Genesis 11 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Genesis 11)

Verse 1

[1] And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

And the whole earth was of one language — Now while they all understood one another, they would be the more capable of helping one another, and the less inclinable to separate.

Verse 2

[2] And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

And they found a plain in the land of Shinar — A spacious plain, able to contain them all.

Verse 3

[3] And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.

Go to, let us make brick, let us build us a city — The country being a plain, yielded neither stone nor morter, yet that did not discourage them, but they made brick to serve instead of stone, and slime, or pitch, instead of morter. Some think they intended hereby to secure themselves against the waters of another flood, but if they had, they would have chosen to build upon a mountain rather than upon a plain. But two things it seems they aimed at in building. 1. To make them a name: they would do something to be talked of by posterity. But they could not gain this point; for we do not find in any history the name of so much as one of these Babel - builders. Philo Judeus saith they engraved every one his name upon a brick; yet neither did that serve their purpose. 2. They did it to prevent their dispersion; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth - It was done (saith Josephus) in disobedience to that command, Genesis 9:1, replenish the earth. God orders them to scatter. No, say they, we will live and die together. In order hereunto they engage themselves and one another in this vast undertaking. That they might unite in one glorious empire, they resolve to build this city and tower, to be the metropolis of their kingdom, and the center of their unity.

Verse 5

[5] And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

And the Lord came down to see the city — 'Tis an expression after the manner of men, he knew it as clearly as men know that which they come upon the place to view.

And the tower which the children of men builded — Which speaks, (1.) Their weakness and frailty, it was a foolish thing for the children of men, worms of the earth, to defy heaven. (2.) Their sinfulness, they were the sons of Adam, so it is in the Hebrew; nay, of that Adam, that sinful disobedient Adam, whose children are by nature children of disobedience. (3.) Their distinction from the children of God, from whom those daring builders had separated themselves, and built this tower to support and perpetuate the separation.

Verse 6

[6] And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

And the Lord said, Behold the people is one, and they have all one language — And if they continue one, much of the earth will be left uninhabited, and these children of men, if thus incorporated, will swallow up the little remnant of God's children, therefore it is decreed they must not be one. And now nothing will be restrained from them - And this is a reason why they must be crossed, in their design.

Verse 7

[7] Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.

Go to, let us go down and there confound their language — This was not spoken to the angels, as if God needed either their advice or their assistance, but God speaks it to himself, or the Father to the Son and Holy Ghost.

That they may not understand one another's speech — Nor could they well join hands when their tongues were divided: so that this was a proper means, both to take them off from their building, for if they could not understand one another, they could not help one another; and to dispose them to scatter, for when they could not understand one another, they could not enjoy one another. Accordingly three things were done, 1. Their language was confounded. God, who when he made man taught him to speak, now made those builders to forget their former language; and to speak a new one, which yet was the same to those of the same tribe or family, but not to others: those of one colony could converse together, but not with those of another. We all suffer hereby to this day: in all the inconveniences we sustain by the diversity of languages, and all the trouble we are at to learn the languages we have occasion for, we smart for the rebellion of our ancestors at Babel; nay, and those unhappy controversies, which are strifes of words, and arise from our misunderstanding of one another's languages, for ought I know, are owing to this confusion of tongues. The project of some to frame an universal character in order to an universal language, how desirable soever it may seem, yet I think is but a vain thing for it is to strive against a divine sentence, by which the languages of the nations will be divided while the world stands. We may here lament the loss of the universal use of the Hebrew tongue, which from henceforth was the vulgar language of the Hebrews only, and continued so till the captivity in Babylon, where, even among them, it was exchanged for the Syriac. As the confounding of tongues divided the children of men, and scattered them abroad, so the gift of tongues bestowed upon the Apostles, Acts 2:4-11, contributed greatly to the gathering together of the children of God, which were scattered abroad, and the uniting of them in Christ, that with one mind and mouth they might glorify God, Romans 15:6. (The imagination of a late writer, that God did not confound their tongues, but their religious worship, is grounded on criticisms concerning the meaning of the Hebrew word, which are absolutely false. Beside, would God confound their religious worship? Surely, He is a God of order, and not of confusion. 2. Their building was stopped, they left off to build the city - This was the effect of the confusion of their tongue's; for it not only disabled them from helping one another, but probably struck a damp upon their spirits, since they saw the hand of the Lord gone out against them. 3. The builders were scattered abroad from thence upon the face of the whole earth - They departed in companies after their families and after their tongues, Genesis 10:5,20,31, to the several countries and places allotted to them in the division that had been made, which they knew before, but would not go to take possession of, 'till now they were forced to it. Observe 1. The very thing which they feared came upon them; that dispersion which they thought to evade. 2. That it was God's work; the Lord scattered them; God's hand is to be acknowledged in all scattering providences; if the family be scattered, relations scattered, churches scattered, it is the Lord's doing. 3. That they left behind them a perpetual memorandum of their reproach in the name given to the place; it was called Babel, confusion. 4. The children of men were now finally scattered, and never will come all together again 'till the great day. when the Son of Man shall sit upon the throne of his glory, and all nations shall be gathered before him, Matthew 25:31,32.

