Genesis 11:6
And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
11:5-9 Here is an expression after the manner of men; The Lord came down to see the city. God is just and fair in all he does against sin and sinners, and condemns none unheard. Pious Eber is not found among this ungodly crew; for he and his are called the children of God; their souls joined not themselves to the assembly of these children of men. God suffered them to go on some way, that the works of their hands, from which they promised themselves lasting honour, might turn to their lasting reproach. God has wise and holy ends, in allowing the enemies of his glory to carry on their wicked projects a great way, and to prosper long. Observe the wisdom and mercy of God, in the methods taken for defeating this undertaking. And the mercy of God in not making the penalty equal to the offence; for he deals not with us according to our sins. The wisdom of God, in fixing upon a sure way to stop these proceedings. If they could not understand one another, they could not help one another; this would take them off from their building. God has various means, and effectual ones, to baffle and defeat the projects of proud men that set themselves against him, and particularly he divides them among themselves. Notwithstanding their union and obstinacy God was above them; for who ever hardened his heart against him, and prospered? Their language was confounded. We all suffer by it to this day: in all the pains and trouble used to learn the languages we have occasion for, we suffer for the rebellion of our ancestors at Babel. Nay, and those unhappy disputes, which are strifes of words, and arise from misunderstanding one another's words, for aught we know, are owing to this confusion of tongues. They left off to build the city. The confusion of their tongues not only unfitted them for helping one another, but they saw the hand of the Lord gone out against them. It is wisdom to leave off that which we see God fights against. God is able to blast and bring to nought all the devices and designs of Babel-builders: there is no wisdom nor counsel against the Lord. The builders departed according to their families, and the tongue they spake, to the countries and places allotted to them. The children of men never did, nor ever will, come all together again, till the great day, when the Son of man shall sit upon the throne of his glory, and all nations shall be gathered before him.In like simplicity is depicted the self-willed, God-defying spirit of combination and ambition which had now budded in the imagination of man. "The People is one" - one race, with one purpose. "And they have all one lip." They understand one another's mind. No misunderstanding has arisen from diversity of language. "This is their beginning." The beginning of sin, like that of strife, is as when one letteth out water. The Lord sees in this commencement the seed of growing evil. All sin is dim and small in its first rise; but it swells by insensible degrees to the most glaring and gigantic proportions. "And now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do." Now that they have made this notable beginning of concentration, ambition, and renown, there is nothing in this way which they will not imagine or attempt.6. and now nothing will be restrained from them—an apparent admission that the design was practicable, and would have been executed but for the divine interposition. The Lord said this in way of holy scorn and derision. Compare Genesis 3:22. And the Lord said,.... Not to the angels, as Aben Ezra, but rather to the Son and Spirit, or within himself:

behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; which some think is spoken ironically; but I see no reason why it may not be understood seriously, that the people who were concerned in this building were unanimous, not only in their religious principles, such as they were, as Aben Ezra, but in their counsel, purpose, and design in building; they went on with great concord, harmony, and vigour, and being of one language, they understood one another, and so could carry on their work with the greater expedition:

and this they begin to do; to build the city and the tower, and had made considerable progress in it:

and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do; they had prepared bricks, and slime or bitumen, a sufficient quantity for their use, or could easily come at more if they wanted; and they were not to be prevailed upon to desist from their work, by any advice that the sons of God could give them; they were obstinate and self-willed, and not to be argued with and persuaded to leave off; and there was no power on earth superior to them, to oblige them to it; they could only be restrained from their enterprise, and hindered from executing it, by divine power; and which was judged necessary to exert, as appears by what follows: and the words may be rendered, "shall they not be restrained? &c." they shall.

