Genesis 9-11: The dispersion of nations

The Angel of the Lord by the ark

Chapter 8 ended on an interesting note, which I think I should cover v. briefly.

The maintenance of the seasonal changes and night/day should not be overlooked, in the same way we shouldn’t overlook Noah’s offering to the LORD. Noah had looked forward to Christ, because he himself is not the righteous one. If anything, the LORD looked upon him because of his faith in Christ shown through his meat offering. What is God trying to say here though? –

“While the earth remains, seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 9:22).

We know that the testimony of ‘day’ and ‘night’ are respectively showing the truth of the light and darkness, the Light of lights as opposed to the prince of darkness who pretends to be light. The seasonal changes, the seed-time and harvest also preach the gospel in their own way – from winter, to fall (the American for ‘autumn’ is so much more befitting to the portrayal of the gospel), to spring and then to summer – all preaching the message of death to life and to death again. Such is our story – we rise from the dust, we live by the Spirit as our firstfruit of the new kingdom to come (Ephesians 1) and yet we return to dust again (Genesis 3:19). So while this earth remains, the gospel preached by Christo-centric natural theology will remain. But this forward-looking hope need no longer remain when creation is renewed.

Now to the meat of Chapter 9 to 11, just a few subheadings to make things clear.

1. Why are men allowed to eat meat now? (Genesis 9:3-7)

2. Re-establishment of the covenant? Progressive revelation? The origin of the rainbow (Genesis 9:8-17)

3. The fall of Noah and the future of his sons (Genesis 9:18-29)

4. The table of Nations (Genesis 10)

5. Works-salvation via the tower of Babel and the confusion of ‘tongue’ (Genesis 11:1-9)

6. The remnant via Shem (Genesis 11:10-32)


1. Why are men allowed to eat meat now? (Genesis 9:3-7)

Firstly, to counter any type of restriction of food, God’s mandate here is that all food is for our consumption. Paul’s argument in Romans and in 1 Timothy 4:4 clearly shows that all food is clean and for our sustenance.

Maybe looking at the pattern of events will help.

(a) Firstly, in the ending part of chapter 8, the animals left the ark in ‘families’ and it is Abraham who then offers a pleasing aroma to God – whereby the animals for the offering had been provided by God himself. This again happens later when Abraham sacrifices Isaac and a ram was provided by God. What is most important to notice is that this isn’t the first time the LORD has killed an animal for man. But this IS the first time the LORD has killed flesh on a global scale.

(b) This is followed by Noah’s meat offering of ‘pleasing aroma’ to God, and then God provides the similar pronouncement for men afterwards (chapter 9v.7). What are the implications of this? Why the lag?

(c) Then the re-establishment of the covenant by the rainbow (Genesis 9:8-17 – I will look at this under subtitle 2).

We must remember that what God said in his heart about the seasonal and daily changes (chapter 8v. 21-22) is not said directly to Noah immediately after his offering. What is immediately said is God preaching to Noah that man should not eat flesh with its life, but must eat flesh without blood. This is very interesting – why without blood?

Because the blood is for the Father, whereas the ‘living flesh’ is what we feed on. This concept of feeding on life is very important because it is meant to point to the feeding off the bread of life. This is why the Mosaic law has strict eating requirements – because it displays an aspect of the gospel. This is why God told us not to eat from the tree of good and evil, but the tree of life. But the key is not in the eating – the eating points to the truth.

Perhaps you need to read this in conjunction to the next section on the rainbow, but I believe the establishment of meat-eating is a result of the flood – the flood which is an expression of God killing the wicked flesh. For man to eat of flesh now (after the first time flesh has been killed on a global scale), in conjunction with the rainbow as a symbol of the covenant, it is a two fold witness. More on this after point number 2 which I turn to now.

2. Re-establishment of the covenant? Progressive revelation? The origin of the rainbow (Genesis 9:8-17)

This pattern follows that of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses… this whole business of God re-establishing the covenant is NOT and should NOT be a product of progressive revelation. The problem here is the assumption that Adam, Noah, Abraham and the other stooges had no conscious idea of the mediation of Christ. Something is at odd here. What of the animal sacrifices? What of the feeding of the flesh for life? What of the preaching on the blood? What of God’s provision for these animal sacrifices?

