It is after Noah wakes up from his drunken slumber that he distinguishes the good from the bad (Genesis 9:24-27). After this distinction is made it is apparent that only one line of humanity can emerge onto a new path, one that leads to God (Matthew 7:14). As we read through the accounts in Genesis, we gain a further insight on Jesus’ words – “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it” (Matthew 7:13). We also discover something of the spirit and nature of the wide gate, or in this case Babylon.
After Noah’s death we have the account of the nations, and how three families, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, lead to seventy nations (Genesis Ch.10) – Interestingly it’s the total number excluding Nimrod. Seventy is the biblical formulaic number for a sizeable and complete contingent of any sort. It also gives us the continuity with the divine injunction after creation to be fruitful and multiply, and it further sets the stage for the history of the one people whose propagation is repeatedly promised but continually threatened.
The Table of Nations, as we shall see, mingles geographic, ethnic, and linguistic criteria for defining nations. One may infer that the Table assumes a natural evolutionary explanation for the multiplicity of languages, that does not involve an act of divine intervention of the sort found in the Tower of Babel narrative.
We are going to focus on just one family that will lead us on the journey away from God, to Babylon. Families didn’t become nations until after the Flood, and after the Lord was grieved, and His heart was filled with pain (Genesis 6:6). If you have wondered what our sin does to the Lord, read this verse, and read about Yeshua/Jesus and the Cross.
The Lord saw how the human heart is evil from its youth, and every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time (Genesis 6:5; Mathew 15:19; Mark 7:21; Jeremiah 17:9). In Genesis 6:3, God said, “My Spirit [breath] shall not abide in the human forever, for he is but flesh. Let his days be a hundred and twenty years,” perhaps referring to when God would send the Flood. God gives, as he gave Adam the breath of life, and as Job said, therefor God can take away (Job 1:21), as His breath will not abide or contend with humans forever. Only God can give a new heart and a new Spirit that gives humans eternal life. To reach the world, God would choose for Himself a man, Abraham, and from that man would come a nation. God would reveal Himself to the world through one nation, Israel; and from the nation of Israel would come one Man, the Messiah.
We don’t always notice, but there are cultural and economic differences among the families, and each had its own language for its particular clan in the nations (Genesis 10:5). The Hebrew word used here is leshonot. When we get to the Tower of Babel narrative, the Hebrew word for language is safa. The kind of differences that developed in the families and the nations can be seen in the example of the sons of Lamech found in Genesis 4:20-22). Beyond the differentiation expressed through language, the description of each nation covertly reflects the different cultural-economic focuses of each of Noah’s descendants. Cain’s line ends with the three sons of Lamech. Humanity begins anew with the three sons of Noah; and as Lamech’s sons were differentiated by their skills and way of life, each of Noah’s sons, though not as clearly categorised, follow a separate path and distinct way of life.
Genesis chapter 10 opens with the generations of the sons of Noah. However, their geographic distribution is described in reverse order. Ham is sandwiched between his two brothers – Japheth is mentioned first, followed by Ham, and finally Shem (Genesis 5:32; 6:10; 7:13; 9:18; 10:1; 1 Chronicles 1:4). The purpose of the reverse order appears to be, to dispense with the non-seed line, and to focus attention on Shem’s grandson, rather than to Ham. Another explanation is that “his youngest son” (Genesis 9:24) may be a reference to Canaan. In Hebrew “son” can also mean “grandson.” For our purpose, we will concentrate on the line of Ham. Ham’s fourth son is Canaan, the father of the Canaanites, therefore the Canaanites were Hamitic in national and racial origin. They adopted a Semitic language and culture. It was Canaan and his descendants that were under the curse of Noah. For the children to suffer for the sins of their parents is not unusual in the Bible, particularly before the Exile (Ezekiel 18:1-24).
