< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: The Tower of Babel

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Tower of Babel

Genesis 9:18-29 18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth.

20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.

24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.”
26 He also said, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. 27 May God extend Japheth’s territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,
and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.” 28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 Noah lived a total of 950 years, and then he died.
We don’t really know what Ham did besides tell his brothers. Maybe he made fun of Noah. And since the curse was directed at Ham’s son Canaan, maybe Canaan was there too. What we do know is Shem and Japheth refused to take part in anything disrespectful of their father.

The Canaanites were the people in the land of Canaan before the Israelites moved in and conquered them. At that time they were collectively known as Amorites and were ripe for divine judgment. Sodom was part of this. The Phoenicians and the colony of Carthage, more of this group, were known for their depravity. Their cult practice was oriented toward sex and its manifestations. In no country has so relatively great a number of figurines of the naked goddess of fertility, some distinctly obscene, been found. Human sacrifice was also well known.

The prophecy concerning Shem is a blessing. And the blessing is the knowledge of his God. Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem! Our word Semite is used of the descendants of Shem. In modern usage it’s those who speak the languages termed “Semitic”. God committed the oracles of His revelation, the Bible, to Shem’s descendants. It was from Shem that Abraham came, and Jacob who became Israel and finally Jesus.

Japheth also got a blessing. May God extend Japheth’s territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.” To dwell in a person’s tent implies the sharing of his hospitality and his blessings. In contrast to the Canaanites, who rejected Shem’s God, the Japhethites, or Gentiles, have come to share Shem’s blessings. As Paul stated in Galatians 3:29 the Gentiles have been grafted onto Israel’s religious tree.

Genesis 10 and 11 are not in the Bible in chronological order. Chapter 11 is about the Tower of Babel and the dispersal of the nations. Chapter 10 is after the dispersal, but it’s placed right after Chapter 9 because all the names in it represent the future tribes. All of whom originally descended from Noah’s three sons. So we’re going to look at chapter 11 first.

Genesis 11:1-9 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Chapter 11 records the second great judgment of all mankind. They didn’t seem to learn anything from the flood!

As Noah’s descendents multiplied, they gradually migrated southeast from the region of Ararat in Armenia to a plain in Shinar. This is the plain of Babylonia, situated between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers and toward what is known today as the Persian Gulf.

Archaeologists suggest 4000 BC for their final settlement and guessed it was probably a century later that they had built enough industries to build a city and a “tower that reaches to the heavens.” But they didn’t put God first and they refused to obey His order to multiply and replenish the earth. In fact it says they built the city so they wouldn’t be scattered over the earth!

And the tower was all about self worship. The Assyrian and Babylonian kings were known for priding themselves on the height of their temples, having tops “as high as heaven.” The tower of Babel was the precursor of the heathen ziggurats, whose ruins are all over Mesopotamia today. They were temples to the heathen gods and consisted of huge artificial mountains made of sun-dried bricks of variegated color.

The rest of Chapter 11 is the genealogy from Shem to Abraham.

Chapter 10 is some of the genealogy from all three sons. The reason Chapter 10 is important is;

  1. Its unique and accurate ethnic information. Genesis 10 is often called The Table of Nations. It shows a remarkable modern understanding of nations, races and languages in the ancient world. Apparently it is quite impressive.

  1. The place of Shem’s sons among the nations. Instead of getting rid of the people who didn’t honor Him like He did with the flood, this time God chose one man in Shem’s family (Abraham) who through his family God would preserve His revelation of himself. Israel would become a missionary nation: spreading the message to all the nations. This revelation of Himself through the Old Testament Scriptures which point to Jesus Christ and God’s plan for salvation, has been preserved from ancient days by Abraham’s family- the Jewish people. Until Christ came and His gospel was preached to all nations, Israel alone worshiped the one true God. The rest of Genesis and really the Old Testament pretty much centers on this family and its descendents. Other nations appear mainly in their relationship with Israel.

  1. The third reason Chapter 10 is important is it provides clues to understanding certain Bible prophecies relating to events still future to us. For instance when Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation prophesized concerning wars, nations and events that haven’t taken place yet, they didn’t use our present-day nations, but ancient names found in this chapter. Many students of prophecy believe that the future people’s identity will be able to be matched with these geographical positions.
For example Ezekiel and Revelation speak of Gog and Magog as being engaged in a war with Israel which is of world importance and hasn’t yet taken place. Cush is Ethipia, Put is Libya, Philistines gave name to Palestine, Nineveh is possibly present day Iran. ect.

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