Genesis 11

CHAPTER XI

All the inhabitants of the earth, speaking one language

and dwelling in one place, 1, 2,

purpose to build a city and a tower to prevent their

dispersion, 3, 4.

God confounds their language, and scatters them over

the whole earth, 5-9.

Account of the lives and families of the postdiluvian patriarchs.

Shem, 10, 11.

Arphaxad, 12, 13.

Salah, 14, 15.

Eber, 16, 17.

Peleg, 18,19.

Ragau or Reu, 20, 21.

Serug, 22, 23.

Nahor, 24, 25.

Terah and his three sons, Haran, Nahor, and Abram, 26, 27.

The death of Haran, 28.

Abram marries Sarai, and Nahor marries Milcah, 29.

Sarai is barren, 30.

Terah, Abram, Sarai, and Lot, leave Ur of the Chaldees,

and go to Haran, 31.

Terah dies in Haran, aged two hundred and five years, 32.

NOTES ON CHAP. XI

Verse 1. The whole earth was of one language] The whole

earth-all mankind was of one language, in all likelihood the

HEBREW; and of one speech-articulating the same words in the same

way. It is generally supposed, that after the confusion mentioned

in this chapter, the Hebrew language remained in the family of

Heber. The proper names, and their significations given in the

Scripture, seem incontestable evidences that the Hebrew language

was the original language of the earth-the language in which God

spake to man, and in which he gave the revelation of his will to

Moses and the prophets. "It was used," says Mr. Ainsworth, "in all

the world for one thousand seven hundred and fifty-seven years,

till Phaleg, the son of Heber, was born, and the tower of Babel

was in building one hundred years after the flood, Ge 10:25; 11:9.

After this, it was used among the Hebrews or Jews, called

therefore the Jews' language, Isa 36:11, until they were carried

captive into Babylon, where the holy tongue ceased from being

commonly used, and the mixed Hebrew (or Chaldee) came in its

place." It cannot be reasonably imagined that the Jews lost the

Hebrew tongue entirely in the seventy years of their captivity in

Babylon; yet, as they were mixed with the Chaldeans, their

children would of course learn that dialect, and to them the pure

Hebrew would be unintelligible; and this probably gave rise to the

necessity of explaining the Hebrew Scriptures in the Chaldee

tongue, that the children might understand as well as their

fathers. As we may safely presume the parents could not have

forgotten the Hebrew, so we may conclude the children in general

could not have learned it, as they did not live in an insulated

state, but were mixed with the Babylonians. This conjecture

removes the difficulty with which many have been embarrassed; one

party supposing that the knowledge of the Hebrew language was lost

during the Babylonish captivity, and hence the necessity of the

Chaldee Targums to explain the Scriptures; another party insisting

that this was impossible in so short a period as seventy years.

Verse 2. As they journeyed from the east] Assyria, Mesopotamia,

and the country on the borders and beyond the Euphrates, are

called the east in the sacred writings. Balaam said that the king

of Moab had brought him from the mountains of the east, Nu 23:7.

Now it appears, from Nu 22:5, that Balaam dwelt at Pethor, on

the river Euphrates. And it is very probable that it was from

this country that the wise men came to adore Christ; for it is

said they came from the east to Jerusalem, Mt 2:1. Abraham is

said to have come from the east to Canaan, Isa 41:2; but it is

well known that he came from Mesopotamia and Chaldea. Isa 46:11,

represents Cyrus as coming from the east against Babylon. And the

same prophet represents the Syrians as dwelling eastward of

Jerusalem, Isa 9:12:

The Syrians before, mikkedem, from the east,the same word

which Moses uses here. Daniel Da 11:44, represents Antiochus as

troubled at news received from the east; i.e. of a revolt in the

eastern provinces, beyond the Euphrates.

