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Pride and Punishment | Genesis 10:1-11:26

As preached by Timothy O'Day.

In this lesson, we learn that:

1) Humanity has one source and one hope.

2) Sin separates God and others.

3) God's grace is greater than sin.

Pride and Punishment

Genesis 10:1-11:26

Christ Fellowship Church

July 9, 2023

If you have ever undertaken reading the Bible in the year, it is most likely because you believe that the Bible is something that you need and something that is helpful toward you. But, if you are like the average person, when you come the genealogies—especially long genealogies—you struggle. You may even skip them altogether because you think, “How is this helpful to me?”

But the genealogies are not placed in Scripture as an aside. In fact, you could make an argument that Genesis 5-11 is one long genealogy with a few long interludes about the flood and the tower of Babel.

God has given all of the Bible to his church in order to help her, comfort her, and minister to her. When you hear that the Bible is for you, know that this means that all of the Bible is for you, including the genealogies.

Our text today is two genealogies with a story sandwiched in-between them. As we look at these two genealogies and this story, I want us to be able to answer the question of how these stories help us in our understanding of God, the world, and ourselves. Let’s dive in.

Genesis 10:1-32 shows us that…

1. Humanity has one source and one hope

Genesis 10 is a unique genealogy in several ways.

First, it is a segmented genealogy, meaning that it doesn’t follow one line of descent. Instead, it goes in segments of families: Japheth in 10:2-5, Ham in 10:6-20, and Shem in 10:21-31. It does this because the point is not to lead us to one figure, as the genealogy of Genesis 5 or 11:10-26 does. Instead, it is meant to lead us to see a multitude of peoples.

Second, it is known as “The Table of Nations,” meaning that it displays how all the nations of the earth formed from the three sons of Noah, as it says in 10:1, “These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood.” In the ancient world there is no other such artifact, so it is unique in what it claims. Yet this table itself does not claim to be exhaustive but representative. This is known from verse 5, after commenting on the descendants of Japheth, we read “from these the coastland peoples spread in their lands…” meaning that more came from these than our mentioned. We also can surmise that it is representative and not exhaustive because a total of 70 descendants are mentioned: 14 for Japheth, 30 for Ham, and 26 for Shem. Yet, as we see in 11:10-26, Shem had more than these 26. The genealogy follows the line of Shem’s descendent Joktan in chapter 10 (see 10:25-26), but it follows Peleg in 11:10-26. Why break apart the genealogy like this? One reason is to highlight something special about the Peleg division from the line of Shem (more on that later). But another reason is that the genealogy is trying to make a point and not simply retell history in a cold “just the facts” way. 10 and 7 are numbers associated with completeness in the Bible, so 70 is a way of saying “The whole world, all nations, came from these three men who came from the one man Noah.” In turn, we look back to the genealogy of Genesis 5 and see that this one man Noah came from the first man Adam.

Third, it is interesting that Israel is not listed as one of the nations. True, we see the roots of Israel in 10:25 with Eber, who is the father of Peleg, who we see in 11:10-26 leads eventually to Abraham, from whom Israel is to come. The title “Hebrew” for the Jews is thought to come from the the name Eber itself. But no direct mentioned is made of Israel.

Why? I think the answer comes as we take all of these unique aspects of chapter 10 and put them together by saying this: The Lord God is the one true God and is God of all people even if he isn’t recognized as such. That is to say, God is not a provincial deity but The Deity.

He is the God of all people, of all cultures, in all times whether he is recognized as such or not. This is what Paul proclaimed to the Athenians in Acts 17, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” The fact that all of humanity has one source means that all of humanity has one hope of salvation: the Lord God.

Why We Need to Remember This

It is vital for us to see this reality because it is so easy for us to fall into the trap of “that’s true for you, but this other thing is true for me.” There are many great things about our religious climate—I for one am happy that I am not afraid of being killed or jailed for my religious beliefs—but one downside is that it is actually consider mean to tell a Muslim that he must repent of his false beliefs and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. It is consider rude and uncalled for to call a Mormon to renounce works righteousness and his false views of God and turn to the true Christ in faith in order to be saved.

