"The Origin of Languages/Beginning of Nations"
I. The Origin of Languages/ The Beginning of Nations
1. After the Flood
After the Flood, God commanded Noah and his sons to replenish the earth. In fulfilling this command, the human race was to spread out gradually over the face of the entire earth to repopulate it. Once again, however, the overwhelming majority of humankind disobeyed the voice of God. Instead of spreading out over the earth, they located in one specific area and decided to stay there and build a city.
2. The Tower of Babel
“And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 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. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, Go to, 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” (Genesis 11:1–4).
a. The Self-Centeredness of the People
Notice the self-centeredness of these people and their disregard for God’s commandment. He wanted them to scatter over the whole earth to replenish it, but they wanted to build a city and a tower as a center for all humankind to prevent themselves from scattering! In other words, their desire was exactly the opposite of God’s Word.
b. Different Languages Introduced
Up to this time, everyone on the earth spoke the same language. Essentially, there was only one nation upon the face of the earth. This made the people’s goal of constructing a great city all the more possible. But the Lord observed their disobedience and said, “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:6–7). By introducing different languages among the people, the Lord stopped their sinful effort. They could no longer communicate sufficiently to complete such an ambitious project, and they began to spread over the face of the earth, everybody finding their place with those with whom they could talk.
3. The Judgment of God in Dispersing the People
The judgment of God caused the origin of languages and the beginning of nations. As a result, the earth was repopulated by the descendants of Noah as follows:
a. Shem’s Sons
Shem’s sons were Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram. Some of the nations that sprang from these sons were the Persians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Hebrews, Lydians, and Syrians. They settled in Assyria, Syria, Persia, northern Arabia, and Mesopotamia.
b. Ham’s Sons
Ham’s sons were Cush, Mizraim, Phut, and Canaan. Some of the nations to spring from these men were the Ethiopians, Egyptians, Libyans, and Canaanites. Ham’s descendants settled in Africa and Arabia.
c. Japheth’s Sons
Japheth’s sons were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. From them came the Russians, Germans, Britons, Scythians, Medes, Ionians, Athenians, Iberians, and Thracians. They settled in Asia Minor, Caucasia, and Europe.
The Chosen Nation- The Time of the Patriarchs
II. The Time of the Patriarchs
As in the days of Noah, God looked upon the earth and found a man with whom He could make a covenant. This man had come from Ur of the Chaldees with his father, Terah. The man’s name was Abram. The Lord told Abram to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house to journey to a land that God would show him. The Lord promised, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:2–3). Abram obeyed the Lord and left his home in Haran when he was seventy-five years old. He took his wife, Sarai, and his nephew, Lot, and they traveled to the land of Canaan. When the Lord called Abram, he had no children. Part of God’s promise was that He would make of Abram a great nation. This promise was subsequently fulfilled, as seen in Deuteronomy 4:6; I Kings 3:8–9; and Joshua 21:43–45.
The days passed, however, without any physical sign that God was keeping His promise. Finally, as human beings often do, Abram and Sarai decided to take matters into their own hands. Sarai, who had an Egyptian handmaid named Hagar, said unto Abram, “Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her” (Genesis 16:2). Abram acted on his wife’s counsel, which was according to the custom of the time, and Ishmael was born of this union. By trying to help God out because they could see no visible sign of His promise coming to pass, Abram and Sarai brought many sorrows to their family. Ishmael and their son, Isaac, would have conflicts. The seeds were sown for conflict between the Arabs and the Jews, nations who sprang from these two men.
3. God’s Covenant with Abraham
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly” (Genesis 17:1–2). As Abram fell on his face before God, the Lord continued to talk with him. God renewed His promise to make him the father of many nations and changed his name to Abraham. Abram means “high father”; Abraham means “father of a multitude.” He also changed Sarai’s name to Sarah. Sarai means “princess”; Sarah means “my princess.” Then God gave a token of His covenant. He said, “This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token betwixt me and you” (Genesis 17:10–11). Abraham took his son Ishmael with all the male members of his household, and they were all circumcised the same day in obedience to God’s Word.
