In the last passage we saw God pronounce judgment on the wickedness of humanity but saving Noah (and the future of the world through him and his family). In the very next passage (today’s) we also see that human beings are once again back to their old tricks. This time they are specifically building a tower to glorify their own name and for the purpose of being able to reach heaven, putting them in the place of God.
However, like He promised Noah, God doesn’t destroy them with another flood, instead He just scatters them. We’ll also see that once again God has a plan to deal with mankind’s sinfulness—one to redeem mankind and overcome the unsolvable (from a strictly human standpoint) problem of sin. Not to give anything away, but we will see God make a covenant with Abraham (Abram).
There are two genealogies in this passage and the both have different purposes (genealogies always serve some purpose apart from providing a long list of names).
The first genealogy is called a “horizontal genealogy” (take a look below, it’s very horizontal) and has a couple of purposes— 1) to show that Noah’s sons did what God commanded them to do in Genesis 9:7 and 2) to show that they scattered geographically and how. This second part sets the stage not only for what will follow in the book of Genesis, but also explains the origin of nations at the time of the original audience. As we make our way through the rest of the Old Testament we’ll not only see that tribes from common family branches will end up in an alliance with one another during skirmishes and power struggles, but also the development of blessing/curse patterns that began at the end of Genesis 9. If you look at the names in the genealogy, you’ll see that many of the nations in the line of Ham will provide many problems for the descendants of Shem as they struggle to overcome the blessing/curse that Noah gave.
The second genealogy serves to trace the family line from Noah (whom God blessed) and Abraham (whom God intends to bless). And, in the same way genealogies were used in the Ancient Near East to show a claim to an inheritance or throne, this one shows that God’s plan that began in Genesis 3 cannot be thwarted by flood or by the events at the tower of Babel.
God – God
people of the world – the people of the world
Shem – Noah’s son (covered Noah backwards)
Ham – Noah’s son (saw Noah naked)
Japheth – Noah’s son (covered Noah backwards)
Canaan – Ham’s son
Shinar/Babylonia – the land where the people settled and built the tower of Babel
Babel – the city where they the tower was built
Ur of the Chaldeans – where Abraham’s family lived before moving
Haran – the city where Abraham’s family moved
Canaan - original destination of Abraham’s family before stopping at Haran
Click here for the genealogy from Genesis 10 (also called the Table of Nations) from Logos Bible Software
see the map below
The account of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) provides a very clear example of a literary structure that makes an appearance all through out the book of Genesis and the Bible—the chiastic structure. For example:
A The whole world had one language (v. 1)
B there (v. 2)
C to each other (v. 3)
D Come, let’s make bricks (v. 3)
E Let’s make for ourselves (v. 4)
F a city and a tower
G And the Lord came down to see (v. 5; cf. 8:1)
F’ the city and the tower (v. 5)
E’ that the humans built (v. 5)
D’ Come, let’s confuse (v. 7)
C‘ everyone the language of his neighbor (v. 7)
B’ from there (v.8)
A’ (confused) the language of the whole earth (v. 9)
This not only draws attention to the middle of the chiasm (God coming down in this passage), but it also accentuates the parallel nature of passage—comparing and contrasting the first part (what humans were doing) and the second part (how God responded).