Noah and his family, landing after the flood on one of the

mountains of Armenia, would doubtless descend and cultivate the

valleys: as they increased, they appear to have passed along the

banks of the Euphrates, till, at the time specified here, they

came to the plains of Shinar, allowed to be the most fertile

country in the east. See Calmet. That Babel was built in the

land of Shinar we have the authority of the sacred text to prove;

and that Babylon was built in the same country we have the

testimony of Eusebius, Praep. Evang., lib. ix., c. 15; and

Josephus, Antiq., lib. i., c. 5.

Verse 3. Let us make brick] It appears they were obliged to

make use of brick, as there was an utter scarcity of stones in

that district; and on the same account they were obliged to use

slime, that is, bitumen, (Vulg.) ασφαλτος, (Septuagint) for

mortar: so it appears they had neither common stone nor

lime-stone; hence they had brick for stone, and asphaltus or

bitumen instead of mortar.

Verse 4. Let us build us a city and a tower] On this subject

there have been various conjectures. Mr. Hutchinson supposed that

the design of the builders was to erect a temple to the host of

heaven-the sun, moon, planets, &c.; and, to support this

interpretation, he says verosho bashshamayim should be

translated, not, whose top may reach unto heaven, for there is

nothing for may reach in the Hebrew, but its head or summit to the

heavens, i.e. to the heavenly bodies: and, to make this

interpretation the more probable, he says that previously to this

time the descendants of Noah were all agreed in one form of

religious worship, (for so he understands vesaphah

achath, and of one lip,) i.e. according to him, they had one

litany; and as God confounded their litany, they began to disagree

in their religious opinions, and branched out into sects and

parties, each associating with those of his own sentiment; and

thus their tower or temple was left unfinished.

It is probable that their being of one language and of one

speech implies, not only a sameness of language, but also a unity

of sentiment and design, as seems pretty clearly intimated in

Ge 11:6. Being therefore strictly united in all things, coming

to the fertile plains of Shinar they proposed to settle themselves

there, instead of spreading themselves over all the countries of

the earth, according to the design of God; and in reference to

this purpose they encouraged one another to build a city and a

tower, probably a temple, to prevent their separation, "lest,"

say they, "we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole

earth:" but God, miraculously interposing, confounded or

frustrated their rebellious design, which was inconsistent with

his will; see De 32:8; Ac 17:26; and, partly by confounding

their language, and disturbing their counsels, they could no

longer keep in a united state; so that agreeing in nothing but the

necessity of separating, they went off in different directions,

and thus became scattered abroad upon the face of the earth. The

Targums, both of Jonathan ben Uzziel and of Jerusalem, assert that

the tower was for idolatrous worship; and that they intended to

place an image on the top of the tower with a sword in its hand,

probably to act as a talisman against their enemies. Whatever

their design might have been, it is certain that this temple or

tower was afterwards devoted to idolatrous purposes.

Nebuchadnezzar repaired and beautified this tower, and it was

dedicated to Bel, or the sun.

An account of this tower, and of the confusion of tongues, is

given by several ancient authors. Herodotus saw the tower and

described it. A sybil, whose oracle is yet extant, spoke both of

it and of the confusion of tongues; so did Eupolemus and Abydenus.

See Bochart Geogr. Sacr., lib. i., c. 13, edit. 1692. On this

point Bochart observes that these things are taken from the

Chaldeans, who preserve many remains of ancient facts; and though

they often add circumstances, yet they are, in general, in some

sort dependent on the text. 1. They say Babel was built by the

giants, because Nimrod, one of the builders, is called in the

Hebrew text gibbor, a mighty man; or, as the Septuagint,

γιγας, a giant. 2. These giants, they say, sprang from the

earth, because, in Ge 10:11, it is said,

He went, min haarets hahiv, out of that earth; but

this is rather spoken of Asshur, who was another of the Babel

builders. 3. These giants are said to have waged war with the

gods, because it is said of Nimrod, Ge 10:9,

He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; or, as others have

rendered it, a warrior and a rebel against the Lord. See Jarchi

in loco. 4. These giants are said to have raised a tower up to

heaven, as if they had intended to have ascended thither. This

appears to have been founded on "whose top may reach to heaven,"

