Continuing to walk through the Book of Genesis: There has been a new creation. In Genesis 8-9 we’ve found a man (Noah) on a mountain (Ararat) in the middle of a formless world (covered in water) like we found a man (Adam) on a mountain (Eden) in Genesis 2 in the middle of a formless world (wilderness). The Man is commissioned to fill the earth as before. In Genesis 9v18-11v9 we’re desperately hoping that we will see him multiply and fill the earth so that one of his seed will crush the seed of the serpent (3v15). Like the first Man he has three sons so there is hope, and at least one of them now has a son (called Canaan 9v18 and repeated in v22). We want to see them scatter and cultivate the world, under God's rule. There wont be a flood and we'd love to see no sin either. We especially don’t want to see sin like when Adam and Eve ate the fruit in Genesis 3, nor the idolatry and of Cain in chapter 4, nor the boasting city builders Cain and Lamech.
1. Naked Man Sins With Fruit.
What happens next? Genesis 9v18-24. We find the man working the soil (hurrah!) and then we find him drunk, uncovered in his tent (tent to temple to Eden is pushing it, right?). Wine should have gladened the heart of man and helped him enjoy his days on earth (Ecclesiastes 9v7 etc), but not on this occasion...
Instead we find: a naked man sinning with fruit, again (like Adam). And we find his son (Ham, father of Canaan) rather than defeating sin watching and then going to tell his brothers. When Adam sinned there was shame and he and Eve covered themselves with leaves, only to be covered properly through the death of animals. Sin’s shame should be covered with righteousness not with indulgence, flaunting or gossip. This covering of shame points forward to Jesus whose righteousness will cover all shame and bring us back into the bliss of Eden where Adam and his wife knew nakedness without shame – so too Christ and his church will live without shame. This is instructive for Israel in the wilderness and Moses first reads it to them. They need their shame covering too.
The brothers of Ham (father of Canaan) keep their backs turned and cover their father’s shame. For this Ham’s son is cursed and told he’ll be a servant of the other brothers. This has massive implications for Israel in the wilderness and they look at the land of Canaan ahead of them. The inhabitants of that land should not petrify them – they will serve Israel (the Shemites/semites…)! There is hope in the prophecy of Noah! God’s people will take the promised land. Rest can be entered. So too we rejoice.
The “table of nations” follows in chapter 10 painting a picture of the world that we can recognise with it’s familiar nations and places like Tarshish, Egypt, Babel, Nineveh and references to the Philistines. Nations come from people, just as a nation will be born from a man called Israel later in this book. And once more we have Mighty Men (as in chapter 6), giants who oppose God – Nimrod, the Philistines and others in the cursed family of Ham.
2. The Fall of the City of Giants
In Genesis 11v1-4 we find men building a city. This too is not new. Cain built a city. And like that city this also is a city for resisting the Lord’s mandate to scatter and make the Lord famous. Again men seek to stay where they are and to make their own name great. They set themselves up against God. Leading this building project is Nimrod (10v8-12), a mighty man before the Lord – a man against the Lord. This city of giants (10v13) opposed to God is a familiar site to the Israelites in the wilderness. They see cities like Jericho with great walls occupied by giants (Numbers 13) who make them feel like grasshoppers. Who can stand against such enemies?
Yet, the Lord looks down (11v5-9) on this project to build a tower into the heavens (a project architects continue to pursue even in the 21st Century). The Lord has to stoop down to see the pinacle of human effort - the Father and Son and Holy Spirit cast their view upon the matter. Like the words that finally exiled the Man from Eden they conclude he must be stopped for his own good. His sin will ruin him (see also 3v22). In the days of Peleg (10v25), Nimrod and his cohorts are stopped in their tracks and they are scattered globally with confused language. Doubtless they will build other idolatrous cities but their efforts will be limited by their dispersion and confusion. The derelict monument to human greatness is named for the confusion, Babel.
At times man will conspire again with a common language in global empires under the ever evil Babel, or under Greece, Rome or in the 21st Century with the common language of English. I have relatives in Canada who advocate a global democracy made possibly by the internet and common language (as if you could persuade everyone of the validity of democracy, but I guess if you want to let India and China rule the world it might be a way forward… following the inspiration of Einstein: "There is no salvation for civilization, or even the human race, other than the creation of a world government." Sinful man is ever arrogant.
At Pentecost (Acts 2) the news of the resurrection of Jesus will transcend the confusion and men will perceive drunken confusion but hear the gospel, and in eternity men and women will gather in the redemption of the new creation. Speaking praise to God in their sin-caused languages gathered around the slain lamb who died because of sin, ever humbled by their sin, ever thankful for the Lord’s intervention. For the wilderness wanderers of Israel the fall of the city of giants is great encouragement. Jericho will fall. Ozymandias' mighty works will fall. The land will be theirs. Rest can be attained. The Lord will not tolerate evil forever. So too we look to that hope. But also, we stand challenged – such arrogance and conspiracy as human pride does not go unnoticed. If we persist in it we should expect the Lord to come and confound our pride, and our only hope will be to be covered like Noah.