Genesis 10:1 This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons, who themselves had sons after the flood.
For humanity to survive after the flood, Noah’s sons had to reproduce, and here we find the names of their offspring. The Bible contains many genealogies and, while not always inspiring, they show we are part of a much larger story. Like those who have gone before, we are born into the world, play a part, and then we die. Our lives are made up of the choices we make, and each day is a new page on which to write our story.
Genesis 10:8-12 Cush was the father of Nimrod. . . . The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Uruk, Akkad and Kalneh, in Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah and Resen.
Nimrod was a builder of civilizations. Whether he was good or evil is not clear, but if we enjoy the benefits of an advanced civilization, we ought to be thankful for those who helped build it. This will include politicians, teachers, parents, artists, soldiers, merchants and laborers. Great societies happen because people give their best. It is our duty to God (Genesis 1:28), and others (Romans 13:9), to contribute to society by giving our best throughout our lives.
Genesis 11:1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.
For many years communication flowed freely as the world enjoyed a single language. This facilitated the advance of culture and society. Instead of using social progress as a way to glorify God, however, they used it to rebel against him. Instead of pursuing God’s glory, they pursued their own.
Genesis 11:4 [L]et us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.
In short, they wanted to be famous. They wanted to build a city with a magnificent tower that would distinguish them, and win the approval of others. They wanted to well known, and very highly respected. This still explains why many people do the things they do.
Many build homes they cannot afford to impress people they do not even like. Others buy expensive cars for the same reason. Our purpose on earth is not to bring glory to ourselves, however, but to the God who made us for himself. Not to us, Lord, . . . but to your name be the glory (Psalm 115:1), wrote the Psalmist. This is a great relief, and a wonderful blessing, once we embrace it.
Genesis 11:6 The Lord said, If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.
Nothing is impossible for God, of course. But here we learn that, under the right circumstances, nothing is impossible for us. This is the clearest statement of human potential in the Bible, and was spoken by God himself. When people work together toward a common goal, there is little they cannot achieve.
This is more obvious today than ever before. Technological developments have produced better machines, medicines and institutions than the world has ever known. Since the rate of progress is accelerating rapidly, it is hard to imagine where we will be in just a hundred years.
But there is a problem. Unified people often produce a world that is opposed to God. The people in this story had little concern for God, and wanted to build a city without him. But God does not like that, and will not allow it to continue forever.
Genesis 11:7-6 [L]et us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other. So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.
How strange it must have been to go to work that day, and find so many people speaking other languages. The bosses could not communicate with the foremen; the foremen could not communicate with the laborers; and no one knew what to do. The community broke apart, as people went their ways, with whoever spoke their language.
Millenia later, the world remains divided by over six thousand languages, making communication difficult. But after Jesus rose from the dead, God did something different. People from various countries were gathered in Jerusalem, when the Spirit enabled the disciples to speak in languages the people could understand. [W]e hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues (Acts 2:11), they said.
God confused the human language because of our sin, but he let us hear the gospel because of his grace. We still have different languages, but all who believe in Jesus Christ are united by faith. This is a greater unity than sharing a common language, and is based on the knowledge of God. God is reversing the curse of this event through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Genesis 11:9 That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world.
Babel and confused are similar in Hebrew, so the writer made a play on words. Indeed, the more a culture turns from God, the more confused it is. Babylon was later destroyed, and stands for all civilizations opposed to God. [A] mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said: With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again (Revelation 18:21), wrote John.
God is not opposed to cities or progress, but the purpose of both are to glorify him. Human centered cities come and go, but the city of God will last forever. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come (Hebrews 13:14), says Hebrews. [That] city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp (Revelation 21:23), wrote John.
God has a plan for the earth to be subdued and filled with his people (Genesis 1:28). Sin has brought frustration, but God’s plan will still be accomplished. God and his people will live together, in a perfect world of his design—and it will never end. This is the future of all who belong to Jesus Christ.
Reflection and Review
Why are genealogies helpful?
Is it wrong to desire fame?
What does God think of cities?