Genesis 6-11 contains 3 major stories with interjected toledot – genealogies.
Genesis 6:1-8, as discussed in my previous post, sets the reader up for another incredible emotional gut check. Mankind is once again rebelling. Not just “minor” rebellion, but full scale wicked rebellion. “The Lord Saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (6:5).
Genesis 6:9 is a new story, but zoomed in on the character of Noah (who was foreshadowed in 5:28-30). This man is one of 2 people living that is described as being righteous. The only other OT figure described so glowingly is Job (compare Job 1 to Genesis 6:9). Verses 11&12 repeat the moral state of humanity, and 6:13-21 expands what God meant in 6:3, 5-8).
Genesis 7 & 8 are two very hotly debated chapters of Scripture. We can come at these chapters with questions of geology, ecology, zoology, genetics, and plate tectonics. We can also come at these chapters with questions about literary composition, literary redaction, or wondering how the author acquired this information.
All these questions have merit, but none of them were on the mind of the original audience. Or of the author.
Rather, we have to look at these chapters in light of the running narrative from chapter 1 up to this point. We must ask “what is this story telling us about God?” What is this story telling us about humanity?” and let the text answer those questions.
The story tells us about a God who cares deeply about His creation. That is why it troubles him to see humanity sinning. It also shows that God desires to give new chances, hence why He preserves Noah and his family. God is just. God desires human flourishing, not humanity to be squandering its created glory and honor for shallow pleasures and selfishness.
So, what do we make of chapter 9?
Chapter 9 starts out with the beautiful “recreation” of life. There is the blessing to “be fruitful and multiply” (9:1), and the reaffirmation of the value of life (9:6).
The greatest natural disaster is over and all seems to be going well. Life is flourishing and God is establishing a covenant. But 8:21 starts ringing in the ear when this covenant is being retold in 9:8-17 (an expanded telling of the story). In 8:21 God says “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.”
It starts ringing in the ears because something bad happens in 9:18-28. Something so shameful that it hurts two generations of people (Ham’s son is Canaan: 9:25; 10:6).
Humanity which was supposed to be starting out with peace, hope, and righteousness has quickly fallen back into sin.
This, my friends, is tragedy.
But the beauty of the story is that it does not end there. Rather, it seems as though humanity does flourish some. We have the accounts of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and nations seem to develop from their lineage. It causes the audience to ask “what is going to happen? Will humanity walk with the Lord? Will sinfulness end? Will God keep giving humans a chance?”
And that is what 11:1-9 answers.
Humanity crashes and burns. It fails the test to walk with God. Instead of seeing God as the almighty, worthy, and amazing Lord over all, humanity instead decides”Let’s 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” (11:4).
Yes, the story of Babel is not one about towers or cities. It is about humanity’s vainglory. It is about pride and the rejection of God. God is the One that deserves all glory honor and praise. Not humanity.
Here are a couple quick notes though to end the blog (which is very long)
Nimrod was a mighty warrior (10:8,9). Yet somehow it is an insult to be called a Nimrod. I think it is based upon a Bugs Bunny clip where Elmer Fudd fails at hunting Bugs, and Bugs turns to the camera and says “He’s a real Nimrod, ain’t he?” That sarcastic comment turned the tides of history on the name Nimrod.
The tower of Babel was probably finished. If you look at 11:8, it says that they stopped building the city, not the tower. Also, temples were where gods came down and met with humanity, not where humanity went up to meet gods. Usually we try to make a reason out of the tower as to why God would punish humanity. That comes from a misunderstanding of ANE temples, and also from not reading the text closely enough. The issue was making a name for humanity and not for God.
Lastly, about God worrying in 11:6, we have to remember that if humanity is setting their mind to sin, and God knew that humanity is sinful (8:21), then God is worrying about humanity exponentially increasing in depravity. To spread the people across the nations is an act of grace. He reduced sin.