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“When Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” Gen. 26:34-35
We note that Esau was forty years old when he decided to marry, the same age as Isaac was when he married Rebekah. (Gen. 25:20). There are many instances in the scriptures of polygamy (multiple spouses) however we do not see any scriptures that indicate God condones it.
In Genesis 24:3, Abraham was adamant when speaking with his senior servant that the wife to be found for Isaac was not to be from among the Canaanites (of which the Hittites were part). This ideal of Abraham’s is likely at least in part why Esau’s choices brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 26:35).
The Hittites were derived from Heth, who was referenced in Gen. 10:15:
“Canaan became the father of Sidon, his firstborn, and Heth”
Canaan was the son of Ham, and he was the one cursed by Noah after the incident in the tent after the flood. Later, Abraham buys the Cave of Machpelah and the adjacent field from the sons of Heth to bury Sarah (Gen. 23).
It is very easy today to look at the sheer amount of diversity between races, languages and cultures, and discount the concept of a common origination of all human beings in the garden of Eden. For many who can’t believe what is in the first three chapters of the bible, why continue? And so it is a stumbling block to many in coming to the faith. Genesis has basically been written as history in layman’s terms; the recording of births, life spans and children, the evolution of wickedness and the cleansing flood, of leaders and cities built, and amazingly, the interaction of God and His angels with mankind.
To us this may seem both over-simplistic and fantastical; On one hand, the supernatural aspect so prevalent in the narrative seems distant from a modern culture that continually seeks a sign from a seemingly aloof God; But yet the natural aspect of the narrative – the human elements which range from companionship to murder, do not surprise us at all, because we humans have not changed all that much.
Though the bible is not a scientific document, none of the explanations written in it as to history and origins has been disproved by modern science. This is no small feat considering those writing it would have had no idea of the vast and far-reaching scope and implications of what they were recording and how far into the future their words would be projected. Through their writings, the bible explains much indeed.
Genesis chapters 7 through 11 contain the information that, many years later, offers explanation of the current makeup of people and nations on the earth, through these three major events:
1) The flood, which was accompanied by both atmospheric and geological changes;
2) A potentially large earthquake during the lifetime of Peleg, possibly responsible for the shifting of continents; and
3) The confusion of languages at the tower of Babel.
To speculate in detail about the amount of change that could have been brought about by such events is somewhat futile, but on a more basic level, much understanding can be gained. Using what we know from scientific knowledge today, the effects of these events (assuming they were real) would still stand the test of time in explaining the different races, languages and cultures.
A summarized version may read like this: Gen. 7:11 shows that the “fountains of the great deep bursted forth, and the floodgates of the sky were opened.” This would affect temperature, sea levels, possibly radiation levels from the sun without the protective canopy, and climate in general. We do not know what the fountains of the great deep were, however it is entirely possible that their loosing was in conjunction with the movement of geological strata and even tectonic plates. The effects of such a volume of water on the surface would have been immensely increased pressure, and along with the recession of the water, the burial and compaction of the dead (animals and people) that could account for the fossil record, as well as the formation of oceans, lakes and rivers.
In the days of Peleg it was said that the “earth was divided” (literally “split”) (Gen. 10:25). It is imporant to note here that Genesis chapters 10 and 11 are not meant to be understood as being chronologically consecutive. This is evidenced by Gen. 10:5 “…every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.” compared with Gen. 11:1 “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” This is not a contradiction, but rather illustrates that chapters 10 and 11 are happening concurrently to some degree. We find interestingly that the lifespan drops rather dramatically in Peleg’s time; he only lives about half as long as his father. The rabbi Sforno offers an explanation that people were suddenly cast into different climates, affecting their livelihood.
The concept of one original language (often referred to as proto-human) is not foreign to linguists, many of whom subscribe to a monogenesis theory. The confusion of languages at the tower of Babel would have certainly caused those who could not understand one another to separate, and band together with those who could.
With these events happening within a relatively short time of one another, it certainly offers a plausible explanation, not strongly refutable by science, as to the current state of nations, languages and people.
“…let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” Gen. 11:4
When most people think of Genesis 11, they think of the story of the Tower of Babel. But what was the underlying motivation to build the city and the tower? Their increased desire for solidarity. Gen. 11:1 reads “Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.” and sets the stage for the chapter. Their desire to make a great city and tower, as well as a name for themselves was not a path God wanted them to take. God, being worthy alone of all worship, requires He is seen as great in our eyes, and does not appreciate human competition for His greatness.