If anything, just like Christians today, the ‘re-establishment’ of the covenant is merely a ‘reminder’ of the covenant. When was the last time you went to an evangelistic Christian event and was refreshed, despite being a Christian for an odd 50+ years? How is this any different from re-establishing your ‘first love’? (Rev 2:4 a la church of Ephesus).

Therefore, this is not a ‘dispensation’; neither is this “a” covenant among many. This is merely a statement, confirming what had been stated in Genesis 3:15; what will be stated in Genesis 12; what is again stated in Genesis 15. Why in this way? There is a parallel between the establishment of the rainbow as a “sign of the covenant” and circumcision as a “sign of the covenant” (Genesis 17:9-14).

Before I talk about the rainbow and covenant theology, I want to clarify one thing. I am not saying that Adam knew where and when Christ would be born; I am not saying that Noah knew Christ would be a Nazarene and would wear a crown of thorns. What I am saying, however, is that Adam, Enoch, Noah are examples of Christians who have sufficient knowledge of the mediatorial work; of the God-man seed; of the blood necessary for the sacrifice; of the grace of God’s provision of this atoning sacrifice; of the Spirit of God who strives in all men. This, I would say, is far more clear, revealed and profound than the average Christian’s knowledge of God today.

Onto the rainbow – I’m not a big fan of natural sciences/theology, but provided a cross-centered theology can come from the natural sciences, then I’m the biggest fan, for all creation speaks his name (Psalm 19 and Romans 1). Why in particular did God choose to use a rainbow? In the covenant shown through circumcision, God shows that blood must be shed and cut from the flesh, from where the seed will come from (yes, the male genitalia, hence women are excluded from this rite). Then the covenant shown through baptism, to signal the baptism of the heart. Without going into the debate of whether baptism is a direct continuation from circumcision (..it is) and whether these covenant expressions relate to the same covenant (..they are), let us look at what Peter has to say about baptism for example:

“…because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Christ” (1 Peter 3:20-21)

How is it possible that baptism be something spoken of BEFORE the Spirit was given to all flesh? That is because the covenant of grace, the one covenant, has been established long before. Of what covenant did John speak of in 2 John 5? This is not a new commandment, “but the one we have had from the beginning – that we love one another”. Thus, each covenants merely re-confirm something old and in the past. The gospel has been provided to Noah, but this time the expression is shown through the expression of the rainbow. Does circumcision not apply? Does baptism not apply? I think both are applicable to Noah; in the same way, do we require baptism? Do we require circumcision? Indeed we don’t ‘require’ them to be saved; but they are marks of our salvation in this period of time, when Christ has fulfilled his work on the cross. Circumcision no longer carries the same weight. Baptism carries the new sacramental weight that circumcision once carried.

But the rainbow is especially wonderful – it is something that establishes God covenant with men throughout all ages; as if showing that the covenant made between Adam and him still endures to this day! What is most important about this covenant is that it is from God to us, rather than from us to him. Dr. Mike Reeves, the theological advisor for the UCCF, says that the problem of today’s view of the holy sacraments is that it is a ‘self-expression of faith’; contrarily, God never viewed the sacraments as such. Baptism, circumcision, the communion, and the rainbow – are all established and fulfilled by God himself. We are merely administers of what has been won; we are merely the messengers of the victory which we did not gain by our own strength. In the same way, the rainbow proclaims this truth. Can we control when and where the rainbow appears? No. Can the circumcised 8-day old infants control when and where they are to be circumcised? If not, I don’t see why suddenly we can control when to be baptised; when to have communion… the logic doesn’t follow (unless, of course, you don’t think these 4 covenantal expressions are different altogether?). It is, if anything, an expression from God to us – not from us to Him. The gospel is thrusted upon all men on earth without our choice; our choice lies in receiving it. It, however, is our choice to DENY the gospel being spread by the doctrine of credo-baptism; our choice to DENY communion being taken by those who don’t ‘appear’ to be Christians (e.g. young Christians are denied communion in several churches).

In the same way, paraphrasing C.S. Lewis, we all stand under the same sun-light, which witnesses the true light by which we see all things in their truth. Can we control how the sun’s rays are spread across the earth? … I think not. However, it is our choice to create pollution and stop the natural sun rays from reaching every corner of the earth. If it is unnatural for the rainbow not to be displayed through the devices of nature, then it should be equally unnatural for other sacraments to be denied its rightful expression just because WE are cautious about the gospel.

