Genesis 11:9 MEANING

Genesis 11:9
(9) Therefore is the name of it called Babel.--Babel is, in Aramaic, Bab-el, the gate of God, and in Assyrian, Bab-ili (Genesis 10:10). It is strange that any one should have derived the word from Bab-Bel, the gate of Bel, for there is no trace that the second b was ever doubled; moreover, Bel is for Baal; and though we Westerns omit the strong guttural, because we cannot pronounce it, the Orientals would preserve it. El is the regular Semitic word for God--in Assyrian, Ili; in Arabic, Ilah; in Syriac, Moho. So far from diminishing, this increases the force of the Scriptural derivation. Man calls his projected city Bab-el, the gate--that is, the court--of God; God calls it Babble; for in all languages indistinct and confused speech is represented by the action of the lips in producing the sound of b. The exact Hebrew word for this was balbal--the Greek verb, bambaino; the Latin, balbutio; and a man who stammered was called balbus. The town, then, keeps-its first name, but with a contemptuous meaning attached to it; just as Nabal (1 Samuel 25:25) may really have had his name from the nabla, or harp, but from the day that his wife gave it a contemptuous meaning Nabal has signified only folly.

The Babylonian legends are in remarkable agreement with the Hebrew narrative. They represent the building of the tower as impious, and as a sort of Titanic attempt to scale the heavens. This means that the work was one of vast purpose; for there is something in the human mind which attaches the idea of impiety to all stupendous undertakings, and the popular feeling is always one of rejoicing at their failure. The gods therefore destroy at night what the builders had wrought by day; and finally, Bel, "the father of the gods," confounds their languages. It is remarkable that the very word used here is balai (or perhaps balah), and thus the meaning of "confusion" would attach to the word equally in the Assyrian as in the Hebrew language (Chald. Gen., p. 166).

One question remains: Was the tower of Babel the temple of Bel destroyed by Xerxes, and which was situated in the centre of Babylon? or was it the tower of Borsippa, the site of which was in one of the suburbs, about two miles to the south? This tower was the observatory of the Chaldean astronomers, and its name, according to Oppert, means "the tower of languages." We incline to the belief that this ruin, now called the Birs-Nimrud, was the original tower, and that the temple of Bel was a later construction, belonging to the palmy times of the Chaldean monarchy. An account of it will be found in Sayce, Chald. Gen., pp. 169, 170, and in Rawlinson, Anc. Mon., i. 12, 21, &c.

Verse 9. - Therefore is the name of it called Babel. For Balbel, confusion (σύγχυσις, LXX., Josephus), from Balal, to confound; the derivation given by the sacred writer in the following clause (cf. for the elision of the letter l, totaphah for tophtaphah, Exodus 13:16, and cochav for covcav, Genesis 37:9). Other derivations suggested are Bab-Bel, the gate or court of Bolus (Eichhorn, Lange), an explanation of the term which Furst thinks not impossible, and Kalisch declares "can scarcely be overlooked;" and Bab-il, the gate of God (Rosenmüller, Gesenius, Colenso); but the first is based upon a purely mythical personage, Bel, the imaginary founder of the city; and the second, if even it were supported by evidence, which it is not, is not so likely as that given by Moses. Because the Lord did there confound - how is not explained, but has been conjectured to be by an entirely inward process, viz., changing the ideas associated with words (Koppen); by a process wholly outward, viz.. an alteration of the mode of pronouncing words (Hoffman), though more probably by both (Keil), or possibly by the first insensibly leading to the second - the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them. As the result not simply of their growing discord, dissensio animorum, per quam factum sit, ut qui turrem struehant distracti sint in contraria studia et consilia (Vitringa); but chiefly of their diverging tongues - a statement which is supposed to conflict with the findings of modern philology, that the existing differences of language among mankind are the result of slow and gradual changes brought about by the operation of natural causes, such as the influence of locality in changing and of time in corrupting human speech. But

(1) modern philology has as yet only succeeded in explaining the growth of what might be called the sub-modifications of human speech, and is confessedly unable to account for what appears to be its main division into a Shemitic, an Aryan, and a Turanian tongue, which may have been produced in the sudden and miraculous way described; and

