Pentecost Sunday • Genesis 11:1–9 • May 23, 2010

By Dr. Arthur F. Graudin

Textual Notes
Genesis 1:1 through Genesis 11:1–9 has been referred to as “primeval history.”

According to the Hebrew, Genesis 11:1–9 forms a textual unit.

The text refers to the time after the Flood when “the whole world had one language and the same words” (ESV).

After the Flood, God (Elohiym) had instructed Noah and his sons (Gn 9:1), “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”

The people in the text have been referred to as “earthlings,” “humankind,” “descendants of Adam,” and “Adamites.”

The divine name YHWH appears five times in this passage: 11:5, 11:6, 11:8, 11:9 (2x). Moses understands that YHWH was the covenant God already in the days prior to Abram/Abraham. YHWH was in control of the destinies of mankind.

The Hebrew verb banah (build) (v. 5) is in the perfect tense and should ordinarily be translated “had built” (ESV) or “built.” This gives rise to the suggestion that the reason YHWH “came down” was that in the eyes of YHWH the effort of the “earthlings” was minuscule and emphasized the “smallness” of the project.

“Word plays” in the Hebrew text include: “brick bricks;” Babylon, “city of god(s),” becomes “Babel,” “city of confusion.”

Verses 1–4 of our text indicate the “earthlings’” actions and motive
Verse 5 introduces YHWH as the dominant factor.
Verses 6–9 indicate YHWH’s reaction and action.

The text provides the biblical basis for understanding how all the world’s languages and the divisions of people came to be.

Humankind’s attempts to establish one universal language continue to fail.

The Holy Spirit established the one universal language—the language of faith—based on God’s forgiveness and love as evidenced through Jesus Christ (his incarnation, perfect substitutionary life, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and anticipated return in glory).

Liturgical Context

In its context in the Lessons for Series C, Pentecost Sunday, Genesis 11:1–9 provides the backdrop for the account of the first Christian Pentecost reported in Acts 2:1–21. YHWH is in control of the situation. The “earthlings”/”humankind”/the descendants of Adam and Noah are described as acting contrary to the express will of YHWH. YHWH confuses the language/speech of the people. The people are scattered.

Acts 2:1–21 reports the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which results in people of various ethnic backgrounds understanding in their own language the preaching of the Apostles.

Suggested Outline

Earthlings Propose They decide to make use of current technology.
Earthlings Act They “brick bricks” and select “bitumen”/“tar” for mortar.
Earthlings Propose They decide to use the building materials.
Earthlings Act They build a city and a tower.
Motive They do not want to be scattered.

YHWH Observes YHWH comes down.
YHWH Acts YHWH confuses their ability to understand one another.
Purpose To return them to his original plan.

The Persons of the Trinity Propose
The Father determined to save people from their sins through his Son.
Jesus Christ determined to send the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit desires to save people through the
Means of Grace—the Word of God and the Sacraments.

To return people to God’s original plan at the time of Creation.

The Holy Spirit Acts
The Word of God proclaimed by the followers of Jesus Christ becomes the one universal language of faith (Law/Gospel) that enables people to call on the name of the Lord in anticipation of “the Lord’s great and glorious day.”

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