Genesis 10:1−11:26

February 2nd, 2015| Topic: aBeLOG, Genesis | 0

Genesis 10:1−11:26

Mankind’s hubris—the making of a name for itself—prevents its experiencing God’s blessings.

There are two genealogies (Gen 10:21–31 and 11:10–32) surrounding the Tower of Babel narrative (11:1–9). While the first five in the series are paralleled in both genealogies, 10:25 breaks away after the mention of Peleg (which means “division”). The resumption of the genealogy through Peleg and onwards occurs at 11:10, after an exposition of the division and how it came about—the Tower of Babel account in 11:1–9.

Gen 11:1–9 is structured carefully, paralleling the actions of man in the first half with the actions of God in the second. The turning point, and the midpoint of the narrative (G below) is the scene of divine inspection (“Yahweh came down to see,” 11:5), after which the actions of God meticulously dismantle the actions of man.

A  whole earth; language (11:1)

B  Shinar; there (11:2)

C  men; one another (11:3a)

D  “Come, let us make bricks [nlbnh]” (11:3b)

E  build (11:4a)

F  city; tower (11:4b)

G  Yahweh came down to see (11:5a)

F’  city; tower (11:5b)

E’  built (11:5c)

D’  “Come, … let us confuse [wnblh]” (11:6–7a)

C’  men; one another (11:7b)

B’  Babel; there (11:8–9a)

A’  language; whole earth (11:9b)

Until 11:4, “make” had been used only of God; and thus far, also until 11:4, “name” had only been used of proper names. Now “name” is used in a different sense, and humans are “making” it for themselves. The Babelites intention was the self-manufacture of a great name, by their own resources, for their own glory, apart from God. Besides, for the first time, speech is here used by mankind to undertake a project of “making,” to play creator. First-person plural cohortatives (“let us …,” 11:3–4) were first used by God (1:26); now humans are it, usurping creatorship. Such an action on the part of men was an attempt to achieve god-like status, essentially the same engine that powered the sin of mankind in the Garden of Eden (3:5–6).

That these builders’ conceited efforts were absolutely puny is emphasized by the statement that Yahweh had to “come down” (11:5) to see the heights of their enterprise! In the eyes of God, the inhabitants of the earth “are like grasshoppers,” and their works are paltry, indeed (Isa 40:22). The laughable endeavor is emphasized in the description of its engineers: mere “sons of men” (Gen 11:5). The Babelites goal was to reach the heavens, the habitation of God and, in Genesis, the place from where he speaks (19:24; 21:17; 22:11, 15); obviously, mankind’s tower did not arrive anywhere near those lofty heights. Nope, God was not impressed with their efforts, mere arrogance, defiance, and rebellion.

All the efforts of mankind were in vain; the very things they sought, centralization and security and a name, were lost in the divine scattering. Those who sought a “name” for themselves (11:4) did get one, but not what they expected; it was the “name” Babel (11:9), commemorating their failure, not their success.

The Tower of Babel narrative reinforces the sinfulness of post-flood humanity; they are as sinful as the pre-flood species. All of mankind were sinners, with god-complexes, afflicted by hubris and egocentricity. And divine judgment is inevitable for such conduct. Yet, God’s grace is evident, and his promised blessings are beginning to be fulfilled.

[For more detail on this passage see the appropriate section of Genesis: A Theological Commentary for Preachers.

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