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The Confusion of Languages at Babel (Genesis 10:1-11:25)

Genesis 10:1—11:25

Introduction

The genealogies have never been the best-read portions of the Word of God. Ray Stedman tells the story of an old Scots minister who was reading from the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.

He started reading, “Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac beget Jacob, and Jacob begat Judah,” and he looked on ahead and saw the list to follow and said, “and they kept on begetting one another all the way down this page and halfway into the next.”49

Genealogies may seem uninteresting (a nice word for boring), but they are very important. Suppose, for example, that you were to receive a phone call from a lawyer. He identifies himself and informs you that he is handling the estate of a very wealthy man who recently passed away, and who had only one living relative. If that lawyer were to ask you to give the names of your parents and grandparents, I’m sure that genealogies would suddenly become fascinating material.

The early chapters of the Book of Genesis seem to abound with genealogies. After the account of the fall of man, God pronounces curses upon Adam and Eve and their offspring, as well as upon Satan. But God also gives a very important prophecy of the coming of the Messiah – the seed of the woman – who would destroy Satan:

“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15, NASB).

In Genesis 4, we read of Cain killing his brother Abel, which is followed by a genealogy of the descendants of Cain in 4:16-24. This genealogy takes us from Cain to Lamech, who married two wives and boasted of killing a boy. This ungodly line terminates at the flood.

Genesis 5 follows with the genealogy of Seth, God’s replacement for Abel. Moses follows the line of Seth through men like Enosh, Enoch, and Methuselah to Lamech, and finally to Noah. The account of Noah and the flood is recorded in Genesis 6-9, which is immediately followed by another genealogy in chapter 10. After the account of the confusion of languages in Genesis 11:1-9, Moses gives us yet another genealogy in Genesis 11:10-32. I think we would all have to agree that Moses believed these genealogies were important to our understanding of the origins of the human race. Most of all, some of these genealogies will trace the line through which the promised Messiah will come.

The contribution of the genealogies may become more evident when we compare the genealogy of Cain (Genesis 4:16-24) with that of Seth (Genesis 5:1-32):

 

The Genealogy of Cain

The Genealogy of Seth

   

No mention of death (it’s the last thing we talk about)

Death is frequently mentioned

   

From one murderer (Cain) to another (Lamech)

From Seth to Noah

   

Enoch, Cain’s son, after whom a city is named

Enoch, walked with God and was no more

   

Lamech – had tow wives and murdered a boy

Lamech – saw his son as the key to removing the curse

   

Emphasis on technological achievements

Emphasis on faith, walking with God

   

Ends at the flood

Does not end at flood. Noah is deliverer.

 

Both of these genealogies end with the flood, but in a very different manner. The flood will wipe out Cain’s line; Seth’s line will be preserved through Noah.

The Genealogies of Shem, Ham, and Japheth

Genesis 10:1-32

Time does not permit us to study this genealogy as much as we would like, but let me make several observations.

Genesis 10 and 11 are not in chronological order. The events described in Genesis 10 occur after the confusion of tongues at Babel. This is evident by the fact that in 10:20 and 10:31 we are told that the division of the sons of Shem, Ham, and Japheth are according to their languages. This division according to language could only occur after the confusion of tongues. The genealogy in chapter 10 is thus deliberately placed ahead of those events that brought it to pass.

The account of the confusion of tongues in 11:1-9 serves as a divider between two genealogies. The genealogy in Genesis 10 is deliberately out of chronological order because Moses wanted the account of the confusion of tongues to serve as a dividing line in the genealogy of Shem. Eber, a descendant of Shem, had two sons, Peleg and Joktam (10:25). In Genesis 10:21-31, the line of Shem is traced through Joktam. After the account of the confusion of languages at Babel, Moses traces the line of Shem through Eber’s other son, Peleg (11:10-26). It is through this line that Abraham’s genealogy is traced.

