Genesis 4-10: The Intent of the Heart of Man
In the years after the exile, the woman gives birth to two children, Cain and Abel (4:1-2), but whereas Adam was originally made in the image of God, now, Adam’s progeny would be made in his fallen image (Genesis 5:3). Out of envy, Cain leads his brother, Abel, out into the field and murders him, revealing the callousness of the new human nature1 (4:3-16). This callousness would continue in Lamech who began to treat women like chattel, initiating the practice of polygamy (4:19), and boasting over his slaying of another man (4:23-24). With Cain and Lamech’s protection from death, man felt invincible from the power of justice, above the law, and thought that his plans could go on unhindered. Instead of God decreeing the course of history, man would be autonomous to decide his own fate.
In slain Abel’s place, Eve gives birth to a new ‘seed’, Seth (4:25), starting the godly line of the woman promised in 3:15 that would eventually lead to the end of sin and the renewal of creation. Instead, of the self-reliance and self-centeredness of Cain’s line, Seth calls “upon the name of the Lord” (4:26), bringing out the antithesis.
However, this state of the separation of the godly and the ungodly would not last too long. Men and women from the line of Seth started to intermarry with those of the line of Cain resulting in moral compromise, blurring the antithesis (Genesis 6:1-4). Looking upon the earth, God saw that man’s heart was filled with evil2:
“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)
God then decides to wipe the current, out-of-control civilization from the face of the earth and start again with one family (6:8-22), the family of Noah, a descendant of the godly Sethite line (5:29).3
God brings a flood upon the whole earth4, destroying mankind and leaving only Noah, his three sons and their wives (Genesis 7-8). Afterward, God assigns a meaning to the rainbow as a covenant sign to Noah that He will not wipe out the earth again and renews the creation mandate with Noah and his sons (9:1-19). However, the evil now inherent in man’s heart did not take long to reveal itself. For, the arrogance against God that was characteristic of the ante-diluvian5 civilization reared its ugly head again at Babel.
Genesis 11:1-9: The Beginnings of the Continuity of Being6
Whereas Genesis 10 names the progenitors of all the nations, chapter 11 describes how they scattered and became separate. With the new humanity banding together after the cataclysmic event of the Flood, they travel away from the ark eastward to the land of Shinar (Genesis 11:1-2). It was there that the same desire that motivated the woman to take the fruit arose in the hearts of men, the desire to be like God:
“They said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.’ And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will [be dedicated unto7] heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’” (Genesis 11:3-4)
Instead of fulfilling the creation mandate to fill the whole earth (Genesis 9:1), they rebel against God’s law, asserting themselves as their own law, and settle in one place. No longer would they take God’s law as the standard by which they must live. Now they would be autonomous, and with their own self-law, they asserted their own self-religion in which they would worship the creation rather than the Creator.
Gathering upon the plain of Shinar, they and their leader, Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-12)8, founded the city of Babylon. There, he and his followers took counsel against their Creator and decided to worship gods made in their own image, probably Nimrod himself.9 Building a great ziggurat that would be dedicated to the worship of themselves in the form of the heavenly bodies, they would claim the right to ascent to the divine order10:
“This sacred mountain or tower is the meeting-place of heaven and earth, where communication is established between heaven, earth, and hell. It “is situated at the center of the world. Every temple, or palace-and, by extension, every sacred city or royal residence-is a Sacred Mountain, thus becoming a Center.” True social order requires peace and communication with both chaos and deity, and society either moves downward into chaos or forward into deification. The significance of the Tower of Babel is thus apparent: it denied the discontinuity of God’s being and asserted man’s claim to a continuity of being with God and heaven. The Tower was the gate to God and the gate of God, signifying that man’s social order made possible an ascent of being into the divine order.”11
Believing in their ability to become gods, they asserted the Continuity of Being.12 All non-Theistic worldviews reduce to this belief, and it is the very antithesis of the Biblical worldview which views God as “wholly other” from the created order.13 This is why Babylon, the origin place, or “mother”, of idolatry, would later become the symbol of the opposition to God and His people (Revelation 17:5).
“The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.’” (Genesis 11:5-6)
With a united humanity with one language and centered in one place asserting the Continuity of Being, the true worship of God would be permanently hindered and destroyed.
“‘Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech.’ So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:7-9)
God thwarted their godless plan and scattered the nations across the face of the earth by splitting them into language groups. Paganism would be wide-spread14, but it would not have monolithic power controlling the beliefs and practices of all of humanity. Instead of it becoming “Gateway to a god”, it would be nicknamed Babel, “confusion”, a semantic play off of ‘Babylon’.15
1 Cain, by his actions, showed that he was indeed one of the ‘seed’ of the serpent, being a murderer (Matthew 23:32-35, John 8:44).
2 The primeval history section of Genesis, while speaking of God’s holiness and justice, also emphasizes His mercy. He is slow to anger in judging men’s sins waiting only until the situation becomes boiling over until He brings His just wrath upon man. Genesis makes it clear that man is to fault for all of the world’s evil, not God.