which has been already explained. 5. It is said that the gods

sent strong winds against them, which dispersed both them and

their work. This appears to have been taken from the Chaldean

history, in which it is said their dispersion was made to the four

winds of heaven, bearba ruchey shemaiya, i.e. to

the four quarters of the world. 6. And because the verb

phuts, or naphats, used by Moses, signifies, not only to

scatter, but also to break to pieces; whence thunder,

Isa 30:30, is called

nephets, a breaking to pieces; hence they supposed the whole

work was broken to pieces and overturned. It was probably from

this disguised representation of the Hebrew text that the Greek

and Roman poets took their fable of the giants waging war with the

gods, and piling mountain upon mountain in order to scale heaven.

See Bochart as above.

Verse 5. And the Lord came down] A lesson, says an ancient

Jewish commentator, to magistrates to examine every evidence

before they decree judgment and execute justice.

Verse 6. The people is one, &c.] From this, as before observed,

we may infer, that as the people had the same language, so they

had a unity of design and sentiment. It is very likely that the

original language was composed of monosyllables, that each had a

distinct ideal meaning, and only one meaning; as different

acceptations of the same word would undoubtedly arise, either from

compounding terms, or, when there were but few words in a

language, using them by a different mode of pronunciation to

express a variety of things. Where this simple monosyllabic

language prevailed (and it must have prevailed in the first ages

of the world) men would necessarily have simple ideas, and a

corresponding simplicity of manners. The Chinese language is

exactly such as this; and the Hebrew, if stripped of its vowel

points, and its prefixes, suffixes, and postfixes separated from

their combinations, so that they might stand by themselves, it

would nearly answer to this character even in its present state.

In order therefore to remove this unity of sentiment and design,

which I suppose to be the necessary consequence of such a

language, God confounded their language-caused them to articulate

the same word differently, to affix different ideas to the same

term, and perhaps, by transposing syllables and interchanging

letters, form new terms and compounds, so that the mind of the

speaker was apprehended by the hearer in a contrary sense to what

was intended. This idea is not iii expressed by an ancient French

poet, Du Bartas; and not badly, though rather quaintly,

metaphrased by our countryman, Mr. Sylvester.

Some speak between the teeth, some in the nose, Some in the

throat their words do ill dispose-

"Bring me," quoth one, "a trowel, quickly, quick!"

One brings him up a hammer. "Hew this brick,"

Another bids; and then they cleave a tree;

"Make fast this rope," and then they let it flee.

One calls for planks, another mortar lacks;

They bear the first a stone, the last an axe.

One would have spikes, and him a spade they give;

Another asks a saw, and gets a sieve.

Thus crossly crost, they prate and point in vain:

What one hath made another mars again.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

These masons then, seeing the storm arrived

Of God's just wrath, all weak and heart-deprived,

Forsake their purpose, and, like frantic fools,

Scatter their stuff and tumble down their tools.

DU BARTAS.-Babylon.

I shall not examine how the different languages of the earth

were formed. It certainly was not the work of a moment; different

climates must have a considerable share in the formation of

tongues, by their influence on the organs of speech. The

invention of new arts and trades must give birth to a variety of

terms and expressions. Merchandise, commerce, and the cultivation

of the sciences, would produce their share; and different forms of

government, modes of life, and means of instruction, also

contribute their quota. The Arabic, Chaldee, Syriac, and

AEthiopic, still bear the most striking resemblance to their

parent, the Hebrew. Many others might be reduced to a common

source, yet everywhere there is sufficient evidence of this

confusion. The anomalies even in the most regular languages

sufficiently prove this. Every language is confounded less or

more but that of eternal truth. This is ever the same; in all

countries, climates, and ages, the language of truth, like that

God from whom it sprang, is unchangeable. It speaks in all

tongues, to all nations, and in all hearts: "There is one GOD, the

fountain of goodness, justice, and truth. MAN, thou art his

creature, ignorant, weak, and dependent; but he is

all-sufficient-hates nothing that he has made- loves thee-is able

and willing to save thee; return to and depend on him, take his

revealed will for thy law, submit to his authority, and accept

eternal life on the terms proposed in his word, and thou shalt

never perish nor be wretched." This language of truth all the

ancient and modern Babel builders have not been able to confound,

notwithstanding their repeated attempts. How have men toiled to

make this language clothe their own ideas; and thus cause God to

speak according to the pride, prejudice and worst passions of men!