The genealogy of Genesis 10 includes some very significant historical notes. Moses pauses momentarily with Nimrod, one of the descendants of Ham. We are told that Nimrod was a mighty hunter, and that the beginning of his kingdom was Babel (10:8-12). Nimrod, in other words, was a city builder and the founder of the city of Babel. We have already been prepared for something evil, so far as this city of Babel is concerned. We are given the names of the sons of Canaan, and each of these sons becomes the patriarch of one of the Canaanite nations with whom the Israelites must later deal:

15 Canaan was the father of Sidon his firstborn, Heth, 16 the Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, 17 Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, 18 Arvadites, Zemarites, and Hamathites. Eventually the families of the Canaanites were scattered (Genesis 10:15-18).

18 That day the Lord made a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites” (Genesis 15:18-21).

The genealogy of Genesis 10 spells out many of the offspring of Noah, who then populate the world. The sons of Japheth are dealt with first and somewhat abruptly. This is because they will be the most distant peoples from the Israelites. They make up the Indo-Europeans, which is the ancestry of many Americans.50 The Greeks were a part of the line of Japheth. The descendants of Ham make up those peoples who are in closer proximity to the Israelites – the Babylonians, Assyrians, Ninevites, and Egyptians. Then, as we noted above, the sons of Canaan will become the Canaanites, who must be expelled from the Promised Land. The descendants of Shem will become known as the Semites. This is the line from which Abraham will come (11:10-26).

While we do not have the time to study the genealogies more carefully, I can assure you that they are a very rich topic for study. I would strongly recommend John Sailhamer’s book51 to assist you in your study of the genealogies of Genesis, and of the Pentateuch as a whole.

The Confusion of Languages at Babel

Genesis 11:1-9

1 The whole earth had a common language and a common vocabulary. 2 When the people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 3 Then they said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” (They had brick instead of stone and tar instead of mortar.) 4 Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise we will be scattered across the face of the entire earth.” 5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the people had started building. 6 And the Lord said, “If as one people all sharing a common language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be beyond them. 7 Come, let’s go down and confuse their language so they won’t be able to understand each other.” 8 So the Lord scattered them from there across the face of the entire earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why its name was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the entire world, and from there the Lord scattered them across the face of the entire earth.

Moses begins by informing the reader that at this time, there was but one language, with a single vocabulary.52 The ability to speak the same language enabled men to work together, for good or evil. When God first created the earth, He gave this command:

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28).

It would seem that men are actively working at populating the earth in the early verses of Genesis 6. The problem was that they were filling the earth with wicked people. As a result, God had to wipe out all life and begin again after the flood. After the flood, he repeated the command given in Genesis 1:28:

Then God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1).

When we come to Genesis 11, we find that men have moved eastward to the land of Shinar, the land to which Daniel would later be taken as a captive (Daniel 1:2). Here, they determined to settle down and to build a city. Building a city and settling down was not fulfilling the command of God to spread out and fill the earth. It was a willful act of disobedience to God’s command. The people condemn themselves with their own words:

3 Then they said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” (They had brick instead of stone and tar instead of mortar.) 4 Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens53 so that we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise we will be scattered across the face of the entire earth” (Genesis 9:3-4, emphasis mine).

These folks feared the very thing that God commanded them to do. They dreaded being spread out over the earth. They wanted to live in close proximity to one another. They preferred city life to a more nomadic lifestyle. We are not told what these folks expected to gain from living together in a city, but it is not difficult to believe that one thing a well-built city would provide was protection. There was security in the city and danger in the more distant places. These folks were nothing like Christopher Columbus. They had no adventuresome inclinations. They wanted to build a strong city with a tower. They also wanted to make a name for themselves. In short, they wanted security and significance. God looked down on this tower and saw where mankind was headed. If men were allowed to collaborate with each other, they would only accelerate their downward plunge into sin.

