31. Genesis 10:1 – 11:26 and I Chronicles 1:5-27

II.  C. continued

2. Babel and the Nations (Genesis 10:1 – 11:26 and I Chronicles 1:5-27)

The fourth means of restraining evil was the confusion of language at the Tower of Babel. The background of Babel is given in Genesis 10:8-12. Nimrod was a descendant (the number of generations being unspecified) of Ham through his eldest son, Cush. Comparing 10:7 and 10:8 illustrates how the word “fathered” or “begat” is used in the general sense of “became the ancestor of” and why the genealogies cannot be counted on for dating purposes. Nimrod was not a son of Cush, but Cush fathered Nimrod as his ancestor. Nimrod became a mighty one on the earth, what we would call a tyrant, and the list of the cities that he founded suggests that after the Flood he was the first of the emperors, the first of the kings of men who was not content with his own kingdom but wanted all the surrounding kingdoms as well. His example would inspire many followers among the city-states of Mesopotamia.

The name “Nimrod” comes from a word that means “we will revolt”. The phrase in 10:9 that became a proverb, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord” is misleading. The meaning of the proverb is more nearly, “Like Nimrod, a might hunter against (in opposition to) the Lord.” He was a hunter not willing to hunt mere animals; he hunted men and subjugated them and made himself a mighty name in the earth; and I think it means that he hunted God like he hunted game. Nimrod was the first of that pattern of men who exalt themselves to be equal to God, following the example of the serpent he belonged to, which stretches down to Napoleon and Stalin, perhaps even to us. In particular Nimrod was the founder of Babel.

It is not stated when the division of the languages happened, whether it was in the time of Nimrod or later, but it is consistent with the character of Nimrod, the little we glimpse of it, that he inspired or instigated the building of the tower into heaven. His intent, their intent, was not so much to exalt themselves to heaven, as to attack heaven, to storm its gates, to make it their own. From the tower of Babel to the end of Revelations, Babel, and its successor Babylon, became the standard name for the power of this world arrayed against God and against His kingdom.

There is a natural process of evolution of language; once a tribe with a single language splits up, the language they had shared grows into distinct dialects as a result. The descendants of Noah and any peoples that might have migrated to other parts of the world before the Flood would have already begun to form distinct languages. But whatever dialects grew up before the Tower of Babel would have been related, perhaps closely enough to be mutually intelligible, certainly closely enough to be recognized as the same linguistic family. Linguistic evolution explains how Italian and Russian diverged but it is not clear that it can explain how Italian and Chinese could come from a common root. The linguistic diversity in the world today, containing languages that have nothing in common with each other whatsoever, suggests that language originated from many different sources independently. This could have come from language itself arising in different human contexts without divine intervention; or from the confusion of language at Babel, a real event at which the different linguistic families arose by divine decree. Linguists, as scientists, are of course committed to finding a purely natural explanation; it is enough for my purpose to point out that, assuming a meddlesome God, Babel as an actual event is plausible.

Linguists can not look far without the confirmation of written records, which do not exist from before 3000 b.c. They must make their inferences on the assumption that the linguistic evolution we observe in the present is substantially the same as it has always been. The parent language, Indo-European, from which nearly all the European, Iranian and Indian languages sprouted, is believed to date to about 4000 b.c. but could have been earlier. Thus current linguistic theory maintains that 6000 years of migrations and natural development was sufficient to produce the enormous variety of language that we see in Europe, Iran and India out of a single language. This may seem a surprisingly short length of time to account for such diversity, but just consider how much trouble you have understanding Shakespeare and multiply that by fifteen. Thus, assuming Indo-European to be a result of the confusion of languages at Babel, if something like Babel happened around 4000 b.c., it accounts for what we have. The city of Uruk (Erech in the Bible, also attributed to Nimrod) dates very nearly that early.

There are a few miscellaneous observations to be made. The division of language into various types did not necessarily coincide with genealogical relations. Descendants of Ham were not all speakers of Hamitic languages, as they are now classified, and descendants of Shem were not all necessarily speakers of Semitic languages, though there is a high degree of correlation. And there is no reason to think that any modern language is related to the language before the Flood. For example, Sumerian seems to be unrelated to every linguistic family currently existing; perhaps Sumerian was the original language, or any of a number of ancient languages that are now dead and not like anything else in the world. The confusion of language was worldwide, I think, and not restricted to the neighborhood of Babel. Linguists do not have a clear idea of how many families of languages, on the level of Indo-European, there are because the many languages of Africa, Asia and the Americas are not well known, but there may be hundreds of families of language that exist today or that have become extinct, and that are unrelated to one another.

“Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” Their goal was the usual arrogant one, to make something which would challenge heaven, to raise themselves to the level of God and stand face to face with Him.  Generally when people wish to look God in the eye it is not because they love Him but because they despise Him; those who love Him are too much in awe to dare try to look at Him, however much they might desire to. But secondly, the goal of Babel was to name themselves. In other words, they wanted to define themselves apart from their relationship to God; they wanted to give themselves a name, a name which would not express relationship, would not open up the possibility of relationship, but would express a lack of relationship to God or other people or to nature. Don’t miss the irony of their punishment. They wanted to give themselves a name, so God essentially replied, “Go ahead. Give yourselves hundreds of names.” This is what an ethnic group essentially is, a people who name themselves out of relationship to their neighbors.

