Genesis Chapter 11: Tower of Babel, Death of Terah

Jan 11th, 2010 | By | Category: Genesis, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Genesis Chapter 11:  Tower of Babel, Death of Terah

Gen. 11:1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

The whole earth was of one language and one dialect/pronunciation.

Gen. 11:2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

Most of Noah’s progeny journeyed southeastward from Mount Ararat to the land of Shinar.

The plain in Shinar, ancient Babylon, was a great and a fertile plain, whereas now it is desert.

The several cities in Shinar indicate its large size (Gen. 10:10). The NIV reads, “As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” The bulk of Noah’s progeny dwelled there until the dispersion in regard to the Tower of Babel.

Gen. 11:3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.

“Go to” means “come.” The composition of the building material is described here: fired, kiln-dried brick (not sun-dried).

Gen. 11:4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

The people said, “Come, let us build a city and a tower, whose top will reach unto heaven; …lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The Tower of Babel, which was involved with Nimrod’s false worship, was built with the motive of assuring survival in case of another flood. Practically speaking, the tall tower would be a beacon so that those in the plain could see it and thus would not wander off and be “scattered abroad.” The tower was intended to provide protection. The people were making the city and tower the “capital” of the world, whereas God intended the capital to be Jerusalem eventually.

After the Flood, God told Noah and sons to be fruitful and multiply in the earth (Gen. 9:7). Building a city was making roots and encouraging a stationary situation, which was contrary to God’s purpose. The people were supposed to scatter and migrate as progeny were born. “Lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” could also refer back to corpses being strewn in all directions at the time of the Flood.

Traditionally, the Tower of Babel was the Ziggurat Birs-Nimrud, Nimrod being its chief advocate. It was built in seven courses or steps in ziggurat fashion.

Q: How high was the ziggurat? The people back there knew that the Flood had covered Mount Ararat, so unless they built something higher, their idea did not make sense.

A: Nimrod, the grandson of Ham, was not alive to witness the Flood and, therefore, probably had not seen Mount Ararat, especially since Babylon was quite far from Ararat. Hence he and the others would not have rationalized in this manner. The building of the Tower of Babel occurred about 150 years after the Flood, in the days of Peleg and Reu (Gen. 10:25; 11:16-20).

Comment: Apparently, there is a relationship between the Tower of Babel on the Plain of Shinar, the image (or statue) of Bel on the Plain of Dura, and the image of the beast in our day. Just as the first two were associated with false worship and were built in prominent places so that they could be seen, so the image of the beast will be associated with the Trinity and will be visible, figuratively speaking, and prominent.

Comment: Satan said in the beginning, “I will be like the most High [God]” (Isa. 14:14). Similarly, Nimrod, in building his city and high tower, wanted to have a kingdom to show his greatness and mighty power. It was the same kind of thinking in both cases. Nimrod (and Satan through him) wanted to attract the people to him and thus to centralize his power.

Reply: This aspect would answer the statement “Let us make us a name.” The Hebrew word translated “name” is shem.

Q: Was this a play on words? God was favoring Shem, and now Nimrod was counteracting that favor with his false worship.

A: Nimrod was a false Shem, an anti-Shem. Like Satan, Nimrod aspired to greatness. Satan said, “I will ascend into heaven, … I will sit … in the sides of the north,” and here a high tower was involved (Isa. 14:13). Thus several factors motivated the construction of the tower.

The people began to build the city first, then the tower. The city was contrary to the divine edict to replenish the whole earth—it was a contraction instead of a spreading-out action—but the tower was another aspect. Incidentally, the use of kiln-dried brick with mortar showed the people wanted to make an enduring city that would restrict scattering.

Not only was the tower a beacon that could be seen from afar, but its height enabled the people to see an approaching enemy from a great distance. With the addition of the religious aspect and supposed protection from a flood, their natural reasoning seemed to be correct.

However, the people should have heeded God’s instruction. Human reasoning seemed logical and right, but God’s commandment was to the contrary. The city and the tower were built on a false religious premise. Originally the name Babel signified “gateway of God,” but the meaning was changed to “confusion.”