Strife developed between the herdmen of Abraham’s cattle and those of Lot. The problem was that both Abraham and Lot were very rich, with many flocks, herds, and tents, and the land simply was not able to bear them. Abraham said to Lot, “Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left” (Genesis 13:8–9).
a. Lot’s Choice
Abraham was very gracious in allowing his nephew to make the first choice. Lot observed the well-watered plain of Jordan and chose that for himself. He then journeyed east, separating himself from Abraham and pitching his tent in the direction of Sodom. This proved to be a mistake for Lot, for the people of Sodom were wicked and terrible sinners in the Lord’s eyes (Genesis 13:13). It is always dangerous to go in the direction of sin.
b. Judgment against Sin
God observed the mounting wickedness in Sodom and Gomorrah, where Abraham’s nephew, Lot, lived with his family. The Lord appeared to Abraham and informed him that the cities would be destroyed. Abraham, knowing that his relatives lived in the doomed city of Sodom, sought the Lord to spare the city. He agreed to do so, if only ten righteous people could be found. But, sadly, Sodom and Gomorrah were so wicked that not even ten righteous people could be located (Genesis 18).
c. Angels of Mercy
The angels visited Lot and removed him, his wife, and two unmarried daughters from the city. God sent angels of mercy to Sodom that day. The prayers of Abraham did not save the cities, but they did save Lot. Lot was blessed to have an uncle who stayed close to the Lord. But Lot’s grievous error in moving into this wicked city took its toll. He had to leave behind daughters who had married men of Sodom. In disobedience to the angel’s commands, his wife looked back as they were fleeing and turned into a pillar of salt. However, Lot and his two unmarried daughters fled for their lives. Because of the great wickedness of these cities, God destroyed them with fire and brimstone. Today, they have been wiped off the face of the earth. Some Bible students believe the destruction of these cities may have been connected with the formation of the Dead Sea. The judgment of God upon Sodom and Gomorrah stands forever as a solemn warning to any who would violate God’s Word. “And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha [Gomorrah] into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly” (II Peter 2:6). As one author noted, “The teachings of Christ are not unlike a river that flows for a long time smoothly and noiselessly between its banks and then suddenly takes the tremendous plunge of the cataract. In the utterance of Jesus about the coming of His kingdom we have the cataract note of His preaching. The same lips which pronounced the Beatitudes and spake the quiet parables of growth and development tell of the coming of His kingdom and the great and terrible day of the LORD.” Judgment is coming! It is time to prepare!
5. Isaac, the Promised Son
At last, in God’s time, Sarah conceived and gave birth to a son. Abraham named the child Isaac and circumcised him when he was eight days old. Abraham was one hundred years old when Isaac was born. God had kept His promise, but He was not yet finished trying Abraham’s faith.
a. Abraham’s Faith Tested
God said to Abraham, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of” (Genesis 22:2). What thoughts must have gone through Abraham’s mind! God had promised him a son. The promise had taken many years to be fulfilled, and now God commanded him to sacrifice that son! Abraham was a man of great faith in God, however. He knew that Isaac was the promised son that God had given him. He believed that through Isaac God would raise up countless offspring as He had promised. He knew that, even if he offered Isaac to God, God was able to raise him up from the dead in order to keep His word.
