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Genesis Chapter Eleven


I. Content of the Chapter


The Human Building and the Divine Response

A.  The whole earth had one language and one speech (v.1);

B.  Men on the earth were jointed to build the city and tower (v.2-4);

C.  God confused the language of all the earth to scatter them abroad over the face of all the earth (v.5-9);


Genealogy from Shem to Abram

A.  There are five generations from Shem to Peleg (v.10-17);

B.  There are give generations from Reu to Abram (v.18-26);


Terah Brought Abram out of Ur

A.  The generation of Terah (v.27-30);

B.  He went out from Ur and dwelt in Haran (v.31032);


II. Verse by Verse Commentary


Gen. 11:1 “Now the whole earth had one language and one speech.”

YLT: “And the whole earth is of one pronunciation, and of the same words,”

Literal Meaning: in the previous chapter, it is mentioned again and again that “everyone was according to his language” (Gen. 10:5, 20, 31) and that “in his days the earth was divided” (Gen. 10:25). This chapter is a complementary explanation of the above-mentioned condition in chapter ten.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) If believers “say the same thing” in the church (1Cor. 1:10), what a beautiful situation it will be.

  2) Let our “yes” be “yes”, and “no” “no” (Matt. 5:37), and not be double-tongued.

  3) If everyone is under the government of God, all of them will be enabled to communicate with one another. .


Gen. 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 dwelt there.”

YLT: “and it cometh to pass, in their journeying from the east, that they find a valley in the land of Shinar, and dwell there;”

Literal Meaning: the plain they found was just the Babylon plain.

“Dwelt there”, it means living there permanently and thinking that they could not and would not leave there. However, they were afterwards scattered (see v.8).

Spiritual Meaning: Shinar”: the land of the roaring loin; this verse symbolizes that men are easy to be enticed and swallowed up by the devil in easy life (1Pet. 5:8).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) The preparations of the heart belong to men. And only the counsel of Jehovah will stand (Pro. 16:1; 19:21).

  2) In the Pentateuch, every time it mentions “dwelling there” suggests that men though they were safe. And it is when man himself thinks it is peaceful and safe that it is just the chance that Satan is taking of.


Gen. 11:3 “Then they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar.”

YLT: “and they say each one to his neighbour, `Give help, let us make bricks, and burn thoroughly:' and the brick is to them for stone, and the bitumen hath been to them for mortar.”

Literal Meaning: “asphalt”, it refers to bitumen. Archaeologists have discovered that the area of Babylon was the place of origin of the asphalt industry.

  They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar”, all the materials were replaced. Brick substituted for stone, and yet it was not as hard as stone. And mortar was replaced by Asphalt, and yet the coagulative power was less than mortar.

Spiritual Meaning: “brick” was burnt by dust, and man was made by dust (Gen. 2:7), so the work done by brick symbolized human work.

  “Stone” is the material for the Lord to build the church (Matt. 16:18). The original meaning of “Peter” is “tiny stone”. God will transform a man of dust into a living stone (1Pet. 2:5), so the stone symbolizes the divine work.

  “Asphalt” symbolizes the natural virtues of man.

  “Mortar” symbolizes the new character transformed by the Spirit.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) It tends to do wrong if we hear human ideas only without waiting for the divine instruction.

  2) A decisive man will not hesitate to fulfill his original intention by all means. If believers are truly willing to serve the Lord, they will not make excuses of having not this or that.

  3) The best materials for human building are merely brick and asphalt. The spiritual building can only be built by gold and silver and precious stones (1Cor. 12-15) so that we will not pass the trial.


Gen. 11:4 “And they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."”

YLT: “And they say, `Give help, let us build for ourselves a city and tower, and its head in the heavens, and make for ourselves a name, lest we be scattered over the face of all the earth.'”

Literal Meaning: “city”: a city with defence installations such as ramparts;

  “Tower” emphasizes the religious tone.

  The so-called “heaven” at that time means “the dwelling place of God”. Therefore, they built the tower whose top was in the heavens ---- which meant that it would reach unto the throne of God (Is. 14:13-14).

  Or they built such a high tower for the purpose of escaping another time of deluge. Man only relies upon his own hand rather than the promise of God (see Gen. 9:11).

