Genesis 9-11: Scattering and Finding
January 4, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
God makes a covenant with Noah (9:8-17) and gives him a sign of this covenant, a rainbow in the sky, invested with meaning and significance that God will not again drown the world through a flood, that his judgment will not come that way again, and that through the line of Noah there is to come the promised fulfillment of redemption.
As the story continues (9:18-29), the relative poverty of the line of Canaan (the “Canaanites” who will be a thorn in the side of Israel when they enter the Promised Land) is explained through an action that itself requires some explanation. What exactly was it that Ham did? We are told he saw his father’s nakedness (Noah showing that he is not the perfect redeemer by getting so blind drunk he collapses in his tent stark naked, 9:21) and then went and told his brothers (9:22). Some have suggested there is some sort of physical abuse or rape of his father suggested here. Perhaps, but if so, the account is subtle enough to be susceptible to other less dramatic interpretations. It may be that Ham simply ridiculed his father, and when the text says he went and told his brothers, it means that he went and made fun of his father’s nakedness and diminished him (or attempted to diminish him) in their eyes. Honoring your father and mother is a command long expected in the character of God, if only later to be explicitly codified.
The description of the Table of Nations (as Genesis 10 is commonly known), giving a sense of the growing expanse of these humans and their various lineages, is then followed by a story of great significance to today’s culture: the tower of Babel (11:1-9). Humans attempt to climb their way to heaven, they build a staircase to heaven, and when you do that out of stone you need to build supporting steps on the other side. Such structures have been discovered; they are called ziggurats. They had steps in them, built large enough to be useful to “god-sized” feet walking down from heaven to man.
Everything about this is wrong-headed, upside down, and a reversal of God’s intention. Man is apparently seeking God and trying to climb a staircase to him, when (as Jesus will teach us in John’s Gospel) it is on the Son of Man that angels ascend and descend, the true fulfillment of Jacob’s ladder (Gen. 28:12), and the right way to find intimacy with God—through grace and calling on the name of the Lord—not through trying by our own futile efforts to make a stairway to heaven.
Some think it is punitive of God to confuse their language (11:7), but the truth is that there is good community and bad community, and some communities are so bad they need quickly to be split up or all hell will break loose. You break up violent gangs. The core problem of humanity is not lack of communication. Sometimes we do better when we are sent to opposite sides of the room so that we cannot get together and plot real evil. The multiplicity of languages is a common grace to prevent the uniting of evil to some huge devilish end.
Another genealogy (11:10-32), which goes rhythmically on its way until it suddenly expands, going from a wide angle lens to a microscopic examination, of one family (Terah) and one man (Abram). Redemption, and the people to whom the Redeemer will come, is on its way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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