The A.B.C. of
Part 2: The Noahites' Halt at Shinar
January 9, 2016
We began our series by examining migrations. We were thinking last time about the migrations of the families of Adam and Eve, of Cain, and of Noah. We started doing this with the intent of trying to determine whether or not there are any lessons in those migrations for us in God’s true church in the 21st Century.
We closed last time in a discussion of the first half of Genesis 11:4, with Noah, his sons, and their wives. We call them "Noahites." They had just arrived on the Plain of Shinar, keenly stating their intention to start building a city and a tower:
And they said, "Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven"…
We saw that, although the LORD had commanded these early peoples to
"get out there" and to repopulate the whole world, this city and tower project was not a temporary sojourn.
The fact that the Noahites were building a city proves that they intended to stay at Shinar for good.
Now we will go into the second half of verse 4:
4b: … "and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth."
God had told them to scatter themselves
abroad in order to repopulate the whole earth. But here we see that they refused.
They flatly disobeyed the LORD’S instruction. You can imagine them
saying things like "Bah! All this nomadic nonsense! All this being scattered across the face of the
Perhaps that they felt that it was too much of a long-term effort for them.
As well as being vain, we will see as we go along that their intent was also very selfish. It was all for their own short-term satisfaction; all for their own generation. Whereas God’s plan, the scattering of the people throughout the world, was intended to benefit every generation including all of the future generations.
It doesn’t really say so anywhere in the scriptures; but if it is true that Shem, Ham, Japheth and their extended families were all there at Shinar with the bases of all the different races, there is some possibility that, because many people have different preferences of the type of climate they like to be in, many of those people could have been very uncomfortable in Shinar's single climate. This is not really recorded in the scriptures; but it is a real possibility that came to mind.
In their travels thus far, these Noahites had stumbled across this Plain of Shinar. It was likely a very nice place, perhaps something like the Cowichan Valley or the Comox Valley. Lying between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, it was likely a very choice fertile area, likely covered in lush, alluvial soil left behind by the Deluge.
There is a good possibility, even a probability, that they were egged-on by Satan the devil – using Nimrod as his pawn. So, being influenced by the wily Satan, they may have made vain claims to the effect of:
"Look what God has provided for us right here! This must be our final destination – surely intended for us by God. If we settle and build our city right here in this wonderfully productive place, we will flourish; and we will eventually earn a name for ourselves – a name to be respected and looked up to. We will be known by future generations as 'The Shinarites – the first people who came forth from the Ark.' Furthermore, if we build ourselves this grand tower, it will bring us even more fame, honour and respect forever into the future."
We can imagine Nimrod, again egged-on by Satan, saying how attractive this project was and how it was a far better alternative than continuing to be scattered abroad against the face of the whole earth.
What can we learn from this?
Those Noahites used terribly flawed logic. Have any of us ever done the same? Have any of us used flawed logic? I have heard it in the church over the years. Have we ever had similar kinds of ideas? Have any of us ever tried to justify some unrighteous action – in some cases just plain dumb actions – by thinking that we can put words into the mouth of God.
I have heard people say, "This must be God’s will for me. In fact I know that it is God’s will for me, because He hasn’t stopped me from doing it."
I don’t know whether you have ever done this; but I must admit that I can look back and know that I have done similar things myself. So I cannot unrighteously judge others about it.
But this Shinar/Babel case was obviously out-and-out rebellion. This was blatant, in- your-face disobedience against the One who had saved Noah and his family from drowning with all of the rest of the earth's population – against the One who had blessed these people with the honour of being the very source of the continuation of the human race!
Just a reminder, thinking back in Genesis 10 where we read about Nimrod being "a mighty hunter before the LORD." The word "before" is translated from the Hebrew noun "paniym" (Strong’s 6440), which is often translated as "against" or "face" or "in the face of."
Can you imagine Nimrod virtually looking at YHVH, and being "hard-faced" (a term my Mother used to apply to me when I was a naughty schoolboy). As we might say in our more modern way of talking, perhaps Nimrod, who was evidently so influenced by Satan the devil, was disrespectfully "in-your-face" against the LORD.
Because of this high level of Satan's influence over him, perhaps Nimrod can be thought of as a kind of forerunner of the end-time Beast.
Just as Satan beguiled Eve back in Genesis 3 and just as he is still deceiving more and more in the whole world today, as we see in our nightly news broadcasts, there must be some possibility that Satan, through Nimrod, told the Noahites words to the effect of: "Hey! I know that God told you to do that; but for your own good, I'm advising you to do this!" What the Noahites did and said was so blatant.