At first glance, the language of 11:5 may seem to suggest that God was not aware of the building of Babel until it became quite obvious. It could look to an outsider as though God were out of touch with current events in His world, and that He didn’t take note of what was happening until things had gotten out of hand. Looking down, one could suppose, God noted what was going on. I used to agonize about this wording, until I began to view it from the point of view of Moses, the human author. These men of Babel thought they were doing something awesome, something remarkable. They were building an incredible city with a tower that reached into the heavens, making a great name for themselves. But Moses describes this event as though God hardly noticed it; not that He was unaware, but that it was so insignificant! Men thought their work was awesome. When God looked down upon it, it was almost as though He had said, “Oh, isn’t that a cute little city and tower. I’ll have to stoop way down to see it.” The words of Psalm 113 put Moses’ description into its proper perspective:

3 From east to west

the Lord’s name is deserving of praise.
4 The Lord is exalted over all the nations;
his splendor reaches beyond the sky.
5 Who can compare to the Lord our God,
who sits on a high throne?
6 He bends down to look
at the sky and the earth (Psalm 113:3-6).

Men were getting “too big for their britches,” and it was time for God to intervene. Left to themselves, they would go too far with their sin. In my opinion, God’s description of man’s potential is almost tongue-in-cheek:

And the Lord said, “If as one people all sharing a common language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be beyond them” (Genesis 11:6).

This is certainly the way we would like to think of ourselves, isn’t it? It is something like the attitude which some displayed after man first walked on the moon. We began to suppose that man could do anything he set his mind to, especially if the Russians and the Americans pooled their technological expertise.

But in this exaggeration of man’s potential (his potential for evil is exceedingly great), Moses is contrasting man’s great potential with the wisdom and power of the Almighty God. God hardly lifts a finger, so to speak. With one simple act, God abruptly “pulls the plug” on man’s great exhibition of his own greatness. God merely confuses their language, and it’s all over.

What a scene this must have been! Can’t you just imagine what it would have been like? The workers are busily building, talking with one another as they do. “Hey, Sam, hand me a few more bricks, will you?” The architects are putting their heads together to work out some engineering problem. Suddenly, one man is speaking one language, and the other cannot understand a word he is saying. It would have been mass confusion. Based on chapter 10, I am of the opinion that various languages may have been distributed according to family (genealogical) lines. The Canaanites, for example, would have spoken one language, the Semites (Shemites) another. I can imagine people walking about, looking for someone speaking their own language. And finally all those speaking one language (in my opinion, one family line) would finally go off on their own, leaving the other folks to themselves, and to their languages.

In the light of Genesis 11:1-9, chapter 10 takes on a whole new light. How did all these people get disbursed over the whole earth? Abandoning their project and spreading out over the earth wasn’t their conscious choice to obey the command of God; it was their only option, given their divinely-appointed circumstances. Moses deliberately sets verses 8 and 9 against verse 4. Did the people of Babel seek to prevent being “scattered across the face of the entire earth”? They would be anyway. Moses does not tell us this once; he repeats this statement twice: “So the Lord scattered them from there across the face of the entire earth” (see verses 8 and 9). As the saying goes, “Man proposes; God disposes.” Those who seek to thwart the will of God will someday realize that they are “kicking against the goads” (Acts 26:14).

The Lesson of Babel for the Israelites of Old

There are a number of themes that Moses has been developing in the Book of Genesis, and the incident at Babel contributes to them. There is the theme of blessing and cursing. God created the earth as something good, and it was on His good creation that He pronounced His blessing. In the Garden of Eden, God provided a test of man’s faith and obedience. If Adam and his wife trusted God’s Word and obeyed His command, then they would eat of the tree of life and avoid the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam chose to disregard and to disobey God’s command, and thus he experienced the curse, rather than the blessing of living forever in the garden. After Adam, those who walked with God experienced His blessings (e.g., Enoch), and those who disregarded God’s Word were cursed (e.g., Cain). Through Noah, God brought blessings to him, to his family, and to all mankind (the human race was saved through Noah). The wickedness of men in Noah’s day brought God’s curse upon them. The line of Canaan was cursed because of the sin of Ham. Had the descendants of Noah obeyed God by spreading out and filling the earth, they would have been blessed. But because they sought to thwart God’s command, the people of Babel were cursed with a confusion of languages. All of this prepares us for Abraham, through whom all the nations will be blessed, but those who curse him will be cursed (Genesis 12:1-3). The same can be said of the Mosaic Covenant. Those who obeyed God’s commands would be blessed (Deuteronomy 28:1-14); those who disregarded it would be cursed (see Deuteronomy 28:15-68; see also 30:1, 19). God wants us to see that blessing comes from obedience to God’s Word, and that curses come on those who disobey.

