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The Tower of Babel


Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” 5The L ord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. 6And the L ord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” 8So the L ord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9Therefore it was called Babel, because there the L ord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the L ord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Descendants of Shem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 When Terah had lived seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

Descendants of Terah

27 Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. 28Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah. She was the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.

31 Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32The days of Terah were two hundred five years; and Terah died in Haran.

1. And the whole earth was of one language. Whereas mention had before been made of Babylon in a single word, Moses now more largely explains whence it derived its name. For this is a truly memorable history, in which we may perceive the greatness of men’s obstinacy against God, and the little profit they receive from his judgments. And although at first sight the atrocity of the evil does not appear; yet the punishment which follows it, testifies how highly God was displeased with that which these men attempted. They who conjecture that the tower was built with the intent that is should prove a refuge and protections if, at any time, God should determine to overwhelm the earth with a deluge, have no other guide, that I can see, but the dream of their own brain. For the words of Moses signify no such thing: nothing, indeed, is here noticed, except their mad ambitions and proud contempt of God. ‘Let us build a tower (they say) whose top may reach to heaven, and let us get ourselves a name.’ We see the design and the aim of the undertaking. For whatsoever might happen, they wish to have an immortal name on earth; and thus they build, as if in opposition to the will of God. And doubtless ambition not only does injury to men, but exalts itself even against God. To erect a citadel was not in itself so great a crime; but to raise an eternal monument to themselves, which might endure throughout all ages, was a proof of headstrong pride, joined with contempt of God. And hence originated the fable of the giants who, as the poets have feigned, heaped mountains upon mountains, in order to drag down Jove from his celestial throne. This allegory is not very remote from the impious counsel to which Moses alludes; for as soon as mortals, forgetful of themselves; are inflated above measure, it is certain that like the giants, they wage war with God. This they do not openly profess, yet it cannot be otherwise than that every one who transgresses his prescribed bounds, makes a direct attack upon God.

With respect to the time in which this event happened, a fragment of Berosus is extant, (if, indeed, Berosus is to be accounted the author of such trifles,) where, among other things, a hundred and thirty years are reckoned from the deluge to the time when they began to build the tower. This opinion, though deficient in competent authority, has been preferred, by some, to that which commonly obtained among the Jews, and which places about three hundred and forty years between the deluge and the building of the tower. Nor is there anything more plausible in what others relate; namely, that these builders undertook the work, because men were even then dispersed far and wide, and many colonies were already formed; whence they apprehended that as their offspring was daily increasing, they must, in a short time, migrate to a still greater distance. But to this argument we may oppose the fact, that the peculiar blessing of God was to be traced in this multiplication of mankind. Moreover, Moses seems to set aside all controversy. For after he has mentioned Arphaxad as the third of the sons of Shem, he then names Peleg, his great-grandson, in whose days the languages were divided. But from a computation of the years which he sets down, it plainly appears that one century only intervened. It is, however, to be noted, that the languages are not said to have been divided immediately after the birth of Peleg, and that no definite time was ever specified.321321     Yet as the name פלג, (Peleg,) signifies division, the probability is that the division took place about the date of his birth, and that the name was given him by his parents in consequence of that event. Now it appears that Peleg was born in the hundred and first year after the flood; see verses 11 to 16. This, therefore, seems to set aside Calvin’s calculations, doubtingly expressed, respecting the more recent date of the confusion of tongues. — Ed It must, indeed, have added greatly to the weight of Noah’s sufferings, when he heard of this wicked counsel, which had been taken by his posterity. And it is not to be doubted that he was wounded with the deepest grief, when he beheld them, with devoted minds, rushing to their own destruction. But the Lord thus exercised the holy man, even in extreme old age, to teach us not to be discouraged by a continual succession of conflicts. If any one should prefer the opinion commonly received among the Jews; the division of the earth must be referred to the first transmigrations, when men began to be distributed in various regions: but what has been already recorded in the preceding chapter, respecting the monarchy of Nimrod, is repugnant to this interpretation.322322     There is no repugnance, if it be admitted that the monarchy of Nimrod is mentioned by anticipation in the former chapter, in order that the course of the narrative might not be interrupted by a detail of the particulars of the confusion of Babel. And then, there is no need for the middle opinion which the Author proceeds to state, and which is encumbered with many difficulties. We may easily conceive that the Sacred Writer goes back, in the present chapter, to give a detailed account of events, which had been only slightly referred to, or altogether omitted in the preceding portion of the narrative. — Ed. Still a middle opinion may be entertained; namely, that the confusion of tongues may perhaps have happened in the extreme old age of Peleg. Now he lived nearly two hundred and forty years; nor will it be absurd to suppose that the empire founded by Nimrod endured two or three centuries. I certainly, — as in a doubtful case, — freely admit that a longer space of time might intervene between the deluge and the design of building the tower. Moreover, when Moses says, ‘the earth was of one lip,’ he commends the peculiar kindness of God, in having willed that the sacred bond of society among men far separated from each other should be retained, by their possessing a common language among themselves. And truly the diversity of tongues is to be regarded as a prodigy. For since language is the impress of the mind,323323     Nam quum mentis character sit lingua.” The word character means the impression made by a seal upon wax, and the allusion here is a very striking one, though the force of it is not adequately conveyed by the term impress. The term in Greek is applied to Christ, and is there translated “express image.” See Hebrews 1:3. — Ed how does it come to pass, that men, who are partakers of the same reason, and who are born for social life, do not communicate with each other in the same language? This defect, therefore, seeing that it is repugnant to nature, Moses declares to be adventitious; and pronounces the division of tongues to be a punishment, divinely inflicted upon men, because they impiously conspired against God. Community of language ought to have promoted among them consent in religion; but this multitude of whom Moses speaks, after they had alienated themselves from the pure worship of God, and the sacred assembly of the faithful, coalesce to excite war against God. Therefore by the just vengeance of God their tongues were divided.

2. They found a plain in the land of Shinar. It may be conjectured from these words, that Moses speaks of Nimrod and of the people whom he had collected around him. If, however, we grant that Nimrod was the chief leader in the construction of so great a pile, for the purpose of erecting a formidable monument of his tyranny: yet Moses expressly relates, that the work was undertaken not by the counsel or the will of one man only, but that all conspired together, so that the blame cannot be cast exclusively upon one, nor even upon a few.

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