Archive for March 15th, 2009

Genesis 10-11 “Nimrod and the Tower of Babel”

Posted on March 15, 2009. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Redeemer Church Sunday School: Genesis Class

Genesis 10-11 “Nimrod and the Tower of Babel

Sunday, 03-15-2009

Bryan E. Walker


Read Luke 10:1-12


Introduction: We come now to one of those chapters in the Bible that modern day readers will tend to skip over, speed read, and wonder not “What does the Lord have for me today in this text?” but, rather, “Why did God allow such boring stuff to be placed in his inspired word?” Genealogies and tables of nations are not anybody’s favorites, but I am of the conviction that all of God’s Word is inspired, inerrant, infallible and useful for doctrine, ethics, worship and application. One of the mottos of this class is “No Fear!” We are going to approach God’s Word without fear, whether that means dealing with a text that is going to confront us with hard truths and conviction over our sin, or if a text is just plain hard and challenging to figure out. In this class we are taking the long, slow approach to Bible study, so that means we will look at the details of even chapters 10-11.


In this text we find something that is unique to all ancient literature and something that is used time and again throughout Scripture even into the New Testament. The purposes for Moses in including this table of nations and genealogy include: 1) showing the descendents of Noah’s sons and explaining how the earth was repopulated after the flood, 2) explaining the sources of all the peoples around Israel, 3) showing that all nations, all people, come from one ancestor, 4) leading up to the selection of one man from all these peoples, Abraham, to become a blessing for all peoples. In addition to these purposes of Moses, I believe we can look at this text through the New Testament and see a mandate for our taking the Gospel to the Nations as the Great Commission commands us. This morning, then, I want us to seek to understand what Moses wanted his people to understand, but then to also see a bit of how this text is used throughout Scripture, in particular how Jesus may have used this text and how we ought to have a concern for international missions and have a love for all people regardless of the ethnic background.


I.                   Literary Analysis- Discover what the Text Actually Says

A.     The Brackets tell a story

1.      Verses 1 and 32 mirror each other and put all of ch. 10 into their bracket. But there is also a link with 9:28, 29 and 5:32. In a sense, the whole flood narrative of 6:1-9:27 is an in depth break between the genealogies of ch.5 and 10.

2.      Within ch.10-11 there are two smaller, parenthetical narratives. 10:8-9 and 11:1-9 and the stories of Nimrod and Babel. The genealogy picks back up with 11:10 and continues to vs.26 and Terah. Then, with vss.27-32 the genealogy ends with the death of Terah and ch.12 begins the long story of Abraham, through whom the nations were to be blessed (12:3)



B.     The Numbers tell a story

1.      The table makes extensive use of the number 7 throughout. There are 70 nations listed though a little fiddling must be used. In verse 14 there is a probable later addition about the Philistines who were a later people group after Moses’ day and likewise Gomer represents the Cimmerians, another people group much later than Moses.

2.      You have the 3 sons of Noah: Japheth has fourteen descendants listed in two groups of 7- his 7 sons and then the 3 sons of Gomer and the 4 sons of Javan. Ham has 30 descendants and one of his sons, Cush, has 5 sons and 2 grandsons listed for another 7 while Egypt fathers 7 sons. Shem is listed with 26 descendants. The favorite term is bene’– sons of- occurring 14 times. And in 11:26 we see that Terah was 70, and he fathered Abram, Nahor and Haran.

3.      Gen. 46:27 “All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were 70.” Exodus 1:5 “All the descendants of Jacob were 70 persons.”

4.      The number 70 represents completeness.

C.     Difficulties

1.      There are many difficulties in the text, first of which is the uniqueness of the text. This kind of a list of people and nations is actually unique in ancient literature, so it is hard to compare with other documents. Kenneth A. Mathews writes, (NABC, vol.1A Genesis 1-11:26, Broadman&Holman: Nashville, 1996, p.432) “The Table of Nations in Genesis remains unique among ancient peoples and enigmatic in many ways to the modern reader. The Chronicler adapted this chapter (1 Chr 1:4-23) in recounting the genealogy from Adam to Jacob….Otherwise there is no parallel to the table in antiquity. This alone should sober any hasty judgment questioning its value.”

2.      There are differing formulae used in the composition of the list. Clearly there are individual names of people listed, like Nimrod and Peleg and Terah. But there are also people groups listed like Kittim in v.4 and the Jebusites, Amorites and all those other ites in vs. 16. There are places listed such as Ninevah and Babylon and there are people that are also places like Elam, Assur, Lud. There is some duplication of names like Havilah and Sheba listed as belonging to both Hamites and Shemites in v.7 and vv28-29.

3.      Keep in mind that lists like this have a theological purpose and are not meant to be all inclusive or complete. Moses wanted the number to total 70. Many peoples are left out, such as the Moabites and Ammonites. Many of the people groups listed we have no other records of in history. Many generations and many years were skipped over. The list is representative not comprehensive.

D.    Links between the Table of Nations and the Tower of Babel Story

1.      The average reader today would tend to totally divide the Table of Nations Genealogy from the Tower of Babel story, but Moses did not. The two are clearly linked by Moses’ use of words in several wordplays. Class: look at 10:5,10,18,20 30-32 and compare with 11:1-2,4,6-9, to find similar words used. The use of the term eres or land/earth in vss. 10:5, 20, 31-32 and 11:1, 8-9. The words for language-leson, sapa- in 10:5, 20, 31-32 and 11:1, 6-7,9. Spread- dispersed-divided- parad, pus, palag- in 10:5, 18, 25, 32 and 11:4,8,9. Babel and Shinar in 10:10 and 11:2,9. The east, 10:30 and 11:2; the word play of Peleg-divided and Babel-confused. The table’s chief figure is Nimrod who founded Babel, the place of the tower. Nimrod’s deeds were “before the LORD” and the LORD came down to see Nimrod’s city.