There is the theme of separation. God created the world by separating one thing from another: light from darkness; land from water; heaven from earth. God distinguished man from all other living creatures by creating him in His image. God instructed Adam and Eve to distinguish between the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam and Eve sinned, God separated them from the garden. God not only distinguished between male and female, He distinguished between clean and unclean (see Genesis 7:2-3). And now, God separates the human race into various language groups. Soon, Abraham will be set apart from all others. His offspring, the Israelites, will likewise be set apart from the world.

There is another subtle theme evident in the early chapters of Genesis. God commanded man to “spread out,” but man’s natural inclination was to do the opposite. Thus we see the “city builders” of old to be those of the ungodly line (Cain, 4:16-17; Nimrod, 10:8-12). Men tended to huddle together, rather than to spread out, as God had commanded. Men were inclined toward city life, rather than to deal with the challenges of rural life. It is fascinating to see that in the Pentateuch54 fallen men tended to move eastward. When Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden, it appears that they went east, since the angel was stationed at the east gate of the garden to prevent them from entering. When Cain fled, he fled eastward from the presence of the (Lord 4:16). The descendants of Ham migrated to the east also (10:30), as did those who came to settle in Babel (11:2). Thus, when we see movement eastward, we can expect that this move will not be for the better.

All of these things will reverse with Abraham. He will leave the land to the east and travel to the west to the Promised Land. He will not live in the city, but as a nomad. He will not even be allowed to remain in the safety and comfort of his family. He must go out, not seeking to make a name for himself (like those of Babel), but trusting in God, who promised to make his name great (Genesis 12:2). He well knew that God had not chosen him because of his impressive lineage. Abraham would find God to be faithful to His every promise. And Abraham would learn that trouble came from disobedience, while blessings came from obedience.

The city of Babel is introduced to the reader in chapter 10 (verses 8-10) and is further characterized in 11:1-9. This was a wicked city that would have much to do with Israel’s future. It is the place where Daniel will be taken as a captive. It will become a symbol of wickedness, to which later wicked governments will be likened. Cities, like men, tend to reflect and amplify their origins throughout the rest of their existence. The city of Babel was off to a very bad start, and things would only get worse.

The incident at Babel had some very practical ramifications. The spreading out of the citizens of Babel was not due to their obedience, but due to the confusion of their language. This prompted the people to spread out throughout the earth. The various nations that are named in chapters 10 and 11 will each have their own language and their own culture. As the Israelites deal with some of these nations in the years to come, they should remember their origin. And in so doing, they should appreciate the way that God chose to bring about the fulfillment of His promises and purposes.

The alliance of these citizens of Babel is for the purpose of opposing God and striving to make a name for themselves. This kind of unity is far from godly. It is like the temporary alliance of the Pharisees with the Sadducees, and even with Rome. It could not last for long, and it could accomplish no good. They united on the basis of one common factor – their hatred of Jesus. The Israelites will often be tempted to make unholy alliances with their surrounding neighbors and with larger nations like Egypt. Let them learn from the incident at Babel that unholy alliances only get them into trouble.

Lessons for Saints in Every Age

At the moment that I am writing this lesson, wars are taking place all around the world. A number of years ago I heard former President Jimmy Carter speak at Wheaton College. He said that at that moment, the Carter Center was monitoring over 70 wars worldwide. Any day we pick up our newspaper, we can read about conflict between nations. Much of this conflict is the result of nationalism, and this nationalism is the result of differing languages and cultures. The confusion of tongues at Babel resulted in conflict and strife and since that time, it has kept men from successfully uniting together in rebellion against God. This brief account in Genesis explains how the world is what it is today.

At Babel, men wanted to make a name for themselves, to build a monument to themselves. I think this was their very distorted way of seeking a kind of immortality. No longer were men living nearly a thousand years. Life was getting shorter all the time. When they were gone, who would remember them? How could they leave some kind of legacy, some monument, to be remembered by?55 This city and its tower was the answer, in their minds.

