● Chapter 11
One Language, One Tongue
Gen 11:1: And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
The Prophet Moses details, in this chapter, an event of great significance for the explanation of the table of nations in the previous chapter. All the posterities of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, used the same language — one mutually intelligible speech. They spoke in the same manner because of the same vocabulary. There was no two tongues about it.
Of interest to many is the original language that was used by the Creator in His communication with Mankind, and among Mankind themselves. Could the language used be the Hebrew language? There are strong evidences for it. Of all the languages which came after the confusion of tongues in Babel, the Hebrew language was used of God in communication. This language had remained in the family of Eber (Heber), out of whom God called a man through whom He would establish a nation, a unique nation that bears His Name. Out of this unique nation, God called certain men, and ordained them to be His messengers (prophets and seers). To them, God spoke in the language they would later use to record for the nation’s posterity. The proper names of persons, places and things in the language had great significance. To those prophets and seers, God spoke to them in Hebrew and gave the revelation of His will to His nation, Israel.
The Land of Shinar
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.
The early years after the Flood, Noah and his family lived in the land of Ararat. They descended from the mountain where the Ark had rested to settle down where there were lush grounds for planting of crops and grazing of animals. The family dwelled together as a unit. Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, begat sons and daughters. No doubt, some of the children of the three sons of Noah would have knotted themselves in intermarriage. In the last chapter, Moses recorded that the Earth was divided in the days (lifetime) of Peleg (Gen.10:25). Peleg was born in 1757 AM (Anno Mundi, Year of the World) or 2246 BC, a hundred years after the Flood ceased (vv.10-16). The Flood year was 1656 AM or 2347 BC. The population in that first 100 years could be estimated to be at about 5,000 people. Possibly, several years before Peleg was born, the whole family of Mankind journeyed eastward to find larger lands of greenery, “that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there”.
Shinar was beautiful and it had a big lush plain. Life in that area was wonderful. The descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth were one family of people of the blood of Noah and his wife (Acts 17:26). Even though the serpentine nature lived in all, it was somewhat stronger in the descendants of Ham, revealed in his iniquitous deed he committed against his father. Ham’s grandson, Nimrod, was greatly loved by his father, Cush, and his own Hamitic people. It was, perhaps, not long after Peleg was born and the population increased that he began to push an idea.
Babel - City and Tower
Gen 11:3: And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
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.
It will be foolish to take the statements and believe that every family member of Shem, Ham and Japheth spoke unanimously in total agreement to build themselves a city and a tower. It could not have been so. From the account of the genealogy of Ham given by Moses in the previous chapter (Gen.10:6-19), it discloses Nimrod, who was a mighty man and a tyrant in the sight of the Lord God, as the one person who had propagated the idea, an idea trusted upon him by his father, Cush, Ham’s firstborn. Cush was the ringleader in the building of the City and the Tower of Babel. In Pagan Antiquity he was known by several names, two of which were Bel – ‘The Confounder’, and Chaos – ‘God of Confusion’. Nimrod took over his father’s unfinished work. He was one of the most controversial politico-religious figures in history. He came to be known as the founder and builder of the great city of Babel and its tower. Babel was his first city as Nimrod began his kingdom building.
Nimrod created his own religion just like Cain did his. His politico-religious power put a great part of the populace under his spell. He wanted to build a name, an immortal honour, for himself. But there were certain men who opposed him. One such men was Asshur, a son of Shem, who went forth out of Shinar, with his people, to a land far away. In that land they built their own cities, which land later bear his name, Asshur (Assyria).
Justly, Nimrod was a great hunter of the souls of men, a tyrant and a rebel before Yahweh. The tower was built to be as high as it could go; it was a symbol of his greatness and power that would gel the populace together. Because of its height, those who had journeyed far out across the vast plain of Shinar could see the tower, and perhaps be drawn back to Babel, thus, keeping the populace from scattering.
Upon the death of his father, Nimrod married his own mother, Semiramis. Nimrod was literally the founder of the religion of Papal worship. According to historian Alexander Hislop, author of ‘The Two Babylons’, Nimrod was killed by his great uncle, Shem, who could not tolerate his evil practices of the occult and baby sacrifice. Then his evil mother-wife deified him. In fact, he was the first human to be deified. Hislop stated “that Nimrod was the actual Father of the gods, as being the first of deified mortals”. His mother was later deified based on the argument that if Nimrod was a god, then his mother-wife must also be a goddess.
Gen 11:5: And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
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.
As the children of men built the city and the tower, Yahweh had been watching. Speaking out loud, Yahweh expressed Himself, even to the angels around, in a serious yet ironical manner: “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language”. Surely, the people being one and having only one language, must be good. To the contrary, the tower they were building had turned their hearts from Yahweh. Nothing could stop them from the purpose of what they had set out to accomplish, and more. As it was in the days before the Flood “that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen.6:5), so it was in the days after the Flood when men began to multiply again.
