The Table and the Tower

Lesson #26 looks at two fascinating source events that explain the origins of all the different nations and languages in the world today.
Class by:
26 of 50

We have studied the great flood that had a dramatic effect on the world.

  1. The environment changed completely from a balanced, cooperative one to an environment of decay, drastic weather and challenge in which to live (climate continues to change).
  2. The society was wiped out and a new one was begun through Noah's three sons and wives.
  3. The spiritual promise was kept alive through Noah and then through his son Shem and his descendants.

The "wide view" of that time described the destruction of the world and the changes that took place along with God's promise to sustain man in the future. The rainbow covenant was given as a promise to preserve the world from a water catastrophe in the future.

The "close-up view" of that time detailed the interaction between Noah and his sons and his prophecies concerning each of them:

  1. That Ham and his descendants would be servants of the world as well as his brothers.
  2. That Shem would excel in spiritual things (the Jews came through his lineage).
  3. That Japheth would prosper and be at peace with his brother Shem.

This discussion of future generations widens in the 10th and 11th chapters to include more information about the descendants of these men who eventually developed into various nations.

We follow this to a point in history where the explosion of tongues and cultures takes place and where the Bible will no longer trace the development of various subcultures but will once again go into a close-up view of one man and the nation of which he will become the father. This brings us to the two main items ready for our present discussion, the Table of Nations and the Tower of Babel.

Table of Nations - Chapter 10

Chapter ten of Genesis contains written information that archaeologists say does not appear anywhere else. The records of ancient civilizations that existed in those days are not recorded in any other document; however, artifacts to substantiate this record have been found.

The Bible is the only document that confirms the existence of these peoples and is very accurate according to archaeological findings.
- Dr. William F. Albright, archaeologist.
1Now these are the records of the generations of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah; and sons were born to them after the flood. 2The sons of Japheth were Gomer and Magog and Madai and Javan and Tubal and Meshech and Tiras. 3The sons of Gomer were Ashkenaz and Riphath and Togarmah. 4The sons of Javan were Elishah and Tarshish, Kittim and Dodanim. 5From these the coastlands of the nations were separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations.

Here, Japheth and Shem are not named according to birth order but to accommodate the fact that Shem is the one keeping the record of the "sons of Noah."

Allowing for the general change in names, researchers follow these sons as the fathers of different nations:

  • His ancestors include modern day Europe, India, some Middle Eastern countries.
  • It is the first time the term "gentiles" is used, it means "nation" and more specifically, "foreign nation".
    • This verse was written after the tower of Babel because it describes an event (the difference in language) that occurred only then.
6The sons of Ham were Cush and Mizraim and Put and Canaan. 7The sons of Cush were Seba and Havilah and Sabtah and Raamah and Sabteca; and the sons of Raamah were Sheba and Dedan. 8Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth. 9He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, "Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord." 10The beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11From that land he went forth into Assyria, and built Nineveh and Rehoboth-Ir and Calah, 12and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13Mizraim became the father of Ludim and Anamim and Lehabim and Naphtuhim 14and Pathrusim and Casluhim (from which came the Philistines) and Caphtorim.
15Canaan became the father of Sidon, his firstborn, and Heth 16and the Jebusite and the Amorite and the Girgashite 17and the Hivite and the Arkite and the Sinite 18and the Arvadite and the Zemarite and the Hamathite; and afterward the families of the Canaanite were spread abroad. 19The territory of the Canaanite extended from Sidon as you go toward Gerar, as far as Gaza; as you go toward Sodom and Gomorrah and Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. 20These are the sons of Ham, according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, by their nations.

Shem lists the genealogy of Japheth to the second generation; for Ham he gives three and for his own, five. This was to make sure that all nations would be traced and the origin and development of each was recorded.

Ham's descendants include many of the peoples in the area of Syria, Iraq, Arabia, Egypt and African nations as well as the Asian people and original peoples of North and South America.

He mentions one person in particular and that is Nimrod, who was Ham's grandson. His name means "rebellion" or "let us rebel" and suggests that the power of sin was already growing strong in the hearts of men. God has given commands to disperse, to replenish the earth and to honor Him.