And the LORD said, {g} Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

(g) God speaks this in derision, because of their foolish persuasion and enterprise.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
6. And the Lord said] The account, in this and the following verse, is evidently condensed. In Genesis 11:5 Jehovah is represented as coming down on earth, in order to see more closely, and on the spot to form a better judgement. This He has done; He has returned to heaven, and now, in Genesis 11:6, announces what He has seen. In Genesis 11:7 He proposes to descend a second time and inflict punishment.

one people … one language] This is evidently contrary to the intention of the Deity who desires the whole earth to be populated.

nothing will be withholden from them] i.e. they will be baulked in no enterprise. If they mount up to heaven, their arrogance will make them endeavour to rival God Himself. It is the same kind of apprehension as in Genesis 3:22.Verse 6. - And the Lord said - within himself, and to himself (vide ver. 8); expressive of the formation of a Divine resolution (cf. Genesis 6:7) - Behold, the people - עַס, from root signifying to bind together, expresses the idea of association; גּוי, from a root signifying to swell (Lange), to flow together (Gesenius), to gather together (Furst), conveys the notion of a confluxus hominum. T. Lewis connects it with the sense of interiority, or exclusion, which is common in the Chaldee and Syriac - is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do. One race, one tongue, one purpose. The words indicate unity of effort, as well as concentration of design, on the part of the builders, and a certain measure of success in the achievement of their work. And now nothing will be restrained from them. Literally, there will not be cut off from them anything; οὐκ ἐκλείψει ἀπ αὐτῶν πάντα (LXX.); non desistent a cogitationibus suis (Vulgate, Luther); i.e. nothing will prove too hard for their dating. It can hardly imply that their impious design was on the eve of completion. Which they have imagined to do. "Jehovah came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men had built" (the perfect בּנוּ refers to the building as one finished up to a certain point). Jehovah's "coming down" is not the same here as in Exodus 19:20; Exodus 34:5; Numbers 11:25; Numbers 12:5, viz., the descent from heaven of some visible symbol of His presence, but is an anthropomorphic description of God's interposition in the actions of men, primarily a "judicial cognizance of the actual fact," and then, Genesis 11:7, a judicial infliction of punishment. The reason for the judgment is given in the word, i.e., the sentence, which Jehovah pronounces upon the undertaking (Genesis 11:6): "Behold one people (עם lit., union, connected whole, from עמם to bind) and one language have they all, and this (the building of this city and tower) is (only) the beginning of their deeds; and now (sc., when they have finished this) nothing will be impossible to them (מהם יבּצר לא lit., cut off from them, prevented) which they purpose to do" (יזמוּ for יזמּוּ from זמם, see Genesis 9:19). By the firm establishment of an ungodly unity, the wickedness and audacity of men would have led to fearful enterprises. But God determined, by confusing their language, to prevent the heightening of sin through ungodly association, and to frustrate their design. "Up" (הבה "go to," an ironical imitation of the same expression in Genesis 11:3 and Genesis 11:4), "We will go down, and there confound their language (on the plural, see Genesis 1:26; נבלה for נבלּה, Kal from בּלל, like יזמו in Genesis 1:6), that they may not understand one another's speech." The execution of this divine purpose is given in Genesis 11:8, in a description of its consequences: "Jehovah scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city." We must not conclude from this, however, that the differences in language were simply the result of the separation of the various tribes, and that the latter arose from discord and strife; in which case the confusion of tongues would be nothing more than "dissensio animorum, per quam factum sit, ut qui turrem struebant distracti sint in contraria studia et consilia" (Bitringa). Such a view not only does violence to the words "that one may not discern (understand) the lip (language) of the other," but is also at variance with the object of the narrative. When it is stated, first of all, that God resolved to destroy the unity of lips and words by a confusion of the lips, and then that He scattered the men abroad, this act of divine judgment cannot be understood in any other way, than that God deprived them of the ability to comprehend one another, and thus effected their dispersion. The event itself cannot have consisted merely in a change of the organs of speech, produced by the omnipotence of God, whereby speakers were turned into stammerers who were unintelligible to one another. This opinion, which is held by Bitringa and Hoffmann, is neither reconcilable with the text, nor tenable as a matter of fact. The differences, to which this event gave rise, consisted not merely in variations of sound, such as might be attributed to differences in the formation in the organs of speech (the lip or tongue), but had a much deeper foundation in the human mind. If language is the audible expression of emotions, conceptions, and thoughts of the mind, the cause of the confusion or division of the one human language into different national dialects must be sought in an effect produced upon the human mind, by which the original unity of emotion, conception, thought, and will was broken up. This inward unity had no doubt been already disturbed by sin, but the disturbance had not yet amounted to a perfect breach. This happened first of all in the event recorded here, through a direct manifestation of divine power, which caused the disturbance produced by sin in the unity of emotion, thought, and will to issue in a diversity of language, and thus by a miraculous suspension of mutual understanding frustrated the enterprise by which men hoped to render dispersion and estrangement impossible. More we cannot say in explanation of this miracle, which lies before us in the great multiplicity and variety of tongues, since even those languages which are genealogically related - for example, the Semitic and Indo-Germanic - were no longer intelligible to the same people even in the dim primeval age, whilst others are so fundamentally different from one another, that hardly a trace remains of their original unity. With the disappearance of unity the one original language was also lost, so that neither in the Hebrew nor in any other language of history has enough been preserved to enable us to form the least conception of its character.

