Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
~ Genesis 11:4
In the ancient Near East, a person’s name said a lot about them. A name could share insights about what a person was like, or it could tell us about what a person did. There are many great examples of this in the book of Genesis. For instance, the name Adam means “human,” which is fitting because he serves as a representative of humanity. The name Abel means “breath,” which is also fitting because his lifespan was short, like a breath.
Names were so closely linked to the people they represented that in many ways, a name was thought to carry on the essence of a person even after death. The belief was that if a person’s name could become great and live on after that person died, then that person could attain a sort of immortality. This was, of course, a big deal. Making sense of death was as big of a problem thousands of years ago as it is for us today. Therefore, people often tried to overcome death by making names for themselves.
Powerful people often tried to make names for themselves through major building projects. We see an example of this in the story of the Tower of Babel. In Genesis 11:4, a nameless group of people says, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.”
One of the many ironic twists in Genesis 11 is that the tower the nameless people built failed to reach the heavens. In fact, from God’s perspective, the tower was so small that God actually had to come down from Heaven just to see it (Genesis 11:5). As a result, the builders of this tower failed to make a name for themselves. This story teaches us that some things, like immortality, can never be reached through human achievement. It is only through faith in God that we can ensure that we live, even after we die.
The Table of Nations
1 This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons, who themselves had sons after the flood.
2 The sons a of Japheth:
Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshek and Tiras.
3 The sons of Gomer:
Ashkenaz, Riphath and Togarmah.
4 The sons of Javan:
Elishah, Tarshish, the Kittites and the Rodanites. 5 (From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language.)
6 The sons of Ham:
Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan.
7 The sons of Cush:
Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah and Sabteka.
The sons of Raamah:
Sheba and Dedan.
8 Cush was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; that is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Uruk, Akkad and Kalneh, in Shinar. 11 From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah 12 and Resen, which is between Nineveh and Calah — hich is the great city.
13 Egypt was the father of
the Ludites, Anamites, Lehabites, Naphtuhites, 14 Pathrusites, Kasluhites (from whom the Philistines came) and Caphtorites.
15 Canaan was the father of
Sidon his firstborn, and of the Hittites, 16 Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, 17 Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, 18 Arvadites, Zemarites and Hamathites.
Later the Canaanite clans scattered 19 and the borders of Canaan reached from Sidon toward Gerar as far as Gaza, and then toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, as far as Lasha.
20 These are the sons of Ham by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations.
21 Sons were also born to Shem, whose older brother was Japheth; Shem was the ancestor of all the sons of Eber.
22 The sons of Shem:
Elam, Ashur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram.
23 The sons of Aram:
Uz, Hul, Gether and Meshek.
24 Arphaxad was the father of Shelah,
and Shelah the father of Eber.
25 Two sons were born to Eber:
One was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided; his brother was named Joktan.
26 Joktan was the father of
Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 27 Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, 28 Obal, Abimael, Sheba, 29 Ophir, Havilah and Jobab. All these were sons of Joktan.
30 The region where they lived stretched from Mesha toward Sephar, in the eastern hill country.
31 These are the sons of Shem by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations.
32 These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.
The Tower of Babel
1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 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. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel — ecause there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.