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Sarai was barren; she had no child. Gen. 11:30
Sarai is the first mention of a barren woman in scripture. We know she ultimately has a child, but until that time she was barren. The curious thing about this condition is that it prevents a woman from completely enduring the curse that God proclaimed back in the garden on Eve. (Gen. 3:16) At the same time, not all women have children or even attempt to. So it would seem they avoid this part of the curse by their choices. Any truly barren woman however need not take such pains to avoid it.
One thing I enjoy about using Hebrew/Jewish study materials is the interesting historical insight and oral tradition, as well as the practicality of the lessons to be learned from the scriptures. On the other hand what is often lacking (and understandably so since they do not believe the Messiah has come) is a more spiritual, almost parable-like understanding of the text. I recently read about Haran in Matthew Henry’s commentary, so I will credit him of course but I took his idea and ran with it.
Matthew Henry said of Haran’s early death “It concerns us to hasten out of our natural state, lest death surprise us in it.” I take this to mean that Henry sees Haran as a picture of a man living in an idolatrous place (Ur of the Chaldeans) who never moved on – who either never came to believe in the true God, or if he did, never made spiritual progress in his walk. And, dying somewhat prematurely, perhaps thought he would have had more time to make such progress but sadly did not.
With this allegorical approach, a vivid picture of different spiritual walks begins to emerge. We may look at the places mentioned in these verses as different stages of spiritual progress: Ur of the Chaldeans being the starting point, with little to no faith or belief; Haran (the city) being a place of some spiritual growth, but with much more room to grow; and lastly Canaan as a place of great belief and faith where our spiritual lives begin to take off.
Now we insert the various members of Abraham’s family and we see varying results: We know that Terah, after the death of his son Haran, packed up his family and possessions to head to Canaan. We know at some point in the past Terah believed in idols and false gods (Joshua 24:2) but perhaps had a change of heart later in life, after Haran died. If nothing else, he had at least decided to leave Ur. Terah made it as far as Haran, and settled the family there. The key part being that they settled there – they didn’t just stop because Terah was about to die. Terah may represent a family man who used to be wicked but changed his ways and began following God, but either started too late in age, or just didn’t have the fire to make it beyond an intermediate place. When this happens in real life, the children who are following may suffer too, and as we will see below, Nahor made it no further than Haran either as far as we know.
As for Nahor and his wife Milcah, we know they make it as far as Haran as well, but we know nothing else about their lives after that. Ultimately they have a son Bethuel, who goes on to have Rebekah, (Gen. 24:15) who becomes the bride of Isaac. But of their lives as a couple we know nothing more. Abraham’s story takes precedence and is the one documented from here forward. Nahor and Milcah represent perhaps a godly couple that reaches a certain point in their spiritual walk, but becomes content and goes no further, and spiritual growth is stagnant.
Abraham was called to “the land which I will show you” by God (Gen. 12:1) which ended up being Canaan, the land where Terah was already planning to take the entire family, though Abraham did not know it yet. He had the faith to go, and received great and wonderful promises from God about the future as well. And Abraham and Sarah make it to Canaan. And what we find is that there are many more chapters to their lives, and things get much more exciting after they make it to Canaan, the place where God wanted Abraham to be. A drastic difference between Abraham and Sarah’s spiritual life as a couple compared to Nahor and Milcah, who all but disappear.
This should be a lesson to those who feel like their walk is at a standstill or feel spiritually ineffective – that God is trying to get you to the place He wants you to be, and once you get there, that is when things really begin in your walk with Him. As a married man I find this encouraging because Sarah took part in this journey, and became part of the story as well.
“Haran died in the presence of his father Terah…” Gen. 11:28
“…Terah died in Haran.” Gen 11:32
It appears Haran, the son of Terah, had an untimely death, passing away before his father and leaving Lot fatherless. Haran’s brothers were Arbam and Nahor. We are told in verse 28 that Haran died in the presence of his father Terah. Then, in a unique twist of words, verse 32 tells us that Terah died in a place called Haran. From what I understand, the name of Terah’s son, and the city of the same name, though the same in English, would be easily discerned as different in the original Hebrew. Take away what you will, I just thought this was interesting.
