Genesis 10-11: Nations and monuments

The next piece of Genesis that I’d like to talk about is chapters ten and eleven. While I’d like to do this in longer spurts, I don’t want to mix stories and chapter twelve begins the story of Abram/Abraham who I’ll need a few posts to get through. Also, I’d rather not gloss over any story or piece of the Bible in this endeavor, so I thought the Tower of Babel deserved it’s due. If you missed the first two stories and would like to visit them first, here are links to the stories of Adam and Eve and Noah.

If you are unfamiliar with these chapters: We begin to get a sense of the nations that came from each of Noah’s sons. Then, they decide that it would be a great idea to build a tower that can go all the way to Heaven and God decides that those aren’t great plans and messes them up.

Chapter ten

This chapter begins with the sons of Noah’s eldest, Japheth, then Ham, then Shem. Again we have a series of sons with no daughters mentioned. The interesting addition is for the names of the cities and peoples that came from them as well as little things like “each with his own language” and “first on earth to be a mighty man”. It is in this area that we start to get a picture of the nations that were built. In the English Standard Version Bible that I am reading, it doesn’t give great ideas about this, but when I referred to Wesley’s commentary, there was an interesting note about verse five which led me to look it up on (this site shows all the version of any given verse side by side, a great little tool). Like in Wesley’s commentary, a few of the translations refer to Japheth’s line as being where the Gentiles come from. This may not seem important right now to anyone unfamiliar with the Bible or Bible stories, but it’s significant. The Gentiles are the main people Paul is going to preach to way down the line. This nation building goes on throughout chapter ten. Shem, the youngest brother, is then mentioned as the “father of all the children of Eber” which makes sense when we find Eber further down the line. But why mention him so close to his great-grandfather’s name?

Again, Wesley’s commentary offers insight. Eber is the derivative of Hebrew and there was a working theory at the time that since Eber was alive and an adult during the events we find chapter eleven, his name was given to the language his people adopted/maintained. I’ll explain more after the events of chapter eleven. Chapter ten then ends with the rest of the nations that came from Shem’s line and culminates in that these “are the clans of Noah, according to their geneaologies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood”.

Chapter eleven

The next chapter begins with that everyone spoke the same language and the decision to build a tower that can reach the heavens. This becomes known as the story of “the Tower of Babel” and the city becomes known as Babel as it was this exact building that made God decide to confuse everyone with different languages and disperse them. This is an interesting story because if it came to us from any other source we would call it mythology. It reads just like any of the Greek myths that I’ve read over the years. It’s a great story that is used to explain how we all can come from the same family and speak such different languages and have had roots in far distant places. Then it goes right back into descendant naming, but we’ll get to that.

Following the premise of this story, men are building a tower that is meant to reach the heavens and they have only just invented bricks. Then God says “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” Really? I’m thinking that sounds a little naive of an assumption for God. It’s also a little petty to mess everything up in this manner. I’ve long wondered how much of the words attributed to God are really His in the Bible. There’s no one that this is said to. Who could have remembered this account?

It sounds more to me like men created bricks, got a little cocky and tried to build something way too big for themselves and blamed God for it not working out. Or that it was an early myth of the people who wrote the Bible and they decided to include it. Or it could have totally happened and there were more and better reasons than God thinking that man could actually reach the heavens with a brick building. It makes God sound a little intimidated and I’m not buying that part of it.
Another interesting thing to note is that there is yet another example of calling certain people the children “of man”. The pattern is getting pretty clear and it seems that the previous “daughters of men” and all the others are for non-believers and the “of God” instances are for those who believe in Him.

Okay, then we get back to a detailed account of who follows who in Shem’s line. We come back to Eber who has a son named Peleg. Peleg was mentioned before as having gotten his name during the events of the Tower of Babel. This means that Eber, who would have been an adult if he’s “fathering”, may have retained the original language because of favor with God and this language was later called “Hebrew”. That’s all according to the theory cited above and relayed in the Wesley commentary.

The chapter ends with the “generations of Terah” but it seems to mostly be an introduction for Abram and Lot and Sarai. They are mentioned at the end, but their stories don’t yet begin here. We’ll talk a lot more about them in upcoming posts!

As far as feminism or women or anything of that ilk, not much in these chapters. Well, not much that is new. We still have no mention of the women who actually give birth to the men of this line. There are some mentions of daughters, but only two women are mentioned by name and they come at the end, in relation to their husbands. The women are Sarai and Milcah. There’s a mention of Sarai being barren and that would be more off-putting if I didn’t already know how integral that is for what comes later, so I’ll digress.

These are my feelings and impressions on Chs 10 and 11 of Genesis. Have you read them? What do you think?

Chapter links go to the ESV translations at but I’m reading from the ESV Global Study Bible, which is available for free on the Kindle Reading App.

*amended for formatting purposes

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