First Attempt at Internationalism: Babel; Gen. 11:1-7
Internationalism doesn't work. Nationalism is a principle that has been established by God for the maintenance of the human race. The Bible is firmly against things such as the League of Nations, the UN, all of this internationalism. One of the greatest dangers that we face in our country today is judicial tyranny, and there are a number of Supreme Court justices who instead of citing precedence in their decisions, case law in America, they are looking to the law that is being established in international courts. This is a violation of the biblical principle of independent nationhood and of independent people groups that are not to influence one another. God has established these boundaries, and it goes back to the events in Genesis chapter 11.
Liberals think that Genesis 11 account of the tower of Babel is just some sort of invented myth that people came up with to explain diversity in language. However, if we believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture we know that this is telling absolute truth about history; this is what took place.
Remember that we have to read Genesis as though we were a Jew. We have to read Exodus as though we were a Jew, not in the Exodus generation but as though our parents were in the Exodus generation, and we are on the verge of entering into the promised land where God has told us to kill every man, woman and child in Canaan without exception, and that God is going to give us this land. So there are a lot of questions that you would be asking, such as why we should do this, what is the moral justification, why we have a right to this land, what God's purpose is in doing this, and many other related questions. Genesis chapters 1-11 are simply a prologue to what God is going to do with the nation Israel. Up through Genesis chapter 10 we have had three major events since the creation: the fall, the flood, and now in chapter 11 the curse of the division of languages at the tower of Babel—three cursings. But this sets us up for the major blessing that begins to be expounded at the end of Genesis 11 when God calls out Abram, and through Abram God is going to call out a unique people to Himself, and He is going to work in and through these people to provide redemption for the entire human race. Before we can appreciate what God does with Abraham we have to have an understanding of the situation on the planet when God calls out Abraham. Genesis 11 gives us that understanding, that explanation.
Think about it. The earth was created about 4000-4100 BC. There is approximately 1500 years of history prior to Noah's flood. Then there was the event of Noah's flood. Noah lived about 350 years after the flood and has only one thing told to us after the flood, and that is the episode where he got drunk and then pronounced the curse. Don't you think that some other interesting things happened in Noah's life over that 350-year period. Why is it that the Holy Spirit only picks out this one episode that He is going to put into the Scriptures? We ought to ask the question many times: Why of all the things that happen in history is this included in the Scripture and so many other things not included in the Scripture. God is using that episode with Noah and his sons because that sets up in a microscopic way the pattern of all civilization in human history. It is demonstrated in this event through the behavior of these three sons. Shem is noted because he has a devotion to God, positive volition. Japheth is noted and blessed because he will be enlarged, and that has not only to do with physical expansion but also intellectual expansion. Ham is passed over. He is neither blessed nor cursed but his son Canaan receives a cursing. As has been pointed out, that has special reference if you are a Jew about to go and wipe out the Canaanites. Now you know why the Canaanites are cursed, that they have carried these sinful dispositions of their fore bearer to such a horrible conclusion and God has allowed that evil to ripen to such a degree that now their destruction is necessary for the preservation of the human race. This is structure for understanding the background for Genesis chapter 10, known as the table of nations.
The Japhethites have expanded to other parts of the earth and are no longer relevant to what God is going to do with Israel. We really don't start to pay attention to the Japhethites until we come to Acts and the expansion of the church into Europe. Then in v. 6 down to v. 20 we see the descendants of Ham. These are the descendants comprising many of the people in the Middle East much more relevant to Jewish history. The interesting thing that stands out in the middle of Genesis 10 is the two diversions from the pattern. The first has to do with Nimrod, the grandson of Ham. He began to be a mighty warrior and is known for violence. He is described as a mighty hunter. What was he hunting? Part of it might well be that he is dealing with some of the great monsters that came off the ark. For example, dinosaurs survived. This may well be how Nimrod established his reputation, that he defeated some of these great creatures that threatened man, and he establishes as a result of his prowess and his power the ability to call people to follow him, and he begins his kingdom, v. 10. The beginning of his kingdom was Babel and he spreads out over the Middle East. The oldest kingdom known to us is the Samarians, the kingdom that was founded by Nimrod as he began to organize these people into various cities. And we see a parallel between Nimrod establishing these cities and Cain. Instead of wandering as God told him to do, Cain established himself in a city. He fortifies himself against God, as it were, and this is the same kind of thing that happens with Nimrod. So we see that Nimrod establishes this kingdom which is the foundation of the Babylonian empire later on, and Assyria.
