God’s Purposes Trump Human Pride

Explore the Bible Series

January 8, 2008


Background Passage: Genesis 10:1-11:32

Lesson Passage: Genesis 11:1-9, 27-32


Introduction: This morning, as I scanned the front page of the newspaper, my eye fell on the following headline, “Dozens Die in Kenya Church.”  In recent weeks this east African nation has erupted in tribal bloodshed, and more than 250 people, according to the paper, have died in just the last two days.  In the aftermath of a disputed presidential election, old tribal rivalries threaten to immerse the nation in a violent, horrid bloodbath. Some have predicted another Rwanda-like situation.


England ruled Kenya for many years, but, in 1963, the Kenyans won their independence.  The British held tribal disputes in check for decades, but the favored Kiluyus, the dominate group that has continued to control Kenyan business and politics.  Though the various tribes have coexisted with relative peace, the election controversy has rekindled ethnic flames that may consume the nation.  The reelected president, Mwai Kibaki, won a paper-thin (and highly contested) majority, and many Kenyans suspect the election was fixed.  Angry, frustrated crowds have taken matters into their own hands, and the burning of the Assembly of God Church, in the village of Eldoret, resulted in the deaths and injuries of dozens of Kiluyu citizens.  In addition to the church burning, there have been reports of torture, gang-violence, and beheadings. The U.S. State Department has issued a warning against any travel to Kenya. (By the way, according to the most recent information I could find, there are more than 2200 missionaries, 1300 from the United States, in Kenya).


Sadly, world history teems with examples of tribal and ethnic conflicts.  Our own beloved nation has experienced heart-rending tension among Anglos, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, and Irish Americans (and more).  The Book of Genesis, in this week’s lesson, gives us some insight into the human rebellion that brought about the tensions among the nations and ethnicities of the world.  Chapters Ten and Eleven record the birth of the nations, and Chapter Eleven, in particular, focuses on the linguistic and social confusion that gave rise to the tensions between the tribes of the earth.  The sad events in Kenya serve as a reminder of humankind’s lengthy, bloody history of violence.  Kings, parliaments, and presidents have attempted to avoid the gruesome results of the past, but the world continues its gore-strewn course.  The only hope for peace, of course, comes through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Human rebellion produced the disastrous effects of the Tower of Babel, but the Holy Spirit united the Lord’s people at Pentecost (a kind of reversal of Babel). Only through Christ will men really experience, “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”





Outline of Background Passage:


I.                   The Descendants of Japheth (10:1-5):

A.    Introduction (v. 1): The last chapters of primeval history (Chapters One through Eleven) describe the repopulation of the earth in the aftermath of the Flood.  After this section genesis refocuses attention on a single family, the lineage of Abraham.  The names that appear in these lists probably denote individuals, persons who were progenitors of the various nations of the Middle East.

B.     The nations descended from Japheth (vv. 2-5): These peoples, according to Derek Kidner, inhabited the region from the Aegean Sea to just north of the Fertile Crescent. Genesis mentions the various languages of the people in anticipation of the division of tongues at Babel.


II.                The Descendants of Ham (10:6-20)

A.    The nations descended from Ham (vv. 6-7 and 13-20): These tribal groups settled south of the descendants of Japheth, in the Negev region and East Africa.  Canaan, Ham’s sons settled in the region later inhabited by Israel.  When the Jews returned to Canaan, after the Exodus, they claimed this region only as the result of violent conquest (See the Book of Joshua). 

B.     The rise of Nimrod and Babel (vv. 8-9): The Bible doesn’t reveal much about this remarkable man, but he appears to have initiated the ancient Babylonian Empire, in the Land of Shinar.  The text implies that he was a man of great political and military prowess.  Furthermore, he built great cities like Nineveh, and ancient Jewish tradition attributes the Tower of Babel to Nimrod’s ingenuity.


III.             The Descendants of Shem (10:21-31)

A.    The nations descended from Shem (vv. 21-23 and 26-31): These groups settled in area from the Mediterranean to the Fertile Crescent (note that the various tribes overlapped one another). 

B.     The special case of Eber (vv. 24-25): “Eber” is the root word for “Hebrew”, and this man marks a narrowing of the narrative to the lineage of Abraham. Eber had two sons, and Peleg, one of the sons, lived during the time of the division (probably a reference to the confusion of tongues at Babel).

C.     Summary of the dispersion of the tribes after the Flood (v. 32)


IV.             The Tower of Babel (11:1-9)  

A.    Migration to the East (vv. 2): The ark landed on Ararat, in the Northeast region of the Mediterranean.  As the tribal groups fanned to the East, they found an open plain that they called Shinar.  As Chapter Ten made clear, the descendents of Ham, under the leadership of Nimrod pioneered this area.  In time, they determined to build a grand tower (Kidner believes this was the ziggurat Etemenanki), in the city of Bab-ili, “The Gate of God.” Commentators believe the Hebrew name “Babel” (confusion) is a play on Bab-ili. 

B.     The building of the tower (vv. 3-4): The people of Babel erected this ziggurat to make a name for themselves, to magnify their glory and power.  It served as monument to their unbridled pride and blasphemy. 

C.     God’s judgment on Babel (vv. 9): Apparently he builders had not completed their task when God intervened by confusing the tongues.  The division of languages forced the people to abandon the tower and disperse from the region. 


V.                The Ancestors of Abraham (11:10-32): The narrative changes dramatically here.  Previously the author focused on tribal groups, but now the story centers on individuals in the lineage of Abraham; indeed, the text returns to the genealogical format used in Genesis Five. 

A.    Shem’s descendents (vv. 10-26): Genesis traces ten generations from Shem to Terah. Note that life-expectancies spiral downward throughout this period.

B.     The family of Terah (vv. 27-32): Terah lived in Ur, probably to the south of Shinar, in the Fertile Crescent.  He had three sons: Abram, Nahor, and Haran.  Haran, the father of Lot, died before Terah, but Nahor (he married his niece, Milcah) and Abram (he married his half-sister Sarai, daughter of Terah) took wives.  Terah led the family to leave Ur, but, before they arrived at their destination in Canaan, the family settled in the Land of Haran.