As we turn our attention from the life of Noah onto chapters 10 and 11 of the book of Genesis it would be helpful for us to quickly back track for just a minute by looking at a few verses from chapter 9 that set the stage for what we’ll be discussing this morning.
First, following the Flood and this process of recreation, God chooses to repopulate the earth specifically using Noah’s three sons. We read in Genesis 9:18-19 that “the sons of Noah were Shem, Ham, and Japheth… And from these the whole earth was populated.”
Have you ever wondered where we get all the different nationalities? How the ethnic kaleidoscope of humanity came to be? Well, according to the Bible, every human being alive today can trace their bloodline and genealogical heritage back to this man Noah through one of his three sons. In a sense everyone of us is a direct descendant of Noah through either Shem, Ham, or Japheth (or more likely a combination of all three).
It’s fascinating to study, but with recent advances in our understanding of human genetics and mitochondrial DNA it is universally understood in the scientific world that everyone alive today indeed descended from one set of genetic code provided by one women. That said… The debate within the scientific community in recent years has not centered on whether or not we’re all linked together, but rather how long this would have taken.
For the last few decades the assumption has always been that this original woman would have needed to live somewhere between 99,000 and 200,000 years ago for the math to work… And yet, a recent mathematical model created by Joseph T. Chang, a professor in the Department of Statistics at Yale University, challenges this entire assumption.
According to his article published in the scientific journal Nature, using complex algorithms and formulas Chang and his team were able to demonstrate that our most recent common ancestor may have lived just a few thousand years ago. Chang writes, “While we may not all be brothers, the models suggest we are all hundredth cousins or so.”
His study demonstrated that even when you incorporate more complex factors such as socially-driven mating, physical barriers of geography to migration, and recorded historical events, the computer model repeatedly simulated human history beginning within the last 20,000 years. (A far cry from the 100 to 200 thousand range.)
According to Chang the more realistic models estimate that the most recent common ancestor of mankind lived approximated 5,000 years ago. What makes all this interesting is that these computer simulations are in actuality validating the literal Biblical narrative.
Notice how Genesis 10:1 opens, “Now this is the genealogy of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And sons were born to them after the flood.” While I have no interest in butchering my way through the list of names that follows (including the ones also found at the end of Genesis 11) it should be pointed out that verses 2-5 of chapter 10 records “the sons of Japheth,” verses 6-20 “the sons of Ham,” before finally verses 21-31 and then more expansively in Genesis 11:10-27 we have provided “the genealogy of Shem.”
I guess this is as good a time as ever to point out that while I’m not going to read through all of these ancient names you should not mistake this approach as somehow lessoning the importance of the text. We believe that ALL Scripture is both inspired and significant! The important truth is that these genealogical records are incredibly noteworthy for they supply us with the most complex and comprehensive “Table of Nations” in all of antiquity!
To this point American Archeologist Dr. William F. Albright (a man who earned his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, authenticated the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948, and who was not a Christian) said this after years and years of studying this list of names in Genesis 10 writing, “This genealogy stands absolutely alone in ancient literature, without a remote parallel… The Table of Nations remains an astonishingly accurate document.”
Before we move on you should note another reason we’re given this genealogy… While the list of names in Genesis 5 connects Adam and Seth to Noah, it’s important we have Noah and Shem genealogically linked to a man we’re introduced to in Genesis 11:26 - “Abram.”
And why is this the case? Not only had God promised the coming Savior would descend from Adam through the lineage of Seth to Noah, but Genesis 9:25-27 indicates of Noah’s three sons the Messiah would come through Shem’s family line. Noah said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brethren. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem; and may Canaan be his servant.” It’s important for the flow of these covenantal promises to link Abraham through Shem and Noah back to Adam.
On a side note it should also be pointed out that Noah’s curse was not on all of the descendants of Ham (which some have inappropriately used to justify the enslavement of the African race); instead (as we discussed last Sunday), Noah only “cursed Canaan!” The irony is that none of the descendants of Canaan possessed black skin!
The reason this curse is significant is that when we’re given the genealogy of Canaan in Genesis 10:15-19 the nations who descended from him would not only settle in an area God would later give to Abraham, Isaac, and then Jacob, but these people groups would over time become the perpetual enemy of Israel. In a sense this cursing of Canaan and subsequent blessing of Shem sets the stage for all of the Biblical conflict to follow.
So… Aside from these two chapters providing the Table of Nations as well as establishing the genealogical link from Shem to Abraham, for our purposes today (instead of working our way through the minutia of pronouncing all of these ancient names and in reality me simply making things up) I want to take our remaining time together and examine a central theme introduced in these chapters that will end up weaving its way throughout the entirety of Scripture… The spirit of Babylon!