As Hebrews 11:17–19 says, “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”
b. Abraham’s Obedience
“And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22:3). On the third day of their journey, Abraham saw in the distance the mountain upon which God had commanded that he offer Isaac. He told the servants to stay behind while he and Isaac went to worship. Abraham’s faith is clear in the statement that he made to his servants: “I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you” (Genesis 22:5). He believed that God had a divine purpose in the task that he had been asked to perform.
c. Abraham’s Continuing Faith
As Abraham and Isaac traveled toward their destination, Isaac noticed they had everything but the sacrifice. He asked, “Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering!” Abraham responded with a statement of eternal significance: “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:7–8). After they had prepared the altar, Abraham bound his son and placed him on the altar. Then Abraham stretched forth his hand with the knife to slay his son. At that moment, the angel of the Lord called, “Abraham, Abraham!” “Here am I,” he answered. “Lay not thine hand upon the lad,” said the angel, “neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Genesis 22:12). Abraham’s faith had been tested by what was dear to him, and he came through the trial victoriously. After Abraham heard the voice of the angel, he turned and saw a ram caught by its horns in the thicket nearby. God had provided a sacrifice. Abraham’s statement was prophetic in that many years later Jesus Christ, who was God manifest in the flesh, came as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29; I Timothy 3:16). What a marvelous thing is faith! In the history of our country men traveled by horseback and had to cross rivers swollen by the rains. If they looked at the swirling waters around them, they would become dizzy and possibly fall from the saddle and be swept away. But if they fixed their eye upon the other bank, a tree, a large rock, or a hillside, they would ride safely through. Similarly, in the storms of life, faith is the balance that gives calmness and victory. It is important to fix our eyes, not upon the shifting scene around us, but upon the solid rock, Jesus Christ.
The Chosen People
III. Jacob and Esau
It was through Isaac that God had promised to raise up descendants to Abraham. Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, had two sons, Esau and Jacob. Like Cain and Abel, these two sons were quite different. The Lord had said to Rebekah, “Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23).
Esau, the elder son, was a cunning hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a man of the plains who dwelled in tents.
1. Esau Sells His Birthright
Jacob, the younger of the two, was making stew one day when Esau came in from the field. Esau was hungry and said, “Feed me, I pray thee with that same red pottage; for I am faint” (Genesis 25:30). Esau appears to have been a man who was concerned with fleshly, physical things. He was guided by his senses.
When he was hungry, satisfying his appetite was the most important thing in the world to him. Jacob, on the other hand, had an appreciation for spiritual things, although he was by no means perfect. In response to Esau’s request, Jacob demanded, “Sell me this day thy birthright” (Genesis 25:31).
The birthright was the privilege given to the oldest son. It gave him preferred treatment in the family, including first claim on the inheritance. Esau was so oriented to the present, rather than the future, that he answered, “Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?” (Genesis 25:32). “Swear to me this day,” Jacob insisted, and Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for bread and stew of lentils. Then Esau arose and went his way, having sold out a most valuable blessing for a temporary, fleshly satisfaction (Genesis 25:33–34). How sad it is that when confronted with a choice of preparing for the future eternity or receiving a small measure of satisfaction right now, many will choose the present. Such people are looking at things that are seen and not things that are eternal (II Corinthians 4:18).
2. Jacob Steals the Blessing
The dramatic scene of Jacob gaining Esau’s birthright was not their last encounter over family blessings. When Isaac was old and his vision dim so that he could not see, he called Esau, his favorite of the two boys, and asked Esau to go into the field with his bow and arrows for some venison. Isaac enjoyed the meat and wanted to eat some prior to bestowing upon Esau the blessing due to the firstborn. Rebekah heard Isaac’s instructions to Esau, and she instructed Jacob, who was her favorite son, to bring her two kids of the goats. She prepared the meat that Isaac liked and disguised Jacob by putting the goat skins on Jacob’s hands and neck and giving him Esau’s clothing to wear.
Then, pretending to be Esau, Jacob went to his blind father and presented Isaac with the meat. Isaac was surprised that Esau had returned so soon with the meat, and he was a bit skeptical. He called Jacob near in order to touch him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau” (Genesis 27:22). But Isaac was unable to distinguish that it was Jacob, and he gave Jacob Esau’s blessing. Shortly thereafter, just as Jacob had left his father, Esau came in.
