Nothing surprises God. Nothing.
God is All Knowing. What does that mean?
God knows everything and there’s nothing He does not know.
Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure’.Isaiah 46:9-10
God declared (revealed) the end from the beginning.
“And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:16-17
“And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” Genesis 3:15
We don’t have to wait until the end of the Bible to find out what will happen. We know that people die, God will judge them and Jesus will defeat Satan. It’s all up front for us to see – the end from the beginning.
With that reminder, let’s continue our study.
Revealing the Plan
God is the Necessary Being. All other life forms are contingent upon Him. That includes humans and angels. As we saw in our last study, God had mercy on one man and his family – Noah, his wife, their three sons and wives – eight people. Out of the massive number of people alive just before the great Flood that covered the earth, only eight people lived.
After the Flood waters receded and the earth dried, Noah and his family stepped off the Ark onto dry land that was eerily quiet. Where were the sounds of all the people who had corrupted the earth with their wickedness and violence?
So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth.Genesis 6:12-13
They were dead. Only eight people were left alive on earth. God knew that day would come. It was part of His eternal plan.
Remember why God sent His Son to earth?
… that He might destroy the works of the devil.1 John 3:8
Every time Satan “works,” God destroys what he does. Here’s what we’ve seen so far –
- God warned Adam that disobeying Him would lead to death (Genesis 2)
- Satan led Eve to disobey God, Adam followed and sinned against God, both began to die (Genesis 3)
- God told Satan that the “seed of the woman” would crush his head (Genesis 3)
- Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel (Genesis 4)
- Satan led Cain to kill Abel (Genesis 4)
- Eve gave birth to Seth, Seth begat Enosh and “Then men began to call on the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4)
- Satan leads the children of Seth to join the children of Cain in corrupting the earth (Genesis 6)
- God kills everyone on earth except Noah and his family (Genesis 7)
- God led Noah and his family to leave the Ark and begin new lives on the earth (Genesis 8)
- God made a new covenant with Noah and his family and their descendants (Genesis 9)
Satan found himself with a new enemy on earth – Noah and his family. What did Satan do? He got to work to try to destroy this new thing God was doing in the world. Satan had seen limited success in his earlier attempts, so he and his forces of evil worked to impact the direction of Noah’s family. What was God’s eternal plan? “destroy the works of the devil” How did He do that? By introducing the nations to His Majesty and Power.
Genesis 10 introduces us to what many call the Table of Nations. It’s an account of Noah’s three sons – Shem, Ham and Japheth – and their sons who were born after the Flood and their descendants. At the end of the account, the Bible reads –
These were the families of the sons of Noah, according to their generations, in their nations; and from these the nations were divided on the earth after the flood.Genesis 10:32
The word “nations” is interesting at this point in the Genesis account because it not only demonstrates diversity but also introduces two words that explain how Satan would do his work to upend God’s eternal plan (as if he could).
As we will see in the early days following the Flood, Satan’s work would become a direct attack on humanity’s obedience to God’s command – even as he done in the Garden of Eden –
So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.Genesis 9:1
That seems like a simple command, but we will see how Satan used that command to lead the family of Noah away from obeying God.
The Hebrew word for “nations: is בְּגוֹיֵהֶ֑ם (bəḡōwyêhem). The root word goy is translated “nation, people” and carries the idea of “a people.”
The “peoples” were divided according to the names of Noah’s sons and their sons –
- The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshek and Tiras.
- The sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Riphath and Togarmah.
- The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, the Kittites and the Rodanites.
- The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan.
- The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah and Sabteka.
- The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan.
- Cush was the father of Nimrod
- Egypt was the father of the Ludites, Anamites, Lehabites, Naphtuhites, Pathrusites, Kasluhites (from whom the Philistines came) and Caphtorites.
- Canaan was the father of Sidon his firstborn, and of the Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arvadites, Zemarites and Hamathites.
- The sons of Shem: Elam, Ashur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram.
- The sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether and Meshek. Arphaxad was the father of Shelah, and Shelah the father of Eber.
- Two sons were born to Eber: One was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided; his brother was named Joktan.
- Joktan was the father of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Obal, Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah and Jobab. All these were sons of Joktan.
Here are a couple of interesting words in Genesis 10 –
- languages (different languages)
- divided (earth was divided during time of Peleg)
Why would people have different languages ( לִלְשֹׁנֹתָ֑ם lilšōnōṯām – according to their tongues) when they were part of the same family (Noah)? How was the earth divided (נִפְלְגָ֣ה nip̄ləḡāh – split, divided, cleft) during the time of Noah’s great-great-great-grandson, Peleg?
Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. 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. Then they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’ But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, ‘Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.Genesis 11:1-9
Here we see clearly that everyone on earth spoke one language and one speech. The Hebrew word for “language” is שָׂפָ֣ה (śāp̄āh) and means “lip, speech, edge.” The Hebrew word for “speech” is וּדְבָרִ֖ים (ūḏəḇārîm) and means “speech, word.” It comes from the verb דָבַר and translates “to speak.”
The combination of those two Hebrew words means that all people were literally of one lip and words one. Their pronunciation and vocabulary were identical. Noah and his sons and their sons and their sons had no variation in speech patterns, pronunciation, accent or vocabulary. They were the same. They were one.
That’s not our experience today nor has it been for thousands of years. So, how and when did that change? Why did the human race go from having identical pronunciation and vocabulary to the thousands of languages and dialects we have today? Genesis 11 tells us how, when and why.
Origin of Language
What we believe about the origin of language is determined by what we believe about origins in general. If we believe that humans evolved from a common ancestor millions of years ago, then we will believe language evolved from the sounds of animal ancestors to the speech and vocabulary we have today. If we believe that humans were created by God, then we will believe He gave our human ancestors speech and vocabulary.
Genesis 11:1 is quite clear. “Now the whole earth had one language and one speech.” There was a time when everyone on earth had identical pronunciation and vocabulary. That pronunciation and vocabulary came to them through Noah and his wife and their sons and their wives.
Here’s an interesting note about that from Barnes –
Of one lip, and one stock: of words. – In the table of nations the term “tongue” was used to signify what is here expressed by two terms. This is not undesigned. The two terms are not synonymous or parallel, as they form the parts of one compound predicate. “One stock of words,” then, we conceive, naturally indicates the matter, the substance, or material of language. This was one and the same to the whole race. The term “lip,” which is properly one of the organs of articulation, is, on the other hand, used to denote the form, that is, the manner, of speaking; the mode of using and connecting the matter of speech; the system of laws by which the inflections and derivations of a language are conducted. This also was one throughout the human family. Thus, the sacred writer has expressed the unity of language among mankind, not by a single term as before, but, with a view to his present purpose, by a combination of terms expressing the two elements which go to constitute every organic reality.Barnes’ Notes on the Old Testament
What God saw in the human race soon after the Flood was unity of language and purpose. The purpose was contrary to God’s command. Look at the differences.
God’s purpose – “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”
Humanity’s purpose – “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
God told Noah and his family that He wanted them to “fill the earth.” Noah’s family did not want to fill the earth. Why not? Why would the entire race of humans journey from the east, select a plain in the land of Shinar and build a city with a tower reaching toward the heavens? Why would they want to make a name for themselves, lest they be scattered over the face of the whole earth?
It’s important for us to remember the human heart. Here’s what God said in His heart after the global Flood –
I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.Genesis 8:21
Even though Noah and his family had witnessed the awesome power of God, their hearts and the hearts of their children would not change from what they were before the Flood –
Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually … The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.Genesis 6:5, 11-12
What the human race did in building a city and a tower “whose top is in the heavens” was not out of the ‘goodness’ of their hearts. It came from the evil imagination of their hearts. The human race was headed in the same direction as before the Flood – evil, corruption and violence where everyone did what they pleased. That is a strong example of the power of the ‘sin nature’ in every human. Even a global Flood could not extinguish the evil of human heart.
As to what humans were thinking at the time of building the tower, one possibility may be that they believed they needed to stand together as the human race against any future plans by God to change how they lived. Noah and his sons would still have been alive at that time and were eyewitnesses to the great power of God to make major changes to humanity. Even though God had told Noah and his wife and their sons and their wives what He demanded of the human race going forward after the global Flood, Nimrod and other descendants of Noah apparently did not want to obey God. They had a rebellious spirit and disobeyed God’s direct commandment to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth. They may have believed that their strength as a human race against God was to stay close and work together.
Another possibility may be that they viewed themselves as ‘gods’ and wanted to set themselves up as such on earth. Remember what Satan told Eve in the Garden of Eden? “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5) We know from Genesis 11 that they were building “a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens.” It was an ancient step-pyramid with a place for worshipping the ‘gods’ of heaven at the top. God saw what they were doing and didn’t like it: “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.” What was it that Noah’s family proposed to do? Was it self-worship through idols? We know that Nimrod and other members of Noah’s family later established worship of ‘idols/gods’ in the cities they built in upper and lower Mesopotamia. Their view of themselves as ‘gods’ and their rebellion against the true God may be another reason they wanted to stay together and not ‘fill the earth.’
Whatever the reason, it was a “work” of the devil. Satan opposes God’s plan at every turn. Why? Because Satan heard what God told him in the Garden of Eden.