We see in Nimrod's actions in verses 9 to 11 that instead of dispersing, he tried to consolidate different groups under his leadership. He built a complex of cities with a capital (Babel) with himself as king.

  • That he was a great hunter suggests that he may have been a great warrior, one with weapons.
  • This was not in God's plan, for a man to be king over other men, to receive honor instead of God, to enrich oneself instead of replenishing the earth.

We see the seeds of the eventual rebellion being sown here in the family of Nimrod. The Canaanites eventually come from Ham and much of their history is listed here. Again, Shem mentions that these things were written after the division of nations and tongues at Babel, probably to secure the original history of each group.

21Also to Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, and the older brother of Japheth, children were born. 22The sons of Shem were Elam and Asshur and Arpachshad and Lud and Aram. 23The sons of Aram were Uz and Hul and Gether and Mash. 24Arpachshad became the father of Shelah; and Shelah became the father of Eber. 25Two sons were born to Eber; the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided; and his brother's name was Joktan. 26Joktan became the father of Almodad and Sheleph and Hazarmaveth and Jerah 27and Hadoram and Uzal and Diklah 28and Obal and Abimael and Sheba 29and Ophir and Havilah and Jobab; all these were the sons of Joktan. 30Now their settlement extended from Mesha as you go toward Sephar, the hill country of the east. 31These are the sons of Shem, according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, according to their nations.
32These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations; and out of these the nations were separated on the earth after the flood.

Shem now describes his own genealogy by describing himself as the father of all the Ebers (from this word comes the term Hebrew) which was used by the people to describe Abraham in Genesis 14:13 who was a descendant of Eber.

He mentions that the son of Eber was Peleg (vs. 25) and that during this time the earth was divided, referring to the linguistic and geographical division that took place after the incident at the tower of Babel.

The significant person in the line is Arphaxad because he is in the line of the promised seed to Abraham. Shem's descendants include the Middle Eastern people including the Jews.

He summarizes his material in vs. 32 saying that these are the origins of all the nations that were to follow. In providing this, Shem establishes a historical link between the ancient patriarchs and the modern nations. His table of nations includes 70 families listed (there may have been more) but this number becomes significant in future Jewish writings: 70 elders (Numbers 11; 70 scholars translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek; 70 years of captivity, 70 leaders in the Sanhedrin, etc.,).

This is the end of the use of the wide-angle view of history. The writer moves in once again to a close-up view of one incident that had as much impact on the social structure of the human race as the flood had on the environment, the tower of Babel.

Tower of Babel - Chapter 11

In the first few verses of chapter eleven, we see the seeds of pagan religion begin to be sown and the results of this sin. In chapter ten we read of Nimrod the great ruler and city builder. He is probably the one leading this particular effort here.

1Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.

Before Babel, the entire population spoke only one language. Some phonologists believe that the language was Hebrew because certain symbols from the most ancient of discovered artifacts only find correlation in the Hebrew language. Certainly it is the oldest recorded language. Shem was the father of the Hebrews. (Note: Chinese is the oldest continually written language, 4,500 years).

This was to support God's original purpose of brotherhood and a cooperative colonization as well as the habitation of the earth.

2It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.

We see the migration from Ararat take place and a concentration of peoples in what is presently known as Iraq.

3They said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly." And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. 4They said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."

The purpose of God to scatter and colonize is now challenged.

  1. They want to remain together in a centralized place.
  2. They begin a brick making industry as a way to provide work and supplies to establish an urban center.
  3. The new philosophy is to avoid being scattered and to establish a physical monument that will represent the religious aspect of the people's experience, as well as their unity and strength.

Of course the thing that represents the people's religious beliefs, their faith, is obedience, not sacrifice or monuments.

This area is the ancient beginning of Babylon from which all the ancient occult, pagan practices began.

  • The Tower is the first such pagan attempt to replace the worship of the creator with the worship of the created.
  • It did not go to heaven but represents heaven and its hosts.

Instead of obeying God, the people built a great city and a great religious monument thinking that they could do what they wanted and still please God.

5The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. 6The Lord said, "Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.

The problem is now established. The unity of man based on his common language has been used to create a rebellion that threatens God's ultimate plan.

The plan is to bring the savior, but in this new order, the memory and worship of God as well as His promise will be completely forgotten and replaced.