Language - Tongues - Confusion
The children of men are but worms of the earth (Mic.7:17; Job 7:5); how very foolish for them to defy Heaven, and to provoke the Lord God to jealousy. It was not very long into the construction of the city and the tower that Yahweh said:
Gen 11:7: Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
8: So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
So, the Lord came down to remove the unity of the people’s sentiment and purpose by confounding their one language into several tongues – articulating the same word differently – so that the hearer could not comprehend the mind of the speaker. [Note: To understand this confusion of tongues, consider the vast differences of articulation of the Chinese language throughout China.] Everyone knew they spoke the one language, but only to themselves; to the others, it was gibberish, mere babbling of unintelligible words. This was expressed by a 16th Century French poet, Du Bartas (translated by Josvah 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.
Not able to comprehend one another, the people stopped building the city, and abandoned it to the immediate party of Nimrod. No doubt, each sought out those who spoke the same tongue, articulated in the same manner, and sequestered themselves to form a community; and they scattered abroad. Thus, the divine purpose of God to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Gen.9:1) was fulfilled.
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.
If Hebrew be the one original language from which several tongues sprang forth in Babel, then the languages around those regions (to where the people first migrated and settled down in the first few hundred years) which are spoken today would have resemblance to their parent language. Some of the most striking resemblance to their parent language, Hebrew, are Arabic, Aramaic, Chaldee, Syriac, Phoenician and Ethiopic. However, as different factions of people spread out abroad upon the face of the Earth, the different climatic conditions and diets demanded different lifestyles, and thus, new things birthed new terms and expressions. New languages were then formed, incorporating old or borrowed words, within each and every particular nation of people.
The event called “Babel” could have taken place some 20 or 30 years after Peleg was born. A group of people could have moved eastward to China and established a dynasty. China’s history dated back to 2100 BC (or 1903 AM). Its first dynasty was Xia Dynasty, established around 2070 BC (or 1933 AM). Interestingly, ancient civilizations, such as China, Babylonia, India, Russia and Polynesia, have, in their cultural and traditional records, traces of the Creation, the Fall and the Deluge.
With the scattering of Mankind, this chapter ends the explanation of the table of nations, which was laid out in chapter 10. From this juncture, it leaves the general, and narrows itself into a specific, significant individual — Abram, tracing his descend from Shem. In Abram was to come a Redeemer who would restore Mankind to his Creator and to purge the world of sins.
The Chosen Lineage
Gen 11:10: These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood:
11: And Shem lived after he begat Arphaxad five hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.
Shem, the youngest of the three sons of Noah, fathered Arphaxad two years after the Flood when he was 100 years old. He lived another 500 years and had more sons and daughters before he died at the age of 600 years.
Gen 11:12: And Arphaxad lived five and thirty years, and begat Salah:
13: And Arphaxad lived after he begat Salah four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters.
Arphaxad was 35 years old when he birthed Salah. He lived another 403 years and had more sons and daughters. He died at the age of 438 years.
Gen 11:14: And Salah lived thirty years, and begat Eber:
15: And Salah lived after he begat Eber four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters.
Salah was the father of Eber at the age of 30 years. Like his father, he lived another 403 years and had more sons and daughters. He died at the age of 433 years.
Gen 11:16: And Eber lived four and thirty years, and begat Peleg:
17: And Eber lived after he begat Peleg four hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters.
Eber married and fathered Peleg at the age of 34 years. He lived another 430 years and had more sons and daughters. He died at the age of 464 years.
Gen 11:18: And Peleg lived thirty years, and begat Reu:
19: And Peleg lived after he begat Reu two hundred and nine years, and begat sons and daughters.
Peleg birthed Reu at the age of 30. He lived another 209 years, and had more sons and daughters. He died at the age of 239 years. As was disclosed in Genesis 10:25, it was in his lifetime, that the Earth split and divided, and shaped into the topography we have today, even as Mankind was confounded by Yahweh and scattered to become different nations of people. Ten years after the death of Peleg, Noah, the only pure Sethite, this side of the Flood, died at the age of 950 years. More importantly, he got to see the realization of the scattering of his children to replenish the Earth as God intended in the commandment He gave (Gen.9:1).
Gen 11:20: And Reu lived two and thirty years, and begat Serug:
21: And Reu lived after he begat Serug two hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters.
Reu married and father Serug at the age of 32 years. He lived another 207 years and had more sons and daughters. He died at the age of 239 years.
Gen 11:22: And Serug lived thirty years, and begat Nahor:
23: And Serug lived after he begat Nahor two hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.
Serug birthed Nahor when he was 30 years old. He lived another 200 years and had more sons and daughters. He died at the age of 230 years.