After the event of the flood, which no doubt left physical evidence of its occurrence, as well as the fact that many of the people’s grandparents would have the images of the aftermath still in their minds, it seems difficult to comprehend how the focus of men became their own strength in unity rather than God. It brings to mind the fact that Cain murdered Abel, and them both being children of Adam, the first man. There was only one generation between Adam and Cain – and things turned bad very quickly. Likewise, one of Noah’s children did something worthy of a curse at a time when blessings were being given. Not long after Ham was Cush, then Nimrod. And while the text doesn’t refer to the building of the city and the tower as wickedness, we can infer from God’s actions that it did not please Him.
The general opinion of antiquity is that Nimrod incited the people against God. Josephus remarks that as they saw the destruction of the flood (it took some convincing to get them to come down from the mountains), and led the people to build a tower that would reach into the heavens (literally!) so they could bring war against God for destroying their forefathers, and preventing God from flooding the earth again. It is true the text does not reveal this much; however it is quite interesting to note that they used tar, or bitumen, as mortar between the bricks of the tower, as this likely made the tower waterproof. This would illustrate A) their lack of trust in God’s promise, as He said he would never again flood the earth and destroy all living things again, and B) their misunderstanding of God’s all-powerful nature, and lastly C) their thought that God was against them in some way.
Alter’s commentary notes the wordplay happening here: The men say “Come, let us make bricks…” and “Come, let us build for ourselves a city…”. In turn, God plays along and says “Come, let Us go down there and confuse their language.” (Gen. 11:7). Additionally, there is an illustration of the punishment fitting the crime: Their desire was to be united, but God instead creates a situation which results in their scattering.
We can empathize with Nimrod and the people in a way. If they did not know or trust God, the only other thing they would try to trust in would be themselves. If such a calamity as the flood could have occurred and wiped almost everyone out, they probably felt they were safer in numbers.
Genesis 10 is commonly referred to as the “Table of Nations” as it acts as historical documentation as to the first major propagation of peoples to different lands, ultimately becoming 70 different nations (that is the number of descendants in this chapter.) About two of the names in particular, we are given slightly more detail. Of Nimrod, it was written he was “like a mighty hunter”, and of Peleg it was written that “in his days the earth was divided.” Let’s research these names a bit.
Nimrod’s name means “rebellion” or “the valiant” (Blueletterbible.com). These two terms almost seem at odds with each other. For someone to be valiant, we envision a leader, or hero of sorts. And for someone to be rebellious or to incite rebellion seems to imply they are subservient to another and wish to be the ruler. Because scripture tells us he was a mighty hunter (Gen. 10:9), it may seem easier to go with the latter meaning of his name. However we are also told that “The beginning of his kingdom was Babel…” (Gen. 10:10). This is the first mention of the concept of a kingdom in scripture. Additionally we know in Genesis 11 that the Tower of Babel incident occurs in the territory and city that Nimrod founded. God was not pleased with man trying to make a name for himself (Gen. 11:4) by building a thriving city and giant tower, and thus put a stop to it (Gen. 11:8). And so the picture that begins to emerge was that Nimrod may have been simultaneously valiant and rebellious – valiant in the sight of perhaps wicked men, and rebellious in the sight of God. This seems to be the opinion of antiquity and I surmise this reasoning is how it came about.
Peleg’s name simply means “division”, and we are told that “in his days the earth was divided.” (Gen. 10:25) But what does that mean exactly? Is this merely an allusion to the Tower of Babel incident where the confusion of languages caused people to divide? Were there major differing opinions, perhaps on God, and thus the people were divided – such as how Americans today are divided politically? According to Alter’s commentary, the consonants of Peleg’s name for the verbal root “to split” and indicates a stronger verb than division. I have read elsewhere that his name may indicate a great earthquake occurred. The text does state that the earth was divided, which can certainly mean the actual planet, rather than a division of the people (though that does occur in the next chapter.) It is entirely possible that a physical splitting of the earth did occur, and that prior to this the “Pangea” land mass may have existed.
I have much more to write about the Tower of Babel and dispersion of nations, including how I believe chapters 10 and 11 go hand in hand as part of God’s plan. Please come back soon for my next posting!