GENESIS - CHAPTER 11
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
11:1. “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.”
Contrary to what the evolutionist would have us believe, the different languages of earth did not evolve. Noah and his sons all spoke the same language, and their descendants continued to speak that same language until God confounded human speech as punishment for rebellion.
11:2. “And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar: and they dwelt there.”
It is generally agreed that the correct rendering of this verse is, not that they journeyed from the east, but that they journeyed eastward. Verses 3-9 make it clear that they were acting in rebellion, and the eastward journey is in harmony with this conclusion, since, as has been noted already, the east is always connected with sin and departure from God.
Shinar, meaning tooth of the city: change of the city, is another name for the land of Babylon, and as noted already, the teeth are symbols of power, especially the power of God’s enemies, but inasmuch as they are also associated with speech, the power appears to be that of rule or government. Shinar therefore, represents not only the sphere over which literal Babylon exercised dominion long ago, but also the realm over which the evil Babylonish religious system wields spiritual dominion today, i.e., the whole earth, for wherever man is found, there is found also some form of false religion, and every such religion has its origin in the ancient Babylonian system.
This, combined with the second meaning change of the city, reminds us that however good the intention of the original builders of Babylon confusion may have been, the city quickly became synonymous with the power of Satan, and though long since gone, has given its name to the iniquitous religious system centered in Rome, and masquerading for almost two thousand years as the true church, though in reality the inveterate foe of all that is of God.
“Dwelt” means to sit down or sit still. This was in defiance of God’s command given Noah and his sons upon leaving the Ark, to replenish the earth.
11:3. “And they said one to another, Come, let us make brick, and burn them throughly (thoroughly). And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.”
There is conspicuous absence of any mention of their consulting God, and for an obvious reason: they were rebelling against Him. Sometimes as Christians we display less wisdom in this respect than they, for we are often guilty of having the effrontery to ask God’s blessing on something we know to be contrary to His will.
Christ’s Church is presented symbolically under the figure of a woman (a chaste virgin), and also of a glorious city, and we have seen already that Satan seeks to ape God by producing a counterfeit of every divine original, the Church being no exception. His counterfeit of the chaste virgin, the bride of Christ, was the vile Semiramis, the bride of Nimrod, who was himself, of course, one of the OT counterfeits of Christ. And in the great city of Babylon we behold the devil’s counterfeit of God’s holy city. Allusion has already been made to the fact that it may have been patterned after the heavenly original, but God would have us see the evil whichc lies behind the outward splendor.
The Euphrates gave the appearance of flowing out of Babylon, but that great river becomes fragmented into a multitude of smaller streams which are lost in the marshy delta at its confluence with the sea. It is like the river of lies flowing out of spiritual Babylon: it too, ends in confusion, and brings men down to death.
But as a river of water of life flows out of the heavenly Jerusalem, and will flow out of the earthly Jerusalem during the Millennium, so out of the spiritual Jerusalem which is the Church, there flows today the pure river of the water of life, the Gospel.
It is significant that in Re 16:12 we read that towards the end of the Tribulation, the water of the Euphrates will be dried up. The spiritual river of which it is a type will also be dried up in the Millennium. Its place will be taken by a literal river flowing out of Jerusalem, and during that same period the spiritual river of the Gospel will flow out of what will then be a spiritual Jerusalem (Israel), at last restored to her rightful place with God, and therefore, to her rightful place of being His witness to the nations.
Others have pointed out the inferiority of brick as compared with stone, and of slime or bitumen as compared with mortar. Everything in Babylon stands in total contrast with Jerusalem. Instead of man-made bricks, Jerusalem not only rests upon a foundation of great hewn stones, but it is also built of stone. And whereas God was refused a place in Babylon, Jerusalem was His dwelling place in the midst of His people. The great temple that was the crowning glory of Babylon, and built of the same inferior materials, was the alleged dwelling place of Marduk, the deity conjured up by fallen man’s corrupt mind. Of the temple which was the crowning glory of Jerusalem, and in which God was pleased to dwell, we read that for its foundation, “they brought great stones, costly stones, and hewed stones” (1 KI 5:17).
But in this, as in much of Scripture, the spiritual transcends the literal, “The Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Ac 7:48)). In that mystical city of which Jerusalem is only a type, and Babylon a counterfeit, the foundation stone is Christ, and the building stones are redeemed men and women, as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious.... to whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God and precious, ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house....” (1 Pe 2:4-6); “In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph 2:22).