Ever since, men have been making similar efforts. The pharaohs constructed pyramids, and others have attempted to leave some other evidence of their existence and of their greatness. But all of this is futile. The solution to the penalty of death is eternal life, not leaving some monument behind. As I read this text, written by Moses, I could not help but be reminded of the psalm Moses wrote, which is included in the Psalms. In my opinion, Moses probably penned this psalm as the first generation of Israelites was dying off in the wilderness:

Psalm 90

A prayer of Moses, the man of God.
1 O sovereign Master, you have been our protector through all generations!
2 Even before the mountains came into existence,
or you brought the world into being,
you were the eternal God.
3 You make mankind return to the dust,
and say, “Return, O people!”
4 Yes, in your eyes a thousand years
are like yesterday that quickly passes,
or like one of the divisions of the nighttime.
5 You bring their lives to an end and they “fall asleep.”
In the morning they are like the grass that sprouts up;
6 in the morning it glistens and sprouts up;
at evening time it withers and dries up.
7 Yes, we are consumed by your anger;
we are terrified by your wrath.
8 You are aware of our sins;
you even know about our hidden sins.
9 Yes, throughout all our days we experience your raging fury;
the years of our lives pass quickly, like a sigh.
10 The days of our lives add up to seventy years,
or eighty, if one is especially strong.
But even one’s best years are marred by trouble and oppression.
Yes, they pass quickly and we fly away.
11 Who can really fathom the intensity of your anger?
Your raging fury causes people to fear you.
12 So teach us to consider our mortality,
so that we might live wisely.
13 Turn back toward us, O Lord!
How long must this suffering last?
Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your loyal love!
Then we will shout for joy and be happy all our days!
15 Make us happy in proportion to the days you have afflicted us,
in proportion to the years we have experienced trouble!
16 May your servants see your work!
May their sons see your majesty!
17 May our sovereign God extend his favor to us!
Make our endeavors successful!
Yes, make them successful! (Psalm 90:1-17)

It is the words of the last verse that capture my attention: “Make our endeavors successful! Yes, make them successful!” More literally, “Confirm (or give permanence – note the margin of the NASB) the work of our hands.” How is it that our work, our efforts, can have permanence? Jesus told us:

19 “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Nothing that we attempt to store up on earth will last. Only that which is laid up for us in heaven will endure. Thus, we must be about God’s work, doing those things that are eternal. When we invest in God’s kingdom, we invest in something that will last forever. When we share the gospel and see men and women come to Christ, we have eternal fruit. In short, when we do what God says, we invest in the eternal. Our lives are short, and they will end, but what is done for our Lord will last for all eternity.

One of the things men put their confidence in today is technology. In the realm of technology, the world has come a very long way. But all too often the amazing advances in technology have been embraced as a means of sinning more swiftly and effectively. God has always found ways to show men that technology that rests in the hands of sinners is deadly. Our significance and our security will never be rightly based upon our technology; it can only be found in our identity, in being in Christ. Enoch walked with God, and bypassed death (Genesis 5:24). Noah found favor with God , and walked with God (Genesis 6:8-9). It is only when we forsake every effort to save ourselves, and cease striving to be God-like through our own efforts, that we can enter into the salvation He has accomplished for us.

Let’s be honest about the fact that God’s will sometimes appears foreboding and threatening. God’s command was for man to spread out and fill the earth. Unbelieving men saw this as their worst nightmare. What was pleasing to God was distasteful to the men and women of Babel. Those outside of the faith need to be warned that the path of sin and disobedience leads to death (see Proverbs 1; Romans 6:16f.). Those who have come to faith need to realign their desires and pleasures so that what is pleasing to God is our pleasure as well.56 When we view God’s will as contrary to our best interests, we will seek to find an unbiblical “way of escape,” such as the building of a city with a tower. Those who seek to avoid God’s clear commands will ultimately57 find their way troublesome, and this is because they have set themselves in opposition to the omnipotent God:

