Old Testament: Genesis 11:1-9 (Pentecost: Series C)
The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is written in the first book of the Torah, Genesis, or as the Hebrews call it, “In the Beginning.” The text is Genesis 11:1-9 and is a familiar pairing on Pentecost Sunday with the Acts text and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. With the Easter season behind us we have returned to Old Testament texts for the first lesson.
This pericope is the well-known story of the Tower of Babel, which is a strong representation of the “separation/reunion motif” in Holy Scripture. Ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden man has felt the pain of his separation from God. Thus, according to man’s usual pattern, he attempts to bridge the gap his sin has caused. And what better way to reunite with the Creator than by building a Tower which will put you on God’s level and give you your own special status and name. In other words, man is attempting to be equal with his Creator. It is a fool’s errand, but man is caught up in the act and fails to see the folly. Man has always wanted to bridge the gap between himself and God—he feels he must somehow make himself acceptable, prove his own worth, show his own power, or at the very least fix the mess he caused. And, as it is now and has been since the Fall, man fails!
The manmade structure of the Tower of Babel is a failure, but the God-provided structure of the Cross bridges the gap! As Luther says, “The Cross is the structure that holds Heaven and earth together.” This is why he identifies Jacob’s “ladder” as the Cross. It is God’s doing which reunites God and man and He accomplishes this, not by requiring man to come up to God, but rather, by sending His Son down to man to hang on a tree.
God is not worried for Himself about man rising to His level. Rather, He is concerned for man, that they will think there is nothing they cannot do together and thus will not need to rely on God. The confusion of the language at Babel is truly an act of God’s grace lest men should think they do not need Him and suffer eternally for this dangerous idea.
Thus, on Pentecost Sunday we are reminded how God confused the language of man at Babel, so man will fulfill His command to fill the earth. Now, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is poured out and the language of man is united again for the Gospel to be preached to the ends of the earth.
11:1 שָׂפָה (sa-Fah) “language”
וּדְבָרִים, אֲחָדִים (u-de-va-Rim a-cha-Dim) “the same word; words that are one”
Note how this is an example of step/dynamic parallelism, not static parallelism. In other words, “language” and “words” are not exact equivalents here. Think in terms of one language and one dialect. An example of the same language and different dialects would be American, English, Irish and Scottish. Even the dialect was the same at Babel.
11:2 מִקֶּדֶם (mik-Ke-dem) “from the east”
בִקְעָה (vik-Ah) “valley; plain”
11:3 הָבָה (Ha-vah) root: יבה (yaw-hab’) Qal: “to come; come now; come on”
נִלְבְּנָה (nil-be-Nah) root: לבן (law-ban’) Qal: “to make bricks”
לְבֵנִים. (le-ve-Nim) “sun-baked bricks”
לִשְׂרֵפָה (lis-re-Fah) “hardened by burning; thoroughly burned; burning”
וְהַחֵמָר (ve-Ha-che-Mar) “bitumen; pitch; asphalt”
לַחֹמֶר; (la-Cho-mer) from: חמר (kho’mer) “mortar; cement; building material
11:4 נִבְנֶה (niv-neh) root: בנה (baw-naw’) Qal, imperfect: “to build; to raise; Lit: let us build”
וּמִגְדָּל (u-mig-Dal) “tower”
נָפוּץ (na-Futz) root: פוץ (poots) Qal: “to spread; disperse”
Note the people’s desire to make a name for themselves, yet it has always been the LORD who gives a name—His name—to His people (see Aaronic Blessing; Numbers 6:22-27). Naming is part of the LORD’s Covenant with His people in both the Old and New Testaments. Seeking to make a name for oneself is a form of rebellion against the LORD.
11:5 וַיֵּרֶד יְהוָה, לִרְאֹת (vai-Ye-red Yah-weh lir-Ot) “and the LORD came down to see”
Here in verse 5 and again in verse 7 we note the irony and humor in the Hebrew. The people have built such a great and mighty tower up to the heavens and yet it is so faraway He must get close to see it!
11:6 יִבָּצֵרI (yib-ba-Tzer) root: בצר (baw-tsar’) Niphal: “to be impossible; to be withheld”
יָזְמוּ (ya-ze-Mu) root: זמם (zaw-mam’) Qal: “to plan evil; to devise; to purpose”
11:7 נֵרְדָה (ne-re-Dah) root: יּרד (yaw-rad’) Qal, cohortative: “let us go down”
וְנָבְלָה> (ve-na-ve-Lah) root: בלל (baw-lal’) Qal: “to mix up; to confuse”
11:8 וַיָּפֶץ (vai-Ya-fetz) root: פוץ (poots) Hiphal: “to disperse; to scatter”
וַיַּחְדְּלוּ: (vai-yachde-Lu) root: חדל (khaw-dal’) Qal: “to cease doing; to leave off doing; to refrain from doing”
11:9 בָּלַל (ba-Lal) Qal: “to mix up; to confound”
הֱפִיצָם/ (he-fi-Tzam) root: פוץ (poots) Hiphal: “to disperse; scatter”
Note the causative nature of the Hiphal form and Who is the agent of the causing!
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Genesis 11:1-9.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Genesis 11:1-9.