In contrast, we read that the end of spiritual Babylon is that she becomes, “the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit” (Re 18:2).
The burning or baking of the bricks is not without spiritual significance. Fire played a part in their preparation, but fire is one of the symbols of the Holy Spirit, and He has an essential part to play in the preparation of men and women to become those living stones of which Christ’s Church is built. Satan would have the world believe that the great false church has also been produced by the Holy Spirit. The difference between brick and stone, however, illustrates the difference between the unregenerate, who with very few exceptions, comprise the “church” of Rome, and those Spirit-begotten ones who comprise Christ’s Church. Those comprising the great harlot city are unified by the “slime” of rebellion against God. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that binds together in love the living stones of the true Church.
11:4. “And they said, Come, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”
The activity of man in building cities seems always to be in a bad connection. It was as a rebel against God that Cain, the first city builder, went out from God’s presence to build Enoch. (In this, as in all things, the law of first mention should never be ignored. It is the first mention of anything in Scripture that provides the clue as to its meaning, and inasmuch as the first city was built by a rebel, God would alert us to the fact that almost invariably there is evil connected with city building). Babylon had its beginning in the activity of another great rebel, Nimrod, in organizing men in rebellion against God.
There has been a great deal of misunderstanding of this verse in regard to the tower, and there is probably no clearer statement of its true meaning than the explanation given by Dr. Tatford in his book Prophecy’s Last Word. There he writes:
”Josephus states that quite early in human history, man arranged the astronomical signs of the Zodiac, which are to be found in precisely the same arrangement in practically every nation and country. These Zodiacal signs clearly depict the great story of redemption and re-emphasize the fact that the ancient world was fully cognizant of God’s wondrous plan of salvation as foretold in Genesis 3. In order that these records of the heavens might be preserved, the ancient race constructed pillars of brick and stone, on which were inscribed the signs and predictions of the stars. The Ziggurats, or towers in which the Babylonian astrologers later made their stellar observations and prophetic deductions, are probably not unconnected with these pillars or towers. When the tower of Babel was constructed, it was not with the idea of reaching to the heavens, since the phrase is literally ‘a tower whose top with the heavens.’ As Wilson Heath writes: ‘It is no question of height, but of the ornamentation of the top of the tower with the Zodiac signs. Such towers, with pictures of the stars around their tops, are found in Dendera and Esneh in Egypt. The so-called Tower of Babel was thus built and embellished to preserve after the Flood the revelations given before the Flood.’ This seems highly commendable until it is appreciated that the real purpose was to perpetuate, not the story of the coming Christ, but the false story of the deified Nimrod, who had been blasphemously substituted for the true Deliverer.”
The fact that it was a star that guided wise men from the east to the birthplace of the Savior would seem to lend support to this view.
That the signs of the Zodiac do indeed present the Gospel is apparent from even a casual examination of their names and signs. Those wishing to pursue this line of study further should read The Gospel in the Stars by the late Dr J.A. Seiss, published by Kregel Publications; or God’s Voice in the Stars by Kenneth C. Fleming, and published by Loizeaux Brothers. These are excellent publications which will reveal the significance of Satan’s attempt to obscure God’s truth with his own corruption of that truth in the form of astrology.
The building of Babylon with its great tower is simply Satan’s attempt, using man as his tool, to dethrone God. Everything connected with Babylon is for the exaltation and deification of man. In the corrupt worship connected with that deification of man, Satan is the one ultimately worshipped, “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to devils” (1 Co 10:20). Rather than glorify the name of God, rebel man would glorify himself, “let us make us a name.”
The determination not to be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth is in rank defiance of God’s command given in Ge 9:1, “Multiply, and fill the earth.”
11:5. “And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.”
God, of course, did not come down literally. This is simply another way of saying that God takes cognizance of man’s activities, and he will reward or punish those activities according to whether they are in obedience to His will or in defiance of it.
By earthly standards that city may have been of surpassing magnificence, but the Holy Spirit’s comment upon it is, “which the children of men builded.” The grass-grown heaps which alone mark the site of the once great Babylon, bear eloquent testimony to the worthlessness of anything built by the children of men. Only what God builds will last for ever. Abraham, the great man of faith, “Looked for a (the) city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11:10).
