Hello, Scroll Eaters! Genesis 10 is one of those chapters than many people react to in this way: “Oh, brother. We’ve got a list of names that I can’t even pronounce. Why is this even in the Bible, and why should I care to read it? Should I skip it? No, I won’t skip it. It’s the Bible. Still….”
But this should not be so! Chapter 10 is absolutely fascinating, riveting! – and I’m not just saying that to bolster you up; I mean it! Let’s look at some reasons. First, Jesus references it in Mark, but it’s a cryptic reference, and he gets a little annoyed at the disciples for missing it. We’ll cover that when we get to Mark. Second, if you really want to study it, and there are scholars that do, here we have what is called “The Table of Nations.” It’s a list not just of people, but of the people that are the beginnings of all the ethnic groups on the planet. For instance, Tarshish (10:4) is the ancient name for what is now Spain, Cush (10:6) is Ethiopia, and Mitzraim (10:6) is Egypt. Also, notice in 10:15 ff. some of the “ites” we see during Joshua, all sons of Canaan – the Hittites, Jebusites (Jebus was the city that David conquered and renamed Jerusalem), Amorites, Girgashites, and Hivites. Also of interest: in 10:19, the four cities God destroyed for gross immorality – Sodom, Gomorrah, Adman, and Zeboiim – are, of course, Canaanite.
We also see Nimrod (10:8-12), a great ancient warrior-king, who built at least eight ancient cities, including Babel and Nineveh. His kingdom covered ancient Babylon and Assyria.
Now, of major note is 10:25, 31, where we read “… for in [Peleg’s] days the earth was divided; … according to their languages….” The events of chapter 11 occurred around 10:24-25. Remember, the Bible’s not always chronological.
Chapter 11 is one of the most important chapters in the Bible. Here we first see the world divided into languages. Think about it for a moment. Whatever language Adam and Eve spoke, they were the only ones. Languages mutate and develop through time, but the primary culprit of this is geographic isolation. In the antediluvian world, there was no geographic isolation; it was one solid landmass with pits of water, and the whole world was of that one language. Regardless, even if there were numerous languages pre-Flood, only one family survived, so whatever language they spoke, everyone after that spoke it!
God expresses his concern, if you will, about man’s capacity for evil in 11:6 (NLT), “Look! If they can accomplish this when they have just begun to take advantage of their common language and political unity, just think of what they will do later. Nothing will be impossible for them!” Imagine today where we’d be technologically if the U.S.A., China, Japan, Korea, Australia, Germany, Italy, Russia, Brazil, etc. all had one language. The diversity of language is a check on too-quick progress. It slows us down. In fact, it is a restraint on evil. By dividing language, evil is limited. If a dictator arises in an area, he’s got a much more difficult task ruling the world in our present situation, because national and racial pride around a language is a difficult barrier. If we had one world language and culture, this would be a very real possibility. The Tower of Babel is evil, because it shows man’s pride and arrogance. So, God split us up.
Another reason God split us up is that in 11:2 we read that the people settled in the plain. God told us to “go forth and multiply; subdue the earth and fill it.” They weren’t filling the earth; they decided to settle and build a great tower that will “make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” Not happening, so God scattered them.
I love God’s sense of humor. Some people just don’t think of the Bible as humorous, and laughing in church is taboo for many. To quote the Joker, “Why so serious?” These men decided they were going to build a tower to heaven, to make a name for themselves. So, “The LORD came down to see the city and the tower….”, and again using the Royal We, said, “Let us go down and give them different languages.”
Notice one other thing before we leave Babel. The Hebrew word “Babel” roughly means “confusion.” It was retroactively named Babel because that’s where the language confusion happened. Deeper than this, however, is that Babel is the site of Babylon (11:2). Look at how evil Babel is, and Babylon being the destroyer of the Temple, and Babylon being the symbolic oppressor of the Church in Revelation – Babylon, in the Bible, is symbolic of the Anti-Kingdom. Whatever is in opposition to the Kingdom of God is “Babylon.” We see it begin here, and this image will continue until Revelation. Yes, the Anti-Kingdom is the “Kingdom of Confusion.”
The end of chapter 11 gives the genealogy leading to Abram, which ends the first section of Genesis, and we’ll pick up there Monday.
For Monday, read Genesis 12-13.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
Here is the text to a great sermon on the topic by John Piper called “The Pride of Babel and the Praise of Christ.” Embedded below is the video of the sermon in four parts. I highly recommend it.