  “Let us make a name for ourselves”: see their fame and compliments instead of giving glory to God;

“Lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth”, the will of God is to let men “fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28; 9:1). But men would not be scattered in spite of the commandment of God.

Spiritual Meaning: “city”, it symbolizes the realm of human domination.

  The Babel “tower” symbolizes the “false union” planned and forced by Satan.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) “Come, let us … ”, which means they rely one themselves rather than God. The world is characterized by seeking oneself and exalting oneself and yet forsaking God.

  2) The world is fond of performing oneself and making oneself known. And this is the root of man’s rebellion against God.

  3) Some Christians donate money and build magnificent church or support public welfare, whose starting-point is also declaring one’s own name. In the sight of God, it is also taking part in building the Babel tower.

  4) Today, in many Christianity groups, they only pay attention to their name of group and appear to be hostile to Christians who do not belong to their groups. They have also, in principle, fallen into the condition of building the Babel.

  5) Since Satan knows God will build the city of Jerusalem, it often stirs up men to build up the city of Babel earlier for the purpose of resisting against and destroying the counsel of God.

  6) The divine way is “coming down from the heaven” (Rev. 21:2), and yet the human way is “reaching unto the heaven from the earth”.

  7) Man intends to life up to the heavens through his own power. That is why it is humanly believed that man can conquer nature. However, as a matter of fact, man can never come to the heaven without the only heavenly ladder ---- Christ (Gen. 28:12; John 1:51).

  8) In fact, the only thing of man that reaches unto the heaven is “sins” (Rev. 18:5).


Gen. 11:5 “But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.”

YLT: “And Jehovah cometh down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men have builded;”

Enlightenment in the Word: it is all naked before God that the inner heart and outer materials of believers’ building the church.


Gen. 11:6 “And the LORD said, "Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.”

YLT: “and Jehovah saith, `Lo, the people one, and one pronunciation to them all, and this it hath dreamed of doing; and now, nothing is restrained from them of that which they have purposed to do.”

Literal Meaning: God meant that if they were not hindered, they would have their own ways and do all evils.

  “The people are one”: they are apparently the same;

  “They all have one language”: they have the same mind and views.

  Since they have the foundation of the above-mentioned two points, they will prosper in their doings.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) God does not please that man does spiritual things by the natural flesh (Gal. 3:3).

  2) God does not please man becomes the sponsor to do anything for Him. Instead, He pleases that men hear His words and keep His will (1Sam. 15:22).

  3) Whatever causes that does not glorify God, no matter how good they are, they cannot please God.

  4) God is not jealous of men’s gathering to do something, but He hinders men from having their own ways in wrong motivations, lest there should be great and incurable faults.


Gen. 11:7 “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech."”

YLT: “Give help, let us go down, and mingle there their pronunciation, so that a man doth not understand the pronunciation of his companion.'”

Meaning of Words: “confuse”: it is used to describe “mixing” the materials when cooking food so that it is hard to distinguish their original features;

Literal Meaning: “come, let us”, it is opposite to the word of those arrogant men ---- “come, let us” (v.4). From this word of God, we can find that there was still a distance between the top of the tower and the heavens. Men think that can reach unto the heavens, but actually, it is impossible.

  “That they may not understand one another's speech”, it means that they could not understand one anther. “Not understand one another’s speech”, it means they cannot communicate with one another in views and thoughts and speak and do whatever they want.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Hindrance of speech and mind is the main reason for the failure of man’s cooperation. Good cooperation in the church requires for good verbal communication.

  2) Many times, the words of man seem to be sensible, but his inner meaning has not been expressed yet. Therefore, the speaker can still not communicate with the hearer.

  3) The word that is not efficacious in communication is “tongue” in man’s ears. Therefore, he has to seek the specialist of communication ---- “the interpreter of the tongue” (1Cor. 14:27-28).

  4) God’s work is characterized by dealing with the fundamental problems instead of the superficial ones. He did not pull down the high tower, but confused the language of men ---- men themselves are the root of the problem.

  5) Today, divisions in the Christianity are caused by believers’ in the past generations intending to build the “false oneness”. The only salvation is returning to the “true oneness” that God wants.


