Genesis 10-11: “God's Continuing Plan” · March 4, 2009
Chapters ten and eleven of Genesis conclude what is referred to as the prehistory of the Bible. These eleven chapters give an explanation of who God is, who humans are and what sin is. It is important, I believe, to see these passages in the context of the Babylonian Captivity of Israel which took place during the sixth century B.C. As we’ve seen, the writing down of the inspired Word of God regarding the origin of all things is also a commentary on the false beliefs of the Babylonians. The children of Israel had to teach and pass on the truth of God in the midst of a culture that was very alien to them.
The Table of the Nations – Genesis 10:1-32
- This is an attempt to list the known nations of the world that are descended from Noah and his family. One of the points is that, in spite of the differences in geography and language, the whole human race is descended from the same source. Humans then are essentially equal.
- The figure of Nimrod has been much discussed (Genesis 10:8-9). He is called “the first on earth to become a mighty warrior.” He may have been a pagan deity or hero. It’s hard to know how he relates to what were seemingly earlier heroes mentioned in Genesis 6:4. The most important point is that he was probably a figure known in the Babylon in which this was first written down. There are no gods or heroes outside of the one true God who made heaven and earth.
- All of this represents a new beginning after the flood.
The Tower of Babel – Genesis 11:1-9
- This is a different story from the Table of Nations. It is a direct commentary on one of the Babylonians’ most cherished beliefs.
- This is a reinterpretation of the story of Marduk who creates the world out of the carcass of the giant sea serpent, Tiamat (cf. Psalm 74:12-17; Isaiah 27:1). In this story everyone only spoke one language because Marduk had just created human beings and the world (In the Table of Nations it is acknowledged that there already were different languages, Genesis 10:5, 20).
- Marduk in The Babylonian Creation establishes his rule over the entire cosmos (which he has created) and all gods and goddesses. The suggestion is made to honor Marduk with the building of a great temple. They then proceed to build “Tall Babel Tower.” The lesser gods spend a year in its construction. It was built so high it was called “the symbol of infinite heaven.” Marduk and the other gods have their special lodging within it. A great banquet follows in the tower. Babylon is proclaimed “dear city of god.” The other gods then proclaim Marduk, “King of Kings, Lord of the Lords.”
- Everyone living in Babylon in this period knew this story. It was inscribed and told in all the central gathering places of the city. While up to this point Genesis has commented on key themes of the Babylonians such as the deceitful serpent (Genesis 3:1), the woman who is “the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20), the birth of the great heroes (Genesis 6:1-4) and the story of the universal flood (Genesis 7-8), this last story is a direct contradiction of one of their most sacred beliefs, the building of the Tower of Babel to the glory of the great god, Marduk.
There are several important emphases in the Genesis retelling of this story.
- The Biblical story accepts the premise (for the sake of the narrative) that there was only one language at this time, Babylonian (this is clearly not the case from the Table of Nations).
- It is not “gods” who build the temple but human beings.
- The tower rather than rising to “infinite heaven” is a pathetic attempt. The Lord, the true God, has to come down to see it. Nevertheless, these mortals are extending themselves to accomplish the impossible (Genesis 11:6).
- God judges them by confusing their language. The attempt of Babylon to be the one world power with one culture and one language fails (cf. Isaiah 13:19, 14:13-15). The people are scattered throughout “the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:9).
- Babylon will remain for all time as the symbol of false belief and false gods opposed to the one true God (Isaiah 47:1-15, Jeremiah 50:1-3, “Bel” = Baal; “Merodach” is Hebrew for Marduk; I Peter 5:13; Revelation 17-18). The goddess Ishtar is called “the great whore” (Revelation 17:1), nor will the goddess Inanna, who removes her clothes at the gateway to hell, be spared (Isaiah 47:2-4; cf. Mark 6:22 which may refer to the dance of the seven veils in honor of Inanna).
The Birth of Abram
- The story of humanity continues picking up apparently from Genesis 10:31-32 with the descendents of Shem (Genesis 11:10). The story of the Tower of Babel than has apparently been inserted into the narrative.
- All of this prepares us for the birth of Abram and the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation. If Noah is the first savior figure in Scripture, Abraham is the father of faith (Romans 4:16).
We learn several critical themes about Abram and his family.
- They initially live in Ur of the Chaldeans (Genesis 11:28). This was a major city in the south of Mesopotamia. It was a center for false gods and included the ritual of human sacrifice.
- Abram marries Sarai but she is barren (Genesis 11:29-30).
- They leave Ur of the Chaldeans and settle in Haran. This sets the stage for the call of Abraham and God’s full plan of salvation.
A Summary of the Prologue (Genesis 1-11)
- There is one God who made the world through his Word. The creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
- Humanity is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Eve is created to be a partner for the man (“Adam”). It is not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18-25). Nakedness is neither a symbol of vulnerability nor sexuality as in the Babylonian myths. Here it symbolizes innocence (Genesis 2:25).
- Humanity rebels against God. The sin of Adam and Eve is intensified by Cain’s killing of Abel (Genesis 4:8) and the entire creation sinking into corruption and violence (Genesis 6:1-13).
- God sends a flood as a sign of judgment. One righteous man, Noah and his family are spared. God gives the rainbow as a pledge that he will not destroy the earth again (Genesis 8:21, 9:11-13).
- However, human nature has not changed. Every inclination of the human heart is evil from youth (Genesis 8:21). Noah becomes drunk and is violated by his son Ham (Genesis 9:20-27).
- Humanity expands and spreads over the whole earth, each group with its boundaries and language (Genesis 10:31).
- Humanity’s biggest rebellion is the attempt to build the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).
- God prepares Abram (who will become Abraham) to begin the plan for the salvation of the world first announced to Adam and Eve after their sin (Genesis 3:15).
- Throughout this entire account the beliefs and values of Babylon are exposed as false. Marduk, Baal, Inanna, Ishtar and the rest are false gods. There is only one true God. Babylon symbolizes the culture of the fallen world. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords will not be Marduk or Caesar, but the risen Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:16).
Questions for Us –
- What lessons can we learn living in our modern day Babylon from the way Genesis 1-11 encounters and exposes the myths of Babylon? What are the prominent myths of our time?
- Even though God often judges human beings, he never abandons us. What hope can we take from that fact?
- Abram and his family leave Ur and begin the journey to Canaan. This is the journey from the land of false belief to the land of God’s promise. Yet they stop in Haran and settle there before coming to the land of promise. What does this account say about our own spiritual journeys? What encouragement can we take from the fact that leaving the land of false belief does not bring us immediately into the promised land (cf. Moses’ forty years in the wilderness)?
On Sunday, March 15 we will have a review and discussion of Genesis 1-11 at 5 pm in Grace Presbyterian Church. We invite all who have been part of the “on-line Bible study” to join us.