“The LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.” Gen. 11:6
It is difficult to know what to make of God’s words here: “…nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.” Really? Us humans who have been acknowledged by God for our tendency toward wickedness? God gives us a glimpse here of something fascinating, but in the given context it is easy to miss the weight of what He said. For those at the tower of Babel, their motives were wrong to be sure, because at the center they had faith in themselves. Since then, our language has been confused, causing the basic act of communicating to be a sign of our lack of unity, and in turn a cause for frustration. And God appears to have done this to slow our progress – not because God dislikes progress – but because this progress had, at its core, human achievement apart from God. God does not have a problem with men working together in unity to accomplish great things, but rather their motives. So how does this apply to us today?
“…Truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there.’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” Matthew 17:20
These words of Jesus are not unlike the words of God the Father from Genesis. The context is different to be sure; but when you consider that mystically speaking, the church and all who follow Christ as Messiah form one body which transcends the boundaries of countries and ethnicities. Our unity is not in our language, but in a much stronger common denominator: Our faith in God and Christ. And when that faith grows and matures into love, and compassionate outpouring manifests to those in need, with a pure heart for serving God and furthering His kingdom, then the mountains begin to move.
Men too often forget we are made in the image of God. These passages illustrate our human potential when our motives are pure, and we strive to bring glory to God. The gospel is a call to action for our faith, not just individually but as one body; If God and Jesus have both told us that nothing will be impossible for us, what are we waiting for?
“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Philippians 2:1-2
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.
There are interesting parallels that can be drawn of the people from Nimrod’s time and the people of today. Men – cities and countries of men – are largely godless and continually strive to make a name for themselves. A modern-era example in America would be the NASA space program. The primary purpose of the government space program may be scientific, yes; but consider the great propulsion of national pride behind it. The desire to ‘make a name for ourselves’ as evidenced by the space race. Another example may be the current trend of places like Dubai and their extreme expenditure of wealth, largely for pleasure-oriented things.
And as for solidarity, on the level of the country we speak of things like the missle shield for protection, whereas at the planet-level we dream of a future asteroid shield to save us from a life-ending threat. You could view this as our fear of being ‘scattered’. And as we live in a day and age where almost the entire world is interconnected and globalized, even among warring nations there remains a general concern for the overall safety and survival of humankind from global extinction and even large scale catastrophes. We are willing to band together, and have a strong desire to do so in times of crisis or perceived crisis. This trait of humanity itself is not bad or sinful; it merely shows the face of fear in the people, and counter to that, their hope and determination that they can and will overcome whatever the threat is.
The problem with this behavior during Nimrod’s time was that God had promised the man Noah, and his children just two generations ago, after the flood, that He would not flood the earth or destroy every living thing again. God also acknowledged the inherent wicked tendencies of mankind, and still purposed not to destroy us. He even blessed Noah and his children. And so rather than live in the comfort of those promises of God, the people of Nimrod’s time showed by their actions that they either did not know God or they did not trust God and instead saw Him as an enemy in some way. This is much like the people of today, thousands of years later. Many do not know God, and many who believe in him choose not to worship him over our human-based emotional concerns, not realizing that His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways our not our ways (Isaiah 55:8).
It is intriguing to me how the opinion of antiquity was that Nimrod incited the people to war against God, seeking revenge for the flood (though it is not strongly alluded to in the text.) Even if they did not believe that Jesus was the Christ, the sages of old could not deny the parallels of their understanding with what ultimately plays out at the end, which had the same general cause behind it: The people being incited against God:
“When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.” (Rev. 20:7-9)
“…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.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Gen. 1:1
The Holy scriptures begin with a bold opening; the first five words alone challenge the conventional educational wisdom of today. If the reader believes these words, they should not have much trouble with the rest of the scriptures, for they will have believed that God exists and that He made all things.
That said, ownership is implied here, as is re-stated in Psalm 24:1
“The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it.”
Most Jewish translations read along the lines of “In the beginning of God’s creating”, which should not change our understanding at all, only offer that the act of creation is either happening, or perhaps being revealed to Moses, in the present tense.