11:6. “And the Lord said, “Behold, the people are one, and they have all one language: and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be withheld from them, which they have imagined to do.”
Unified in their rebellion against the Creator, men used the gift of language, not to commune with Him, and to worship Him, but to facilitate their defiance of Him. The intelligence which God has graciously given man, is used to dishonor Him. By it he has attacked the divine inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the certainty of hell, the necessity of a new birth, etc. The one faculty above all others by which man can best glorify God is that through which rebel man has most effectively dishonored his Maker.
God’s singling out language as the one effective instrument of the rebel creature, would emphasize the importance of this God-given faculty.
It is interesting to note that God did not withdraw the gift, but rather curtailed its usefulness, so that instead of having one language understood by all, man was given instead many languages, but was permitted to understand only one. The reason for God’s confounding man’s language may be to remind the rebel that earth’s diverse languages are the evidence that man is still under divine judgment.
Looking upon man before the flood, God declared, “that every imagination of his heart was only evil continually,” and now looking upon man after the flood he beholds the same wickedness. “Nothing will be withheld from them, which they have imagined to do.” The incorrigibility of man is witnessed by his wickedness abounding on the earth today, and that in spite of his language having been confounded.
11:7. “Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
The prophetic aspect of this passage is not difficult to discern. Viewing Noah and his family as a type of the Apostolic church, we see in their being of one language and of one speech that which marked the earth Church. They had but one language, the language of heaven. God’s Word was in their hearts and on their lips. But as Nimrod’s apostasy appeared early in the post-Diluvian world, so did apostasy appear early in the Church age. Even while the Apostles lived, the apostasy had already begun, and it wasn’t long until the apostates were busy building spiritual Babylon. Nor was it long before God “came down” to look upon that rebellious work, and confound the “language” of the rebels. The many contradictory doctrines of professing Christendom - Protestant as well as Catholic - are simply the spiritual counterpart of God’s confusing the tongues of the builders of literal Babylon.
It should be noted in connection with literal Babylon that God’s confusing their language stopped the builders only temporarily: they overcame the difficulty, and the great city was completed, to stand for centuries as a mighty monument to the creature’s rebellion against the Creator.
The activity of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost is but a foreshadowing of what will be in the Millennium, and in connection with the gift of tongues given on the day of Pentecost, many have pointed out that it was the reversal of the confusion of tongues at Babel. C. H. MacIntosh is worth quoting in this connection:
“The Holy Ghost enabled the messengers of grace to deliver their message in the very tongue wherein each was born.... Grace broke through the barrier which man’s pride and folly had caused to be erected, in order that every man might hear and understand the glad tidings of salvation.... And to what end was this? Just to associate men on God’s ground, round God’s center, and on God’s principles. It was to give them in reality one language, one center, one object, one hope, one life. It was to gather them in such a way as that they never should be scattered or confounded again; to give them a name and a place which should endure forever; to build for them a tower and a city which should not only have their top reaching to heaven, but their imperishable foundation laid in heaven, by the omnipotent hand of God Himself. It was to gather them around the glorious Person of a risen and highly exalted Christ, and unite them all in one grand design of magnifying and adoring Him.... In Ge 11 God gave various tongues as an expression of His judgment; in Acts 2 He gives various tongues as an expression of grace; and in Re 7 we see all those tongues gathered round the lamb, in glory. How much better, therefore, to find our place in God’s association than in man’s! The former ends in glory, the latter in confusion; the former is carried forward by the energy of the Holy Ghost, the latter by the unhallowed energy of fallen man; the former has for its object the exaltation of Christ, the latter has for its object the exaltation of man....”
11:8. “So the Lord scattered them abroad from there upon the face of all the earth: and thy ceased building the city.”
What they had tried to prevent, occurred. God scattered them. He who would contend with God has espoused a hopeless cause. Hence the encouragement to the believer, “If God be for us who can be against us?” (Ro 8:31).
As has been noted already, their ceasing to build the city was only a temporary halt in their rebellious work. They contrived eventually to complete the city, not because God was powerless to stop them, but because, having warned them, He would leave them to heed the warning and repent, or to reject it and go on to seal their doom in a continued rebellion that would carry them beyond the pale of mercy. It is the OT demonstration of the principle annunciated in the thrice-repeated words of Romans 1. There it is written that in response to man’s deliberate rejection of Himself, “God gave them up.”