In the conclusion of chapter 10 we read: "These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations. These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood." Languages is the second thing mentioned. If we go back to verse 5 we read: "By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations." Notice that with Japheth lands is first, they are expanding, going to their various countries first. We see the same order of families, languages, lands and nations with the descendants of Ham and Shem, but with Japheth the order is lands and then language and families and nations. What brought the division of the sons of Noah? They are all separated by their languages, and that is the second thing that happens.
It is the descendants of Ham who settle under Nimrod's leadership at Babel. That is the beginning of his kingdom. We are told in 11:1, "And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech." So what happens here in typical Hebrew narrative fashion is a chapter that is a lengthy summary which covers what happened to Japheth, Ham, and Shem. Now we are going to come back and look at a microscopic event in a little detail. This is the same kind of thing that happened in Genesis 1 & 2. Genesis 1 covered all the details of the seven days creation, then in the second chapter and from verse 5 on focuses on the details of the creation of man on the 6th day. This is standard approach to Hebrew narrative. The Jews gave the overview and then the detail.
In Genesis 10:25, "And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided." What is this division? This division has to do with the division of tongues. So this takes place about four or five generations after the flood. Literally in the Hebrew 11:1 reads, "The human race had one lip and one word." They all spoke the same language. As a result of this they are enabled to get into trouble, and we have the description of man's rebellion against God in verses 2-4. "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. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime [asphalt] had they for mortar. 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." They did not journey "from the east" as in the KJV, it is an idiom which means they journeyed eastward. It is an interesting thing in Scripture that whenever man is headed away from blessing he heads east. When Cain left he went east. When Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden they went east. East is the direction of condemnation and away from the place of blessing. The Bible shows us that these aren't just random events; they are a pattern. This is because there is a sovereign God in control of history. So history is important because it is the outworking of His plan. In verses 3 & 4 they come to a resolution, a resolve. They express their religious independence of God.
Verse 5, a contrast. "But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built." The first verse establishes the principle that all the earth had one language. Verse 2 is an emphasis on the location, the land of Shinar. Then in verse 3, "they said to one another," so they line themselves up, ally themselves to one another: "each one to his neighbor," literally in the Hebrew. Then they make their first statement: "Come, let us make bricks," also in v. 3. Then in v.4 they establish the reason: to make a reputation for themselves. This is really an idiom for the fact that they want to establish themselves independently of God. They are standing there shaking their fist at God. The point of this whole narrative is to show what happened to the human race, that they set themselves against God and independence of God, and rejected Him as God. Verse 5 is the focal point. One of the major themes the writer is driving home here is God's involvement in human history.
Verses 6, 7, "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. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." This is parallel to man's statement "Come, let's make bricks" in v. 3. Before, they talked to one another; now they are not going to understand one another. In v. 2, "and they dwelt there"; now they are going to be dispersed from there, v.8, "So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city."
Verse 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." So they go from one language in v. 1 to many languages in the last verse. The point of this whole passage is that man left to his own devices will unite in rebellion against God, and if that is left to go to its natural conclusion it will destroy the human race as it did before the flood. So God steps in and confuses the languages in order to forestall this. What we are seeing today is that we are moving back to a point where we are close to this same kind of international cooperation. The United Nations is internationalism in its worst form, a precursor to what will take place in the Tribulation period. It is the kind of mentality that is going to characterize the kingdom of the Antichrist, the kind of one-world government that takes place. They achieve it to some degree because Revelation teaches us that no one in the whole world will be able to buy or sell unless they have the mark of the beast. There is no a tremendous movement toward globalism, an irresistible movement today. We have to resist it as much as possible. But this idea of confusion is the key thought here. Actually, many people think that is what Babel means. The word in the Hebrew which means "confused" is balal, not Babel which may actually means "the gate of Bel," one of the gods of the Babylonian pantheon. But what the Bible is doing here is making a play on words. When a Jew heard the word Babel he would think of balal, it sounded that way.
What is interesting in this passage is that the writer uses the letters B & L, as well as the letter N in a lot of different ways. What is this intends is to bring our attention back to this B L word play. Constantly throughout this whole narrative there is the use of the choice of words that have B sounds in them, so that it brings to the readers attention and reminds again and again in these subtle ways of the emphasis on confusion. In v.4 the people get together and say, "Let us make bricks." The Hebrew word here is LBNH. The H is dropped and what is left is an LBN combination. And God says, "Let us go down, and there confound their language," and there we have NBL. And people say that ignorant shepherds put this together! This is incredible literature. We miss most of it in the English but if it is read in Hebrew the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit is evident. All of these little details highlight for us the theme of the passage, which is the confusion that is brought about because of the rebellion of man against God. When man rebels against God the result is always going to be confusion and divine judgment.
Earlier the point was made that the Japhethic people had dispersed over the earth. Now the Hamitic people are scattered forcibly over the earth, not from their own initiative.