Gen. 11:8 “So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city.”

YLT: “And Jehovah doth scatter them from thence over the face of all the earth, and they cease to build the city;”

Literal Meaning: scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth”, men were afraid of “being scattered abroad from there over the face of all the earth” (v.4), and yet the judgment of God just aimed at what they feared.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) No matter how tough a man is, he can in no wise resist against God.

  2) Man has problems with God firstly and then with one another. Therefore, can human problems only be solved only when their problems with God have been solved above all.

  3) Unless Jehovah builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. Unless Jehovah guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain (Ps. 127:1).


Gen. 11:9 “Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.”

YLT: “therefore hath called its name Babel, for there hath Jehovah mingled the pronunciation of all the earth, and from thence hath Jehovah scattered them over the face of all the earth.”

Meaning of Words: Babel”: the door of God; however the author of this book purposefully interprets it as “confusion”, for the word in the original is similar to “the door of God” in spelling;

Literal Meaning: “scatter them”, the reason lies in “the confusion of language”.

  Note that “the (whole) earth” is mentioned five times from verse one to nine, which shows that all the people on the earth had taken part in building the Babel tower ---- this sin is corporate, not individual.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Since the language through which men on the earth can communicate with one another is changed, no wonder why there are full of “suspicions and envy” among men. 

  2) Sometimes, the dispersion of believers in the church is done by God (Acts 8:1, 4) for the purpose of letting us know and keep His will.

  3) Let the children of God learn the lesson from divisions: i.e. stop building “the false oneness” at once.

  4) God cannot bear “the false oneness”. Therefore, He allows that confusions appear among men. All the disorders in the church are because of not pleasing God.


Gen. 11:10 “This is the genealogy of Shem: Shem was one hundred years old, and begot Arphaxad two years after the flood.”

YLT: “These births of Shem: Shem a son of an hundred years, and begetteth Arphaxad two years after the deluge.”

Literal Meaning: note that the following genealogy of Shem only records the years everyone “lived”, without the specific age of everyone when he died and the word “he died” like that in the genealogy of Seth (Gen. 5:3-31). The purpose of their “living” was just “begetting” one person connected with “Abram”, which revealed us that all the people in this genealogy paved the way for the call of God.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Man in Adam had not significance of living without the calling of God.

  2) Men were gathered there to build the Babel tower. And God here would call Abraham.

  3) Among those who resist the will of God, God has still left to Himself a group of men who love Him in pure hearts (Rom. 11:4).


Gen. 11:11 “After he begot Arphaxad, Shem lived five hundred years, and begot sons and daughters.”

YLT: “And Shem liveth after his begetting Arphaxad five hundred years, and begetteth sons and daughters.”

Meaning of Words: concerning the original meaning of the names from verse eleven to seventeen, please read the commentary from verse 21 to 25 of chapter ten;

Literal Meaning: note that in this genealogy, it never mention “…died”, which showed that believers in Christ were not dead but had fallen asleep and would have the hope of resurrection (1Thess. 4:13-14).


Gen. 11:12 “Arphaxad lived thirty-five years, and begot Salah.”

YLT: “And Arphaxad hath lived five and thirty years, and begetteth Salah.”


Gen. 11:13 “After he begot Salah, Arphaxad lived four hundred and three years, and begot sons and daughters.”

YLT: “And Arphaxad liveth after his begetting Salah four hundred and three years, and begetteth sons and daughters.”


Gen. 11:14 “Salah lived thirty years, and begot Eber.”

YLT: “And Salah hath lived thirty years, and begetteth Eber.”


Gen. 11:15 “After he begot Eber, Salah lived four hundred and three years, and begot sons and daughters.”

YLT: “And Salah liveth after his begetting Eber four hundred and three years, and begetteth sons and daughters.”


Gen. 11:16 “Eber lived thirty-four years, and begot Peleg.”

YLT: “And Eber liveth four and thirty years, and begetteth Peleg.”


Gen. 11:17 “After he begot Peleg, Eber lived four hundred and thirty years, and begot sons and daughters.”

YLT: “And Eber liveth after his begetting Peleg four hundred and thirty years, and begetteth sons and daughters.”