Isaac was very disturbed that he had been deceived. Esau cried with a bitter cry, but the blessing could not be reversed. Esau hated Jacob and planned to kill him in revenge. Rebekah heard of his plans and urged Jacob to flee to Haran, where her brother, Laban, lived.
3. Jacob’s Encounter with God (Genesis 28:10–22)
As Jacob traveled, he came to a place called Luz, where he prepared to stay the night. While he slept, he dreamed of a ladder set up on the earth with its top reaching heaven. The angels of God were going up and down on the ladder.
Above the ladder stood the Lord, who said, “I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 28:13–14). Jacob awoke and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.” Being afraid, he continued, “How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:16–17).
4. Jacob Remembers the House of the Lord
Early in the morning, Jacob rose and set up a pillar from the stones he had used for pillows. He poured oil on the pillar and called the name of the place Bethel, which means “house of God.” Jacob vowed, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee” (Genesis 28:20–22). Thus God renewed with Jacob the covenant that He had made with his father, Isaac, and his grandfather, Abraham.
5. Jacob Wrestles with the Angel of the Lord
Twenty years later, after Jacob had spent time with his uncle Laban and had begun his family, he was on his way back to see his aged father. He heard that Esau was coming to meet him, and fear rose up in his heart as he remembered his brother’s pledge to kill him. Sending his family on, Jacob stayed behind. An angel of the Lord wrestled with him until daybreak. When the angel saw that Jacob was not going to release him, he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh, permanently shrinking the sinew and causing him to limp. The angel said, “Let me go, for the day breaketh.” Jacob answered, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” The angel asked, “What is thy name?” “Jacob,” he replied. “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob,” said the angel, “but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (Genesis 32:24–28).
Because of his persistence, Jacob received the blessing that he desired and left that place a different man. His former name, Jacob, meant “supplanter” and had the connotation of trickery and deceit. His new name, Israel, meant “he who strives with God.” There was also a physical difference: every time he took a step, the limp reminded him of his encounter with the angel of the Lord. Certainly, when we come into the presence of God and determine to receive God’s best, a miraculous change takes place. We are never the same!
The Chosen People
God reaffirmed His covenant with Jacob (Israel), and Jacob fathered twelve sons (Genesis 35:22–26). One of Jacob’s sons, Joseph, was chosen by God to be a preserver of the family of Jacob (Genesis 45:5).
1. Joseph’s Dreams
Joseph was sensitive to the Lord and a person of high moral character. His brothers became jealous of him when they saw that their father loved him above the other sons. Later, Joseph had some dreams that suggested his brothers and mother and father would bow down to him (Genesis 37:3–11).
2. Joseph Sold into Slavery
Predictably, Joseph’s brothers’ hatred for him increased. One day, when Jacob sent Joseph to check on his brothers, they saw an opportunity to rid themselves of him forever. After casting him into a pit, they sold him to some Midianite merchants for twenty pieces of silver. The Midianites took him into Egypt, where they sold him to Potiphar, who was one of Pharaoh’s officers and a captain of the guard. (See Genesis 37:23–28.)
3. Jacob Deceived
After having disposed of Joseph, his brothers took a goat and killed it, dipping Joseph’s coat in the blood. They brought the coat to their father and asked, “Is this thy son’s coat?” “It is my son’s coat,” Jacob declared. “An evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces.” In his despair, Jacob refused to be comforted and mourned with tears for Joseph (Genesis 37:29–36). Meanwhile, Joseph, being the conscientious, godly man that he was, did his very best as a servant to Potiphar. He had every reason for bitterness and an excuse to be sullen. Instead he served his master diligently. Potiphar saw that God was with him and that everything Joseph did prospered. Finally, Potiphar made Joseph the overseer of all that he had. Potiphar concerned himself only with the food that was set before him to eat; Joseph took care of everything.
