Studies in the Book of Genesis Part 4: The Dispersion of the Nations in Genesis 11:1-9 -- By: Allen P. Ross

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 138:550 (Apr 1981)
Article: Studies in the Book of Genesis Part 4: The Dispersion of the Nations in Genesis 11:1-9
Author: Allen P. Ross

Studies in the Book of Genesis
Part 4:
The Dispersion of the Nations in Genesis 11:1-9

Allen P. Ross

[Allen P. Ross, Assistant Professor of Semitics and Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary]

Introduction to the Passage

The Nature of the Account

The narrative in Genesis 11:1–9 describes the divine intervention among the human family to scatter them across the face of the earth by means of striking at the heart of their unity—their language. A quick reading of the passage shows that the predominant idea is not the tower of Babel but this scattering.

If the point is not simply the tower, then this passage does not present, as some have suggested, a Hebrew adaptation of the Greek Titans storming heaven to dislodge God. Rather, the characteristics of the people in this story are anxiety and pride through their own gregariousness.1 The tower, on the one hand, is born from the people’s fear of being scattered across the earth; and on the other hand it is an attempt to frustrate God’s plan to fill the earth (Gen 9:1).

The sin. Since the story has the trappings of a judgment narrative in which Yahweh interrupts mankind’s misguided activities and scatters them abroad, it may be assumed that the antithesis of this scattering must be the sin. The major error was not the building of a city, but the attempt of the race to live in one city.2 Therefore it appears that the human family was striving for unity, security, and social immortality (making a name) in defiance of God’s desire for them to fill the earth.

Divine punishment. It is important to keep in mind that the “judgment” was not the destruction of the city but of the

language that united the people. It was shattered into a multiplicity of languages so that the common bond was destroyed.3 Thus the text is demonstrating that the present number of languages that form national barriers is a monument to sin.

Divine prevention. Since the people’s purpose was to make a name for themselves and to achieve power through unity, the apostasy of the human spirit would shortly bring the race to the brink of another catastrophe such as the Deluge. By frustrating their communication and dividing them into nations, it is evident that “it is the will of God, so long as sin is present in the world, to employ nationalism in the reduction of sin.”You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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