We noted back in Genesis 4 that following the murder of his brother Abel, Cain not only refused to repent, but set out to create a world apart from God. In his rebellion Cain built a city and a society specifically independent from the involvement and influence of God.
It appears from our text that it didn’t take long in this post-diluvian world for the same thing to occur again. In Genesis 10:8-10 we read, “Cush begot Nimrod” and “he began to be a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, ‘Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord.’ And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel…”
Then as we turn to Genesis 11 we’re given more details into this kingdom started by Nimrod in the first four verses reading, “Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’”
Let’s begin our discussion with this man… Nimrod, the son of Cush, grandson of Ham, and great-grandson of Noah. The name “Nimrod” means either “The Rebel” or “We will rebel.” While there are many legends written in antiquity about this man Nimrod, for our purposes this morning we’re only going to examine what the Bible says about him.
First, we read that during this population explosion a few hundred years after the Flood Nimrod “began to be a mighty one on the earth…” The idea behind this Hebrew word translated “mighty one” is that Nimrod grew in strength, was a warrior or a champion, yielded incredible power, possessed particular influence, and by implication became tyrannical.
Secondly, we’re also told “he was a mighty hunter before the Lord…” Now this is where the English translation can be misleading. The word “before” literally means “in front of, towards, or in the face of.” The idea is that Nimrod and his activities were an offense before God. Some have even translated this phrase as “Nimrod was a warrior against the Lord.”
In writing about this passage 19th century scholars Keil and Delitzsch wrote, “Nimrod was mighty in hunting, and that in opposition to God; not ‘before God’ in the sense of according to the will and purpose of God, still less… The name itself, ‘Nimrod,’ ‘We will revolt,’ points to some violent resistance to God… Nimrod as a mighty hunter founded a powerful kingdom; and the founding of this kingdom is shown by the verb with consecutive to have been the consequence or result of his strength in hunting, so that hunting was intimately connected with the establishing of the kingdom. Hence, if the expression ‘a mighty hunter’ relates primarily to hunting in the literal sense, we must add to the literal meaning the figurative signification of a ‘hunter of men’ (a trapper of men by force); Nimrod the hunter became a tyrant, a powerful hunter of men.”
Aside from his opposition against the Lord most scholars believe Nimrod was also a skilled hunter of animals (tradition says he was a skilled archer). Think of the prestige this would produce for him in the post-Flood world? Following the Flood humans and animals had gone from friends to foes. A hunter like Nimrod would have been seen as a hero, a protector.
Pastor Sandy Adams writes of Nimrod, “Among men not accustom to this new threat from the animal kingdom, Nimrod was an impressive person. He played on man’s fears. In the wake of the new threats posed by a post-flood world he was able to manipulate people into following him. People looked to Nimrod for protection. Nimrod was hailed as a Savior.”
Finally, we should point out that while our text says Nimrod was successful in conquering other peoples and founding numerous cities “the beginning of his kingdom was Babel…” It appears Nimrod, through force - coercion - and will, was not only able to gain considerable power, but was able to consolidate his power. You might consider Nimrod the first world-ruler and Babel the first world-power. Note: It should be pointed out this is the first time in Scripture we find the word “kingdom.” Up until this point in time we’ve had the mention of cities existing, but this the first time in the Bible many cities were brought under the power of a central king.
Not only was the establishment of this centralized government directly in opposition to God’s command for Noah’s sons and their descendants to “multiply and fill the earth,” but there appears to be an even deeper form of rebellion behind Nimrod’s establishment of Babel than what meets the eye. The word “Babel” is an interesting word meaning “confusion by mixing.”
If you noticed in the verses we read Nimrod provides the fundamental purpose of Babel saying, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
Beyond the fact this city was specifically designed to unify the world’s inhabitants under the control and kingship of Nimrod, look at two additional characteristics of Babel provided in the text… Initially, Nimrod’s selling point was simple… “Let us make a name for ourselves!”
It seems this city was instituted not only in rebellion against God, but to celebrate the glory of man! Babel was designed to be man-centric, exchanging the worship of God for the might of man! As David Guzik observers, “This was a statement of self against God.”
Also notice the city of Babel was to have “a tower whose top is in the heavens.” This does not mean as some have indicated that the intention of this tower was to be flood-proof. For starters, if this had been the case you would not have built the tower in “a plain in the land of Shinar” which was at sea-level. You would have built the tower on top of a mountain.
Furthermore, when we’re told “they had brick for stone and asphalt for mortar” it’s not as though they were building a tower designed to be water-proof, another common misconception. Instead, what this seems to be describing is a transition taking place under Nimrod’s leadership from society being generally nomadic where people lived in tents and portable structures to using more permanent building material ideal for the creation of a city.