11:9. “Therefore is the name of it called Babel, because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth; and from there did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.”
Originally Bab-El the gate of God, it has become, through man’s apostasy, Babel confusion. In this too, the spiritual extends beyond the literal. The Word of God, which is the gate through which men may enter into His kingdom, has become simply confusion to the natural man. Refusing the judgment of Scripture upon his sinful state, he cannot have its light for his life, and must therefore, walk in spiritual darkness, until he comes to the end of his brief day on earth and goes out into the “blackness of darkness” which shrouds the eternal abode of the lost.
This ninth verse concludes the account of the building of Babylon, and verse 10 resumes the record of the descendants of Noah. It is more, however, than the resumption of that record, for it repeats some of the names given in chapter 10, and gives in addition the names of those descended from Peleg.
Up to this point the record of Noah’s descendants has consisted of little more than their names, but now there is given also the age of each parent when his son was born, plus the number of years he lived after the birth of his son. The meaning of all of this is clearer when we recognize that this is the beginning of the line that produced Abraham, and eventually, Christ.
Scofield’s comments on this section are worth quoting. He writes, “Heretofore the history has been that of the whole Adamic race. There has been neither Jew nor Gentile; all have been one in ‘the first man Adam.’ Henceforth, in the Scripture record, humanity must be thought of as a vast stream from which God, in the call of Abraham and the creation of the nation of Israel, has but drawn off a rivulet through which he may at last purify the great river itself....”
From Noah, as from Adam, two seeds have sprung, one is the godly line, the seed of the woman; the other, the ungodly line, the seed of the serpent.
The fact that this godly line is perpetuated through Peleg, and not Joktan - though both were Shem’s sons - would teach us that not all the descendants of Shem constituted the godly line. It is the symbolic reiteration of the truth demonstrated in the first two sons of Adam: only one was the “seed” of the women; the other was spiritually the seed of the serpent. This truth is emphasized also in the first mentioned sons of Abraham. It was Isaac, not Ishmael, who was the “seed” of the women. The spiritual lesson being taught, of course, is that even in the believer there are two natures. The first, received by natural birth, is the seed of the serpent; the second, received by the new birth, is the “seed” of the woman, that is, it is the life of Christ, for He is the true “Seed” of the woman, as it is written, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ” (Ga 3:16).
This section demonstrates also the perfection of Scriptural order. From a human viewpoint it might seem as though chapters ten and eleven have been somewhat haphazardly written, with continuity unnecessarily broken. The very opposite, however, is apparent when the spiritual significance is discerned. Chapter ten has recorded the development of both lines, but it is not until we come to the section of chapter eleven which begins with verse ten that we can distinguish clearly the godly line from the ungodly. The first nine verses of chapter eleven disclose symbolically the end of the godless line, the seed of the serpent: they are rebels, and are therefore;, “scattered abroad.”
The truth being demonstrated is what is declared by Paul in 1 Co 15:46, “Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.” God first introduces that which represents the natural, and shows what its end must be. Then He takes up that which comes second, the spiritual. It is represented in those who constitute the godly line which descends through Peleg. There is no haphazard writing in Scripture. God has a reason for everything he does.
Having revealed the end of the ungodly line of the serpent, the Holy Spirit now returns to focus the divine spotlight on those sons of Noah who constitute the godly line. The descent of both lines from Shem teachs the truth that it is out of men who are born as sinners that the God of resurrection brings forth the godly, but only in response to faith.
The longevity and fruitfulness of the godly line point to the character of the life possessed by the redeemed: it is eternal and it is abundant.
11:10. “These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood.”
Not surprisingly, Arphaxad is the third-mentioned of Shem’s sons, the lesson of which is that since three is the number of resurrection, all who are in the godly line are there on the basis of resurrection. They are those who have been “crucified with Christ” but who now share His eternal resurrection life, they having been raised up out of spiritual death through faith in Him as Savior.
Since the study of Biblical numerology is enjoyed by only a few, and may be tedious to the majority of readers, and since enough has been given in previous chapters to enable the reader to determine the meanings of the numbers in this chapter, we will therefore, omit reference to the significance of the ages given in this section, except perhaps where some special significance may seem to attach to a particular number.