1 Why do the nations cause a commotion?
Why are the countries devising plots that will fail?
2 The kings of the earth form a united front;
the rulers collaborate
against the Lord and his chosen king.
3 They say, “Let’s tear off the shackles they’ve put on us!
Let’s free ourselves from their ropes!”
4 The one enthroned in heaven laughs in disgust;
the sovereign Master taunts them.
5 Then he angrily speaks to them
and terrifies them in his rage.
6 He says, “I myself have installed my king
on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 The king says, “I will tell you what the Lord decreed. He said to me:
‘You are my son! This very day I have become your father!
8 You have only to ask me,
and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
the ends of the earth as your personal property.
9 You will break them with an iron scepter;
you will smash them as if they were a potter’s jar.’”
10 So now, you kings, do what is wise!
You rulers of the earth, submit to correction!
11 Serve the Lord in fear!
Repent in terror!
12 Give sincere homage!
Otherwise he will be angry,
and you will die because of your behavior,
when his anger quickly ignites.
How happy are all who take shelter in him! (Psalm 2:1-2)

The message of this psalm is simply to cease striving against God and to submit to Him. Trust in the salvation He has provided in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and be spared from His coming wrath on His enemies. Those who take shelter in Him will be blessed.

Our text in Genesis tells us that unity, in and of itself, is not necessarily good. It was a unity based upon uniformity. These folks spoke the same language and had the same vocabulary. They all wished to avoid being spread about the earth. Some churches seek to attain unity at the expense of the truth. There are those with whom Christians cannot be yoked (see 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Some churches seek to attain a semblance of unity by the use of “homogeneous grouping.” It is based upon the human principle that “birds of a feather flock together.” If we can gather a group that is largely made up of one race, of one culture, of one segment of society, then we think we will have unity. True Christian unity is best demonstrated in the context of true diversity: diversity socially, diversity ethnically, diversity culturally, diversity economically, diversity in spiritual gifts, diversity in convictions, and diversity in ministry. This is one of the things I appreciate about our church. We do not have as much diversity as I would like to see, but we can look out into the congregation and see those of a different color, of nationality, of economic status, of spiritual gifts, of convictions, and of ministries. I pray that there will be more of this diversity, and that in this diversity we will demonstrate true unity.

If man’s collective disobedience brought about the confusion of languages, and ultimately strife among different people and language groups, it is the obedience of one person who can reverse it. Jesus Christ came to this earth at His incarnation, adding perfect humanity to His undiminished deity. In obedience to His Father’s will, He died on the cross of Calvary, making atonement once for all for sin. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost and the phenomenon of tongues after our Lord’s resurrection was a kind of firstfruits of things to come. At Pentecost, men of many nations were gathered, and they heard God praised in their own languages (Acts 2:1-13). If the sin of men in opposition to God brought about the confusion of languages, the obedience of Christ in submission to the Father brought about the first signs of restoration, evidence of the future reversal of the incident at Babel.

The story of Babel sounds “long ago and far away,” but it is really not as distant and removed as we might think. We do not have the same mandate to spread out and fill the earth, because this has happened. But we do have a similar command:

18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

We are command to go58 into all the world with the message of the gospel. I think that many of us seek to find ways to avoid going – perhaps not across the ocean, but at least across the street. I am not saying that every Christian needs to leave the place where they are and to go to some foreign land with the gospel. I am saying that we should all be willing to go, and we should encourage those who desire to go. We, too, like the security of the “nest” where we are. We do not huddle in a city, with a tower, but in a church (sometimes with a tower). We need to be careful to consistently gather for instruction, mutual edification, and worship (Hebrews 10:24-25), but we also need to go “outside the camp:”

10 We have an altar that those who serve in the tabernacle have no right to eat from. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood the high priest brings into the sanctuary as an offering for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore, to sanctify the people by his own blood, Jesus also suffered outside the camp. 13 We must go out to him, then, outside the camp, bearing the abuse he experienced. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Hebrews 13:10-14, emphasis mine).

Those of us who are parents know the reluctance of sending our children into places of danger. Let us not be found guilty of the same sin as that of the people of Babel.