A little thing to say about the science of ‘light’ which consists of the colours of the rainbow. Perhaps you can tell me more about how rainbows come around, but as far as I remember, the combination of rain and the sunlight provide us with this wonderful imagery. Science in the gospel? Surely not!! Perhaps this would make some sense if we accept that Jesus is ‘the’ true rationale, ‘the’ true science’, ‘the’ true logic, as opposed to the overall-less-than-accurate logics and sciences this world provides. But even if we come to understand that rain and sun combines to disperse the rays of light into seven colours (maybe there is something here between dispersion of light into seven colours, and the dispersion of the people over the whole earth under Genesis 9:19?), it is easy to be idolatrous of the rainbow and forget the message of the diluvian judgment. How often it is for someone to look at the rainbow and be in awe; but forget the message of the gospel and the true global punishment to come? How often do we look at baptism and assume that we are looking at a now newly righteous Christian, but forget that the baptism points to the true righteous and blessed man (Psalm 1)?

Points 1 and 2 together – this two fold witness is akin to communion and baptism today. What we have is the ark, a symbol of the baptism; the rainbow being an everlasting covenant while the seasons last and while this earth remains; and the eating is the communion whereupon the flesh can only be eaten AFTER the blood has been shed. So here, the work of Christ is symbolically complete after the flood; blood symbolically has been shed (both literally of all flesh, and symbolically of Christ’s mediatorial offering through the ark). And now, we eat flesh in remembrance of the animals which have died innocently for man’s sake – through meat offering. What say you?

3. The fall of Canaan and the future of Noah’s sons (Genesis 9:18-29)

What is interesting here is a confirmation of Noah’s drunkenness as an establishment of his moral fallacy. Is this the same man that God had favour upon? Sure. Does he look like the righteous saint that some Jews and Muslims proclaim him to be? Hm… surely not. This helps to enforce the message of God’s graciousness and one-sided fulfillment of the covenant.

What is more important here is see how Canaan came to be the cursed nation. The interesting thing is how it is Ham who decided not to cover his father’s nakedness and subject him to embarassment. The story of v. 21-23 is that of a man who decided to gossip about his father’s nakedness to his brothers, rather than act as Shem and Japheth had rightly acted. They were respectful enough to turn backward, so as not to see their Father’s nakedness.

I think something can be said here about the father’s nakedness. The last we hear of nakedness is in the garden, whereupon the fig leaves were there to cover Adam and Eve’s respective ‘shame’. Prior to the fall they had been naked and without shame. God supported this veil through the expression of the animal skin, and through the cherubim with flaming swords. The veil is still there.

4. The table of Nations (Genesis 10)

Here is a version inspired by Bruce Waltke’s work on his Genesis commentary. I created a more comprehensive table compared to Walkte’s work here at http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=poyj8XlGljMoAoP6Vp63ZWg.

If you look at the more comprehensive table (if you are confused about the colour coding, press ‘Sheet 2’ on the comprehensive table above for the legend), you can see that God fulfills his promise from Adam, to Noah, to Shem, to Abram (and unsurprisingly to Isaac, then Jacob – until we reach David, Solomon then Christ. As for the other nations, God’s proclamation has maintained true – “cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers”. Indeed – look at the sons of Ham. Cush and Canaan both are fathers of the Ninevites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Sodomites… all with negative reputation throughout the rest of Scripture. Egypt (perhaps the father of Egypt, but Psalm 68:31 seems to imply that Cush is the father) is a father of the Philistines as well.

Why was the curse only on Canaan? It is unexplained but I offer two views. One, is that Cush, Egypt and Put had not been born yet; contrarily, Canaan is the eldest son – thus the original sin passing down to the children, and the eldest son bearing the name and the representation of the family. However, this sin clearly does not affect only Canaan; Cush, Egypt and Put have also been affected somewhat, by looking at the calibre of those from their genealogical lineage.

5. Works-salvation via the tower of Babel and the confusion of ‘tongue’ (Genesis 11:1-9)

Let’s clarify some points for this sub-section. There had already been different languages prior to Genesis 11. Look at Genesis 10:5 – “…From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations”. So it isn’t as if our situation now is somehow “worse” in terms of communication with the people then. Rather, God is trying to say something when there is a confusion of the language of all the earth (v. 9). What, therefore, does it mean when Chapter 11v.1 starts with ‘the whole earth had one language and the same words’?