(2) nothing prevents us from regarding the two events, the confusion of tongues and the dispersion of the nations, as occurring simultaneously, and even acting and reacting on each other. As the tribes parted, their speech would diverge, and, on the other hand, as the tongues differed, those who spoke the same or cognate dialects would draw together and draw apart from the rest. We may even suppose that, prior to the building of Babel, if any of the human family had begun to spread themselves abroad upon the surface of the globe, a slight diversity in human speech had begun to show itself; and the truthfulness of the narrative will in no wise be endangered by admitting that the Divine interposition at Babel may have consisted in quickening a natural process which had already commenced to operate; nay, we are rather warranted to conclude that the whole work of subdividing human speech was not compressed into a moment of time, but, after receiving this special impulse, was left to develop and complete itself as the nations wandered farther and ever farther from the plains of Shinar (cf. Kurtz, 'Hist. of the Old Covenant,' vol. 1. pp. 108-117 (Clark's For. Theol. Lib.), and 'Quarry on Genesis,' pp. 195-206).

CHALDAEAN LEGEND OF THE TOWER OF BABEL. Berosus, indeed, does not refer to it, and early writers are obliged to have recourse to somewhat doubtful authorities to confirm it. Eusebius, e.g., quotes Abydenus as saying that "not long after the Flood, the ancient race of men were so puffed up with their strength and tallness of stature that they began to despise and contemn the gods, and labored to erect that very lofty tower which is now called Babylon, intending thereby to scale the heaven& But when the building approached the sky, behold, the gods called in the aid of the winds, and by their help overturned the tower, and cast it to the ground! The name of the ruin is still called Babel, because until this time all men had used the same speech; but now there was sent upon them a confusion of many and diverse tongues" ('Praep. Ev.,' 9:14). But the diligence of the late George Smith has been rewarded by discovering the fragment of an Assyrian tablet (marked If, 3657 in British Museum) containing an account of the building of the tower, in which the gods are represented as being angry at the work and confounding the speech of the builders. In col. 1, lines 5 and 6 (according to W. St. C. Boscawen's translation) run -

"Babylon corruptly to sin went, and
Small and great mingled on the mound;"

while in col 2, lines 12, 13, 14, 15, am-

"In his anger also the secret counsel he poured out
To scatter abroad his face he set
He gave a command to make strange their speech
... their progress he impeded."
('Records of the Past,' vol. 7. p. 131; cf. ' Chaldaean Genesis, p. 160.)

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.Therefore is the name of it called Babel,.... The name of the city mentioned, and the tower also, which signifies "confusion", as the Septuagint version renders it; and so Josephus (w) says the Hebrews call confusion "Babel": perhaps this name was given it by the sons of Eber, or it might be a common name preserved in all languages, as some are; and though the first builders desisted from going on with building it, yet it seems that afterwards Nimrod went on with it, and completed it, and made it the beginning of his kingdom, or his capital city; and perhaps he and his family might continue after the confusion and dispersion somewhere near unto it, see Genesis 10:10. The reason of its name is given:

because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth; and therefore it is false what is said by some, that the above city had its name from Babylon, the son of Belus:

and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth; which is repeated for the confirmation of it, and that it might be taken notice of and observed as a very wonderful and important event. These Babel builders were an emblem of self-righteous persons, who, as those were, are the greater part of the world, and, under different forms of religion, are all upon the same foot of a covenant of works; they all speak the same language; and indeed all men naturally do, declaring and seeking for justification by their own works; and journey from the east, depart from Christ, one of whose names is the east, or rising sun; they turn their backs on him and his righteousness; build on a plain, not on a rock or mountain, but on the sandy bottom of their own works, in a land of Shinar, or shaking, on a tottering foundation; their view is to get themselves a name, to be seen of men, and be applauded for their work sake, and that they might reach heaven, and get to it this way; but the issue of all is confusion and scattering abroad; for upon the foot of their own righteousness they can never enter into the kingdom of heaven.

(w) Ut supra. (Antiqu. l. 1. c. 4. sect. 13.)

Courtesy of Open Bible