But through a just judgment of God, the language of all those who

have attempted to do this has been confounded, and the word of the

Lord abideth for ever.

Verse 7. Go to] A form of speech which, whatever it might have

signified formerly, now means nothing. The Hebrew habah

signifies come, make preparation, as it were for a journey, the

execution of a purpose, &c. Almost all the versions understand

the word in this way; the Septuagint have δευτε, the Vulgate

venite, both signifying come, or come ye. This makes a very

good sense, Come, let its go down, &c. For the meaning of these

latter words see Ge 1:26, and Ge 18:21.

Verse 9. Therefore is the name of it called Babel] babel,

from bal, to mingle, confound, destroy; hence Babel,

from the mingling together and confounding of the projects and

language of these descendants of Noah; and this confounding did

not so much imply the producing new languages, as giving them a

different method of pronouncing the same words, and leading them

to affix different ideas to them.

Besides Mr. Hutchinson's opinion, (See Clarke on Ge 11:4,) there

have been various conjectures concerning the purpose for which this

tower was built. Some suppose it was intended to prevent the

effects of another flood, by affording an asylum to the builders

and their families in case of another general deluge. Others

think that it was designed to be a grand city, the seat of

government, in order to prevent a general dispersion. This God

would not permit, as he had purposed that men should be dispersed

over the earth, and therefore caused the means which they were

using to prevent it to become the grand instrument of its

accomplishment. Humanly speaking, the earth could not have so

speedily peopled, had it not been for this very circumstance which

the counsel of man had devised to prevent it. Some say that these

builders were divided into seventy-two nations, with seventy-two

different languages; but this is an idle, unfounded tale.

Verse 10. These are the generations of Shem] This may he called

the holy family, as from it sprang Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the

twelve patriarchs, David, Solomon, and all the great progenitors

of the Messiah.

We have already seen that the Scripture chronology, as it exists

in the Hebrew text, the Samaritan, the Septuagint, Josephus, and

some of the fathers, is greatly embarrassed; and it is yet much

more so in the various systems of learned and unlearned

chronologists. For a full and rational view of this subject, into

which the nature of these notes forbids me farther to enter, I

must refer my reader to Dr. Hales's laborious work, "A New

Analysis of Sacred Chronology," vol. ii., part 1, &c., in which he

enters into the subject with a cautious but firm step; and, if he

has not been able to remove all its difficulties, has thrown very

considerable light upon most parts of it.

Verse 12. And Arphaxad lived] The Septuagint bring in here a

second Cainan, with an addition of one hundred and thirty years.

St. Luke follows the Septuagint, and brings in the same person in

the same way. But the Hebrew text, both here and in 1Ch 1:1-28,

is perfectly silent on this subject, and the best chronologists

have agreed in rejecting this as a spurious generation.

Verse 26. And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor,

and Haran.] Haran was certainly the eldest son of Terah, and he

appears to have been born when Terah was about seventy years of

age, and his birth was followed in successive periods with those

of Nahor his second, and Abram his youngest son. Many have been

greatly puzzled with the account here, supposing because Abram is

mentioned first, that therefore he was the eldest son of Terah:

but he is only put first by way of dignity. An in stance of this

we have already seen, Ge 5:32, where Noah is represented as

having Shem, Ham, and Japheth in this order of succession; whereas

it is evident from other scriptures that Shem was the youngest

son, who for dignity is named first, as Abram is here; and Japheth

the eldest, named last, as Haran is here. Terah died two

hundred and five years old, Ge 11:32; then Abram departed from

Haran when seventy-five years old, Ge 12:4; therefore Abram was

born, not when his father Terah was seventy, but when he was one

hundred and thirty.