And you feel that cultural pressure. I do too. Genesis 10 reminds us that it is just cultural pressure and not the pressure of reality. The pressure we feel not to preach Christ to the Muslim, Mormon, or atheist is akin to the kind of pressure the teenager feels when he is being enticed by his friends to do something that he knows he shouldn’t. Peer pressure is powerful, but it melts away when true authority—reality—makes itself known to you. The teen is thinking about drinking until the cop shows up; the teen is thinking about trying those drugs until mom walks into the room and sees him. Then reality hits him like a ton of breaks and the pressure completely dissipates. This is what happens to us when we read in Genesis 10 and remember that all of humanity has one source and thus shares in the one hope: Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

But if humanity has one source, there is a ringing refrain in chapter 10 that should catch our attention. Look 10:5, 20, and 31. These verses end each of the segments of the genealogy by stating that these are the clans, languages, lands, and nations (sometimes in different order) of these peoples. If humanity has one source, why is there so much division? That’s what Genesis 11:1-9 tells us.

Genesis 11:1-9 shows us that…

2. Sin divides from God and others

Back when we looked at Genesis 1 and 2, we noted that Genesis 2 was not a second version of the creation account but a zooming in on a particular aspect of creation: the creation of man. Something similar is happening here in Genesis 11:1-9. The tower of Babel is an event that took place in the midst of the segmented genealogy of chapter 10 that explains how the people on the earth came to be separated. There are a couple of clues in chapter 10 that tell us this. First, we see in 10:8-12 that Nimrod, whose name means “we shall rebel,” founded Babel. Nimrod is not depicted as a pleasant man. He is noted in verse 8 to be a mighty man, which is another way of saying that he was a mighty ruler. He was known as a hunter, like other ancient near eastern kings. We again see that Babel took place in the midst of the segmented genealogy in 10:25 when the birth of Peleg is mentioned. Peleg means “division” and he received that name, as the verse notes, “for in his days the earth was divided.” The most likely meaning to this reference is the division that came after the incident with the tower of Babel. Genesis 11:1-9, then, is an explanation for why the earth became divided and people separated into nations with their own languages.

But what exactly happened at Babel and why was it sin? There are two major movements in these verses: humanity’s act, plan, and desire followed by God’s act, assessment, and judgment

What Man Did and Wanted

11:1 highlights the unity that humanity had at this point by stressing the fact that they had “one language and the same words.” What they did with this unity, however, was rebel against God. Verse 2 tells us that as they migrated east they settled in the land of Shinar. That word “settled” is very important. They ceased spreading and settled down in one spot. Verses 3 and 4 give us the reason for this settlement: they decided together (“Come, let us…” says verse 3) to build a city and a tower “with its top in the heavens” saying “and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

Now in order to understand the significance of this action, we need to be good readers of the Bible and remember what has come before this event. In the creation of humanity, God said in Genesis 1:28 “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” God’s call for humanity is to fill the earth so that his image—reflections of his glory, goodness, and beauty—fill the earth. Again, after God cleanses the world and has a new beginning with Noah, he says to him in Genesis 9:1, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Filling requires spreading. The city of Babel and its tower, though, are settling.

And why did they settle in Shinar? They wanted two things because they feared one thing.

They wanted to earn access to the divine realm: a tower “with its top in the heavens” (verse 4)In other words, they didn’t want to trust God, they wanted to be God. This should draw our minds right back to the incident in the garden of Eden as Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit because they believed the lie that they could be like God.

They wanted to become great: “Let us make a name for ourselves” (verse 4). This was the real reason for the tower. By their efforts, they sought to become equal with God and autonomous from him.

But why did they want these two things? Because they feared one thing. Look at the end of verse 4, “lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” In other words, they were afraid to obey God because they did not believe he was good. And if God isn’t good, then I can’t trust him. And if I can’t trust God, then I better gain some self-sufficiency.