But God “came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built”. Nimrod may have planned to attack God or the gods to hang them on his wall like trophies, but there was no serious danger here. They may have planned to build a bridge to heaven and attack God on His throne, but in the end all our bridges get no where, like all our religions. Heaven is always still a long way off. So God had to take a journey to see their puny tower. Such a pretence of being eye to eye with God is one that is just asking to be challenged. History is full of other examples of “towers of Babel” since then; nation after nation has exalted itself in just such a way, including perhaps our own. Didn’t the Puritan settlers come here with the intent of establishing a righteous kingdom, a kingdom of God on earth? Even good people with the best of intentions, as no doubt the Puritans were, can suddenly turn out to be working for a different master with different priorities. It is a scheme of the devil that hell would be assembled brick by brick by the servants of God. Babel takes on a Christian disguise whenever it can.

Genesis 11:6,7 says, “And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ ” The suggestion here is that the purpose of ethnic groups is to prevent the evil which we would be capable of if we were to be united. As long as we are fighting each other we will not be cooperating in evil. It would seem to be God’s opinion that we must be divided into uncooperative and warring nations in order to minimize the evil that we are capable of when we do cooperate. The Messiah pointed out that a house divided against itself cannot stand, and one of the first tactical maneuvers God made in the long warfare of the spirit was to make sure the kingdom of hell, a.k.a. the kingdom of this world, was exactly that, divided against itself.

Let’s briefly considering the genealogy of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The genealogy is probably incomplete. In order to focus on the tribes of immediate concern to the history of the Jews, many that could have been included may have been left out. Here are the most important identifications that can be made in the genealogy in chapter 10; some of the identifications are more in dispute than others:

  • The descendants of Japheth are generally the Europeans: Gomer, (the Cimmerians) leading to Ashkenaz (traditionally the Germans); Riphath (the Celts); Togarmah (the Armenians); Magog (the Scythians); Madai (the Medes); Javan (the Ionian Greeks) leading to Elishah (the Aeolian Greeks); Tarshish (possibly the Etruscans); Kittim (?); Dodanim (the Illyrians); Tubal (?); Meshech (?); and Tiras (the Thracians).
  • The descendants of Ham were Cush (the Ethiopians); Mizraim (the Egyptians) leading to Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, Pathrusim, Casluhim (the Philistines), and Caphtorim; Put (the Libyans); and Canaan leading to Sidon, Heth (the Hittites), and the various tribes of the Canaanites.
  • The descendents of Shem were Elam (the Elamites); Asshur (the Assyrians); Arpachshad leading to Shelah (the Hebrews, Arabs, and others); Lud (the Lydians); and Aram leading to Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash.

The section concludes with a more detailed account of the genealogy of Shem leading to Abram. In this genealogy the shortening of the lifespan is quite evident. This genealogy also provides the only data for when the sons of Noah began having children of their own, Shem having a son two years after the Flood. Otherwise this genealogy needs no further comment except to point out that Shem bore the oral tradition that had been preserved from the beginning to the time of Noah. Ham and Japheth would also have been heir to that tradition, but apparently did not choose to preserve it for whatever reason. Note however that the Epic of Gilgamesh and the pagan accounts of the creation and the Flood originated with the Sumerians, whose ancestry is unknown but who were not listed as descendants of Shem.

It is a hard thing to think that a united and peaceful human race is undesirable, but this seems to be the view here: the present condition of war and national strife is the lesser of two evils. Despite the horror of human history, we have little concept of what evil fate would have been ours if the world had been united. It would have been something like a repeat on a larger scale of whatever the world was like before Noah. On the other hand, it is only in recent years that the strife between nations has become worldwide in scope and capable of doing permanent and irreversible damage to the whole world. Perhaps this means that ethnic boundaries have outlasted their benefits and are now a liability. Perhaps this means that we are now at a time in which Babel will be undone and we will have to face the alternative it was meant to prevent. Perhaps it means we are nearing the end of the Covenant of Preservation, when all of the Covenants will be swallowed up in the final redemption.

In fact, the Messiah has already completed the curse of Babel by acting Himself to reverse it. The so-called Great Commission is exactly the undoing of Babel, the reunification of all the tongues of the world into a single people under the headship of the Messiah. The gift of tongues at Pentecost was another sign that the Kingdom of God was taking the world back to before Babel. The Church has always had the mission to make disciples of all nations, to make them into one body, one new man. And if God is dismantling the restraints He imposed on evil, it can only mean that He is preparing to dismantle evil as well. The picture presented in the Bible is complicated. The promise was that the head of the serpent would be bruised, not that he was to be merely restrained forever. Babel is being undone because evil itself is to be undone.

But the serpent is also eager to dismantle Babel and the other restraints he is under. It is not surprising that he would have his own schemes competing with the Body of Christ; he is still the spirit of Nimrod, storming heaven. But he has learned a thing or two and uses more subtle and less repulsive means.  To turn Paul’s phrase on end, “Why not do good that evil may come?” The rise of science as a common language, a common ideology, is a good thing, but works toward helping all the nations cooperate in evil. Indeed, it has enabled us to make war and ethnic strife so destructive that we can kill the whole world. Thus we are forced to create things like the United Nations to circumvent the destruction, hopefully, but simultaneously make us better able to cooperate in other kinds of evil; the Economic Monetary Fund and the world wide economy is not purely good.

From this viewpoint, the existence of the United States is a troubling one. There is no other nation that is making the effort to undo Babel the way we are. America is a single nation drawing all the peoples together with the purpose of being a “melting pot”, a single nation. What will happen if racism and prejudice are actually overcome and America does become what it sometimes intends? Won’t we then become the unBabel to the world? If we do regard the curse of Babel as a form of God’s mercy in restraining evil, then America, by accomplishing it highest goals, may be the key to restoring the kingdom of evil that was the main threat before the Flood. America is being set up as the principle competitor to the Kingdom of God. A rivalry is being established between America and the Church, each one imitating the other. America may be Satan disguising himself as an angel of light.

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