1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
7 And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”
Personalize the meaning. Respond as God speaks to you through the Scriptures. Ask: How could my life be different today as I respond to what I’m reading?
The spread of humanity was God’s will from the beginning (1:28), but the effects of sin (including mankind’s forced exile from Eden) meant that this dispersion occurred in ways that God did not intend. In the account of the Tower of Babel, we see once more what it looks like for sin, rather than obedience, to fuel the spreading of humanity.
In Genesis 11 humanity becomes wickedly united in its defiance of the Creator. God decreed to make humans in his image, saying “let us make . . .” (1:26). At Babel, however, humans use the same expression (“let us make . . .”; 11:3) to seek to displace God’s glory with their own glory. The three episodes of human fallenness in Genesis 2–11 are: Adam and Eve in Eden, the generation of the flood, and the generation of Babel. This third episode is the most violent, as fallen humans here seek to determine their own destiny (11:4). In each case God’s judgment is not final, and his judgment reveals his gracious purposes for and patience with humanity. Each episode is not catastrophic but instead opens up new possibilities. God gave Adam and Eve the promise of a coming deliverer (3:15). With Noah, God confirms his commitment to his created order. The story of Babel leads to the story of Abraham, which reveals God’s commitment to all the families of the earth (12:3).
In the story of Babel there is obvious warning of the inability of human effort to reach God. It thus becomes an early doctrinal signpost of the nature of redemption. God actively intervenes, through the confusion of languages, to stop this human striving toward him. However, these language differences are reversed by the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 at Pentecost, and they are made to be fully harmonious in the great song of the Great Day of heavenly gathering “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). God’s grace enables his people not only to reach him but to do so in unity and not by mere human capacity.
The Babel account also repeats the narrative pattern of a return to chaos (see the note on Gen. 5:1–6:8) prior to the focus on God’s redemptive provision through another family—this time the family of Abraham. (1)
- What stood out?
- What was the sin of the people?
- How did God judge their pride?
- How are you tempted in this same way?
9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
End in Prayer