Paul Blackham vouches that 11:1 in the Hebrew should be better understood as “the whole world had one mind and a common understanding”.

What I find most amusing about this chapter is that Psalm 2 almost corresponds directly to it. Whilst I have yet to cover the Psalms, Bullinger has credited the 5 books of Psalms directly to the 5 books of Moses, and the first book of Psalm, which includes Psalm 2, is inevitably a commentary of the events in Genesis. We have here the Lord saying in v. 7 – “come, let US go down and there confuse their language/common understanding”. A hint at the Trinity no doubt – but here is what David wrote concerning this particular type of event:

“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, 3 ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” 4 He who sits in the heaven laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. 5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill”. 7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break/rule them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”” – Psalm 2:1-9

Does this look like David is ‘reading the Trinity into the Scriptures’, as many of my theological background have been accused of doing? I wonder how David could even have a working knowledge of the Trinity, where here the Father is speaking to the Son and the Jews, as Bullinger picked up, have once observed that the first book of the Psalm is a commentary of Genesis. Let me look at the semantics – ‘kings of the earth’, and ‘rulers’ – were there any ‘kings’ and ‘rulers’ before the time of the book of Kings and Judges?

Let’s look at the Hebrew for ‘king’ – which is malak. Malak, the root, means to take counsel, to give counsel or to rise to a throne. Psalm 2 is importantly about the ‘holy hill’. Is Psalm 2 simply speaking of ‘kings of the earth and rulers’? Does it not involve the wicked as well (Psalm 1:5)? As Psalm 1 and 2 have been traditionally read together as one Psalm, the ‘kings’ and ‘rulers’ can be interpreted as those who wish to ‘rise to the throne’ – and undoubtedly, their rebellion against God by ‘rising to’ the throne of God (Psalm 2:3 “Let us burst their (the Trinity) bonds apart”).  Even so, the concept of ‘kindship’ is not foreign to the nations at this point – Genesis 13 and 14 displays a knowledge of earthly kingdoms which Israel attempted to emulate against God’s wishes.

There is therefore a huge parallel between Psalm 2 and the story of the Tower. We have here nations, taking counsel together, building a tower, to rise to the throne where God resides. Coincidence? There is no other chapter in Genesis which speaks of the dispersion of nations across the earth. And what is the first thing they do as “the people migrated from the EAST… found a plain in the land of Shinar”? Three things to notice:

(a) Shinar is where the people of Cush’s genealogy, specifically the nation of Calneh, have settled (look at my Table of Nations). This is a fulfillment of God’s prophetic curse on the sons of Ham.

(b) ‘East’ has always had a negative connotation in Scripture (e.g. east of the garden/east of Eden).

(c) The confusion of the language is a punishment akin to ‘dashing them in pieces like a potter’s vessel’, whereupon they are now dispersed, incapable of joining together to rebel against God.

Why is the confusion of ‘tongues’ rather than ‘languages’ important? Because this is a direct contrast to Acts 2 – the Pentecost.

At the Pentecost everyone heard the gospel message in his or her own language. It wasn’t as if all languages suddenly became one. Rather, ‘all had a common understanding’ of the gospel in Acts 2:4-11! “The disciples addressed the whole crowd with the gift of tongues, and the whole crowd heard him in their own language” – as per Blackham’s Biblical Frameworks on The Biblical Spirit.

Therefore, the giving of the Spirit on all flesh is to unite the understanding of all men – Jews AND Gentiles. Contrast this to Genesis 11, which speaks of the dispersion (and undoubtedly the disconnection and disunity and discord) of the nations which rebel against God.

