The Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel by Lucas van Valckenborch in 1594
Tower of Babel by Lucas van Valckenborch in 1594 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading the Bible is an experience, especially when you actually pay attention to what you read. You find things that confuse you, scare you and upset you. Sometimes you find things that just seem wrong and make you doubt. God also isn’t very quick on the guidance part. It sometimes takes months to get clarity on some things (not on the important stuff, thankfully).

I was reading Genesis 11 a long time ago and the story of the tower of Babel really disturbed me. Here’s an excerpt from my reading note for it:

“I do not believe the story of the tower of Babel. To be frank, it sounds rather ridiculous. The people wanted to build a tall tower. […] They want to do it in order to make a name for themselves and not be scattered across the earth. At least, those were the stated reasons. However, God “comes down” and sees their tower and doesn’t like their actions for some reason. So he gives them separate languages and scatters them. […] How bad can it be to just build a tower? What was the danger – their arrogance? Even if you simply brush this off as another reason Christianity is false, you still need to answer the question if you wish to give it all the respect you give any other literary work. What exactly was it that God did not want them to do? […]”

I attended a dinner yesterday and the pastor gave a little speech on the passage that gave me just a little more insight. God didn’t confuse their language because he was scared of their tower. He confused them, literally dividing them, because in their unity they could do things that he didn’t like. Things that were wrong and harmful and they would have more success because they were united. In other words, what he said.

“The LORD 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.”

Or as the Message puts it,

“God took one look and said, “One people, one language; why, this is only a first step. No telling what they’ll come up with next—they’ll stop at nothing! Come, we’ll go down and garble their speech so they won’t understand each other.””

The story of the tower of Babel teaches the importance of unity and tells of God dividing humans because united they could do so much more. And whether they did good or harm depended on how in tune with God’s will they were.

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Genesis 49 & 50 – Reading Note – Jacob Blesses His Sons

  • The sins of Reuben, Simeon and Levi came back to haunt them when their father handed out blessings. He cursed them because of their wrong actions (49: 3- 7).
  • Jacob may not have been blessing or curing his sons but telling them what will happen. That is, perhaps those things did not happen because he said they will, but he simply knew and correctly predicted what would happen to his sons. In fact, I think he said so in verse 2.
  • That would mean that he was not punishing his sons (Simeon, Levi and Reuben) for their wrongs by cursing them but simply telling them that their actions produced consequences of which he had little or no control. This would lend credence to my idea that perhaps some actions have consequences simply by virtue of their having happened. (See Are We Punished For the Sins of Adam and Eve?)
  • For Joseph, Jacob simply stated the obvious – that God blesses him (49:22-26).
  • One part of the blessing Jacob pronounces on Joseph is interesting. He says that God blesses Jacob with the blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below and blessings of the “breast and womb”. Was that simply his way of saying that Jacob would have lots of descendants?
  • Jacob was regarded as important enough that the Egyptians mourned for him for seventy days. But then, he was Joseph’s father after-all (50:2, 3).
  • Joseph had the physicians embalm his father (50:2, 3). He was embalmed himself after his death.

Genesis 48 – Reading Note – Jacob Blesses Joseph’s Sons

Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph by Rembrandt...
Image via Wikipedia
  • Strange as it seems, Jacob asked that Joseph’s first two sons (Ephraim and Manasseh) be counted as his rather than Joseph’s (48:5, 6).
  • God chose the younger son of Abraham (Isaac) rather than the older (Ishmael).He chose the younger son of Isaac (Jacob) rather than the older (Esau). When Jacob was blessing Joseph’s children, he blessed decided to make the younger (Ephraim) greater than the elder (Manasseh).
  • Jacob calls God “the Angel who has delivered me from all harm” and asks God, the Angel, to bless Joseph’s sons (48:16).
  • Jacob knew which son was older and which was younger even though he was getting blind (48:17-19).
  • Jacob gave Joseph one more portion than his brothers. One for Manasseh and one for Ephraim.

Genesis 46 & 47 – Reading Note

  • The Egyptians didn’t get food from Joseph for free. They had to buy it. Hadn’t Joseph taken it from them in the first place?
  • Joseph made the people in Egypt Pharaoh’s slaves which would mean that they formerly were not (47:18 – 21).
  • Joseph made Pharaoh rich(er) through the famine (Genesis 47).
  • The Israelites settled in the land of Goshen, in the district of Rameses (47:11, 27).
  • Jacob made Joseph swear not to bury him in Egypt but in the same place as his ancestors. He asked this of Joseph specifically and (it seems) not his other children (47: 29 – 31).

Genesis 43 – 45 – Reading Note – Does God Make People Sin?

  • Joseph lied to his brothers that he had found out that they took his cup by divination when in truth he had instructed his servants to put it in Benjamin’s sack (44:15).
  • Joseph tells his brothers that it was God who sent him to Egypt to save them and instructs them not to be angry with themselves. Would this mean that God made Joseph’s brothers jealous of him? Did he make them sell him? Does God cause people to sin? Or were their actions against him not sinful?
  • My guess would be that the action of Joseph’s brothers was a horrible thing that God exploited for his good purpose, but that is not what Joseph said. Joseph said that “God sent him ahead of them” which implies that God is the primary cause. “It was not you who sent me here, but God” (45:8)
  • I could conclude that Joseph was wrong, but I’d like to do that on some more basis than my own presuppositions.

Anyone have some ideas?

Genesis 42 – Reading Note

  • Joseph was a very godly man but he still treated his brothers badly when they came to buy grain from him. What motivated him to do that?
  • But he also still cared for them. He gave them back their money and provisions for their journey. Granted, those actions might not have required much effort on his part but it showed he showed some mercy towards them.
  • Home Joseph was the one selling the grain (v 6)? He was very important. Should the task not have been delegated to someone else?
  • Reuben offered to have both his sons killed if they did not return with Benjamin (v 37). I’d like to know what was going on inside his head, the poor boys.

Genesis 41 – Reading Note – Joseph Interprets Pharoah’s Dreams

There isn’t much today:

  • Pharoah believed that his dream wasn’t a mere dream, but one with an interpretation.
  • His wise men and magicians couldn’t interpret it.
  • The manner in which Joseph speaks is odd. It’s extremely repetitive. It makes sense for the narrator to write that way if he was quoting Joseph’s words, though.