The sons of Ham included Canaan, Cush, ancestor of the Ethiopians; Mizraim [Mizraim is the well-known Hebrew name for Egypt. Mizraim is the Hebrew dual form indicating the inclusion of Upper and Lower Egypt], ancestor of the Egyptians; and Put (Libya). Ham’s territory was Egypt and possibly the rest of Africa. Egypt was later called the “land of Ham” (Psalm 78:51; 105:23, 27; 106:22). Interestingly, while we are considering the dark side of Noah’s family, it was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Queen of Ethiopia, that had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and was on his way home again. An angel sent Phillip to a desert road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza (Acts 8:26-40), and that is where he came across the Ethiopian reading the Scriptures. There is also the promise concerning Egypt: “In that day Israel will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria—a blessing upon the earth. The Lord of Hosts will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance” (Isaiah 19:24-25). God has mercy on whom He will have mercy, which in Egypt’s case is particularly interesting. Pharaoh, having hardened his heart, had his heart hardened by God (Exodus 4:12; 9:12; 14:8). Let us look at the verse in Romans: Romans 9:18 (NIRV) So God does what he wants to do. He shows mercy to one person and makes another stubborn. Romans 9:18 (NIV) Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. Romans 9:18 (NKJV) Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
Ham is the son characterized as the great urban developer, the founder of empires. At the end of each chronology of the three sons, it says, “These are the sons of …. by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations. The description on Ham’s descendants takes a striking deviation, fleshing out the person of Nimrod – “And Cush fathered Nimrod, the first on the earth to be a mighty warrior [gibor]. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord….” (Genesis 10:8-9). The narrative continues: “The beginning of his kingdom was Babylon, along with Uruk, Akkad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar. From that land Asshur went out and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city” (Genesis 10:10-12). At his birth, Nimrod’s character is marked out as distinctive – “And Cush father of Nimrod” – yet in the previous verse that cites Cush’s sons, Nimrod is not mentioned (Genesis 10:7). Nimrod appears to be set-apart from his brothers Josephus describes “mighty hunter before Jehovah” as: “A bold, violent, forceful man.”[i] Warrior-hunter might refer to him as hunting wild animals. It could also mean that he hunted down his opponents and the subjects of his kingdom. The terminology in His relationship with God suggests antagonism against and in opposition to God. The Jerusalem Targums translates this in the following way:
He was powerful in hunting and in wickedness before the Lord, for he was a hunter of the sons of men, as he said to them, “Depart from the judgment of the Lord and hear the judgment of Nimrod.” Therefore, it is said, as Nimrod the strong one, strong in hunting, and wickedness before the Lord.
What further characterizes him is the description of his kingdom: “The beginning of his kingdom was Babylon…” (Genesis 10:10). Amongst Ham’s descendants, Nimrod is the world’s first conqueror, and the first to control surrounding areas by force to establish his empire. There was his campaign in Mesopotamia, where he conquers and dominates the region, becoming the world’s first emperor. The parallel description in Chronicles simply mentions that Nimrod “began to be a mighty one (gibor) in the land” (1 Chronicles 1:10). There is no mention of his conquests. Archaeological study suggests that the first ancient kingdoms rose to power in Mesopotamia:
Under such circumstances the first mighty kingdoms rose up; those who managed to impose a single, organised regime on their settlement and even set out to spread their dominion beyond their own borders. Here, one after another, Sumer and Akkad, Mitanni, the Hittites, and the Arameans mounted the historical stage…. Compared to them, Egypt was closed and consistent in its development, and as the generations marched on the only thing that changed was the Pharaonic dynasty in power, from the earliest days of the kingdom…until the latest.
Ham is cursed, yet it is Ham that produces the first empire, and the first conqueror. The curse centres on his son, Canaan, so the fact the power and dominion comes forth from another of Ham’s descendants is somewhat justified. Nimrod represents permanent settlement in organised cities, kingdoms, and politics (Genesis 10:11-12).
If we contrast Ham with Shem, we have the contrast between Cain and Abel. Cain is the man of the earth, and builder of the first city (Genesis 4:17). Abel on the other hand is the wandering shepherd. Cain is powerful and productive, but his descendants were wiped out from the face of the earth – the earth that he once worked. We might also note that Cain was cursed by being banished from his own property. Israel was told, “When you cross over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images and demolish all their high places; and you shall take possession of the land and live in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it” (Numbers 33:51-53). Abel’s death is a prototype of Christ’s death (Hebrews 12:24).
Both Egypt in the book of Exodus, and Babel in Genesis, involved building cities while erasing individuality. The erosion of the individual’s soul took place as the people were reduced to slavery in mind, body, and spirit. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, known by the acronym, Netziv, making an insightful comment suggests:
“It is undoubtedly illogical to assume that there would be but one city in the entire world. Rather, they thought that all cities would be connected and subsidiary to that one city in which the tower was to be built. And the [purpose of] the tower was to look out upon the distance over all their dwellings [to ensure] that none would split off into another land.” He said: “We must understand why they [the builders of Babel] feared some people leaving for another land. This was certainly related to the devarim ahadim, the “one speech” among them. They feared that since not all human thoughts are identical, if some would leave, they might adopt different thoughts. And so they saw to it that no-one left their enclave.” Netziv suggested that: “Anyone who deviated from the devarim ahadim, the “one speech” that was among them would be sentenced to burning…” and that, “What emerges [from this text] is … they decided to kill anyone who did not think as they did.” Netziv understood devarim ahadim (“one speech”) to refer to ideological consensus. This understanding is consistent with the passages guiding words.
Perhaps we can perceive a similar mind-set developing today on the world stage; and one where fear is a key player. We have obvious examples in Communist countries where opponents of the government are killed or tortured. However, free-thinking is quickly becoming an old-fashioned concept, even in Western nations. A Babylon mentality is developing, not just among the so-called elite, but is affecting everyone, which will lead up to God’s final intervention, and the eradication of evil. Come out of that mind-set and lifestyle before destruction overtakes you as it overtook Lot (Genesis 19:26). There will be new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1), and the setting up of the Kingdom of God on earth.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’” (Revelation 21:3).
Blessings and shalom,
[i] Antiquities, 1:113