Genesis 10-11: Fill the Earth
One of the most exhausting chapters to read? Genesis 10.
One of the most entertaining chapters to hear someone else read? Genesis 10.
The earth’s population has just been taken down to eight human beings and an even number of animals. Genesis 10 is a short account of how it got filled back up.
This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons, who themselves had sons after the flood. (Genesis 10:1, NIV)
Attempting to number the generations and compute the passing of time, either to prove the veracity of Scripture or to point out how students of the Bible are fools, is, in my opinion, a complete waste of time. Interpreters will tell you that the word for “father” in many of these verses can as likely mean “descendants” or “successors” or “nations” as it does “daddy’s boy.” The significant thing is that seventy are named.
You may recognize some of them.
Egypt and Canaan, names we know from adventures in Exodus. The “ites” the Israelites encountered on their way to the Promised Land. Magog, the fearsome nation mentioned in Revelation. And Tarshish, where Jonah ran on his way to the whale.
From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood. (Genesis 10:32, NIV)
Just like God said: “Fill the earth.” (See Genesis 1:28; 9:1)
But a problem arose.
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. (Genesis 11:1-3, NIV)
By comparing the number of years in man’s history and the number of pages in my NIV, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Bible is really a book of few words, and I’m convinced each one is important. So why make a point of saying the men in Shinar built with brick and tar instead of mortar?
In my opinion, the author is informing us that these builders had developed processes to produce strong materials, impervious to the elements, in an area where stone was scarce. They were beginning to improvise, becoming practiced in architecture and science. All wonderful—if it didn’t keep them from what God had told them to do.
“Fill the earth,” He said.
“If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” (Genesis 11:6, NIV)
That makes God seem a little insecure, doesn’t it? So what was the deal?
It was the same old deal: pride.
“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.” (Genesis 11:4, NIV)
Men were beginning to divide into teams. “Let us build for ourselves.” They were attempting to make a name themselves, as in, “Those guys from Shinar sure know how to build.” And they were attempting, with their tower, to touch the heavens, not—in my opinion— to be close to God, but to be like Him.
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)
Though left in the middle of a guarded garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was still bearing fruit. The sin of the first father was passing down through the generations.
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:8-9, NIV)
It was back to the plan: “Fill the earth,” God had said.
I’m hoping we have learned a thing or two or three in the millennia since:
Establish unity, not through selfish scheming and prideful conformity, but by His Spirit:
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6, NIV)
Build the city of God, not the city of man:
…fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
Not for outward show, but for inward change:
And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19b-22)
And to what end?
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)
For the restoration of His dwelling place and the redemption of mankind.
“Fill the earth,” He said.