We don’t know exactly how much time elapsed between the Noahites' first thought of building the city and tower, and the laying of the foundation stone; but it very much appears that they didn’t waste much time. They apparently gathered their tools, collected the materials, and immediately got right to it. By the time that we come to verse 5 when the LORD came to view their project first-hand, they had already started construction:
5: And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
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."
This is very interesting, and has a strong application to God’s church today. Here we read of the LORD noting that the people were one; that they were unified and had one, single, unified language. The literal translation of the Hebrew word "language" is "lip."
From what the LORD said here, we know that their kind of unity was the wrong kind of unity. It was not the right kind of loving, godly unity, as Jesus commands so often to His New Covenant people. This was not unity under His auspices. It was not unity through His Holy Spirit. It was not unity through Him and His Father. They knew that the carnal unity that these people had would soon bring disaster.
The Noahites also knew something. They knew very well that the LORD had clearly decreed that it was beneficial – for the benefit of all mankind – that it was good for their well-being not to be unified geographically in those early post-flood years. But that rather, it was their job at that time to scatter themselves across the face of the whole world.
As we read in verse 4, a Noahite spokesman – likely Nimrod, and likely inspired by Satan – twisted the LORD’s positive requirements for them to scatter, into something that appeared to be negative and harmful to them.
The LORD said that, if He allowed them to continue together in this wrong, unrighteous, vain, selfish type of unity – this godless unity under their own terms – the result would be that absolutely nothing that they imagined to do would be restrained from them. Nothing restrained! If we really think about that, I don’t think we can even imagine the extent of the possible ramifications.
The LORD had already brought science and technology to a screeching halt by means of the flood; and now at Shinar, so soon afterwards, it was all starting to roll again.
I don’t think any of us can accurately imagine this unrestrained, negative, wrong unity, and what that can do.
We can only wonder that, if the LORD had not put a stop to it then and there at Shinar, it might have led to the end of the age coming upon the world so much earlier, and obviously not according to His Fathers' time frame (Matthew 24:36).
This being the case, the LORD certainly knew that immediate action was imperative in order to break up this wrong type of unity. So what did He do?
7: "Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech."
It is interesting when the LORD said "Go to." Exactly the same phrase used by the Noahites back in verses 3 and 4. It's translated from the Hebrew word "yahab" (Strong's 3051) and can mean "Come on!" I wonder if it is significant that the word "yahab" is only one letter different to the word "yashab" (Strong's 3427) – "dwell" – which figures so frequently in our study.
The LORD also said "let us go down." Us? Who was He talking to? We can’t be totally sure who the LORD was talking to here. Was it perhaps the same usage as in Genesis 1:26 when "God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness"? Was He talking to the other member of the God Family – God the Father? Or was He talking to one or more of His angels or archangels?
We are not told; but I personally believe that it was probably angels or archangels that He was talking to. I say this mainly because, by this time, about one hundred years after the Flood, it had become clear to the Father and to the LORD that mankind had again become seriously polluted – so much so that the perfect Father could not be around them.
(The LORD was perfect too, of course; but by prior agreement, as YHVH and later as the human Jesus, He had the job of interfacing with mankind).
Exactly how did they achieve the break-up of the people who possessed this flawed unity? Verse 7 tells us that they confounded the people’s language. What does the word "confounded" mean? The Hebrew verb for "confounded" is "balal" (Strong’s 1101) from which the name "Babel" (Strong's 894) actually stems. "Balal" can also mean mingled, mixed, tempered, confused and, very interestingly, faded away.
So the LORD was able to confuse and mix up their language to the point that their flawed unity very quickly faded away. That wrong type of unity soon evaporated to a level that the LORD was willing to accept – i.e. of the various linguistic groups. He did ’t, of course, have every single person speaking a different language; but from what we read here, He split them up into linguistic groups. The experts in the field of etymology and language origins have studied these things and tell us that there are various blocks of languages.
The older I get, and the more that I study God’s Word, I realize more and more the absolutely astonishing control that our Creator possesses over us. According to His perfect will, He has this ultimate control over our minds, over our brains, and even over the speech, hearing and comprehension circuits in our brains. It is absolutely amazing!
Why and how does He pick certain people to open their minds to His truth when their spouses, mothers, fathers, siblings or children are not called?
Also, in the same way as He has the power to open minds, He also has the power to close them! He famously did this with King Saul and Solomon. And He did it more recently in His church. When people – both ministers and members – rejected His truth, He said something like, "Okay! Because you have rejected my truth, I am taking it away from you!" It is an amazing fact that He is able to switch understanding on and off. He is merciful and compassionate; but if we reject His truth, He will take it away from us. We don’t want that!
