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Genesis 11

The Tower of Babel

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then 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." 5 The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. 6 And the LORD 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. 7 Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech." 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

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How did all of the different nations and languages arise? Genesis, again, preserves two traditions attempting to explain it. First, in chapter 10, all the nations come from Noah's sons as they disburse across the land. A second account is given here with the story of Babel. Here "the whole earth" is still together. They attempt to preserve this unity by building a city and a very tall tower to make a name for themselves. This name or identity would keep them together. However, their plan is not God's plan. God confuses their language and scatters them abroad, and that's the end of their unity (or the beginning of their diversity). Notice the emphasis (underlines added) on the word "one" and "scattered" in this passage. Repetition is often a clue as to what is being stressed in the text.

In verse 7 God uses "us" while speaking about the mortals as is also done within the first creation story (1:26). In both cases most scholars think this is a use of the "royal we" (aka majestic plural) or an address to a heavenly court. It's hard to imagine that God feels threatened by people working and staying together, but whatever the reason, God doesn't allow it. Viva la difference!

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Genesis - Creation - Noah - Babel - Abraham - Isaac - Jacob - Joseph
Exodus - Egypt - Wandering - 10 Commandments

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