Gen 11:24: And Nahor lived nine and twenty years, and begat Terah:
25: And Nahor lived after he begat Terah an hundred and nineteen years, and begat sons and daughters.
Nahor was 29 years old when he birthed Terah. He lived another 119 years and had more sons and daughters. He died at the age of 148 years.
The Generations of Terah
Gen 11:26: And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
27: Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot.
Though the Scripture describes the generations of Terah, the story is of Abram, whose name is famous, henceforward. Terah married late in his life and had his firstborn at the age of 70 years. As in the genealogy of Seth, the Adamic line, which ends with Noah and his three sons; the genealogy of Shem, the Chosen Messianic line, ends with Terah and his three sons. Notice that the holy writer of Genesis scripted the names of the three sons of Noah after his name in reverse order — “Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (Gen.5:32; 6:10). Likewise, he scripted in the same manner the names of Terah’s three sons — “Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran”. There is a reason behind such a grouping. In the former, it shows that all of Mankind descended from the three sons of Noah; all have the same blood of Noah and his wife. But of the three sons, Yahweh chose to bless the youngest, Shem, whose family tree would bring forth the promised ‘Seed of the Woman’ that would bruise the head of the Serpent (Gen.3:15), destroying its work. In the latter, it shows God’s Sovereignty in choosing the youngest son of Terah, Abram, to fulfill what He had foreordained before the world begun. [Note: It can be proven that Abram was the youngest of the three sons of Terah: Terah died at the age of 205 years in the city of Haran (Gen.11:21-32). In Acts 7:2-4, we are told that Abram left Haran (or Charran) after his father died. Abram was then 75 years old (Gen.12:4). Subtracting 75 years from 205 years, we have 130 years. Therefore Abram was born, not when his father Terah was 70 years old, but when he was 130 years old.]
Gen 11:28: And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.
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.
30: But Sarai was barren; she had no child.
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.
32: And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.
The family of Terah were all native-born and lived in the city of Ur of the Chaldeans. It was an idolatrous country, where even the children of Eber themselves had degenerated over the last 200 or more years. Haran, the eldest son, died in the presence of his father in the family’s native land. The Scripture does not tell us how Haran died, and why Terah moved to dwell in Haran. However, this verse of Joshua gives us some insight:
Jos 24:2: And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods.
Chaldea - An Idolatrous Country
The people of ancient Mesopotamia were people who worshipped many gods. No doubt those gods were spinoffs from Nimrod’s idolatrous religious worship when he started his kingdom in Shinar. The city of Ur was in that region, and the inhabitants fell into polytheism, or, allotheism — the worship of other gods.
Did Terah and his family serve other gods? Many have taken the word “they” in the last part of the verse of Joshua 24:2 – “and they served other gods” – to refer to Terah’s family instead of the people living on the other side of the River Euphrates. Remember that Nimrod was a tyrant and a religious bigot who inflicted his will upon others. So, one way or another, the whole populace of Chaldea were influenced by idolatrous worship. Terah might have been betrayed into compliance with this form of impiety. With such religious bigotry from a tyrant, Haran’s death could not have been natural. Moses wrote that “Haran died before his father Terah”. The word “before” is from the Hebrew “paniym”, “the face (as the part that turns)”. The sentence could be translated as “Haran died in the presence of his father Terah”; that is, Terah saw Haran died before his eyes. The Jews, the Arabs, and the Babylonians have traditional stories of their own concerning the family of Terah, and how Haran died. One tradition has it that Nimrod killed Haran on account that Terah had undermined Nimrod’s plan to kill the child Abram, whom he saw as a threat to his kingdom. Nimrod only discovered the truth after many years that Terah had deceived him into killing the wrong child (a servant’s child). Notwithstanding, the Scripture indicated that, it was after the death of Haran that “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”.
That Terah, the aged patriarch, decided to go to Canaan, reveals a fact that Abram, his son, who had heard the call of Yahweh, when he was 70 years old, had told it to him — a revelation that removed the dark cloud of allotheism from his mind, and restoring in him the knowledge and worship of the one True God. [Note: God called Abram when he was 70 years old. This is attested by the followings: God’s promise to Abram was 430 years before the exodus of the children of Israel out of Egypt (Exo.12:40). Of this long span of time, Abram’s seed sojourned 400 years in a foreign land (Gen.15:13). That means Isaac, Abram’s seed, was born 30 years after God called Abram, then at age 70 years, in Ur of Chaldea (Acts 7:2-4).] Since the idolatrous country had nothing but darkness, evil, corruption and death all around, it would be better for Terah to take his family with him to Canaan. However, his family did not make it to Canaan. After a grueling journeying of more than 600 miles (or nearly 1000 kilometres), over a period of about 8-10 weeks, an exhausted Terah decided to temporarily dwell in the city of Haran. But the aged, and perhaps frail, patriarch dwelled in Haran, for less than 5 years, until he died at the age of 205 years. That same year, Abram, being 75 years old, left Haran for Canaan. [Note: Nahor and his family were not part of the assemblage. They had either earlier migrated out of Ur to Haran, or later after Terah had arrived there. Gen.24:10,15.]