The references to Arphaxad’s birth as having been two years after the flood reminds us that the new birth, which places men in the godly line, places them also “after the flood,” that is, after judgment. The redeemed are forever beyond judgment. The flood waters of divine wrath against sin, having swept over his Substitute, the believer the believer stands on the resurrection side of judgment, as it is written, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Ro 8:1).
Arphaxad means I shall fail as the breast: he cursed the breast bottle, but I regret that I am unable to determine the spiritual lesson connected with either of these meanings.
11:11. “And Shem lived after he begat Arphaxad five hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.”
The significance of his longevity and fruitfulness after Arphaxad’s birth have already been noted, and need not be repeated here.
11:12. “And Arphaxad lived five and thirty years, and begot Shelah (or Salah).”
Shelah means a missile (as sent forth), but here too, I am unable to discern the spiritual lesson connected with that meaning.
11:13. “And Arphaxad lived after he begat Shelah four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters.”
11:14. “And Shelah lived thirty years, and begat Eber.”
There seems to be a special significance connected with Eber for in chapter ten verse 21 we read, “Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber ... were children born.” From this it would appear that there was something special about the children of Eber. A further interesting detail is given also in chapter ten verse 25, “And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided....” Since Peleg is the one who represents the godly line, it may be that the division of the earth in his days has reference, not only to a division of the earth physically, but to a spiritual division among those living on the earth. A hint of this may be found in the meaning of his father’s name beyond: the other side (as having crossed over). Is it possible that this division was connected with a necessity for men to declare whether they were for or against God, and that Eber was willing to “cross over” to take his place with God’s minority? It has also been suggested that the division may refer to the divisions which occurred when God confounded man’s language. Be that as it may, there is no doubt that something unusual marked Eber and his children (those at least descended from Peleg), and certainly it is their position in regard to God that has always divided men.
11:15. “And Shelah lived after he begat Eber four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters.”
11:16. “And Eber lived four and thirty years and begat Peleg.”
Peleg means a channel (as a cleft or a dividing). There is no reason to doubt that this has reference to his being the channel through which the godly line is to be clearly separated from the rest of the human race. From this point onward Scripture is occupied almost exclusively with the history of the Hebrew race, other nations being mentioned only as they have to do with the nation of Israel.
Chapter ten simply records Peleg’s birth, but not his descendants. In chapter eleven, however, God is clearly describing the godly line which is to produce Christ. Since Peleg is of that godly line it is fitting that his pedigree should be found here rather than amongst those who appear to be of the seed of the serpent.
11:17. “And Eber lived after he begat Peleg four hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters.”
11:18. “And Peleg lived thirty years, and begat Reu.”
Reu means associate ye: feed ye, and inasmuch as he is of the godly line the first meaning of his name may have an indirect reference to what characterizes men of faith: they are first of all associated with God through faith, and then also with other believers in the common bond of faith. The second meaning feed ye points to another distinguishing mark of men of faith: they nurture their new spiritual life by feeding on God’s Word.
11:19. “And Peleg lived after he begat Reu two hundred and nine years, and begat sons and daughters.”
11:20. “And Reu lived two and thirty years, and begat Serug.”
Serug means intertwined, suggesting perhaps the truth that all men of faith share a common spiritual life - the life of God Himself.
11.21. “And Reu lived after he begat Serug two hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters.”
11:22. “And Serug lived thirty years and begat Nahor.”
Nahor means snorter, a meaning which has a bad connotation (as we shall see in more detail in our study of chapter twenty-four), but this man’s grandson, also called Nahor, was the brother of Abraham, and the grandfather of Rebekah who is a type of the Church, reminding us that even men of the godly line still have with them the old Adamic nature which can no more produce good in the saint than in the sinner. It must be remembered that though Scripture records no evil of Abel, Enoch, Joseph, Daniel, for example (all men of the godly line), this may not be construed to teach that they were sinless. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only sinless man: there are flaws in the lives of all others, even the most godly), so we shouldn’t be surprised to find evil even in some of those who comprised the godly line. It is necessary to remember that in them, as in believers today, there was still the old Adamic nature incapable of producing anything except evil, so when we find in that line what is clearly bad, we are to recognize that in this God is reminding us of the inherent evil of the old nature, even in the saints.
11:23. “And Serug lived after he begat Nahor two hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.”
11:24. “And Nahor lived nine and twenty years, and begat Terah.”
