Genesis 11:2
And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelled there.
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(2) As they journeyed.—The word literally refers to the pulling up of the tent-pegs, and sets the human family before us as a band of nomads, wandering from place to place, and shifting their tents as their cattle needed fresh pasture.

From the east.—So all the versions. Mount Ararat was to the north-west of Shinar, and while so lofty a mountain could not have been the spot where the ark rested, yet neither could any portion of Armenia or of the Carduchian mountains be described as to the east of Babylonia. The Chaldean legends make the ark rest on Mount Nizir, or Elwend, on the east of Assyria; and though Ararat may possibly signify Aryaverta, “Holy Land,” yet the transference of the name from Elwend to Armenia is not easily explicable. Moreover, the Bible elsewhere seems to point to Armenia as the cradle of the human race. Most modern commentators, therefore, translate eastward, and such certainly is the meaning of the word in Genesis 13:11, where also the versions, excepting our own, render from the east.

Land of Shinar.—See on Genesis 10:10. The whole of Chaldea is a level plain, and the soil immensely rich, as it is an alluvial deposit, which still goes on forming at the head of the Persian Gulf, at the rate of a mile in a period estimated at from seventy to thirty years (Rawlinson, Anc. Mon., i. 4). A strip of land 130 miles in breadth has been added to the country, by the deposit of the earth washed down by the Tigris and Euphrates, since the time when Ur of the Chaldees was a great port.

11:1-4 How soon men forget the most tremendous judgments, and go back to their former crimes! Though the desolations of the deluge were before their eyes, though they sprang from the stock of righteous Noah, yet even during his life-time, wickedness increases exceedingly. Nothing but the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit can remove the sinful lusts of the human will, and the depravity of the human heart. God's purpose was, that mankind should form many nations, and people all lands. In contempt of the Divine will, and against the counsel of Noah, the bulk of mankind united to build a city and a tower to prevent their separating. Idolatry was begun, and Babel became one of its chief seats. They made one another more daring and resolute. Let us learn to provoke one another to love and to good works, as sinners stir up and encourage one another to wicked works.The occasion of the linguage change about to be described is here narrated. "As they journeyed eastward." The word "they" refers to the whole land of the previous verse, which is put by a common figure for the whole race of man. "Eastward" is proved to be the meaning of the phrase מקדם mı̂qedem by Genesis 13:11, where Lot is said to journey (מקדם mı̂qedem) from Bethel to the plain of the Jordan, which is to the east. The human race, consisting it might be of five hundred families, journeys eastward, with a few points of deflection to the south, along the Euphrates valley, and comes to a plain of surpassing fertility in the land of Shinar (Herod. 1:178, 193). A determination to make a permanent abode in this productive spot is immediately formed.2. land of Shinar—The fertile valley watered by the Euphrates and Tigris was chosen as the center of their union and the seat of their power. As they journeyed from the east, i.e. Nimrod and the rest of his confederates of Ham’s posterity; not from Armenia, where the ark rested, which was north from Babel, and is called north in Scripture, as Jeremiah 25:9,26, &c.; but from Assyria, into which they had before come from the mountains of Ararat for more convenient habitation. It may be rendered to the east; but that manner of translation is neither usual nor necessary here.

The land of Shinar, where Babel was, Genesis 10:10. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east,.... That is, the inhabitants of the whole earth; not Ham and his posterity only, or Nimrod and his company; but as all the sons of Noah and his posterity for a while dwelt together, or at least very near each other, and finding the place where they were too scanty for them, as their several families increased, they set out in a body from the place where they were, to seek for a more convenient one: it seems a little difficult how to interpret this phrase, "from the east", since if they came from Ararat in Armenia, where the ark rested, as that lay north of Shinar or Babylon, they might rather be said to come from the north than from the east, and rather came to it than from it: so some think the phrase should be rendered, "to the east" (b), or eastward, as in Genesis 13:11. Jarchi thinks this refers to Genesis 10:30 "and their dwelling was", &c. at "the mountain of the east"; from whence he supposes they journeyed, to find out a place that would hold them all, but could find none but Shinar; but then this restrains it to Joktan's sons, and besides, their dwelling there was not until after the confusion and dispersion. But it is very probable the case was this, that when Noah and his sons came out of the ark, in a little time they betook themselves to their former habitation, from whence they had entered into the ark, namely, to the east of the garden of Eden, where was the appearance of the divine Presence, or Shechinah; and from hence it was that these now journeyed: and so it was as they were passing on:

that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; which the Targum of Jonathan paraphrases the land of Babylon; and Hestiaeus (c), a Phoenician historian, calls it Sennaar of Babylon; there are plain traces of this name in the Singara of Ptolemy (d) and Pliny (e), the Hebrew letter being sometimes pronounced as "G", as in Gaza and Gomorrah; the first of these place a city of this name in Mesopotamia, near the Tigris, and that of the other is reckoned a capital of the Rhetavi, a tribe of the Arabs, near Mesopotamia. This plain was very large, fruitful, and delightful, and therefore judged a fit place for a settlement, where they might have room enough, and which promised them a sufficient sustenance:

and they dwelt there; and provided for their continuance, quickly beginning to build a city and tower, afterwards called Babylon: and that Babylon was built in a large plain is not only here asserted, but is confirmed by Herodotus (f), who says of it, that it lay , in a vast plain, and so Strabo (g); which was no other than the plain of Shinar.