3 The Lamech found here is the ninth generation from Adam in the line of Seth, and the Lamech found in Genesis 4:18-24 is the seventh generation from Adam in the line of Cain. Although the genealogies in Genesis 4 and 5 are similar (which might be due to copyist errors or some other factor), there are differences in names as well. It is likely that the two Lamechs are two different Lamechs.
4 The Flood was the undoing of the created order back to its primeval state. Whereas in Genesis 1:9-26, God formed the dry land out of the primeval waters followed shortly by plants, animals, and man, the Flood brought the chaotic waters back over the land destroying plants, animals, and man.
5 i.e. Before the flood.
6 Technically, the beginning of the belief in the Continuity of Being by man started with the woman in the garden. Here, however, I am referring to the post-Flood beginnings of this concept which brought about the wide-spread unbelief present with us to this day.
7 The phrase placed in most English translations starting with the KJV, “will reach”, is not in the Hebrew text. The structure that these men were building was a ziggurat, a building that was part of ancient pagan astral worship. Thus, the phrase should be “dedicated unto”, meaning that they would observe and worship the heavenly bodies as gods from it.
8 Commenting on Genesis 10:9, Keil and Delitzsch state:
“Nimrod was mighty in hunting, and that in opposition to YHWH; not ‘before YHWH’ in the sense of according to the will and purpose of YHWH, still less…in a simply superlative sense…The name itself, ‘Nimrod’ from marad, ‘We will revolt,’ points to some violent resistance to God… Nimrod as a mighty hunter founded a powerful kingdom; and the founding of this kingdom is shown by the verb with consecutive to have been the consequence or result of his strength in hunting, so that hunting was intimately connected with the establishing of the kingdom. Hence, if the expression ‘a mighty hunter’ relates primarily to hunting in the literal sense, we must add to the literal meaning the figurative signification of a ‘hunter of men’ (a trapper of men by stratagem and force); Nimrod the hunter became a tyrant, a powerful hunter of men...“[I]n the face of YHWH” can only mean ‘in defiance of YHWH’ as Josephus and the Targums understand it.”
-Keil, C. F., and Delitzsch, P. Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), pp.165-166.
9 It is possible that the origin of the mythological chief Babylonian deity, Marduk (a.k.a. Merodach, Bel, and Baal), may have been the Nimrod of history. Marduk, according to Babylonian mythology, was a hunter and the founder of Babylon, and was worshipped at temple-ziggurats similar to Babel across the ancient near-east as either the sun, the moon, or Mercury. Also, the constellation, Orion the Hunter, was dedicated to Marduk, and Hebrew tradition generally identified Orion with Nimrod.
Another possibility is that the myth of the Mesopotamian ‘hero’ (actually a quite vile person), Gilgamesh, who, according to the Gilgamesh Epic tablets, was also a hunter, part deity, and the founder of Erech (see Genesis 10:10), came from the historical Nimrod. Either way, the kings of the various Mesopotamian cities were generally worshipped as astral gods (see Daniel 3:1-7), and this is what Nimrod and his band intended at Babel, “to make a name for” themselves (Genesis 11:4). See here:
http://www.inerrancy.org/ (Go to Genesis 10:9)
10 Babylon itself is Akkadian for “gateway to a god”. Other ziggurats in Mesopotamia include:
“House of the Link between Heaven and Earth” (as Larsa)
“House of the Seven Guides of Heaven and Earth” (at Borshippa)
“House of the Mountain of the Universe” (at Asshur)
“House of the Foundation-Platform of Heaven and Earth” (at Babylon)
11 Rousas John Rushdoony, The One and the Many (Thoburn Press: Fairfax, VA., 1978), p.40.
12 The basic aspect of this belief is that everything is made of essentially the same substance and the only differences between man and any gods that may exist are those of degree, not of kind. Starting in the Middle Ages, it would be known as the “chain of being”.
13 i.e. In substance or being. While God is still transcendent over His creation, he is still immanent in it.
14 Starting sometime after the so-called “Enlightenment” and especially after Darwin, humanists came up with the “Evolution of Religion” theory to complement the biological theory of naturalistic evolution. It assumed that since man evolved from primitive creatures of little intelligence, then so his understanding of himself and the cosmos must have as well. According to this theory, man started off with mana/fetishism moving to animism and shamanism, then polytheism, then henotheism, then monotheism, and finally, humanism/modernism/etc. The problem with this model, much to the chagrin of modern evolutionary anthropologists, is that all observed religious changes in cultures have proceeded in the *opposite* direction toward superstition, and in fact, some archaeologists believe that a few Sumerian tablets allude to the fact that, at one time, all of humanity was monotheistic. The Babel event explains why polytheistic paganism became so wide spread in spite of original monotheism.
15 There are other semantic plays on words found in the Bible. For example, Beelzebub (2 Kings 1:2-3, 6), “lord of flies”, is a mockery of Baalzebul, “Prince Baal”.