Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Earth’s New Beginning and New Nation

The sons of Noah who came out of the boat with him were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. . . .  These three men were Noah’s sons, and all the people on earth came from these three sons. . . . At this time the whole world spoke one language, and everyone used the same words. As people moved from the east, they found a plain in the land of Babylonia and settled there. They said to each other, “Let’s make bricks and bake them to make them hard.” So they used bricks instead of stones, and tar instead of mortar. Then they said to each other, “Let’s build a city and a tower for ourselves, whose top will reach high into the sky. We will become famous. Then we will not be scattered over all the earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the people had built. The Lord said, “Now, these people are united, all speaking the same language. This is only the beginning of what they will do. They will be able to do anything they want. Come, let Us go down and confuse their language so they will not be able to understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. The place is called Babel since that is where the Lord confused the language of the whole world. So the Lord caused them to spread out from there over the whole world. This is the family history of Shem. Two years after the flood, when Shem was 100 years old, his son Arphaxad was born. . . . After Terah was 70 years old, his sons Abram, Nahor, and Haran were born. This is the family history of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran was the father of Lot. While his father, Terah, was still alive, Haran died in Ur in Babylonia, where he was born. Abram and Nahor both married. Abram’s wife was named Sarai, and Nahor’s wife was named Milcah. She was the daughter of Haran, who was the father of both Milcah and Iscah. Sarai was not able to have children. Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot (Haran’s son), and his daughter-in-law Sarai (Abram’s wife) and moved out of Ur of Babylonia. They had planned to go to the land of Canaan (the Promised Land of God). Genesis 9:18-19, Genesis 11:1-10, 26-31 (NCV)

After the great flood, God once again made a new beginning with humanity and that new beginning started with righteous Noah and his family (Genesis 6:8-9; see also Ezekiel 14:14, 20; Hebrews 11:7; 2 Peter 2:5). Noah was the father of three sons – Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Genesis 5:32). All three sons were married (Genesis 7:13). Ham was the youngest son (Genesis 9:24) and Japheth was the eldest (Genesis 10:21).  Of Noah’s three sons, Shem was the chosen line of God (Genesis 9:26). The descendants of Shem were called Shemites (later modified to Semites).

Prior to the flood, the earth was filled with utter evil, wickedness, violence, corruption, and murder (Genesis 4:8, 23; Genesis 6:1-13). Everything the people thought or imagined in their heart was totally evil (Genesis 6:5; see also Proverbs 4:23). But Noah was different as he found favor in God’s eyes (Genesis 6:8). Noah was “the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God” (Genesis 6:9, NLT). To eliminate the total depravity and wickedness on the earth, God decided to bring a great flood to destroy all living creatures – humans and animals – to cleanse the earth of evil and wickedness (Genesis 7). With this flood, “God wiped out every living thing on the earth—people, livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and the birds of the sky. All were destroyed. The only people who survived were Noah and those with him in the boat. And the floodwaters covered the earth for 150 days” (Genesis 7:23-24, NLT). Thus, only Noah, his family, and the animals with Noah were saved from the devastating flood waters (Genesis 7:13, 20-23, Genesis 8:18). “Only a few people, eight in all” (1 Peter 3:20) survived the flood waters (2 Peter 2:5).

After the flood, God blessed Noah and his three sons and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1, NLT). So from Noah and his three sons, God created “all the nations throughout the whole earth” (Acts 17:26, NLT). As we survey the many nations of the world today, all humans ultimately are part of the same family as we are all descended from the same righteous Noah and his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth (see Genesis 9:18; Genesis 10:1; Genesis 10:32). Noah’s three sons spread out all over the earth after God scattered them, and they became the nations of the world (Genesis 10:1-32; Genesis 11:1-9).  

Despite this new beginning, the curse of Adam and Eve was not lifted (Genesis 3:14, 16-19). The flood did not reform the human heart (Genesis 6:5; see also Jeremiah 31:31-34). Noah and his three sons were still descendants of Adam (Romans 5:12-19) and carried in their hearts the inheritance to sin (see Psalm 51:5; Psalm 58:3; Ephesians 2:3). Thus, the new beginning with Noah eventually led to one of the most arrogant and prideful revolts against God recorded anywhere in the Holy Scriptures, the Babel story (Genesis 11:1-9).

At one time, everyone on earth spoke the same language and used the same words (Genesis 11:1). As the people wandered to the east into the plains of Babylonia, they began saying to each other, “let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world” (Genesis 11:4, NLT). Thus, the people built their tower as a monument for their own greatness and to make a name for themselves rather than for God and God’s glory. The people at Babel followed the pride of this world and idolatry. The people’s plans were egotistical and proud. The tower builders sought fame and to undertake a united and godless effort to establish a gigantic enterprise by which they would dominate God’s creation in ways God never intended. Jesus warned that those who “makes himself great will be made humble. Whoever makes himself humble will be made great” (Matthew 23:12, NCV). The Holy Scriptures also warn that “people may make plans in their minds, but the Lord decides what they will do. . . .  pride will destroy a person; a proud attitude leads to ruin” (Proverbs 16:9, 18 NCV).