Humanity is the Same Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Stop for a moment and realize how humanity hasn’t changed. This is still our great fear as a society and as individuals. This has been with us since the very beginning. The lie of the serpent to Eve was essentially, “God is holding out on you.” And if you think God is holding out on you, then doubt spreads through the rest of your mind and you become afraid to trust him; and if you remain afraid to trust him, then you grow resolved to not trust him. That’s what happened at Babel. Sin springs from a lack of trust in God and sinning only makes it harder to trust God.

Let’s play that out practically so that we can see it. You have sexual desires and you know or at least think that it is wrong to act on them because God says it is wrong. But you begin to wonder if it is really wrong. Maybe it isn’t that wrong, but that would mean that God is just holding out on you. So you get on the computer and take a look around. What comes next? Conviction. You know it was wrong. But trust isn’t any easier now because now you wonder if God will really forgive you. And the fact that you doubt if he will forgive you makes sense—it isn’t true but your doubt makes sense. It makes sense because if you thought God was holding out on you before, why would you suddenly think that he would give you good now? Usually when you are in this position you end up saying “I’ll try harder in order to make God like me,” and you get to work. “Self-Effort” becomes a synonym for grace to you. You will become self-reliant in order to earn your place with God. Your life will become a tower to take you up to him.

Or worse, you look at those images and you think, “That was pretty good!” And you don’t feel conviction. God doesn’t strike you dead, so you think, “I guess it really isn’t all that bad. God was holding out on me.” And you confuse God’s patience and mercy as his impotence to judge. So now you have to make your life strong on your own because God is not dependable.

In both cases, sinning only makes trusting God harder. It only hardens us in our belief that God is not good and that we need to

What God Did and Wanted

But God’s response in Genesis 11:5-9 shows us how attempts at self-sufficiency are just folly. We read in verse 5 that the Lord must “come down” in order to view the tower and the city that the people are building. I think we are expected to find this laughable. Man’s attempt to rival God are like the attempt of a two year old trying to beat up on a 6’8 man—He has to lean down to see what brushed up against his leg.

And then the Lord makes an assessment and a decision in 11:6-7 saying, “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. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

Why Does God Confuse Language?

Now be very careful how you understand these verses. If you have a low view of God, then you will quickly read these verses as if God felt threatened by humanity and so he confused their language in order to protect himself. You will read this verse in that way if you think that God is just a being among beings; one who is like you but just stronger and smarter than you right now. But that isn’t who God is. God isn’t just different from you in quality. He is different from you in kind. He is not worried about the celestial realm being invaded by humanity because they have a tower. He “comes down” to view the tower. As Psalm 2 tells us, the nations rage and the peoples plot, but the Lord laughs (Ps 2:1, 4) because they pose no threat. As King Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful king of his time, says of the Lord after he is humbled by him, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endorse from generation to generation; all the inhabits of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34b-35). He has no rivals in heaven or earth. So why does he confuse the language in Genesis 11?

He confuses the language as a punishment and as a prevention. The tower is not the problem; what it portends to is the problem. As the Lord notes in Genesis 11:6, “This is only the beginning…” This is similar to what God did with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. After they sinned, he banished them from the garden as a punishment but also in order to prevent them from continuing to eat from the tree of life. This was for their good because they would only continue to live in a sinful and miserable state.

What this means is that God is concerned for his glory and for the good of humanity. By confusing the languages he prevents greater injury from coming upon humanity by their sinful unity. By removing the unity they had in language God removed the false sense of security they felt in rebelling against him. Sin divided them from God and eventually led God to divide them for their own good.

Why We Need to Remember This

There are so many reasons why we need to remember the reality that our sin is what leads to division. Let’s focus on just one. Unity is a word that people like. Unity feels good and is touted as always being good, but it isn’t. When man is in conflict with one another—be it relational, society, or all out war—we call for unity. But we need to remember that the only thing worse than sinful man in conflict with each other is sinful man united in wickedness and pride against God. If gains us absolutely nothing if we lock arms together, have a shared vocabulary, and a shared vision if that vision goes against God.