Family Gene Pool
Before the happy family moved out of that idolatrous country of Chaldea, three grandchildren were born to Terah — Milcah, Iscah and Lot, who were the children of Haran. Abram married Sarai, and she was barren. Nahor married his niece Milcah, a daughter of his brother Haran. Haran had a younger daughter named Iscah, and a son named Lot. But who was Iscah? Like Naamah, whose name was mentioned once, so was Iscah. Speculation has it that Iscah was married to her own brother Lot. Such marriage was not as yet forbidden. But others believed that, like Naamah, Iscah was mentioned without any significance.
To understand the mystery, let the Spirit read out the Scripture to our wisdom and understanding in Christ. All the genealogical records in the Holy Scripture are arranged in an orderly manner, as exposited in chapter 6. Observe carefully the arrangement and grouping of all the genealogies mentioned thus far in our study. There was the pure bloodline, Adam’s, before the Flood — ten generations till Noah. Then there was the one mixed bloodline, the three sons of Noah, after the Flood. Each son had their share in the population of the Earth. Out of the loin of Noah, there was the chosen Messianic line, Shem’s — ten generations till Abram. Then there was the family line, the three sons of Terah. Each son had their share in the chosen nation of Israel. Terah’s family were blessed by the God of Shem. They were chosen and weaved together to bring forth the promised Seed of the Woman. Understanding the arrangement and grouping will show that Iscah was Sarai. Haran, the father called her Iscah (Jiskah - Yiskaw), a Hebrew word meaning Vigilant, Observant, Sharp-Eyed. In English, her name would be ‘Vigilant’ or ‘Observant’ or ‘Sharp-Eyed’, using the words as names (as in ‘Smith’, a worker of metal, or, as in ‘Fisher’, a fisherman). However, Abram, the husband, called her Sarai, a Hebrew word meaning Princess, Argumentative, Contrary. No doubt, Sarai was argumentative, but Abram loved her dearly, calling her, ‘My Princess’. To the Lord, Who chose Abram, He preferred to changed her name to Sarah – Noblewoman, Princess of Multitude, Mother of Nations – for in her breasts flowed the milk that nursed the multitude of thirsty souls (Gen.17:15-16). And to Abram – High Father – the same Lord changed his name to Abraham – Father of Multitude/Nations – for he was the father of all them who believe (Gen.17:4-6).
In the genealogy of Terah, Terah was the patriarch of his family, his children, and his children’s children. But Abram was the subject and principal person of the family in Yahweh’s plan and purpose for the redemption of Adam’s race. Haran was the father of Milcah and Iscah (and Lot). Nahor married Milcah; they had a son, Bethuel, and by him they became grandparents of Rebekah. Abram married Iscah (Sarai), sister of Milcah; and they had a son, Isaac, who married Rebekah. Isaac and Rebekah birthed Jacob who married Bethuel’s son’s (Laban’s) daughters, Leah and Rachel. Jacob and his wives (including two concubines) birthed 12 sons; and from the Tribe of Judah (son of Leah) came forth the Messiah. In His plan, the Lord God was keeping the gene pool in the family.
Hebrew Kinship Terminology
The Scripture recorded that Abram deceived two rulers, on two separate occasions, regarding his relationship with Sarai so as to protect himself. The first ruler was Pharaoh (Gen.12:10-20). The second ruler was Abimelech (Gen.20). Abram got Sarai to say that she was his sister instead of his wife. Such half truth was a lie, an act which his own son, Isaac, also committed (Gen.26:6-11). It was a sin of iniquity. Had God not intervened each time, Sarai would have been the wife of two men — Abram and Pharaoh, or Abimelech. Whatsoever was the relationship of Sarai to Abram before they married, Sarai was WIFE to Abram after they married; that’s the status quo. Sarai was no longer a sister or a cousin, per se.
The words of Abram’s response, “…indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother;…” (Gen.20:12), have thrown many Bible lovers into believing that his father, Terah, had a second wife, to whom Sarai was born. In Hebrew kinship terminology, there are many possible references to a term. In fact, the Bible uses the Greek and Hebrew social familial terms, not the biological ones. The word ‘father’ can also refer to a grandfather or great grandfather; and ‘mother’ can also refer to a grandmother or great grandmother; and ‘brother’ can also refer to a nephew, and ‘sister’ to a niece. So, Sarai is termed a ‘daughter’ of Terah as much as she was his granddaughter. Rebekah is ‘sister’ to Isaac though she was second cousin to him. Lot is termed Abram’s ‘brother’ even though he was his nephew (Gen.14:12,16).