Human history reveals that people are ambitious – they want to succeed. In the book of Genesis, humans were as so ambitious that they tried to compete with, rather than serve, God. The story of Babel revealed the people’s desired independence from God instead of a close, personal, and faithful relationship with God. Adam and Eve’s rebellion and sin in Eden recall humans’ first attempt at independence from God and God’s commands (Genesis 3:1-7, 22). At Babel, humans once again tried to succeed without God and God’s plans in a citywide effort. However, God frustrated humans’ plans by confusing their language. Without a common language, the humans’ joint efforts became impossible. Being the righteous Judge of the universe, God came down from heaven to look at the city and the tower the people were building and said, “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them! Come, let’s go down and confuse the people with different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other” (Genesis 11:5-7, NLT). In that way, God scattered the people all over the earth and confused the people with different languages (Genesis 11:8-9). Even the greatest of human powers cannot defy God and long survive. Today, there are more than three thousand languages and dialects.  “People can make all kinds of plans, but only the Lord’s plan will happen” (Proverbs 19:21, NCV).

In breaking up the unified community at Babel, God was miraculously working out His divine purposes in His world despite the plans and projects of sinful people. If the people remained united in their prideful attempt, a godless human kingdom would displace and exclude the kingdom of God. God knew that the people were united around a sinful and prideful desire to declare their independence from God and His will (Genesis 11:6). Therefore, God confused human language as an act of His grace. Humans’ inability to communicate stopped their unified sinful ambition. God was preventing humans from committing itself to self-destruction. Thus, the events described in Genesis 11:1-9 led to the scattering of nations that is reflected in the genealogies of Genesis 10:2-30.

Similarly, Adam and Eve’s punishment for disobedience and independence from God and Cain’s punishment for murder involved banishment and scattering by God (Genesis 3:23; Genesis 4:12, 14). This scattering anticipates the warning for ALL people that are enemies of God and who fail to walk in a close and obedient relationship with Him (e.g., see Leviticus 26:33; Numbers 10:35; Deuteronomy 4:27; Deuteronomy 28:64; Deuteronomy 30:3). Obedience and faithfulness to the one true and living God is the key to God’s blessings and favor (see Genesis 6:8-9; Leviticus 26:1-13; Deuteronomy 28:1-14; Galatians 6:7-10; James 1:22-25).

Amazingly, many centuries later, the same God who scattered the people at Babel began to gather people together again at Pentecost. At Pentecost, God’s Holy Spirit began to create a new community unified around our Redeemer and Savior, Jesus Christ (Acts 2:1–13; see also Ephesians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21). In one sense, Pentecost was a reversal of Babel, for the people present in Jerusalem at Pentecost heard the praises of God in their own languages. The God-honoring unity of language on the day of Pentecost was a symbolic reversal of the Babel scattering (Acts 2:5-13). In the end, the day will come when people from every tribe and nation will worship Jesus Christ (Revelation 15:4) and the judgment of Babel will be done away as the people join in unity to worship God (Zephaniah 3:9-13; see also Psalm 86:9; Isaiah 45:22-23; Malachi 1:11; Philippians 2:9-11).

The story of Babel sets the stage for God’s call of Abram and His redemptive plan to save humanity from their sins. After the story of Babel, God decided to work through one man and his family to accomplish His purposes—the family of Abram (later renamed Abraham), a descendant of Shem (Genesis 9:26; Genesis 11:10–26). From Shem's descendant line came Abram and the entire Jewish nation (the Israelites, also called the Hebrews). God’s grace links the repopulation of the earth with the blessing placed upon righteous Noah and his sons (Genesis 9:1-2) and Abram’s family (12:1-3) as His solution to the prideful wickedness  in the Babel story (Genesis 11:1-9). From Genesis 12 forward, Abram and his family becomes the center stage in the entire Bible narrative and through which God chose to bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1–3). Abram’s name means “Exalted Father.” This indicated his honored status as ancestor of God’s chosen people. Later in Genesis 17:5, Abram’s name was changed to Abraham, which means “Father of a Great Multitude.”

God promised to give Abram a famous name because of his humble obedience (Genesis 12:2). Thus, while the tower of Babel was built by the human energy and the motivation of pride, the nation of Israel was built by the grace and power of God through Abram’s humble obedience. God was bringing a new humanity into being, of whom Abram was the father (Genesis 17:5). “And so a whole nation came from this one man . . . a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them” (Hebrews 11:12, NLT). In the New Testament, Abraham is presented as the outstanding example of those who live by “faith” and as the “father of all who believe” (Romans 4:11-12; Galatians 3:7, 9, 29). Like righteous Noah (Genesis 6:22, Genesis 7:5 see also Hebrews 11:7), Abraham’s faith expressed itself in obedience to God (Genesis 12:4).

Thus, four great events are recorded in Genesis 1-11: the creation of the world and its people, the fall of humankind, the great flood, God’s repopulation of earth through Noah, and the attempted construction of the Tower of Babel. These eleven chapters reveal humans’ disobedience to God and God’s judgment of sins. Yet in God’s faithfulness and grace, He makes new and restored beginnings for humans. In the New Testament, we see God’s supreme faithfulness and fulfillment of His promise when He sent Jesus Christ, “the Seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15), to defeat evil and bring salvation to all who believe (see also Genesis 9:26-27; Romans 3). God’s blessing found in Jesus Christ came through Shem and Abram (Luke 3:34-35). God’s purpose has always been to bring people into a close fellowship with Him. God fulfilled that purpose through Abraham and his wife. From Abraham and his wife, God would build a nation, and from that nation, God would bless all the nations of the earth (see Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 18:18). Ultimately, God’s purpose and blessings was fulfilled in Abraham’s descendant, Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:3–4, 7–12; Colossians 1:26–27).

And all of you, serve each other in humility, for “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time He will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you. 1 Peter 5:5-7 (NLT)

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan,1992.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Word in Life Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. New York: Zondervan, 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

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