God’s Purposes Trump Human Pride
Explore the Bible Series
January 8, 2008
Lesson Passage: Genesis
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.
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,
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
Outline of Background
The Descendants of Japheth (10:1-5):
(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.
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.
The Descendants of Ham (10:6-20)
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).
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.
The Descendants of Shem (10:21-31)
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).
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).
of the dispersion of the tribes after the Flood (v. 32)
of Babel (11:1-9)
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.
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.
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
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.
descendents (vv. 10-26): Genesis traces ten generations from Shem to Terah. Note that life-expectancies spiral downward
throughout this period.
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.