As I was studying this Babel account, this well-known scripture describing a pseudo-converse event came to mind:
4: And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
6: Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
It is amazing what happened here! God, for His own purposes, temporarily reversed "the Babel effect" for a comparatively few people and perhaps for a relatively short period. It is kind of cute, because all of this multitude were confounded because God temporarily un-confounded the speech, hearing and comprehension abilities that had formerly existed between the apostles and themselves.
7: And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, "Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
8: And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
9: Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
10: Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,
11: Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
It is amazing that for that short time and for those relatively few people, God flipped "the Babel effect" over and and turned "the language switch" back to the pre-Babel status-quo.
Have you ever given any thought to what that initial language actually was? We have no evidence that that single pre-Babel language was maintained after the Babel episode. It also makes one think about the pure language that God is going to bring to us in the World Tomorrow (Zephaniah 3:9). But that is another study all by itself.
More questions: What was the result of the LORD confounding the Noahites' language? As they were pretty rebellious, did they immediately get together and start working on the development of foreign-language phrase-books, their equivalent, or other translation methods?
They were so rebellious that we could well imagine that they might have done that. But perhaps when the LORD affected the language circuits in their brains, perhaps He also added an "algorithm" to prevent such ideas from hatching – until much later anyway – because those things did eventually come about. But not for a long time afterwards.
More efficient translation methods are continuing to be developed today, actually by leaps and bounds. I have a couple of examples of such methods which really are starting to break down the language barriers that were set up by the LORD approximately 4,200 years ago on the Plain of Shinar.
Just a couple of days ago, I needed to correspond with a church friend who lives in
France by e-mail. I was able to type my message – quite a long one – in English, and then I
clicked on a couple of links which took me to an Internet page which instantly translated my English words into
their French equivalent which I sent to my French friend. It was almost instantaneous, and
was a pretty good translation. My friend was able to receive my message in her
own language in just a few seconds.
Going back a couple of years to 1986, when my family and I were living in Ottawa, I took the opportunity on a few occasions to go to Question Period in the House of Commons. Some of the Members of Parliament (MPs) are French-speaking and some of them are English-speaking. The engineers who work for the Federal Government came up with a neat telephone system which MPs and visitors can listen in on which provides simultaneous live translation over head-sets. So if and Anglophone MP is speaking and some Francophone MPs and/or visitors don’t speak or comprehend English very well, they can put on their head-set and listen to an accurate translation in their own language.
This is not bad technology for those relatively "low-tech" days (in comparison with now); but even back then, I knew of other engineers who were working on instantaneous electronic translation by which you could talk over the phone in English to a French-speaking person, and he/she would hear what you said in French! And visa versa!
Although I heard some follows ups a couple of years after that, that the Japanese were working on similar projects, I don’t know how much the technology has advanced. But even back then in 1986 when I heard that such research was in progress, I remember thinking that, once that technology has come to a certain level of perfection, what the LORD did back there on the Plain of Shinar will effectively have been overturned.
It is all according to His timing, of course; but when He allows it to happen, I believe that something big is bound to happen as a result. Once again, "nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do." I believe that the restraints that the LORD put on the Noahites back then will be removed and end-time prophecy will really start to move forward. Language comprehension seems like such a minor thing; but the LORD considered it not to be a minor thing back then. That single language was a big deal to Him; and for this reason alone, I believe that when Satan’s world gets its single language back, it is going to be a big deal once again. I have no idea what is going to happen, of course; but I believe it possible that it will contribute to the worldwide worship of and support for the Beast.
Let’s get back into the final verses of Genesis 11, and the Babel narrative specifically:
8: So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
Back in verse 4, we read that the Noahites strove to resist that God-ordained scattering; but the LORD did it anyway.
This verse is interesting because it almost looks as though the two phrases here are back to front. In our way of thinking, we would logically think that the confusion of the languages would first have caused the Noahites to leave off their building projects, and then the LORD would have scattered them. But it shown the other way round here. That is a grammatical detail which may not be significant.
Whatever the case, the really important detail here is that the LORD made sure that the scattering across the face of the earth continued. So important was this fact that He repeats it again in the very next verse:
9: Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
The LORD scattered them! Please note this and please never forget who did the scattering. It was the LORD who did the scattering. We could read through everything here in this account and we could put the blame on the Noahite people, on Nimrod and, of course, on Satan. But only secondarily!
It is the same with all of the other major scatterings that are recorded in the Bible.
As we shall see as we continue with our study, the LORD initiated them.
And it was the LORD who initiated this one too.
I ask you to think deeply about this concept and to apply it in your mind to the continuing scattering of God’s church today. Looking back to the 1990's, many of those who were with the Worldwide Church of God might blame the Tkachs. Some might blame other Church of God leaders of the day. Some might blame Satan. But again, only secondarily! Make no mistake. The LORD initiated that one too!
We will dig into that thought some more in Part 3.