4. Joseph’s Temptation
Joseph’s trials were not over, however. Potiphar’s wife became infatuated with Joseph and daily tempted him to commit adultery with her. He steadfastly refused her advances, until one day, as he fled from her presence, she grasped part of his clothing. Seeing that she was rebuffed, she contrived to accuse Joseph of trying to assault her, using his clothing as proof. Potiphar, his wrath kindled, put Joseph in prison. A great sculptor once formed a beautiful statue representing the soul and its choice between good and evil. It was a child clutching a dove to its chest and being assailed by a serpent. This symbol fits everyone. The story of the temptation of the human spirit is never out of date.
5. Joseph in Prison
Even in prison, Joseph kept the right attitude. He refused to be bitter, and he looked for opportunities to serve God. The keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners and the complete management of the prison. Even in prison, God blessed Joseph and prepared the way for the fulfillment of His plan. In the prison were two men who had served Pharaoh, one as chief butler and the other as chief baker. They both had dreams, which Joseph interpreted. True to Joseph’s interpretation, the butler was restored to his office, while the baker was hanged.
The Chosen People
6. Joseph’s Elevation under Pharaoh
At the end of two years, Pharaoh had a dream, and none of his men could interpret it. Then the butler remembered Joseph and suggested to Pharaoh that Joseph might be able to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Pharaoh called for Joseph, who told him the significance of his dream: Egypt would experience seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh promoted Joseph to the position of second most powerful ruler in all of Egypt and gave to this thirty-year-old Hebrew the responsibility of storing up food during the seven years of plenty in preparation for the drastic famine that was to follow (Genesis 41:46). Joseph experienced two periods of bondage in his life: the first, when his brothers sold him into slavery, and the second, when Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of attempted rape. Joseph did not let his circumstances define him. On the contrary, he worked hard, trusted God, and he was rewarded with promotion for his good work. Each of us also has experienced some kind of bondage. Unlike Joseph, that bondage is rarely physical, more often we are in bondage to our lusts and desires. However, we can live free from bondage if we are willing to trust in the Lord and commit to walk in His path.
7. Joseph’s Brothers Come to Egypt
When the famine came to Egypt, it also affected the land of Canaan, where Joseph’s family still lived. When Jacob heard that Egypt had grain, he sent his sons—all except the youngest son, Benjamin—to buy some. The person in charge of selling grain was Joseph, and just as he had dreamed many years previously, his brothers came before him bowing down to the earth! Recognizing them, Joseph disguised himself and spoke roughly, trying to find out if his father was still alive and attempting to devise a plan to bring his father to Egypt. He accused his brothers of being spies. When they denied the charges and said that they were all the sons of one man, Joseph took one of them, Simeon, and bound him until the others could return with their youngest brother, Benjamin, as proof of their innocence. Jacob was greatly troubled and refused to send Benjamin for fear that he too would never return. But when the famine grew worse, the family had no choice but to comply with Joseph’s instructions. Judah took personal responsibility for Benjamin, and the brothers traveled to Egypt once again. This time, Joseph devised a plan to keep Benjamin, which involved secretly returning the brothers’ money in the mouth of their sacks and putting his personal silver cup in the sack of Benjamin. When the brothers were stopped by Joseph’s servant and returned to him, Joseph could no longer refrain from revealing to them exactly who he was. He wept aloud, and said, “I am Joseph; does my father yet live?”
8. Joseph Forgives His Brothers
His brothers, troubled and surprised, could not answer. Then Joseph, who had every reason to be bitter, harsh, and unforgiving, said, “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5). Long before the New Testament was ever written, Joseph had learned one of the most valuable lessons that we can ever learn: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). As he was to say later, “Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20).
9. Jacob and His Family Settle in Goshen
Joseph supplied his brothers with wagons and equipment. They returned to Canaan and brought their father, Jacob, back to Egypt to settle in the land of Goshen, the choice land of all Egypt. Here they enjoyed many years of blessings, peace, and plenty while Joseph was alive.