Genesis: In the beginning...

A Bible Study on Genesis 1-11

Flood Watch LESSON 6

For Devotions:

bulletRead Psalm 2.
bulletFor your opening, thank God for all the technological advances that God has given us and pray that we use them wisely without turning to them as our gods.

For Openers:

bulletTell about an experience you had in a foreign country.
bulletWhat is the biggest misunderstanding you have had with someone because of a mis-hearing?
bulletWhat pieces of technology have become necessary for you?

For Your Information:

bulletThe plain of Shinar mentioned in 11:2 probably refers to the basin of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Babylon. Find Babylon on a map. Also find Ur and Haran which are mentioned in 11:31-32.
bulletNote the rough chiastic structure of 11:1-9
bulletVv. 1-2: One language in one place
bulletVv. 3-4: People say: "Come, ____ ___"
bulletVv. 5-6: God observes
bulletVv. 7-8: God says: "Come, ____ ___"
bulletV 9: Language confused, people scattered
bulletWe are probably to notice that the people use "bricks" instead of stone and "bitumen" instead of mortar. (Bitumen: The Hebrew word apparently refers to a gooey, slimy tar or asphalt. It was the stuff used to waterproof the basket which held the baby Moses in Exodus 2:3.)
bullet11.3, 4, 7 - Note the repeated refrain, "Come, let us..." It parallels the statement in 1.26! 11.4 - "Tower" probably refers to a ziggurat. (picture below) A famous ziggurat in antiquity was the one at Etemenanki which perhaps is behind the story here.
bullet11:8-9 - "Babel" is the Akkadian word Bab-ilani for "gate of God." There is a word play with the Hebrew words for "Babylon" and balal ("to confuse" in v.9). The English word "babble" comes from this story.
bullet11.10-26 - The descendants of Shem (son of Noah) which parallels the record in 10.21-30.
bullet11.27-30 - The descendants of Terah: Fill in the family tree recorded in 11:27-30 using the table provided.

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For Discussion:

  1. 11:3 - What do the people use for building instead of stone? What do they use in place of mortar? Are these details significant?
  2. 11:4 - What do the people want to build? Why?
  3. 11:6 - Why is the Lord concerned about the peoples' plan?
  4. 11:7-8 - What did the Lord decide to do? What was the result?
  5. 11:29 - Why does the Bible bother with all the genealogies of people such as Milcah who don't appear to be important in the story? Look ahead to Genesis 22:23 and 24:14-15 to find out where she is mentioned again.
  6. 11:30 - What do we find out about Sarai this very first time that she is introduced? Why is this so emphatically noted?
  7. Why didn't the people want to be scattered (11:4)? Why did the Lord evidently want the people to be scattered (11:8)? Does God's command to Noah in 9:1 have any bearing on the issue?
  8. Compare 11:6 with Genesis 3:22-24. What is similar/different about these two situations and God's response to them?
  9. Read the Pentecost story in Acts 2. What parallels or contrasts can you find between this story and the Tower of Babel story?
  10. What is the picture of God you get from the Tower of Babel story? Without checking on whether the name LORD (J source) or God (P source) is used, can you tell if this incident is from the J source where God is shown as personal and personally involved with humans or from the P source where God is shown as transcendent and majestic. (For the P source, think of Genesis 1; for the J, think of Genesis 2.)
  11. What does the story of the Tower of Babel teach us about human ambition? Is it wrong to strive for greatness or "to make a name for ourselves"? (11:4)
  12. Have you ever made plans which were "scattered"? What happened? What did you do?
  13. One way to think about this story is as a parable about technology. The people invent bricks and building, and we see where it gets them! How does technology impact your life today? Is it good or bad?
  14. Can churches develop a "Tower of Babel" syndrome? How is our unity in Christ different than the unity the people of Babel wanted?
  15. How does the story about the Tower of Babel apply to the present day when people can easily translate from one language to another and when we have an institution like the United Nations?
  16. Note that we are at a critical point in the Biblical story. Up through the Babel story, we have been dealing with a sort of pre-history where it is difficult to establish dates and where God is dealing with the whole world. With Abram we move into the realm of history about 2000 years before Jesus was born. An important question in getting the big picture here is: What has God been doing with people in general up to this point and how will it be the same/different now that God is working with Abram and his family?
  17. What relationship do the following passages have with the Tower of Babel story?
  18. bulletIsaiah 14:1-27
    bulletMatthew 12:25
    bulletLuke 14:25-30

Other Internet Resources:

For another description and picture of the tower of Babel, check out 

For Later:

bulletRead Philippians 2:1-11.
bulletConfess your sins to God, especially the ways in which your pride has distracted you from serving God.
bulletWhat is one thing you will do to let others know about God?

Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman

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