Today’s passage of Scripture is Genesis 11:1-4 which reads: “And the whole earth was of one language, and of 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. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. 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.”
Allow me to share with you some further commentary on this passage from the Reformation Study Bible by Dr. R.C. Sproul:
The description of the tower suggests a monumental effort motivated by pride. Human beings—this time in a titanic attempt at corporate self-assertion—again sacrilegiously challenge God. They wanted to make a name for themselves. Since “name” connotes fame and progeny, these city builders were attempting to find significance and immortality in their own achievements. But only God gives an everlasting name to those who magnify His name.
Like Cain, in their isolation from God, these proud sinners feared dislocation, and perhaps one another as well. Also like Cain, they found their solution in an abiding city rivaling God—a strategy that involved disobeying God’s command to “fill the earth.”
Today’s quote about the Bible is from John Ruskin. He said: “Whatever merit there is in anything that I have written is simply due to the fact that when I was a child my mother daily read me a part of the Bible and daily made me learn a part of it by heart.”
Our topic for today is titled “The Befuddlement of Language” from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Dr. Michael A. Harbin.
The seventh failure of humankind came some time later. One family had survived the Flood—Noah and his three sons and their wives. After the Flood, God told the remnant of humankind to multiply and disperse. The people multiplied but did not disperse. Rather, they gathered in the land of Shinar (Mesopotamia), where they began building cities and a tower, by which means they sought to reach up to the heavens.
While we know today that a physical tower could not actually reach to heaven, we really don’t understand what they were trying to achieve. Did they really think that it could? Or was this to be a unifying symbol? Whatever the purpose, it was their motivation that brought the next judgment on humankind. Their desire was to keep from being scattered abroad. The judgment was a breakdown of languages.
With the resultant loss of communication between groups, God’s desire was carried out. Humankind was dispersed. The result of the dispersion was actually anticipated in Genesis chapter 10, which is called the Table of the Nations. While more work needs to be done, not enough recognition has been given to the accuracy of this table.
It is in this section that we begin to see the narrowing in focus that will dominate the rest of Genesis. We have seen the toledot of Noah’s three sons, which is not a genealogy but an explanation that shows how they became the various nations, many of which the people at Mount Sinai had probably never heard of. Then we were given the explanation for language diversity and separation. Now the writer gives us the toledot of Shem. This takes us down to Terah, the father of Abraham. As we read through Genesis, it becomes clear that the shift is to explain to the people at Mount Sinai their own ethnic history, and more important, why God had intervened to bring them out of Egypt. But those are the subjects of subsequent chapters.