So the Lord God said to the serpent: ‘Because you have done this, You are cursed more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go, And you shall eat dust All the days of your life. And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.Genesis 3:14-15
Satan knew then and knows now that his days are numbered. The devil knows he is defeated in his battle with God, but he’s not giving up. Satan has work to do and he is doing it.
God’s response is brilliant. He confused people’s language so they couldn’t understand each other.
And the Lord said, ‘Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city.
The Hebrew word for “confuse” is וְנָבְלָ֥ה (wənāḇəlāh) and means “confound, mix, mingle, confuse.” God confounded the plan of humans by confusing their speech. He mixed up they way they spoke, heard and understood language. They could not understand one another’s speech, so they couldn’t work together to build a city with the tower reaching toward the heavens.
By confusing the language, God diffused the strength of their unity as “one people.” They did scatter over the face of the earth and built many cities. That was the beginning of “nations.”
Linguists estimate we have about 6,500 languages on earth today – down from more than 30,000 that existed through history. If true, that means almost 80 percent of all human languages have become extinct.
We don’t know how many “languages” were born on the day God confused the one language that Noah and his family had known, but there were enough to drive the people away from each other.
From what we read in Genesis 10, we understand why people went in so many different directions around the world. They joined up with people in their family who spoke a similar language and built a new life together as “a people, nations.”
We read in Genesis 10 that the “nations were divided on the earth after the flood.” We also read that the earth was “divided” during the days of Peleg. Is that a clue to something we should know?
Peleg was one Eber’s sons. Eber was the son of Salah who was the son of Arphaxad who was the son of Shem who was the son of Noah. That makes Peleg the great-great-great-grandson of Noah (fifth generation).
After we see the confusion of languages in Genesis 11, we read the genealogy of Shem. Look at the number of years from the Flood to Peleg:
- Arphaxad was born two years after the Flood
- Arphaxad was 35 years old when Salah was born
- Salah was 30 years old when Eber was born
- Eber was 34 years old when Peleg was born
- Peleg was 30 years old when his son Reu was born
- Peleg lived 209 years after he “begot Reu”
According to Genesis 10, the earth was “divided” (split) in the days of Peleg. If that division was the “confusion” of languages, we can get some idea of how long after the Flood the “nations” began.
Adding up the years from the birth of Arphaxad to the birth of Peleg, we see that Peleg was born about a century after the Flood (101 years). Peleg lived to be about 240 years old (239), so the “confusion” of tongues could have been anywhere from one to three-and-a-half centuries after the Flood.
Another clue comes from Genesis 10 where we read about the lineage of Noah’s son Ham. Ham’s son Cush had a son named Nimrod. We don’t know when Nimrod was born or how long he lived because only the lineage of Shem includes years of birth and death for Noah’s sons and their children.
So, how can we know? One way is to compare the birth and death rates of Shem’s lineage. Nimrod was Noah’s great-grandson as was Salah. Salah was born about 37 years after the Flood and lived to be about 433 years old. That means Salah died about 470 years after the Flood. If Nimrod was born about the same time as his cousin Salah and lived to be about as old, Nimrod would have also been alive for about 470 years after the flood. Compare that with the earth being divided during the time of Peleg (101-239 years after the flood) and we see that Nimrod would have been alive during and after the dividing of the earth (confusion of language).
Here’s why that’s important.
Genesis 10 tells us that Nimrod was the founder of a “kingdom,” which would go to the desire of Noah’s family to “build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” They wanted to build their own kingdom rather than operate in the Kingdom God had commanded them to build by filling the earth.
The “beginning” of Nimrod’s kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. We know from archaeology and history that the Hebrew words “land of Shinar” describes what we know as part of Mesopotamia. As we search for history about Babel, Erech, Accad and Calneh, we find that they were most likely located in the southern region of Mesopotamia that we would know today as the southern part of Iraq.
After building the southern part of his kingdom, Nimrod went north “to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth, Ir, Calah, and Resen.” These cities were most likely located in the northern region of Mesopotamia that we would know today as northern Iraq, northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey.
Archaeological discoveries date some of these city-states to the early to mid-3rd millennium. We’ll learn more about them as we go through our study, but it’s interesting to note that archaeological dating fits well with the information we have from Genesis.
Something else we’ll see as we continue our study is that Nimrod’s city-states were also headquarters for a variety of ancient religious worship. That also works with what we’ll see in Genesis and other biblical writings.
In the next part of our study we will learn more about how God continued His Great Reveal after the confusion of language and rebellion of Nimrod and the people scattered over all the face of the earth.
[You can read more about the post-flood history in our book A History of Man’s Quest for Immorality.]
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.