Gen. 11:5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

God “came down to see the city and the tower” from the standpoint of inspection and judgment. Of course God could see all that was happening from the heavens, so more was implied by this statement; namely, His representatives (the Logos and the holy angels) came down here. The first dispensation was under subjection to the angels. The second dispensation, following the Flood, has been under Satan as the god of this world. If we put ourselves in the place of the holy angels back there when the Flood occurred, we would see that the disobedient angels were confined in chains of darkness. (After Adam sinned, the holy angels tried to uplift man,

but their efforts resulted in complete failure, for in trying to save the human race, many of the angels fell.) Now the holy angels were nervous as to what to do. Previously, before the Flood, they came and went freely. Only the disobedient stayed here, taking wives. It is true that the holy angels ministered here, but they kept their first estate in heaven. Now, in the second dispensation, the holy angels wanted to wait and get instruction, but there was silence. God did not say, “Now, Satan, see what you can do.” (We know about the permission of evil and the present evil world through the apostles and present truth, but the angels did not know.) Satan is the god of this world by usurpation, not by authorization. God was silent, and Satan took the initiative of again pursuing what he had wanted to do in the first dispensation. From the chains of darkness, Satan and the evil angels continued to influence man to disobey God.

Gen. 11:6 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

“And the LORD said….” The Logos was God’s official representative up to the time he came to the earth as Jesus. Before that, he was Michael, the Logos, the archangel. “Jesus” was another role, another title, which he did not have prior to the First Advent.

God was apprising others: “Behold! Look what the people are doing!” The purpose of these words was to help others see, for God knew all about the situation. He predicted and foresaw conditions as they would subsequently occur.

This simple demonstrative method shows that if mankind were left to their own imaginations, the divine purpose would have been completely frustrated.

Gen. 11:7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

The language was confounded so that the people could not understand one another’s speech. The change was immediate. Without the ability to communicate and be understood, all kinds of misunderstandings and fightings would arise. As a result, the people reasoned, “It is better that we separate.” Probably each family kept the same understanding and tongue so that the dispersion would be by family. (If every single individual had had a different language, anarchy would have resulted.) The misunderstanding was between families, not within families.

Q: Adam did not learn to talk as a baby does but was created with the ability to speak. Doesn’t this fact indicate that the part of the brain which controls speech was tampered with so that an individual’s thoughts were all retained, but the speech was in a different language?

A: There was a genetic change. The brain is like a computer that was simply reprogrammed. By remote control, as it were, God interfered with a particular “circuit” to change the speech.

Comment: Speech was also changed at Pentecost.

Reply: Pentecost is a good comparison. Suddenly the Holy Spirit miraculously enabled the waiting disciples to speak in other languages. We are computerized, and speech is a genetic factor. Along another line, when Adam disobeyed, God programmed the death sentence into him, and the whole human race inherited that defect.

Q: Since there will be one language in the Kingdom, will the reversal also be sudden? In Zephaniah 3:9, the King James margin has “lip” instead of “language”: “For then will I turn to the people a pure language [lip], that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent.”

A: Yes, the impediment will be removed suddenly.

Comment: Prayers are offered in different languages, but God understands them all—as if they are just one language to Him.

Reply: Yes. At the United Nations, the various delegates speak before a machine that translates the language of the speaker into the language of the hearer. It is the same idea with a computer. Man has been marvelously made. What mysteries! Truly truth is stranger than fiction.

Gen. 11:8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

“They left off to build the city.” In other words, the project was stopped by God before completion. The same is true of the Tower of Babel.

Gen. 11:9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

God’s intervention caused the opposite to happen of what the people were attempting with the city and the tower (compare verse 4): “From thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.” God undid their actions. They wanted to restrict, confine, and keep back (that is, to disobey the divine commandment), but God broke that whole infrastructure by confounding their language.

“Therefore [that is, after the confounding of language] is the name of it called Babel.” What was the city called previously? The people intended the city to be the gateway of God, so they may have nicknamed it “Babel” with a different pronunciation to indicate such. After the language was confounded, it was still called “Babel” (same consonants), but the pronunciation now indicated “confusion.” Vowels were lacking, so the pronunciation of consonants was the key.

Comment: Young’s Analytical Concordance has “gate of Bel” after the “confusion” definition of Babylon.

Reply: The “confusion” aspect is seen in the Law. The union of woman with beast is “confusion.” Revelation chapter 17 shows that the union of the harlot with the kingdoms of earth has led to confusion.

Comment: And the supposed union of God and Jesus in the doctrine of the Trinity definitely leads to confusion!

Gen. 11:10 These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood:

Gen. 11:11 And Shem lived after he begat Arphaxad five hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.

Gen. 11:12 And Arphaxad lived five and thirty years, and begat Salah:

Gen. 11:13 And Arphaxad lived after he begat Salah four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters.

