Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
11 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
In verse 1:
language: שָׂפָה sâphâh, saw-faw’; or (in dual and plural) שֶׂפֶת sepheth; probably from H5595 or H8192 through the idea of termination (compare H5490); the lip (as a natural boundary); by implication, language; by analogy, a margin (of a vessel, water, cloth, etc.):—band, bank, binding, border, brim, brink, edge, language, lip, prating, (sea-)shore, side, speech, talk, (vain) words.
speech / the same words: דָּבָר dâbâr, daw-baw’; from H1696; a word; by implication, a matter (as spoken of) or thing; adverbially, a cause:—act, advice, affair, answer, × any such (thing), because of, book, business, care, case, cause, certain rate, chronicles, commandment, × commune(-ication), concern(-ing), confer, counsel, dearth, decree, deed, × disease, due, duty, effect, eloquent, errand, (evil favoured-) ness, glory, harm, hurt, iniquity, judgment, language, lying, manner, matter, message, (no) thing, oracle, × ought, × parts, pertaining, please, portion, power, promise, provision, purpose, question, rate, reason, report, request, × (as hast) said, sake, saying, sentence, sign, so, some (uncleanness), somewhat to say, song, speech, × spoken, talk, task, that, × there done, thing (concerning), thought, thus, tidings, what(-soever), wherewith, which, word, work.
In verse 2:
Shinar: שִׁנְעָר Shinʻâr, shin-awr’; probably of foreign derivation; Shinar, a plain in Babylonia:—Shinar.
The story from these verses exists within the larger story of the spreading out of Noah’s descendants. That said, it is not clear exactly when this occurs. I think we can assume that this occurs somewhat early after the events of the Flood and before some of the subsequent history as described in Chapter 10.
Let’s revisit Genesis 9:1: 9 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.
It might be argued that building a city is contrary to the command to fill the earth.
Looking then at verse 4: 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
It becomes clear in verse four that the goal of the people is to stay together and to avoid filling the whole earth.
Verse 2 is translated that the people are traveling from the east. This creates some problems for those that believe the ark landed in Armenia, as we will see in the following commentary:
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.(2) As they journeyed.—The word literally refers to the pulling up of the tent-pegs, and sets the human family before us as a band of nomads, wandering from place to place, and shifting their tents as their cattle needed fresh pasture.
From the east.—So all the versions. Mount Ararat was to the north-west of Shinar, and while so lofty a mountain could not have been the spot where the ark rested, yet neither could any portion of Armenia or of the Carduchian mountains be described as to the east of Babylonia. The Chaldean legends make the ark rest on Mount Nizir, or Elwend, on the east of Assyria; and though Ararat may possibly signify Aryaverta, “Holy Land,” yet the transference of the name from Elwend to Armenia is not easily explicable. Moreover, the Bible elsewhere seems to point to Armenia as the cradle of the human race. Most modern commentators, therefore, translate eastward, and such certainly is the meaning of the word in Genesis 13:11, where also the versions, excepting our own, render from the east.
Land of Shinar.—See on Genesis 10:10. The whole of Chaldea is a level plain, and the soil immensely rich, as it is an alluvial deposit, which still goes on forming at the head of the Persian Gulf, at the rate of a mile in a period estimated at from seventy to thirty years (Rawlinson, Anc. Mon., i. 4). A strip of land 130 miles in breadth has been added to the country, by the deposit of the earth washed down by the Tigris and Euphrates, since the time when Ur of the Chaldees was a great port.
The word creating the from the east / eastward confusion is:
קֶדֶם qedem, keh’-dem; or קֵדְמָה qêdᵉmâh; from H6923; the front, of place (absolutely, the fore part, relatively the East) or time (antiquity); often used adverbially (before, anciently, eastward):—aforetime, ancient (time), before, east (end, part, side, -ward), eternal, × ever(-lasting), forward, old, past.
From Pulpit Commentary on verse 4 and the motivation of the people in building the city.