Terah means thou mayest breathe. His history is continued in verse 31, and since the meaning of his name will be better understood in the context of that verse, we will reserve till then our discussion of it.
He is another, who though in the godly line, represents what is of the flesh rather than the Spirit.
11:25. “And Nahor lived after he begat Terah an hundred and nineteen years, and begat sons and daughters.”
11:26. “And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran.”
As verse twenty-seven makes very clear, the birth of Terah introduces a new section. It begins the history of Abraham, the great man of faith, and type of all men of faith. In verse twenty-seven Terah is spoken of as though he were the beginning of Abraham’s line, and he is therefore obviously to be viewed as a type of the natural man, for as Paul reminds us in 1 Co 15:46, that which is natural precedes that which is spiritual.
Abram means father is exalted, but Abraham, the new name given him later, means father of a great multitude. Nahor, as already noted means snorter; and Haran as a personal name means their mountain, but as a place name their burning.
Before being named Abraham, Abram lived according to the meaning of his name father is exalted, for very obviously he allowed his father to lead him to Haran, instead of to Canaan as God had directed, and it wasn’t till Terah had died in Haran that Abram then led the family into Canaan. Abram, like Terah, represents the flesh, but whereas Terah portrays the flesh in the natural man, Abram portrays the flesh in the believer.
God’s estimate of Abraham’s worth may be gathered from the fact that the next thirteen chapters of the Bible are devoted almost exclusively to him, while creation, re-creation, the fall, the flood, the building of Babylon, and the confusion of human speech, have all been covered in only eleven chapters.
Few parts of Scripture are richer in typical teaching than these chapters dealing with the life of Abraham. From his call to leave Ur, till his death and burial in the cave of Macpelah, he stands as the outstanding example of faith. Additional information regarding his call is furnished in Ac 7:2-4, “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia before he dwelt in Haran, and said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into a land which I shall show thee. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell.”
That Terah may have also received a call from God may be inferred from the fact that it was he who led the family out of Ur. His death in Haran, however, reveals that, like many another, his response to God’s call was incomplete: he left Ur, but didn’t enter Canaan. He seems to represent the many who are called, but it is Abraham who represents the few who are chosen, i.e., who make themselves God’s chosen by obeying His call in the Gospel.
Terah’s name means thou mayest breathe. God would have had him leave the polluted, idolatrous air of Ur, and breathe the air of eternal life by entrusting his life to God, and going into Canaan to walk by faith as a pilgrim and stranger. Ur means light, and Chaldea means as clod-breakers. It is a picture of the world whose only “light” is that supplied by mere earthly wisdom, which comes from those who are spiritual “clod-breakers,” i.e., men who are themselves made of the dust (without spiritual life), and who are concerned only with the things of earth.
11:27. “Now these are the generations of Terah; Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot.”
Having introduced Abram, the outstanding example of faith, the Holy Spirit proceeds to introduce Lot whose sorry history is a warning against carnality. His name means a wrapping, and this, combined with the meaning of his father’s name, teaches us a great deal about him which is confirmed in the record of his life. Being the offspring of one whose name means their mountain: and the corresponding place name their burning, he is characterized by what these things represent spiritually.
The mountain, in a good connection, represents a king and/or a kingdom. It also speaks of the might and power of God, and of the high separated ground which it is the believer’s privilege to occupy in his walk with God in separation from a sinful world. In its bad sense, however, it speaks of human power and pride, and the record of Lot’s life reveals that he was a man who was governed by pride and self-will.
Burning, the other meaning of Haran, in a good sense would speak of zeal for God, but in a bad connotation, as here, speaks of fleshly zeal and ambition in the eager pursuit of the worthless things of earth. That such worldly ambition motivated Lot is clearly revealed in the story of his life. With pride and ambition as the driving force of his life, that life became the “wrapping” which concealed the fact that underneath all that seemed to advertise the opposite, there was divine life. Were the OT our only source of information concerning Lot we would conclude that he was an unbeliever, but the record of the NT is that he was a believer. In 2 Pe 2:7-8 we read, “And (God) delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked; for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds.”
Lot is the outstanding example of a carnal believer, and the record of his wasted life is preserved as a warning to others not to follow in his foolish footsteps.
11:28. “And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldeans.”