Gen. 11:18 “Peleg lived thirty years, and begot Reu.”

YLT: “And Peleg liveth thirty years, and begetteth Reu.”

Meaning of Words: “Reu”: friendship, friend, friend of God;


Gen. 11:19 “After he begot Reu, Peleg lived two hundred and nine years, and begot sons and daughters.”

YLT: “And Peleg liveth after his begetting Reu two hundred and nine years, and begetteth sons and daughters.”


Gen. 11:20 “Reu lived thirty-two years, and begot Serug.”

YLT: “And Reu liveth two and thirty years, and begetteth Serug.”

Meaning of Words: Serug”: firm, powerful, branch, offspring;


Gen. 11:21 “After he begot Serug, Reu lived two hundred and seven years, and begot sons and daughters.”

YLT: “And Reu liveth after his begetting Serug two hundred and seven years, and begetteth sons and daughters.”


Gen. 11:22 “Serug lived thirty years, and begot Nahor.”

YLT: “And Serug liveth thirty years, and begetteth Nahor.”


Gen. 11:23 “After he begot Nahor, Serug lived two hundred years, and begot sons and daughters.”

YLT: “And Serug liveth after his begetting Nahor two hundred years, and begetteth sons and daughters.”


Gen. 11:24 “Nahor lived twenty-nine years, and begot Terah.”

YLT: “And Nahor liveth nine and twenty years, and begetteth Terah.”

Meaning of Words: Terah”: wander, late, fallen, convert;


Gen. 11:25 “After he begot Terah, Nahor lived one hundred and nineteen years, and begot sons and daughters.”

YLT: “And Nahor liveth after his begetting Terah an hundred and nineteen years, and begetteth sons and daughters.”


Gen. 11:26 “Now Terah lived seventy years, and begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran.”

YLT: “And Terah liveth seventy years, and begetteth Abram, Nahor, and Haran.”

Meaning of Words: “Abram”: the lofty father; “Haran”: inhabitants of mountain, hilly, their burning, holy place, strong;

Literal Meaning: according to the Book of Genesis, there were ten generations from Adam to Noah, and another ten generations from Shem to Abram. The deluge divided them into two equal periods. In the second ten generations, only their first five generations (from Shem to Peleg) were recorded in chapter ten. Therefore the Babel divided them into two equal five generations. Generations in the biblical genealogies are often divided into equal periods, e.g. the three fourteen generations in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter one. Apparently, some were omitted. Therefore, some unnecessary arguments and misunderstandings are caused, when Bible scholars infer the lifetime of men on the earth according to the biblical genealogies in spite of the possibility of the omission of some generations.

  Another fact worthy to mention is the distinct change of man’s lifetime before and after the deluge ---- the sharp decrease from more than nine hundred years to six hundred years and to more than four hundred years and to more than two hundred years and finally to more than one hundred years, which shows that men’s sins had brought physical and environmental changes to them.

Enlightenment in the Word: the main reason for the shortened lifetime of men lies in the abundant sins and tribulations.


Gen. 11:27 “This is the genealogy of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran begot Lot.”

YLT: “And these births of Terah: Terah hath begotten Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran hath begotten Lot;”

Meaning of Words: Lot”: wrap closely, hide, veil, dark-colored;

Literal Meaning: in the original this verse begins with a word “and”, which shows that this verse is closely connected with the above-mentioned genealogy (v.10-26). And here the focal point of the Bible went to the family of Abraham, which also indicated that God would choose men out of the fallen race to have a new beginning.

  Abram, Nahor, and Haran”, the order of the three names may not be according to the physical age of them (see Gen. 9:18). And it is inferred that the order in line with their age may be: Haran, Nahor and Abram. However, since Abram was the leading role of this family, he was firstly mentioned.


Gen. 11:28 “And Haran died before his father Terah in his native land, in Ur of the Chaldeans.”

YLT: “and Haran dieth in the presence of Terah his father, in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldees.”

Meaning of Words: Chaldeans”: as the one who is out of earth, astrologer; “Ur”: light;


Gen. 11:29 “Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and the father of Iscah.”

YLT: “And Abram and Nahor take to themselves wives; the name of Abram's wife Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife Milcah, daughter of Haran, father of Milcah, and father of Iscah.”