And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. Verse 4. – And they said. Being impelled by their success in making bricks for their dwellings (Lange), though the resolution to be mentioned may have been the cause of their brick-making (Bush). Go to, let us build us a city. Cf. Genesis 4:17, which represents Cain as the first city builder. And a tower. Not as a distinct erection, but as forming a part, as it were the Acre-polls, of the city (Bochart). Whose top may reach unto heaven. Literally, and his head in the heavens, a hyperbolical expression for a tower of great height, as in Deuteronomy 1:28; Deuteronomy 9:1 (cf. Homer, ‘Odys,’ 5:239, ἐλάτη τ η΅ν οὐρανομήκης). This tower is commonly identified with the temple of Belus, which Herodotus describes (1. 181) as being quadrangular (two stadia each way), and having gates of brass, with a solid tower in the middle, consisting of eight sections, each a stadium in height, placed one above another, ascended by a spiral staircase, and having in the top section a spacious temple with a golden table and a well-furnished bed. Partially destroyed by Xerxes ( B.C. 490), it was attempted unsuccessfully to be rebuilt by Alexander the Great; but the remaining portion of the edifice was known to be in existence five centuries later, and was sufficiently imposing to be recognized as the temple of Belus (Pliny, 6:30). The site of this ancient tower is supposed by George Smith to be covered by the ruin “Babil,” a square mound about 200 yards each way, in the north of the city; and that of the tower of Babel to be occupied by the ruin Birs-Nimrod (situated six miles south-west of Hillah, which is about forty miles west of Bagdad), a tower consisting of seven stages, said by inscriptions on cylinders extracted from the ruin to have been “the Temple of the Seven Planets, which had been partially built by a former king of Babylon, and, having fallen into decay, was restored and completed by Nebuchadnezzar” (‘Assyrian Discoveries,’ 12. p. 59; ‘Chaldaean Genesis,’ p. 163; cf. Layard’s ‘Nineveh and Babylon,’ chap. 22. p. 496). It is, however, prima facie, unlikely that either Babil or Birs-Nimrod is the exact site of Babel. The original building was never finished, and may not have attained any great dimensions. Perhaps the most that can be said is that these existing mounds enable us to picture what sort of erection the tower of Babel was to be. And let us make a name, שֵׁם; neither an idol temple, ֵשם being = God, which it never is without the article, הַשֵׁם – cf. Leviticus 24:11 (Jewish writers); nor a monument, as in 2 Samuel 8:13 (Clericus); nor a metropolis, reading אֵם instead of שֵׁם, as in 2 Samuel 20:19 (Clericus); nor a tower that might serve as a sign to guide the wandering nomads and guard them against getting lost when spread abroad with their flocks, as in 2 Samuel 8:13; Isaiah 55:13 (Perizonius, Dathe, Ilgen); but a name, a reputation, as in 2 Samuel 8:13; Isaiah 63:12, 14; Jeremiah 32:20; Daniel 9:15 (Luther, Calvin, Rosenmüller, Keil, Lange, Murphy, Wordsworth, Kalisch). This was the first impelling motive to the erection of the city and tower. The offspring of ambition, it was designed to spread abroad their fame usque ad ultimos terrarum fines (Calvin). According to Philo, each man wrote his name upon a brick before he built it in. The second was to establish a rallying point that might serve to maintain their unity. Lest we be scattered abroad. Lest – antequam, πρὸ, before that, as if anticipating that the continuous increase of population would necessitate their dispersion (LXX., Vulgute), or as if determined to distinguish themselves before surrendering to the Divine command to spread themselves abroad (Luther); but the more exact rendering of פֵן is μή, ne, lest, introducing an apodosis expressive of something to be avoided by a preceding action (cf. Gesenius, ‘ Hebrews Gram.,’ § 152, and Furst, ‘Lex.,’ sub voce. What the builders dreaded was not the recurrence of a flood (Josephus, Lyra), but the execution of the Divine purpose intimated in Genesis 9:1, and perhaps recalled to their remembrance by Noah (Usher), or by Sham (Wordsworth), or by Eber (Candlish); and what the builders aimed at was resistance to the Divine will. Upon the face of the whole earth. Over the entire surface of the globe, and not simply over the land of Shiner (Inglis), or over the immediate region in which they dwelt (Clericus,. Dathe, et alii, ut supra).
In verse 5, Yahweh (the translation provides this specific name for God) visits. Further, we are told that the Lord “came down.”
came down: יָרַד yârad, yaw-rad’; a primitive root; to descend (literally, to go downwards; or conventionally to a lower region, as the shore, a boundary, the enemy, etc.; or figuratively, to fall); causatively, to bring down (in all the above applications):—× abundantly, bring down, carry down, cast down, (cause to) come(-ing) down, fall (down), get down, go(-ing) down(-ward), hang down, × indeed, let down, light (down), put down (off), (cause to, let) run down, sink, subdue, take down.
Looking at the Pulpit Commentary again:
Genesis 11:5And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.Verse 5. – And the Lord came down. Not in visible form, as in Exodus 19:20; Exodus 34:5 (Onkelos), but “effectuostendens se propin quiorem quem absentem esse judicabant” (Poole), an anthropomorphism (cf. Genesis 18:21; Psalm 144:5). “It is measure for measure (par pari). Let us build up, say they, and scale the heavens. Let us go down, says God, and defeat their impious thought” (Rabbi Schelomo, quoted by T. Lewis). To see (with a view to judicial action) the city and the tower which the children of men – sons of Adam; neither the posterity of Cain, i.e. the Hamites exclusively, as the Sethites were called sons of God, Genesis 6:2 (Augustine), nor wicked men in general (Junius, Piscator), imitators of Adam, i.e.rebellantes Dee (Mode, Lyre), since then the Shemites would not have been participators in the undertaking (Drusius), which some think, to have been their work exclusively (Inglis); but the members of the human race, or at least their leaders – builded.
It is not clear to me why the Commentary states as fact that the Lord did not come down in a physical form.
David Guzik‘s Commentary does not make the argument that God came down in an invisible form. However, he makes a separate case.
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.