That man can do anything means that without the restraint of God's Word, man can fall into any wickedness leading to his complete self-destruction. God, therefore, will intervene once again but not with a destructive flood.

7Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech." 8So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. 9Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.

The strength of the people is a common language through which one leader is manipulating them. The way to dissolve this power is to multiply the tongues. In doing so God caused confusion in the building of a central location. The result was that migration (which God wanted) soon began along with population expansion and cultural diversification.

Since these were smaller groups or tribes that shared a language, the marrying was done within a smaller circle. This smaller circle of reproduction is one reason for the faster rate of genetic mutations and considered the primary factor in the development of different hair, skin and eye types.

Since this was early in man's development, family intermarriage was still genetically possible without danger. By the time of Moses, however, there were express laws forbidding it. The giving of language at the creation of Adam was a miracle and the multiplying of tongues at Babel was a similar miracle.

It is interesting to note that the first miracle performed when God's plan for salvation is finally revealed at Pentecost is speaking in tongues, the ability to speak in unknown languages in order to preach to all men in their own language.

The word Babel means to mingle or mix and this is why this term is given here.

10These are the records of the generations of Shem. Shem was one hundred years old, and became the father of Arpachshad two years after the flood; 11and Shem lived five hundred years after he became the father of Arpachshad, and he had other sons and daughters.

12Arpachshad lived thirty-five years, and became the father of Shelah; 13and Arpachshad lived four hundred and three years after he became the father of Shelah, and he had other sons and daughters.

14Shelah lived thirty years, and became the father of Eber; 15and Shelah lived four hundred and three years after he became the father of Eber, and he had other sons and daughters.

16Eber lived thirty-four years, and became the father of Peleg; 17and Eber lived four hundred and thirty years after he became the father of Peleg, and he had other sons and daughters.

18Peleg lived thirty years, and became the father of Reu; 19and Peleg lived two hundred and nine years after he became the father of Reu, and he had other sons and daughters.

20Reu lived thirty-two years, and became the father of Serug; 21and Reu lived two hundred and seven years after he became the father of Serug, and he had other sons and daughters.

22Serug lived thirty years, and became the father of Nahor; 23and Serug lived two hundred years after he became the father of Nahor, and he had other sons and daughters.

24Nahor lived twenty-nine years, and became the father of Terah; 25and Nahor lived one hundred and nineteen years after he became the father of Terah, and he had other sons and daughters.

26Terah lived seventy years, and became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran.
- Genesis 11:10-26

At verse ten another writer (Terah) takes up the history of the seed by mentioning how long Shem lived and establishing the connection between Shem and himself through Arphaxad through to Terah and Abram, who was later to be called Abraham.

No social history or numbers are given here except for the ages of the patriarchs. The purpose is to trace the key people in the line through which the promise came.

27Now these are the records of the generations of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran; and Haran became the father of Lot. 28Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29Abram and Nahor took wives for themselves. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife was Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30Sarai was barren; she had no child.

31Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife; and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans in order to enter the land of Canaan; and they went as far as Haran, and settled there. 32The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.

Terah's record now ends and another writer picks up the narrative (probably Isaac – Genesis 25:19). He names the three sons of Terah (Abram, Nahor and Haran) and gives a brief family description of each: Haran died young; Nahor married his dead brother's daughter (his niece); Abram married his half-sister Sarai, who is said to be barren at this time.

Chapter eleven closes with Terah leaving Ur (a wicked city) to go northward to Haran to settle and eventually die there. There is some speculation that he was called to go to Canaan but refused to go further than Haran at which time God called Abram to leave and go forward to Canaan.

Researchers believe that the Tower of Babel was a form of tower called a ziggurat (ancient word meaning "to build a raised area"). There are still remains of these types of towers in Iraq and Iran. They are not just a single tower but a series of buildings in a complex with a shrine built at the top. These were usually at the center of an area around which a city was built.

Discussion Questions

  1. Summarize the events from Genesis 10 and 11.
  2. What is the difference between the genealogical listing in Genesis 10 and that previously of Adam and what is its significance?
  3. Summarize the events of Genesis 11 and discuss their significance.
  4. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
26 of 50