For now, the confusion of languages at Babel has many implications for those who do choose to go into the world with the good news of the gospel. It means that we must learn to understand and to appreciate the culture of other people groups. It means that we must learn the language of those to whom we are taking the gospel. It means that there are many obstacles to be overcome, such as nationalism and prejudice (theirs, and ours). I believe that when God gave His Spirit to the church, He gave Him so that we would be empowered to proclaim the gospel cross-culturally.

There is one final lesson from our text I would like to point out in closing: God is exceedingly gracious to hinder us from pursuing sin as rapidly and successfully as we are capable of doing. God’s covenant with Noah had some very profound implications. How quickly the whole world had deteriorated to the point that it had to be destroyed. We see that after the flood it would not have taken long for mankind to have returned to its former state of decay, which would have needed to be removed once again. But when God promised not to destroy the whole world again in this fashion, I believe it meant He would somehow restrain man’s sinful tendencies until the time when He would send the Savior, on whom God’s judgment would fall. (There will then be a future judgment for those who fail to accept the provision of salvation in Christ.)

Thank God for hindering man’s sinfulness. He did this in various ways. He “hindered” Adam and Eve from living in the garden after their fall, so that they would not eat of the tree of life and live forever in their sinful state. He reduced man’s lifespan, so that rather than living for nearly 1,000 years (as we see in Genesis 5), his lifespan would finally be reduced to 70 or 80 years (remember that it was Moses who wrote this in Psalm 90:10). In Genesis 9, God also instituted capital punishment for murder (which strongly suggests that this penalty does hinder violence). With the flood, God wiped out a race that had gone entirely bad (except for one man). Now, God has brought about the confusion of languages, so that men cannot so easily conspire together to resist God. The giving of the law will be another form of restraint on man’s sinful inclinations (see Galatians 3:15-29; note especially verse 19).

Have there ever been times in your life when you really wanted something and God seemed to be putting obstacles in your path, keeping you from what you desired? Did you feel as though God was against you, rather than for you? This text tells me that I should thank God for all those times when He has stood in my way, not unlike the way the “angel of the LORD” stood in the path of Balaam (Numbers 22:21-25). I wonder how many times God hindered me from sinning, in ways I never recognized as His hand? Thank God for standing in our way when we desire to do what is contrary to His will.


48 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on November 19, 2000.

49 Ray Stedman, The Beginnings (Waco: Word Books, 1978), p.47.

50 “The list begins with those nations that are considered the ‘islands of the nations’ (v. 5). They are the nations that make up the geographical horizon of the author, the outer fringe of the known world, a kind of third world over against the nations of Ham (Canaan) and Shem.” John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), p. 131.

51 John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative. See footnote above.

52 It is one thing to be able to speak English, but having the same vocabulary is essential as well. Some of you may overhear me speaking to a fellow computer nerd about “megs” and “ram” and “rom” and “dims” and have no idea what we are talking about. We have the same language, but not the same vocabulary. Every technical field has its own jargon, known only to an insider. The same is also true for our teenagers.

53 It may be that false worship was one of the goals of the people of Babel, but this is not clearly spelled out by Moses. To “reach into the heavens” was simply an expression meaning “tall.”

54 The first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

55 The Bible has little good to say about monuments. Memorials is quite a different matter (See, for example, Exodus 12:14; 17:14; 28:12; Joshua 4:7). Saul built a memorial to himself, at the time of his disobedience (1 Samuel 15:12). Absalom built one for himself (2 Samuel 18:18). Nebuchadnezzar had a golden image (of himself?) made, before which all were required to bow down (Daniel 3).

56 See 2 Corinthians 5:9; Ephesians 5:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; Hebrews 13:21; 1 John 3:22.

57 I say “ultimately” because it may appear that their way is smooth for a time, but in the end it will be troublesome (see Psalm 73).

58 I am well aware of the fact that this word “go” is a participle, and not a verb in the imperative mood. It should be remembered, however, that participles are not infrequently used with imperatival force. The necessity of “going” with the gospel should not be understated. See also Romans 10:13-15.

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word)