Notice this “tower” was designed to have its “top in the heavens.” Admittedly, this phrase “in the heavens” can be misleading as it would be better translated “unto the heavens.” The idea was that this tower, as a central feature in the city of Babel, would be used to gaze into the heavens in order to decipher the stars and interpret divination. The “tower” was designed to be the central feature in a new religious system created and established by Nimrod.
It’s interesting to note that not only do we see these type of step pyramid structures called Ziggurats used for astrology all over the world, but Middle Eastern archeological digs have discovered that astrology finds its earliest roots in ancient Babylonian cultures.
What seems to make Nimrod’s building of this tower so unique was that for the first time in human affairs he actively set out to exalt the involvement of man within divine, religious affairs. In a sense Babel represented the first man-made religion.
Babel (or more generally known in Scripture as Babylon), while having a physical location in bygone eras, was never presented in Scripture as much of a geographic city as it was seen as being representative of this man-centric religious structure facilitating man’s rebellion. Babylon was evil because it substituted worship of the true God for one created by man.
For example… Revelation 14:8, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” Revelation 17:5, “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and of the abominations of the earth.”
Always remember… There are only two systems that exist today: One that exalts the True and Living God and one that substitutes Him with one of man’s own making. While this false system goes by many names in a more universal perspective Scripture refers to it as idolatry! From its inception Babel has always existed as the system whereby men seek to create a god of his own making often into his own likeness!
Idolatry! When we think of an idol and/or the worship of idols the entire concept doesn’t seem to be all that applicable to our Western sophistication. “Zach, I don’t have a Buddha statue in my home!” And yet, the warning against idolatry is more relevant than you know…
Timothy Keller defines idolatry as anything that becomes a counterfeit god. In his book by that name he writes, “A counterfeit god (idol) is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living... Idolatry then is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God.”
In this situation recorded in Genesis 10 and 11 Nimrod exalted himself and this tower as the way to God. In a sense he was the first antichrist because he presented himself as a substitute savior. And while in our lives idolatry doesn’t take such an overt form, please keep in mind an idol is anything given a preeminent position in your life over Jesus.
To illustrate this concept let me first explain how a counterfeit gods develops… First, more often than not we end up getting so consumed by the temporal (the affairs and concerns of today) that we quickly lose sight of the eternal. Then, since life is now being dominated by the present, it’s only natural we create for ourselves a “self-defined hell.”
In essence hell is defined as the one thing in life making us miserable. For example… Hell can be defined as being poor, lonely, fat, single, insignificant, board, or that job you hate. Now it’s at this point, since we all have a natural fear of hell, people are then compelled to find a “functional savior” that will save them!
You see this is how we fall into idolatry. Once you’ve found your “functional savior” (idol) you will end up worshipping that thing hoping it will save you from your “self-defined hell.” This is why people worship their stuff, outward appearance, group of friends, exercise routine, significant other, cause, or recreation by making incredible sacrifices, dedicating copious amounts of time, or investing energy and resources. Consider - Is there anything so central and essential to your life other than Jesus that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living? If so… You have an idol!
Sadly, I think Babel as the establishment of the first man-made religion teaches us that the greatest form of idolatry is any system that creates a way for man to reach into the heavens apart from the cross of Jesus Christ. This morning if you are relying on anything or anyone other than Jesus to approach and find access God (laws to obey, traditions to adhere to, a priest to hear your confessions, a saint to intercede on your behalf, etc.) you are worshipping nothing more than a counterfeit god.
And yet, here’s the interesting thing about idols… God will never stand idly by and allow any substitute savior to succeed. Because Jesus is the only true Savior, God will never allow a counterfeit to stand in His rightful place.
Look at what happens to Babel… Genesis 11:5-9, “The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, ‘Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.”
In his book “The Gospel in Genesis: From Fig Leaves to Faith” Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes this telling observation, “The one lesson of Genesis 11 is that if you plan your life without God at the center, it will come to nothing, nothing at all. It will be as futile and as fatuous as the Tower of Babel. God will come down and will destroy it, whether you like that or not. This is the whole history of the Bible… The human race is not allowed to build a lasting civilization without God, and you are not allowed to build your life without God.”
To this point of God refusing to allow idols to succeed J.D. Greear said, “Every judgment before the ultimate judgment is actually grace, because it’s God trying to wake you up!”
Now that doesn’t mean you can’t try to create your own functional saviors, but the guarantee is that you’ll never succeed. Instead of a life of purpose and meaning, clarity and cause, a life that satisfies and fulfills you’ll only find yourself empty, searching, and ultimately confused…
It’s all God will allow this system of Babel to provide in your life! Aways know God will force you from that place of security so that you’ll continue to wander. And why does He do this? So you’ll find in Him the Savior you ultimately need!