Since the secondborn almost invariably represents the new life obtained through faith, the death of Haran before his father Terah, confirms symbolically that Terah never had the OT equivalent of a second, a spiritual birth. His life was not continued in his son Haran.
11:29. “And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.”
Sarai means my princesses, but Sarah, the new name given her later means a princess. Milcah means a queen; and Iscah he will pour her out: he will anoint her: he will screen her.
Haran’s being the father of these two daughters, Milcah and Iscah, is instructive, for it confirms in symbol that the flesh can produce nothing good. Queens are mentioned in the Bible in both a good and a bad connection, but since Haran himself portrays the unconverted man, his daughter Milcah a queen seems also to speak of bad rather than good, and in this connection it is to be remembered that in Re 18:7 the great false church declares herself to be a queen. Milcah therefore may be meant to remind us that Satan, using men as his agents, has produced his own evil counterfeit of the true Church.
Haran’s second daughter Iscah he will pour her out: he will anoint her: he will screen her, appears also to speak of the false church, for while anointing and screening are difficult to interpret, her being poured out may well point to God’s destruction of that apostate system at the end of the Tribulation.
In regard to anointing, it is to be remembered that it has a resemblance to consecration, i.e., setting apart for a special purpose, but there can be consecration to evil as well as to good; and relative to screening, the word suggests the shutting out of light, so that the screening here may well speak of the spiritual darkness which enshrouds the flesh. Everything associated with Haran declares that the flesh can produce nothing acceptable to God.
Nahor and Milcah both portray evil: he being a type of Satan; and Milcah, a type of the great false church. For a more detailed discussion of these two, see notes on chapter 22:20
In connection with Abram and Sarai, however, the spiritual lesson is clear. Abram represents faith; and Sarai, grace (see Gal 4:22-31), and throughout Scripture it is repeatedly emphasized that Sarai was Abram’s wife. In this God is directing attention to the husband-wife relationship which He views as being unbreakable, because it is a figure or type of the relationship that exists between faith and grace. That too, is a relationship which cannot be broken. A believer can never lose his salvation.
11:30. “But Sarai was barren: she had no child.”
As has been noted in other studies, the wife represents the expression of the man’s spiritual life, the godly wife representing the expression of true spiritual life; the ungodly, portraying the religion which the unbeliever mistakes for spiritual life.
In this context, then, the mention of Sarai’s barrenness teaches us that at this point in his life Abram’s spiritual life was unfruitful. It isn’t until the birth of Isaac that spiritual fruitfulness begins, and the history of Abram’s life up till then contains many a lesson for us against the activity of the flesh, for it hinders spiritual growth.
11:31. “And Terah took Abram, his son, and Lot, the son of Haran, his son’s son, and Sarai, his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.”
Terah perhaps had found that with all its worldly wisdom, Ur, like the world it represents, had nothing to satisfy the soul. So, hearing God’s call, either directly, or through Abraham, he gathered the family together, “And went forth from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan,” but, “they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.”
Haran their mountain: their burning, was a city east (the direction that is synonymous with departure from God) of Canaan, and still in the vicinity of Chaldea. Its spiritual meaning is bad, for it represents human pride and power in opposition to God. This step from Ur to Haran translates into what is so often man’s response to the Gospel: there is moral reformation, but not repentance and conversion. As measured by human standards, Haran may have been superior to Ur, just as by that same standard, morality is superior to immorality, but the fact remains that Haran was no less pagan than was Ur. God’s call was not to move from one pagan city to another. It was to move out of Chaldea into Canaan. God doesn’t call men to reform themselves morally: He calls them to be born again, that new birth making them citizens of another country, heaven.
Terah’s going to Haran instead of Canaan represents that moral reformation which makes a man religious, but without being born again. It is the symbolic picture of the man who decides to reform himself through mere religion, and which results in a very short time in his feeling himself superior to the irreligious. It produces, in fact, the spiritual Pharisee, who failing to perceive that he is still a guilty sinner, thanks God that he is “not as other men,” see Lk 18:10-12, all the while being ignorant of the fact that his religious pride makes him even more abominable in God’s sight.
Whatever superiority Haran may have had over Ur, the fact remains that, “Terah died in Haran.” Multitudes, following in his footsteps spiritually have also “died in Haran.” Morality is Satan’s deadly counterfeit of salvation. “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Pr 14:12).