Again, I am not certain why the physical personhood of God the Father is resisted by the commentary – not just here but also by seemingly everywhere when described as such throughout the Bible. If Jesus can stand at the right hand of the Father, who is seated on a throne… does that not imply that God the Father has a body?
Personally, I am interested in the “came down” word as that implies God was *up* somewhere. This implies, to me, that God the Father has left the Garden of Eden and is now residing in Heaven / the heavens. However, God decided in this moment to visit the Earth and see what humans are doing.
Christian theology presents us an image of a New Jerusalem descending from the sky in the Book of Revelation.
Anyway… from here we see that the language of humanity is broken up. Is there some evidence of that in the historical record? Well… it does appear that language traces backward to increasingly fewer and fewer root languages the farther back in time we go. We are left with the impression that there was a “Mother Tongue” at some point in the deeply remote past. However, unlike the story as we find in Genesis 11, the language changes appear to be gradual and resulting from human movement rather than sudden (though this is not an area of a lot of complete certainty once we are sufficiently far enough in the past.)
That said, we have seen languages birthed in the relatively recent history of humanity, too. Modern English is only a few hundred years old. Latin – though once widely spoken – is largely only alive through the Romance Languages it spawned. Perhaps, though, a bit of both natural language evolution and unnatural language evolution may have occurred.
There are three primary root languages for all current languages spoken on earth.
- Indo-European (Includes English)
- Sino-Tibetan (Includes Chinese)
- Afro-Asiatic (Includes Arabic)
Could these three branches of human language represent the three sons of Noah? Perhaps.
In verse 9 we are told that the Lord dispersed the people over all the earth. Should this be taken literally?
dispersed: פּוּץ pûwts, poots; a primitive root; to dash in pieces, literally or figuratively (especially to disperse):—break (dash, shake) in (to) pieces, cast (abroad), disperse (selves), drive, retire, scatter (abroad), spread abroad.
The language does not give us a reason *not* to take it literally. In this case, then, it might explain the peopling of the Americas, the people of east Asia, Australia, and South and Southwest Africa. Yahweh simply moved them.
From the Pulpit Commentary:
So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.Verse 8. – So (literally, and) the Lord scattered them abroad (as the result of the confusion of their speech) upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. I.e. as a united community, which does not preclude the idea of the Babylonians subsequently finishing the structure.
What else might we infer from the Tower of Babel story?
Let’s look back at Genesis 10:8-10
8 Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.
In chapter 10, we are told Nimrod was our first great city-builder. His kingdom began in Babel, in the land of Shinar. It seems probable that Nimrod was responsible for building the Tower of Babel.
Nimrod is described as a “mighty” man. The word mighty is translated from גִּבּוֹר gibbôwr, ghib-bore’; or גִּבֹּר gibbôr; (shortened) intensive from the same as H1397; powerful; by implication, warrior, tyrant:—champion, chief, × excel, giant, man, mighty (man, one), strong (man), valiant man.
This word choice is notable inasmuch as it is also used to describe the Nephilim in Genesis 6:4. Genesis 6 tells us that the Nephilim existed before the Flood, and also after, so is it possible that he was the first Nephilim on the earth after the Flood? It is possible. However, the text is not clear. In any case though, Nephilim or not, a return to Rebellion began in earnest via Nimrod.
There are several notable things written about Nimrod from outside of the text. Here are a couple of them.
But even this severe punishment did not bring the people back to the ways of G‑d. During the time of Nimrod, who was the grandson of Ham, the wickedness of the people increased tremendously. Nimrod had inherited the clothes of Adam, made out of the skin of the Serpent, and he was unconquerable. All the animals of the world obeyed him and kings recognized his rule. He proclaimed himself god, and images of his face were shown all over the country. People had to serve him and bring him offerings.
It was in this age of idolatry that a new star appeared on the horizon-the only shining star in a dark sky.
The mysterious story of Nimrod’s clothing may be revisited when we get to the story of Jacob and Esau.
Attempts to match Nimrod with historically attested figures have failed. Nimrod may not represent any one personage known to history and various authors have identified him with several real and fictional figures of Mesopotamian antiquity, including the Mesopotamian god Ninurta or a conflation of two Akkadian kings Sargon, his grandson Naram-Sin (2254–2218 BCE), and Tukulti-Ninurta I (1243–1207 BCE).
I actually highly encourage a reading of the linked Wiki page if you want to be pointed in more directions re: the extra-Biblical histories of Nimrod. You will see that there are accounts of Nimrod from ancient Jewish writers, Islamic scholars, Flavius Josephus, and others. He is also the source of all kinds of conspiracies regarding the occult, “Mystery, Babylon,” and other end-times notions.
Nimrod is also an ironic American idiom.
In modern American English, the term is often used sarcastically to mean a dimwitted or a stupid person, a usage first recorded in 1932 and popularized by the Looney Tunes cartoon characters Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, who both sarcastically refer to the hunter Elmer Fudd as “nimrod”, as an ironic connection between “mighty hunter” and “poor little Nimrod”, i.e. Fudd.