Meaning of Words: Sarai”: princess, my princess, exalted; “Milcah”: queen, take counsel; “Iscah”: watcher, observant:


Gen. 11:30 “But Sarai was barren; she had no child.”

YLT: “And Sarai is barren -- she hath no child.”

Literal Meaning: here it especially mentions the fact that “Sarai was barren” so as to let us see the offspring of Abraham ---- the elect of God ---- were not born of the fallen race by nature, but of the works of God.


Gen. 11:31 “And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram's wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there.”

YLT: “And Terah taketh Abram his son, and Lot, son of Haran, his son's son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, wife of Abram his son, and they go out with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go towards the land of Canaan; and they come unto Charan, and dwell there.”

The Background: Terah served other gods in “Ur” (see Jos. 24:2). And Ur at that time was the most advanced city of the Middle East civilization.

  “The land of Canaan”, it is the area of Palestine at present, and at that time it was an under-developed and uncivilized land.

  Haran”, it lied in the upper reach of the Euphrates, and was an important city in the trade route from Mesopotamia to Palestine.

  There were altogether one thousand and one hundred miles of the journey from Ur to Haran, and four hundred miles from Haran to the land of Canaan.

Literal Meaning: this was Abraham’s response after he was first called (Acts 7:2). His performance of faith of the first time was not so much excellent:

  1) God said to him: “get out of your country and from your relatives” (Acts 7:3). Indeed, he had gone out of his country. However, he got away from his relatives only partially, for Lot was with him. Concerning his family, he did not leave and even took the family away.

  2) The departure of Abraham was not initiated by himself, but his father. One who had not been called became an initiator, but a man who had been called yet became a follower.

  3) Though he had left Ur of the Chaldees, he had not arrived at the land of Canaan but stopped midway.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) The kindred affection and respect for the elders and the nobles often prevent us keeping spiritual principles, thus making us come to a standstill.

  2) Many people, without the calling and revelation of God, volunteer to lead the church to serve by their own knowledge and talents and money and statuses and reputations and experience, but finally accomplish nothing.

  3) Many believers obey God half and stop midway.


Gen. 11:32 “So the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran.”

YLT: “And the days of Terah are two hundred and five years, and Terah dieth in Charan.”

Literal Meaning: “Terah … died in Haran”, concerning Abram, the death of his father Terah was a turning point for him to obey the calling of God. If Terah did not die, Abram was still bound by the natural kindred and had not obeyed God’s calling wholeheartedly.

Spiritual Meaning: “Terah” means “delay”, and “Haran” means “dullness”. This verse symbolizes that Abram’s obedience to the calling of God was slack and slow and unzealous.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) The earthly relationship of believers often becomes the obstacle to our progress on the heavenly way.

  2) Death breaks up the chains of our earthly relationship. However, we shall not expect our relatives to die, but become aware of the fact that we have been dead with Christ ---- such knowledge makes us overcome the earthly relationship.


III. Outlines of the Spiritual Lessons


What is the False Oneness?

A.  They said to one another” (v.3) ---- replace the holy mind with the human mind;

B.  Had brick for stone” (v.3) ---- replace holy works with human works;

C.  Had asphalt for mortar” (v.3) ---- replace the spiritual with the natural;

D.  Build ourselves a city” (v.4) ---- build a sphere of influence that belongs to human authority;

E.  Build … a tower” (v.4) ---- uphold the earthly principles;

F.  Make a name for ourselves” (v.4) ---- care for the name of their own group;

G.  Be scattered abroad” (v.4) ---- maintain the false appearance of unity;


God’s Response to the False Oneness

A.  God judged that the false oneness was against Him (v.5-6);

B.  God would rather let men divide than endure their false oneness (v.6-7);

C.  The false oneness “confuses” the true oneness. Even today, the principle of “Babel” (namely, Babylon) still prevails in Christianity (see Rev. chap. 17, 18);

D.  God calls a group of men with pure love to Him out of the disordered Christianity (get out of one’s country, from one’s family and from one’s family’s house) to build the church of true oneness on the position in the light of the Lord’s will and pleasure (see Gen. 12:1);


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

Translated by Mary Zhou