still stood in his day and he had seen it.

2. (Gen 11:5-9) God scatters them over the whole earth.

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

a. The Lord came down to see the city and the tower: The personal character of the language indicates this perhaps was a time when God came down in the form of a man, in the Person of Jesus Christ.

b. Let Us go down: This is another subtle reference to the Trinity.

c. Nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them: The potential of fallen man is terrible and powerful. When we think of the horrific accomplishments for evil of men in the 20th century, the great ability of men and nations is a painful consideration.

d. So the Lord scattered them abroad: The forced separation of men from Babel was more God’s mercy than His judgment. God, in dividing man both linguistically and geographically, put a check on the power of his fallen nature.

e. The Lord confused the language of all the earth: The division of the languages is a fascinating subject. Modern linguists know man did not invent language, any more than man invented his own circulatory or nervous system. Most modern linguists believe language is so unique that the only way they can explain it apart from God is to say that it was part of a unique evolutionary process.

i. Language can not be the product of man putting together sounds all by himself. For example, there are many universal human sounds (like the “raspberry” sound) that are not part of any human language. If man invented language on his own, it would make sense for some language to use that sound.

ii. Language is so complex because languages exist as whole systems, not as small parts put together. Most modern linguists believe all languages come from one original language.

f. From there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth: Think what it was like for a family to leave the area of Babel and go out on their own. They must look for a suitable place to live, and once they found it, they must exist by hunting and gathering, living in crude dwellings or caves until they could support themselves by agriculture and taking advantage of the natural resources. Families would multiply rapidly, develop their own culture, and their own distinctive biological and physical characteristics influenced by their environment. In the small population, genetic characteristics change very quickly, and as the population of the group grew bigger, the changes stabilized and became more or less permanent.

i. The whole account of what happened at Babel with its anti-God dictator, its organized rebellion against God, and its direct distrust of God’s promise shows man hasn’t gotten any better since the flood. Time, progress, government, and organization have made man better off, but not better.

ii. Now God will begin to make man better, and He will start as He always starts: with a man who will do His will, even if he does not do His will perfectly.

B. The line of Adam through Shem to Abram.

1. (Gen 11:10-25) From Shem to Terah, the father of Abram.

This is the genealogy of Shem: Shem was one hundred years old, and begot Arphaxad two years after the flood. After he begot Arphaxad, Shem lived five hundred years, and begot sons and daughters. Arphaxad lived thirty-five years, and begot Salah. After he begot Salah, Arphaxad lived four hundred and three years, and begot sons and daughters. Salah lived thirty years, and begot Eber. After he begot Eber, Salah lived four hundred and three years, and begot sons and daughters. Eber lived thirty-four years, and begot Peleg. After he begot Peleg, Eber lived four hundred and thirty years, and begot sons and daughters. Peleg lived thirty years, and begot Reu. After he begot Reu, Peleg lived two hundred and nine years, and begot sons and daughters. Reu lived thirty-two years, and begot Serug. After he begot Serug, Reu lived two hundred and seven years, and begot sons and daughters. Serug lived thirty years, and begot Nahor. After he begot Nahor, Serug lived two hundred years, and begot sons and daughters. Nahor lived twenty-nine years, and begot Terah. After he begot Terah, Nahor lived one hundred and nineteen years, and begot sons and daughters.

2. (Gen 11:26-28) The family of Terah in Ur of the Chaldeans.

Now Terah lived seventy years, and begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. This is the genealogy of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran begot Lot. And Haran died before his father Terah in his native land, in Ur of the Chaldeans.

a. Now Terah lived seventy years, and begot Abram: Genesis 11:26 is the first mention of Abram. Abram (later changed to “Abraham”) is mentioned 312 times in 272 verses in the Bible. He is arguably the most famous man of the Old Testament, and certainly one of the most influential men of history.

i. The Book of Genesis covers more than 2,000 years and more than 20 generations. Yet, it spends almost a third of its text on the life of one man – Abram.

b. Terah begot Abram: Abram is unique in the way he is called the friend of God (James 2:23); Abraham, Your friend forever (2 Chronicles 20:7); Abraham, My friend (Isaiah 41:8).

i. We all know the value of having friends in high places. Abram had a Friend in the highest place! Once Abraham Lincoln received a request for pardon from a man who deserted the army. When he was told the man had no friends, Lincoln said “I will be his friend,” and he pardoned him.

ii. Men and women in the Bible are famous for many different things, but Abram is great for his faith. Moses was the great lawgiver; Joshua a great general; David a great king, and Elijah a great prophet. Most of us know we can never be great in those things, but we can be great people of faith. We can be friends of God.

iii. If you despair in knowing you do not have Abram’s faith, take comfort in knowing you have Abram’s God. He can build in you the faith of Abram, because He built it in Abram himself.

iv. You do have faith. You buy a ticket to a sporting event and show up, having faith the ticket is good. You fly in an airplane because you have faith in the airline’s equipment, mechanics, and pilots. You plan a weekend based on the weather report. And you do this even though sometimes there are ticket scandals, sometimes planes crash, and sometimes the weatherman is wrong; but you still have faith. God can build the faith you have.

3. (Gen 11:29-30) The family of Abram and his brother Nahor.

Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and the father of Iscah. But Sarai was barren; she had no child.

a. Then Abram and Nahor took wives: Abram’s wife Sari (her name means “contentious”) was barren, unable to bear children.

b. Abram’s wife was Sarai … she had no child: Because the name “Abram” means “Father,” it must have constantly amazed those meeting Abram to discover he had no children. But his present lack of children will play an important role in God’s plan of redemption.

4. (Gen 11:31-32) The family of Terah and their travels from Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran.

And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there. So the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran.

a. They went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan: So Abram’s story begins in Ur of the Chaldeans (Babylon). Joshua 24:2 describes Abram before the Lord called him. He was from a family of idol worshippers and was probably an idol worshipper himself (notwithstanding Jewish legends).

i. Abram came from a family of idol worshippers. Later, when Abram’s grandson Jacob went back to Abram’s relatives, they were still worshipping idols.

b. And they came to Haran and dwelt there: Acts 7:2-4 makes it clear the call of Genesis 12:1-3 came to Abram while he still lived in Ur of the Chaldeans. When he received this call from God he was only partially obedient, because he took his father Terah with him to Haran even though the Lord called him to go from Ur by himself.

c. Terah died in Haran: Sometimes we can gain meaning from names in the Bible. The name Terah means, “delay.” The name Haran means “parched, barren.” When Abram was in partial obedience, then delay and barrenness characterized his life. When we delay in drawing close to God we also experience barrenness.

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

Study Guide for Revelation 1 ← Prior Book
Study Guide for Exodus 1 Next Book →
Study Guide for Genesis 10 ← Prior Chapter
Study Guide for Genesis 12 Next Chapter →
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