Today's reading takes us to the table of nations. And its purpose is to explain how the earth was repopulated after the flood. Noah’s three sons and their wives are called upon to be fruitful and multiply and they do. Chapter ten is a partial list of the descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth. What we see is not just a genealogy. It is also an atlas and a history book. The second thing about this table of nations is that the list of descendants is not complete. There are names missing. And it is hard to identify some of the nations because they no longer exist, or they have changed their name.
We see that Japheth’s descendants are the gentile nations north and west of the land of Canaan. At the time, they would have been the outer limits of civilization for God's people. Ham’s descendants include Cush which is ancient Ethiopia. Mizraim is Egypt and Put may well be Libya. They settled the areas we know today as Egypt, Palestine, the Sudan, Saudia Arabia and Yemen. Amid the list of Ham’s descendants, we see a brief story about Nimrod. Some look at him as a mighty hunter, but he may well have been a ruthless tyrant who built four cities in Babylon and another four in Assyria. We know that eventually both of those countries become enemies of Israel. The Assyrians attack and take hostage the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC and the Babylonians destroy the southern kingdom of Judah in 598 BC, taking the Israelites captive back to Babylon.
Shem is mentioned last here but normally he is listed first. It is from Shem’s line that we see the story of the Tower of Babel and, the genealogy of Abraham. We will begin Abraham's story in tomorrow’s reading. What we really see here is that God is the Lord of the nations. He gave them their inheritance and the bounds of their habitation. And despite tyrants like Nimrod, God is in control of geography and history and everything else. We also see that despite our differences, we are all one family. Acts 17:26 reminds us God made us all of one blood. That means no race or people can claim to be superior to any other. Without skin, we all look the same. God has a purpose for the nations to fulfill. It is clear God has chosen the nation of Israel as His and from chapter 12 on, Israel will be front and center in the story of God. However, God will use Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Persia, and Rome to accomplish His purposes. God can and does use many people, believers, and non-believers alike to accomplish His purposes.
Noah’s three sons left a mixed legacy to the world, but the Lord of the nations was and still is in charge. As we look back at the first three days readings, we see God judge sin and make new beginnings in His grace. Adam and Eve sinned but God clothed them and promised to send a redeemer. Cain killed Abel but God sent Seth to carry on the godly line. Seth’s descendants intermarried with the godless Canaanites and God wiped the earth clean with the flood, but Noah and his family believed God's word and were spared. After the flood Noah’s three sons repopulated the earth. But the new beginning with Noah's descendants led to one of the most arrogant revolts against God recorded anywhere in scripture. We read about this in Genesis 11, the Tower of Babel.
God asked the people to be fruitful and multiply and move about the earth but instead they moved to Nimrod’s city of Babylon and they settled there. This was a blatant rebellion against God's command to move about the earth. Ancient cities were dominated by a temple complex that included a tower. And the typical Mesopotamian temple tower, called a ziggurat, was square at the base and had sloping, stepped asides that led upward to a small shrine at the top. Ziggurats were dedicated to specific deities and their design made it convenient for a god to come down to his temple and receive worship from His people. The people were not trying to climb up to heaven to dethrone God. Instead, they hoped the god or goddess they worshipped would come down from heaven to meet them. The structure and the city were called Babel which means 'the gate of the gods.’
This project we see in Genesis 11 was a declaration of war against God. First, the people rejected Gods command to scatter all over the earth and repopulate it. And then their pride got the best of them. They wanted to be known, not for being God's people but for their own accomplishments. They would build a ziggurat so tall it would reach to the heavens. People would come from all over to give them honor and praise. For a brief time, the people acted as one. They had one language, one project and goal and one spirit of pride. All that was missing was the approval of God. We read in Proverbs 16:18 “pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” And that is where God's people were.
What always amuses me about this story is that the people thought they were building this great tower...all the way to the heavens. But it is so small in God's eyes He has to come down from heaven to see it. As He did with Adam and Eve in the garden God acts to prevent future issues among His people. He removed Adam and Eve from the garden to keep them away from the tree of life. Now He confuses the people's language and scatters them all over the world. Because if He left them where they were, they would gain an even greater sense of power and get themselves in even more trouble with the Lord. And then, He gave them an opportunity to return to Him.
I have a plaque my office that says, ”His offer still stands.” Even today we let pride get the best of us at times. And even today, God invites us to return to Him so we can start over and begin anew. His offer still stands...for every one of us.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W