Our security does not come by feeling united with people; it comes by being united to Christ and Christ alone. In fact, it is often when our human relationships break that we come to see clearly our absolute need for and dependence on God. Our human relationships can make us feel secure when we are actually weak. It is a mercy when that false security is broken so that we would look to God to bring us real security and life.

And, in his mercy, that’s what we see next.

Genesis 11:10-26 shows us that…

3. God’s grace is greater than sin

Genesis 11:10-26 is another genealogy. This genealogy connects in one way with the genealogy in Genesis 10 and in another way with the genealogy of Adam in Genesis 5.

This genealogy is linear—meaning that it follows individuals through a line of descent—but it also connects with the segmented genealogy in chapter 10 by rehearings the line of Shem. If you recall, at the end of Genesis 9, Noah made a prophetic statement about Shem—that it would be from him that the promised seed of the woman would come.

But this genealogy doesn’t just differ in that it is linear instead of segment. Look at 11:17-18 and you will see that this genealogy follows a different branch in the line of Shem. Genesis 10 followed the branch of Joktan while this genealogy follows that of Peleg and his descendants.

Why this difference? It communicates to us that the line of Joktan led to Babel—confusion and division—but the line of Peleg leads to hope. The incident with the tower of Babel makes things seem hopeless. How can this division and confusion be undone? How is it that man can again dwell with God? When the genealogy jumps back to Shem, and we remember the prophecy that ended Genesis 9, our faces should light up because we are being led to the answer that comes at the end of the genealogy. Verse 26, “When Terah had lived 70 years, he fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran. From this verse forward, the book of Genesis—and the rest of the Bible—is about Abram, later to become Abraham, and his family.

The genealogies in Genesis are not just fluff. If you look at Genesis 5:1-11:26, you find a genealogy that is interrupted with stories of explanation. The line continues from Adam to Abram despite the sin in the garden in Genesis 3, the sin of the sons of God and all of humanity in Genesis 6, and the sin of humanity at the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. These genealogies convey one story of hope: God will keep his promise that he made in Genesis 3:15 that one would come from the woman who would crush the head of the serpent.

When you see the genealogies in these early chapters after these horrid incidents, its like watching the bad guys winning in a movie, but then you hear the music score that accompanies the hero. You don’t see the hero yet, but you know he has to be coming because that’s his music.

Abram was the hero to come, but only as a hero of faith who looked ahead to the true hero to come. From Abram would eventually come Jesus, God the Son incarnate. In Jesus, God came down to us because we are divided from him with our sin. He came to us because our efforts cannot bring us to God. In the incarnation, the Son of God is also now the seed of the woman. God the Son took on flesh and lived a life of perfect obedience—the life you and are should have lived—and died as a substitute on the cross, bearing the anger and judgment of God—the death that you and I deserve to die—so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life. And because Jesus has done this, he has received a name above all other names.

The sin of humanity did not prevent the coming of Jesus; do not let your sin prevent you from trusting in Jesus.

Human Sin and the Mercy of God

Human sin cannot thwart the plan and promise of God. I mean that in two ways. I mean that the sin of others cannot thwart God’s plan of redemption. As you look around the world today, you may not be very encouraged by the direction of things, but do not despair. All of humanity grew so wicked that God wiped everyone out with a flood, but he preserved a remnant for himself. Do not despair as you trust him. Humanity attempted to usurp God’s throne by force, but he remained faithful and chose to keep his promise. He will keep his promise to you, Christian.

But I also mean that your sin cannot thwart the plan and promise of God. Jesus Christ came to save sinners. Are you a sinner? Then your only hope is Jesus. Do you feel like you have wreaked your life? You’ve given into secret sins and you want to be free; you jumped into an idolatrous religion and sought to work your way to God and now you want to be free; you’ve pursued your own desires with reckless abandon and now you want true and lasting life and not the false life the world offers—then come to Jesus and let him set you free.

Do you see how the Bible is for you? The gospel rings out to us in these chapters. God’s goal is to redeem the nations; your sin separates you from God, but he has made a way for sinners to be reconciled to him by his chosen seed.

As we come to the table this morning, we get to remember together this glorious gospel.


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