Regarding the significance of the Bible’s compass directions, a careful study of Scripture reveals that the north is associated with intellect; the south, with faith; the east, with departure from God; and the west, with approach to God, and few places in Scripture illustrate this more clearly than the section we are now considering. Jerusalem lay directly west of Ur, while Haran lay northwest. In moving westward from Ur therefore, Terah would seem to have been going in the right direction, but he was going north-west, and that made the tragic difference, for the north speaks of human wisdom rather than faith. He was going in a way that seemed right, but as always when faith is displaced by human reasoning, it proved to be the way of death. Terah died in Haran.
When Abraham finally left Haran to go into Canaan he was travelling south-west, south being the direction of faith; and west, the direction of approach to God. Abraham’s way was the way of faith, and it resulted, not only in his entering the land of promise, but also in the honored preservation of his name to endless generations, and in the unique distinction of his being called, “the friend of God” (Jas 2:23).
Not only does God use compass directions to teach spiritual truth, He uses geography for the same purpose. Terah’s departure from Ur indicates an apparent willingness to obey God’s call, but a question that presents itself is, Why did he go northwest to Haran instead of directly westward to Canaan? One answer suggests itself. Directly westward between Ur and Canaan lay the great Arabian desert, but the northwest route to Haran lay along the fertile, populated Euphrates valley.
The spiritual lesson is easily read. The desert road would have required complete faith in God to provide food and water. (That He could be trusted to make that provision was demonstrated centuries later when He furnished bread and water, not just for one family for a few weeks or months, but for a nation numbering over two million, for forty years). Terah apparently didn’t have that faith, so he chose the way where it wasn’t needed, but the way he choose brought him to Haran, and “Terah died in Haran.” There is no other way to God than the way of faith, for “The just shall live by faith” (Ga 3:11).
God’s way to Canaan was westward across the desert (Jerusalem is directly west of Ur); but the desert wasn’t the only barrier between Canaan and Chaldea: there was also the Jordan.
Centuries later when God brought Terah’s descendants out of Egypt and into Canaan, He led them, not by the well-travelled highway that lay to the west, but into the desert east of Jordan, so that to enter Canaan, they must move westward through the desert, and they must cross Jordan. Translated into spiritual language, this teaches that the believer enters by faith into his inheritance (typified in Canaan) by traversing a world that is a wilderness incapable of providing anything to sustain spiritual life. In addition, he must cross “Jordan” (the Biblical symbol of death), i.e., he must not only see the world as a wilderness, he must also count himself to be dead to that world, “Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col 3:2). “How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?” (Ro 6:2); “Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin” (Ro 6:11).
While here on earth, the believer enters in spirit into the enjoyment of “Canaan,” but the full enjoyment awaits that day when, the “desert” crossed, the “Jordan” forded, he stands complete in heaven.
At this point it may be well to note that Canaan, strictly speaking, is not a type of heaven, but rather, a type of the spiritual realm into which the believer enters by faith, here and now on earth.
Another point we might notice in connection with Terah is that he demonstrates the principle stated in Heb 10:9, “He taketh away the first that He may establish the second.” Chronologically Terah preceded Abraham, just as the natural precedes the spiritual, but it was Abram, the second generation, who entered Canaan and inherited the promises, while Terah, the first, the representative of the natural, died in Haran. “Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.... flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Co 15:40-50). “Ye must be born again.... Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3-7).
11:32. “And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.”
This verse needs no comment. Terah stands as a warning to any who would attempt to enter heaven by any way other than that of faith.
The following table shows the time of the birth and death of each of these sons of Shem in relation to the creation of Adam, and to the flood. We have found that the flood appears to have been in the year 1656 after the creation of Adam. Continuing, then, to use the creation of Adam as the starting point, zero, it would seem that:
Noah 1056 2006 Shem 1558 2158 Arphaxad 1658 2096 Shelah 1693 2126 Eber 1723 2187 Peleg 1757 1996 Reu 1787 2026 Serug 1819 2049 Nahor 1849 1997 Terah 1878 2083 Abraham 1948 2123
Since Noah’s death didn’t occur until the year 2006 after the creation of Adam, he was the contemporary of all of these men, including Abraham, who appears to have been 58 years old when Noah died. Clearly, then, right up to the days of Abraham, man had first-hand knowledge of the flood from the lips of Noah himself, so that the idolatry of the world in Abraham’s time resulted from man’s refusal of Noah’s testimony.