Backgound of Genesis 11

Genesis 11:1-9 reveals mankind’s struggle after the Flood and their plan to settle.  Mankind’s desire was to be unified and making their name great despite God’s command to multiple the earth.

The dispersion of the descendants of Noah was another creation story; the second beginning of mankind. It shows God’s favor and grace upon man and will reveal the heart of man and the heart of God. The first sign of unity that is seen in the text is that of language. The phrases of “same” and “whole world” reveal the oneness of the text and its focus upon unity. In verse the phrase, “Whole world” renders the Hebrew “all the earth,” meaning the inhabitants of the earth collectively.”[1] The focal point of the people of the earth is they desired community with each other. The one difference that came about than a harmonious relationship with one another is their decision to focus upon themselves and not upon God.

Language was common among all the people and lessens the struggle in communication. What a different world than which we live in today? The one puzzling piece of this text is that in Chapter 10:5, 20, and 31 it states the descendants of Noah having their own languages? There are different views upon the reason behind this being stated in Genesis 11:1, “At one time the whole earth had the same language and vocabulary.”[2] We must first look at the phrase, “the whole earth”, does this mean the earth as a whole or a figure of speech that is limiting it to the area of Mesopotamia?

It is explained clearer this way, “the phrase may be used in Genesis and Old Testament both to designate a limited region and also the whole earth.”[3] It either denotes that Chapter 10 was written after Chapter 11 or that author was writing about his understanding the “world” being in Babylonia. In Strong’s Concordance is defines the word “language” by stating, “lips (of the mouth); by extension: speech, language.”[4]

Understanding the world as being unified under one language and same words shows that whether the author meant in chapter 10 about Shem, Ham, and Japheth’s descendants having their own languages is not focused upon the whole of mankind, but all the people’s of Babylonia. Babylonia was a central place, “in the ancient Near East, Babel claimed to be the center of the world in the same way as Rome was widely regarded as the religious center of the Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages.”[5]

To its founders the definition of, “gate of the gods” being the central meaning of Babel, it signifies the pluralistic society that were descended from Noah. The Hebrew form of the word means “confused” or “a babel of voices”[6] This definition of confusion is found to be true in this story of God’s redemption with man. The focus of this study so far has been the image of the world being unified in language.

[1] Matthew, Kenneth A. Genesis 1:11-26, The New American Commentary, vol. 1A, 477.

[2] Holy Bible. Holman Christian Standard Bible. Genesis 11:1.

[3] Matthew, Kenneth A. Genesis 1:11-26, The New American Commentary, vol. 1A, 478.

[4] Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. 2001. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.) 178. 179