2.      The tower of Babel story breaks the genealogy of Shem into two parts for a purpose. First you have Shem>Joktan>Babel, then afterwards you have Shem>Peleg>Abram. Structurally what this points out is the non-elect descendents of Shem, the Joktan line, ends in the judgment and confusion of the Tower of Babel while the elect line of Peleg ends with the promise and hope seen in Abraham. This is an excellent example of how Moses could use the structure of his writing for a theological purpose.

E.     Links Between the Tower of Babel and Gen.1-4

1.      Ch.11:1-9 is in some ways the conclusion of Gen. 1-11 so Moses links the Tower story with Gen. 1-4.

2.      Man-‘adam and passim in 1:26f and 11:5. Heavens- samayim- in 1:8,26 and 11:4. One- ‘ehad- 1:5,9 and 11:1,6. The Divine plural is used in 1:26 and 11:7. The consequences of sin in ch.3 bring a casting out and in ch.11 a scattering. In ch.3 Eve tries to achieve power independently of God as do the people of Babel in 11. Like Eden, Babel is between the rivers. Like the Cain story in ch.4 now in ch.11 there is a migration and a building of a city.

F.      Geography Tells a Story

1.      Japheths descendents are the Gentiles scattered to the North by the Black Sea (Gomer and Magog) and to the West, perhaps as far as Spain (Tarshish) and Italy (Tiras-Etruscans).

2.      The sons of Ham went to the SE into Arabia (Sheba and Dedan) and to the SW into Africa (Egypt, Cush, Put) and into the area of Canaan.

3.      The descendents of Shem went East into Mesopotamia.


II.                Theological Analysis- Understand what the Text Means

A.     The Blessing of 9:1 is fulfilled

1.      The growth and dispersal of Noah’s family shows the blessing of God in 9:1 being fulfilled. They were being fruitful, multiplying and filling the earth. This blessing eventually focuses on Abram in 12:1-3, who is to be blessing to all the families of the earth. From one family and one man, Noah, came many families in the Table of Nations.

2.      From many families in the Table of Nations, one man, Abram, is chosen to start a new people and ultimately bring forth the Messiah, Jesus. Jesus will draw all men to himself as he is lifted up, John 12:32 “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Rev. 21:22-26 “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day- and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.”

B.     Sin Brings Chastisement at the Tower

1.      There is a definite link between Nimrod, founder of Babel in the land of Shinar, and the Tower of Babel in the plain of Shinar. In 10:9 Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.” This can be interpreted meaning Nimrod has God’s favor or, in light of the hubris shown in the Tower story of 11:1-9, it can mean Nimrod was rebellious and sinful. The third option is that it is neutral and merely descriptive of his prowess as a hunter/warrior. I favor the interpretation that he was proud and rebellious because of the strong links with the Tower story.

2.      The events in ch.11:1-9 are chronologically prior to most of the genealogy in ch.10. The Tower of Babel story explains the dispersal and diversity of ch.10.

3.      Chiastic structure of the Tower story emphasizes God’s “coming down” in judgment.

v.1 The whole world had one language

            v.2 there

                        v.3 each other

                                    v.3 Come, let us make bricks

                                                v.4 Come, let us build for ourselves

                                                            v.4 a city, with a tower

                                                                        v.5 the LORD came down

                                                            v.5 the city and the tower

                                                v.5 that the men were building

                                    v.7 Come let us confuse

                        v.7 each other

            v.8 from there

v.9 the language of the whole world

4.      Man is still essentially one family, interrelated and                            interconnected. We have more in common with each other than any of the   other creations of God. WE are all created in the image of God. The blessings upon Noah are universal still. In Christ we have a new humanity that restores what sin has disrupted.

5.      God is still the God of all nations though he is not acknowledged by all. He remains the Creator of all and he rules all the nations sovereignly. The hearts of kings are in his hand to turn at his will. Acts 17:26 “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place”. Do you think maybe Paul had read Genesis?

6.      Babel, or Babylon, meaning “gateway of the gods”,was one of the cities of ancient Mesopotamia and became the seat of a small empire by about 2300BC. Hammurabi was the most famous king of old Babylon, reigning from 1795-1750 BC, and famous for his Law Code. The only ancient copy of Hammurabi’s Code, a 7’ stele made of basalt, was found in 1901by Gustav Jequier.

7.      Babylon was eventually overshadowed by the Akkadian Empire but a Neo-Babylonian Empire was founded by Nabopolasser who threw off the yoke of the Assyrian Empire in 626BC. It was this Neo-Babylonian Empire that invaded Judah and took Jerusalem by siege, destroying it and carrying off the Jews into exile in 586BC under Nebuchadnezzar.

8.      Jeremiah 51:47-58 is a prophecy of the Fall of Babylon and has an allusion to the Tower perhaps, in v.53.

9.      Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:1-21. Babylon represents the kingdom of man, man centered worship or idolatry and immorality. It will ultimately fall just as God scattered the original Babel.


III.             Application

A.     Jesus sent out the 70 (72) Lk.10:1-12

1.      Some mss have 70 and others 72. 

2.      When we look at the 70 nations represented in Gen. 10 and then see Jesus sending out the 70 followers and conclude with the Great Commission of Matt. 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8 we can only reach the conclusion that we are to carry the Gospel to every people group, every tribe, tongue and nation so that on the Day when the LORD comes down again, he has a Church that represents the whole world, for his glory.

3.      This world will ultimately face a judgment day, the day of the Lord. On that day, who can stand? Only those covered by the blood of the Lamb.

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