Gen. 11:14 And Salah lived thirty years, and begat Eber:

Gen. 11:15 And Salah lived after he begat Eber four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters.

Gen. 11:16 And Eber lived four and thirty years, and begat Peleg:

Gen. 11:17 And Eber lived after he begat Peleg four hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters.

Gen. 11:18 And Peleg lived thirty years, and begat Reu:

Gen. 11:19 And Peleg lived after he begat Reu two hundred and nine years, and begat sons and daughters.

Gen. 11:20 And Reu lived two and thirty years, and begat Serug:

Gen. 11:21 And Reu lived after he begat Serug two hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters.

Gen. 11:22 And Serug lived thirty years, and begat Nahor:

Gen. 11:23 And Serug lived after he begat Nahor two hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.

Gen. 11:24 And Nahor lived nine and twenty years, and begat Terah:

Gen. 11:25 And Nahor lived after he begat Terah an hundred and nineteen years, and begat sons and daughters.

Gen. 11:26 And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

Compared to the genealogy before the Flood (Genesis chapter 5), children were now being born to their parents at an earlier age (at approximately 30 versus 80 years of age). The total life span decreased noticeably after the Flood (to approximately 400 instead of 800 to 900 years). And after the language was confounded in the days of Peleg and Reu, the life span went down to about 200 years. Incidentally, these verses furnish the chronology links of the Second Volume, page 44, which shows it was 427 years from the Flood to the covenant with Abraham.

The radical change in life span after the Flood—it was halved approximately—was the result of changed climatic conditions. The life span was halved again after the language was confounded, and in Abraham’s day, it decreased even further.

Notice that there were two Nahors. This understanding will serve a purpose later. The order of birth was as follows:

………………………………………../ Haran

………………………..Nahor — Terah — Nahor

…………………………………………..\ Abram

As with earlier chronology, verse 26 lists Terah’s sons in order of importance, not birth. The thought is that when Terah was 70 years old, he began to have sons (he did not have triplets).

Q: Wouldn’t the fact that girls and boys mature so young today, and thus are capable of having children in their teens, be a proof that man has fallen further than in Abraham’s day, let alone in the pre-Flood days?

A: Yes.

Gen. 11:27 Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot.

Terah had three sons, listed here in order of importance: Abram, Nahor, and Haran. From the standpoint of age, Haran was the oldest, Nahor was in the middle, and Abram was the youngest. Lot was Haran’s son and Abraham’s nephew.

Gen. 11:28 And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.

“Ur of the Chaldees” means there was at least one other Ur, and “of the Chaldees” identifies which one. Ur was in southern Babylon (the Chaldea portion of Babylon). Ur was southeast of the capital city of Babylon (at the lower end of the Fertile Crescent, between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers). Since Haran died in Ur, he was probably considerably older than Abraham.

Comment: Then they were all related.

Reply: After the Flood, only eight people began to populate the earth. Now, roughly 400 years later, we see the results of close intermarrying. (The Genesis account was prior to the Law and, therefore, before genetic damage occurred from close intermarriage.)

Comment: The time setting was about when the Great Pyramid was built.

Reply: Yes, and Abraham paid tithes to Mechisedec (Shem).

Gen. 11:29 And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.

Abram married Sarai. Nahor married Milcah (Haran’s daughter). Nahor’s listed offspring are Milcah and Iscah. Terah may have had two wives. Sarai could have been the daughter of Terah by the second wife, and Abram could have been the son of Terah by the first wife. If so, Sarai was Abraham’s “sister.”

Gen. 11:30 But Sarai was barren; she had no child.

Sarai was barren back in Ur, thus even before she and Abram left Ur.

Gen. 11:31 And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.

Notice the emphasis on Terah’s taking Abram, Sarai, and Lot from Ur to go to Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and dwelled there. Genesis chapter 12 shows that God was especially dealing with Abram, but here Terah was given the priority.

The pronoun “them” should be “him”: “And they went forth with him [Terah] from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan.” To “dwell” in Haran indicates the passage of a little time.

Gen. 11:32 And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.

Terah died at age 205 in Haran. The 205 years are a chronology link, proving that there were 427 years from the Flood to the Abrahamic Covenant. Abram did not go into the Land of Promise until the death of his father, and he was 75 years old when he left Haran (Gen. 12:4).

Terah was 70 years old when he begat Haran (Nahor and Abram were later sons). Hence Terah lived in Ur a long time before departing, and during that time, he saw the death of Haran, his firstborn. While in Ur, Abraham’s family was exposed to idolatry.

(1987–1989 Study)

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