(Note: The opinion of the Rabbins and earlier theologians, that the Hebrew was the primitive language, has been generally abandoned in consequence of modern philological researches. The fact that the biblical names handed down from the earliest times are of Hebrew extraction proves nothing. With the gradual development and change of language, the traditions with their names were cast into the mould of existing dialects, without thereby affecting the truth of the tradition. For as Drechster has said, "it makes no difference whether I say that Adam's eldest son had a name corresponding to the name Cain from קנה, or to the name Ctesias from κτᾶσθαι; the truth of the Thorah, which presents us with the tradition handed down from the sons of Noah through Shem to Abraham and Israel, is not a verbal, but a living tradition - is not in the letter, but in the spirit.")

The primitive language is extinct, buried in the materials of the languages of the nations, to rise again one day to eternal life in the glorified form of the καιναὶ γλῶσσαι intelligible to all the redeemed, when sin with its consequences is overcome and extinguished by the power of grace. A type of pledge of this hope was given in the gift of tongues on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church on the first Christian day of Pentecost, when the apostles, filled with the Holy Ghost, spoke with other or new tongues of "the wonderful works of God," so that the people of every nation under heaven understood in their own language (Acts 2:1-11).

From the confusion of tongues the city received the name Babel (בּבל i.e., confusion, contracted from בּלבּל from בּלל to confuse), according to divine direction, though without any such intention on the part of those who first gave the name, as a standing memorial of the judgment of God which follows all the ungodly enterprises of the power of the world.

(Note: Such explanations of the name as "gate, or house, or fortress of Bel," are all the less worthy of notice, because the derivation ἀπὸ τοῦ Βήλου in the Etymol. magn., and in Persian and Nabatean works, is founded upon the myth, that Bel was the founder of the city. And as this myth is destitute of historical worth, so is also the legend that the city was built by Semiramis, which may possibly have so much of history as its basis, that this half-mythical queen extended and beautified the city, just as Nebuchadnezzar added a new quarter, and a second fortress, and strongly fortified it.)

Of this city considerable ruins still remain, including the remains of an enormous tower, Birs Nimrud, which is regarded by the Arabs as the tower of Babel that was destroyed by fire from heaven. Whether these ruins have any historical connection with the tower of the confusion of tongues, must remain, at least for the present, a matter of uncertainty. With regard to the date of the event, we find from Genesis 11:10 that the division of the human race occurred in the days of Peleg, who was born 100 years after the flood. In 150 or 180 years, with a rapid succession of births, the descendants of the three sons of Noah, who were already 100 years old and married at the time of the flood, might have become quite numerous enough to proceed to the erection of such a building. If we reckon, for example, only four male and four female births as the average number to each marriage, since it is evident from Genesis 11:12. that children were born as early as the 30th or 35th year of their parent's age, the sixth generation would be born by 150 years after the flood, and the human race would number 12,288 males and as many females. Consequently there would be at least about 30,000 people in the world at this time.

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