Verse 10

[10] These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood:

Observe here, 1. That nothing is left upon record concerning those of this line, but their names and ages; the Holy Ghost seeming to hasten thro' them to the story of Abraham. How little do we know of those that are gone before us in this world, even those that lived in the same places where we live! Or indeed of those who are our contemporaries, but in distant places. 2. That there was an observable gradual decrease in the years of their lives. Shem reached to 600 years, which yet fell short of the age of the patriarchs before the flood; the three next came short of 500, the three next did not reach to 300, and after them we read not of any that attained to 200 but Terah; and not many ages after this, Moses reckoned 70 or 80 to be the utmost men ordinarily arrive at. When the earth began to be replenished, mens lives began to shorten so that the decrease is to be imputed to the wise disposal of providence, rather than to any decay of nature. 3. That Eber, from whom the Hebrews were denominated, was the longest lived of any that were born after the flood; which perhaps was the reward of his strict adherence to the ways of God.

Verse 27

[27] Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot.

Here begins the story of Abram. We have here, 1. His country: Ur of the Chaldee's - An idolatrous country, where even the children of Eber themselves degenerated. 2. His relations, mentioned for his sake, and because of their interest in he following story. 1. His father was Terah, of whom it is said, Joshua 24:2, that he served other gods on the other side the flood; so early did idolatry gain footing in the world. Enough it is said, Genesis 11:26, that when Terah was seventy years old he begat Abram, Nabor and Haran, which seems to tell us that Abram was the eldest son of Terah, and born in the 70th year; yet by comparing Genesis 11:32, which makes Terah to die in his 205th year, with Acts 7:4, where it is said that Abram removed from Haran when his father was dead, and Genesis 12:4, where it is said that he was but 75 years old when he removed from Haran, it appears that he was born in the 130th year of Terah, and probably was his youngest son. We have, 2. Some account of his brethren (1.) Nahor, out of whole family both Isaac and Jacob had their wives. (2.) Haran, the father of Lot, of whom it is here said, Genesis 11:28, that he died before his father Terah. 'Tis likewise said that he died in Ur of the Chaldees, before that happy remove of the family out of that idolatrous country. (3.) His wife was Sarai, who, tho' some think was the same with Iscah the daughter of Haran. Abram himself saith, she was the daughter of his father, but not the daughter of his mother, Genesis 20:12. She was ten years younger than Abram. 3. His departure out of Ur of the Chaldees, with his father Terah, and his nephew Lot, and the rest of his family, in obedience to the call of God. This chapter leaves them in Haran or Charran, a place about the mid-way between Ur and Canaan, where they dwelt 'till Terah's head was laid; probably because the old man was unable, through the infirmities of age, to proceed in his journey.