(b) "ad Orientem, sive Orientem versus"; so some in Schmidt. Vid. Drusium in loc. & Fuller. Miscell. Sacr. l. 1. c. 4. (c) Apud Joseph. Antiqu. l. 1. c. 4. sect. 3.((d) Geograph. l. 5. c. 18. (e) Nat. Hist. l. 5. c. 24. (f) Clio sive, l. 1. c. 178. (g) Geograph. l. 16. p. 508.

And it came to pass, {a} as {b} they journeyed from the {c} east, that they found a plain in the land of {d} Shinar; and they dwelt there.

(a) One hundred and thirty years after the flood.

(b) That is, Nimrod and his company.

(c) That is, from Armenia where the ark stayed.

(d) Which was afterward called Chaldea.

2. as they journeyed] We are not told who are here spoken of, nor whence they come. This is an indication that this passage (1–9) is derived from an independent tradition distinct from the thread of the foregoing narrative. Like Genesis 4:17-24, and Genesis 6:1-4, it is probably a fragment of tradition which had no knowledge of the story of the Flood, or of the dispersion of the peoples through the sons of Noah.

journeyed] A word denoting the progress of nomads from one place of encampment to another.

east] Better, as marg., in the east. The Hebrew word means literally “from the east,” as also LXX ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν, and Lat. de oriente, and here probably signifies “in the east,” i.e. on the east side from the writer’s point of view. Some translate “eastward,” as in Genesis 13:11, where Lot, on leaving Abram, is described as journeying “eastward.” But, as we do not know who are referred to, or where they started from, the uncertainty as to the rendering remains.

a plain in the land of Shinar] For Shinar, probably denoting the ancient Babylonia, “Sumer and Akkad,” see Genesis 10:10. The word “plain” (biḳ‘ah) means the wide open expanse of a river valley. Here it is used of the Euphrates Valley. The expression, “found a plain in the land of Shinar,” does not suggest close knowledge of Babylonia; but rather the general terms of popular and defective information respecting a distant country. Babylonia is one vast plain.Verse 2. - And it came to pass, as they journeyed. Literally, in their journeyings. The root (גָקַע, to pull up, as, e.g., the stakes of a tent when a camp moves, Isaiah 33:20) suggests the idea of the migration of nomadic hordes (cf. Genesis 12:9; Genesis 33:17). From the east. Ab oriente (Ancient Versions, Calvin, et alii), meaning either that they started from Armenia, which was in the east respectu terrae Canaan (Luther), or from that portion of the Assyrian empire which was east of the Tigris, and called Orientalis, as distinguished from the Occidentalis on the west (Bochart); or that they first traveled westwards, following the direction of the Euphrates in one of its upper branches (Bush); or that, having roamed to the east of Shinar, they ultimately returned occidentem versus (Junius). The phrase, however, is admitted to be more correctly rendered ad orientem (Drusius, Lange, Keil, Murphy), as in Genesis 13:11. Kalisch interprets generally in oriente, agreeing with Luther that the migrations are viewed by the writer as taking place in the east; while T. Lewis prefers to read from one front part (the original meaning of kedem) to another - onwards. That they found a plain בִּקְעָה; not a valley between mountain ranges, as in Deuteronomy 8:7; Deuteronomy 11:11; Psalm 104:8, but a widely-extended plain (πεδίον, LXX.), like that in which Babylon was situated (Herod., lib. 1:178, κέεται ἐν πεδιῳ μεγάλῳ; cf. Strabo, lib. 2:109). In the land of Shinar. Babylonia (cf. Genesis 10:10). The derivation of the term is unknown (Gesenius), though it probably meant the land of the two rivers (Alford). Its absence from ancient monuments (Rawlinson) suggests that it was the Jewish name for Chaldaea. And they dwelt there. As men multiplied they moved from the land of Ararat "eastward," or more strictly to the south-east, and settled in a plain. בּקעה does not denote a valley between mountain ranges, but a broad plain, πεδίον μέγα, as Herodotus calls the neighbourhood of Babylon. There they resolved to build an immense tower; and for this purpose they made bricks and burned them thoroughly (לשׂרפה "to burning" serves to intensify the verb like the inf. absol.), so that they became stone; whereas in the East ordinary buildings are constructed of bricks of clay, simply dried in the sun. For mortar they used asphalt, in which the neighbourhood of Babylon abounds. From this material, which may still be seen in the ruins of Babylon, they intended to build a city and a tower, whose top should be in heaven, i.e., reach to the sky, to make to themselves a name, that they might not be scattered over the whole earth. שׁם לו עשׂה denotes, here and everywhere else, to establish a name, or reputation, to set up a memorial (Isaiah 63:12, Isaiah 63:14; Jeremiah 32:20, etc.). The real motive therefore was the desire for renown, and the object was to establish a noted central point, which might serve to maintain their unity. The one was just as ungodly as the other. For, according to the divine purpose, men were to fill the earth, i.e., to spread over the whole earth, not indeed to separate, but to maintain their inward unity notwithstanding their dispersion. But the fact that they were afraid of dispersion is a proof that the inward spiritual bond of unity and fellowship, not only "the oneness of their God and their worship," but also the unity of brotherly love, was already broken by sin. Consequently the undertaking, dictated by pride, to preserve and consolidate by outward means the unity which was inwardly lost, could not be successful, but could only bring down the judgment of dispersion.
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