Genesis 11

The Word Made Fresh

1Early on everyone in the world spoke the same language and used the same words. 2As people migrated eastward they came to a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.

3They said, “Let’s make bricks by heating the clay in a kiln.” They made bricks and used them in place of stones, and they used asphalt for mortar to bind them together. 4Then they said, “Hey, let’s build a city for ourselves, and let’s build a tower that reaches to the sky. We’ll be famous. If we don’t do this, we’ll just keep wandering around and be scattered over the land.”

5The LORD came down to examine the city and the tower they were building, and said, 6“Look at them. They are working together as one. They all speak the same language, and this just scratches the surface of what they might try to accomplish. They’ll think they can do anything. 7Let’s go down there and mix up their words so they can’t understand each other.

8So the LORD scattered them over the land, and they stopped building the city. 9That is why the city was called Babel, because that’s where the LORD confused their speech and scattered the people over the earth.

10Shem’s lineage:

When Shem was 100 years old, he became the father of Arpachshad, two years after the flood. 11Shem lived another 500 years and had other children.

12Arpachshad was 35 years old when his son Shelah was born. 13He lived another 403 years and had other children as well.

14When Shelah was 30 years old, his son Eber was born. 15He lived another 403 years and had other children.

16Eber became the father of Peleg when he was 34. 17After Peleg was born he had other children as well and lived another 430 years.

18Peleg was 30 when his son Reu was born. 19He had other children and lived another 209 years.

20Reu’s son Serug was born when he was 32. 21After Serug was born he lived another 207 years, having other sons and daughters as well.

22Serug became the father of Nahor at the age of 30, 23and had other children also. He lived 200 years more after Nahor was born.

24Nahor was 29 when he became the father of Terah. 25He lived another 119 years and had other children.

26When Terah was 70 years old he had three sons: Abram, Nahor and Haran.

27Here is the story of Terah’s family:

Terah had three sons: Abram, Nahor and Haran. Haran was the father of Lot, 28but Haran died before his father Terah where he was born, in Ur of the Chaldeans.

29Abram and Nahor both married: Abram to Sarai and Nahor to Milcah, who was the daughter of his brother Haran. (Haran had two daughters: Milcah and Iscah.) 30Sarai was barren and had no children.

31Terah, with Abram his son and Lot his grandson, son of Haran, and Abram’s wife Sarai, left Ur of the Chaldeans with the intention of going to Canaan. But when they got to Haran they settled there. 32Terah lived 205 years. He died in Haran.


1-9: The famous story of the Tower of Babel begins with the assertion that “the whole earth had one language and the same words.” We have gone back in time to an earlier period after the Flood. This is apparent because, as we saw in the last chapter, there were already a multiplicity of languages among the descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth. Verse 2 tells us that the people we are concerned with in this chapter lived in the valley of Shinar, which belonged to the kingdom of Nimrod (10:9-10), a descendant of Ham. So, the story of the Tower of Babel (Babylon) is a story about the branch of the Noah family with whom the Israelites later had the most trouble. The people of Shinar want to make a name for themselves because they think that will prevent them from being “scattered over the face of the earth.” God did not like their ambition and so interfered with their plans by confusing their language. Their fate was thus exactly what they feared; they were “scattered abroad over the face of the earth.” A curious feature of the story is when God says, “Let us go down,” echoing the “us” of Genesis 1:26. It seems to be a reference to other divine beings, perhaps angels. Many Christian commentators speculate that the use of the plural pronoun “us” reflects the Trinity.

10-26: The family tree of Shem is given now in more detail. The form is exactly the same as that of Adam’s descendants listed in Chapter 5: the man lives so many years, has a son, lives so many more years and has other sons and daughters. The main difference is that the total age of each person is not given — we have to do the math ourselves. No other information is given about any of the names on this list until we get to Terah, who has three sons, just like Noah, who was the last one listed in Chapter 5. Terah’s three sons are Abram, Nahor (named after his grandfather), and Haran. Thankfully, it won’t be another flood!


Throughout the Old Testament there is a sort of bias that favors the nomadic life of wandering over city building and settling. Remember Sodom? There seems to be something about city life that makes people less dependent on God’s providence.