When any case of dignity or pre-eminence is to be marked, then

even the youngest son is set before all the rest, though contrary

to the usage of the Scriptures in other cases. Hence we find

Shem, the youngest son of Noah, always mentioned first; Moses

is mentioned before his elder brother Aaron; and Abram before his

two elder brethren Haran and Nahor. These observations are

sufficient to remove all difficulty from this place.

Verse 29. Milcah, the daughter of Haran] Many suppose Sarai and

Iscah are the same person under two different names; but this is

improbable, as Iscah is expressly said to be the daughter of

Haran, and Sarai was the daughter of Terah, and half sister of

Abram.

Verse 31. They went forth-front Ur of the Chaldees] Chaldea is

sometimes understood as comprising the whole of Babylonia; at

other times, that province towards Arabia Deserta, called in

Scripture The land of the Chaldeans. The capital of this place was

Babylon, called in Scripture The beauty of the Chaldees'

excellency, Isa 13:19.

Ur appears to have been a city of some considerable consequence

at that time in Chaldea; but where situated is not well known. It

probably had its name Ur , which signifies fire, from the

worship practised there. The learned are almost unanimously of

opinion that the ancient inhabitants of this region were

ignicolists or worshippers of fire, and in that place this sort

of worship probably originated; and in honour of this element, the

symbol of the Supreme Being, the whole country, or a particular

city in it, might have had the name Ur. Bochart has observed

that there is a place called Ouri, south of the Euphrates, in the

way from Nisibis to the river Tigris. The Chaldees mentioned here

had not this name in the time of which Moses speaks, but they were

called so in the time in which Moses wrote. Chesed was the son

of Nahor, the son of Terah, Ge 22:22. From Chesed descended the

Chasdim, whose language was the same as that of the Amorites,

Da 1:4; 2:4. These

Chasdim, whence the χαλδαιοι, Chaldeans, of the Septuagint,

Vulgate, and all later versions, afterwards settled on the south

of the Euphrates. Those who dwelt in Ur were either priests or

astronomers, Da 2:10, and also idolaters, Jos 24:2, 3, 14, 15.

And because they were much addicted to astronomy, and probably to

judicial astrology, hence all astrologers were, in process of

time, called Chaldeans, Da 2:2-5.

The building of Babel, the confusion of tongues, and the first

call of Abram, are three remarkable particulars in this chapter;

and these led to the accomplishment of three grand and important

designs: 1. The peopling of the whole earth; 2. The

preservation of the true religion by the means of one family; and

3. The preservation of the line uncorrupted by which the Messiah

should come. When God makes a discovery of himself by a

particular revelation, it must begin in some particular time, and

be given to some particular person, and in some particular place.

Where, when, and to whom, are comparatively matters of small

importance. It is God's gift; and his own wisdom must determine

the time, the person, and the place. But if this be the case,

have not others cause to complain because not thus favoured? Not

at all, unless the favouring of the one for a time should

necessarily cut off the others for ever. But this is not the

case. Abram was first favoured; that time, that country, and that

person were chosen by infinite wisdom, for there and then God

chose to commence these mighty operations of Divine goodness.

Isaac and Jacob also received the promises, the twelve patriarchs

through their father, and the whole Jewish people through them.

Afterwards the designs of God's endless mercy were more

particularly unfolded; and the word, which seemed to be confined

for two thousand years to the descendants of a single family,

bursts forth on all hands, salvation is preached to the Gentiles,

and thus in Abram's seed all the nations of the earth are blessed.

Hence none can find fault, and none can have cause to complain;

as the salvation which for a time appeared to be restricted to a

few, is now on the authority of God, liberally offered to the

whole human race!

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