What does this have to do with works salvation? Well quite obviously, the nations are intending to usurp or reach God’s throne through their own hand and their own works. It’s not even a matter of God ‘helping’ me do something (a la Eve when she referred to her God-son Cain (Genesis 4:1)). Some may even admire the nations for attempting to reach God; Bullinger actually makes an interesting note in his ‘Witness of the Stars” introduction:

This is what is doubtless meant by Genesis 11:4, “And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven.” The words “may reach” are in italics. There is nothing in the verse which relates to the height of this tower. It merely says, and his top with the heavens, i.e. with the pictures and the stars, just as we find them in the ancient temples of Denderah and Esneh in Egypt. This tower, with its planisphere and pictures of the signs and constellations, was to be erected like those temples were afterwards, in order to preserve the revelation, “lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

This is corroborated by Lieut.-Gen. Chesney, well known for his learned researches and excavations among the ruins of Babylon, who, after describing his various discoveries, says, “About five miles S.W. of Hillah, the most remarkable of all the ruins, the Birs Nimroud of the Arabs, rises to a height of 153 feet above the plain from a base covering a square of 400 feet, or almost four acres. It was constructed of kiln-dried bricks in seven stages to correspond with the planets to which they were dedicated: the lowermost black, the colour of Saturn; the next orange, for Jupiter; the third red, for Mars; and so on. * These stages were surmounted by a lofty tower, on the summit of which, we are told, were the signs of the Zodiac and other astronomical figures; thus having (as it should have been translated) a representation of the heavens, instead of ‘a top which reached unto heaven.'”

* Fragments of these coloured glazed bricks are to be seen in the British Museum.

A word of warning about Bullinger – I, by no means, hold to his hyperdispensationalism, let alone dispensationalism in general. I respectfully disagree with all who hold to this as of yet, because it contradicts the Jesus-centered focus which the Scriptures provide. Progressive dispensationalism may seem like a milder version of dispensationalism, but it is still the same story of progress and misunderstanding of the relationship between the Old and New Testament, when the ‘New Testament’ has been so well-known in the Old, and the relationship between the law and the gospel has been so widely misunderstood by the general dispensationalism of today. Dev Menon has written an essay on the relationship between the law and gospel here. Please do come back to me on this point as I’m happy to engage in some Spirit-inspired discussions. Despite my theological convictions, I wouldn’t deny the possibility of Bullinger’s research on whether the tower is one trying to reach the throne of God, or a mock-representation of the throne. Either way, it involves a self-work centered rebellion against the Trinity, an attempt to mock the bond between the Father, Son and the Spirit. The full introduction of Bullinger’s “Witness of the Stars” can be found here: http://www.levendwater.org/books/witness/intro.htm

6. The remnant via Shem (Genesis 11:10-32)

Despite this, we end this chapter with hope – we now turn to the story of Abraham. Such is the pattern of the writing in Genesis so far: the portrayal of a problem, that is the sin of man – and a solution, as prophesied and fulfilled by the Trinity Himself.

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Genesis 9-11: The dispersion of nations

6 thoughts on “Genesis 9-11: The dispersion of nations

  1. love the rainbow + meat thing!

    rainbow = spread of light = 7 colours – do you know your gospel in the colours? =)

    Canaan – read carefully.. who was it that sinned against Noah? and who then is the lineage of Ham

    see the gospel in Shem/Ham/Canaan?

  2. Jacky says:

    i have no idea about the gospel in the colours… but i’m positive it has something to do with the colours in the tabernacle?

    i think it was Ham, the youngest son, who sinned against Noah… but Canaan was cursed for he is the youngest son of Ham… i’m positive it wasn’t only Canaan that was cursed because from Cush comes quite a notoriously nasty line of nations… but I would think the focus is on Canaan because the land that is to serve Israel, which really is the lowest of low, since Israelites are already the ‘lowest’ of the nations as it were…

    Shem = Israel (the “God of Shem”); Japheth = the others who will join in Israel’s glory; Ham/Canaan = servant of Israel <– destroyed

  3. well all the colours in scripture also tell you something gospel.. but they are in a particular arrangement in the rainbow
    and at different times in Scripture the rainbow (which is also around the throne of God) is different in colour according to what is being said

    shem = jews, japheth = gentiles
    is it Noah’s youngest son? or Ham’s ?
    now why is it Ham’s line is all dodgy then?

  4. Jacky says:

    i need to read through Scripture more to identify the rainbows.. at the moment, i can only see two (Rev 4, Rev 10)?

    that’s an awesome point u mentioned about shem/japheth..

    from first reading, it is noah’s youngest son who committed the offence… i think that is why ham’s entire line is dodgy (not just canaan)… but still not sure why canaan himself is the only one mentioned

  5. Deirdre Altenburger says:

    When Joshua asked God to stop the sun so He could fight the Canaanites, how come the sun only stopped over Canaan and how did it not affect the rest of the world or neighbouring countries?

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