In the Beginning
An Outline of Genesis 1-11
In the beginning
Genesis means origin or birth. This title of the first book of the Bible was derived from the Greek translation of the Old Testament. In the Hebrew Bible the name is simply “In the beginning”, after the first words of the book. It is the book of beginnings, the basis of God’s self-revelation. In Genesis we find, indeed, the beginning of everything, the origins of life, of heaven and earth, of man and the world in which we live.
Genesis 1 to 11 in particular, contain numerous important principles that have left their mark on world history and will remain meaningful until the end of the age. Several terms and expressions of the first chapters of God’s Word return in the last few chapters of the Revelation, which describes the ultimate goal of God’s dealings with the earth.
After the initial description of the earliest history of mankind until the building of the tower of Babel , the book of Genesis focuses on the origins of
Israel , God’s chosen people who were to carry the revelation of God in a world which had gone astray and served the idols.
The composition of Genesis
The book seems to comprise ten genealogies, for ten times we read: “These are the generations (Hebrew: “tôledôt”) of (...)”, a formula which is rendered in the New King James Version as: “This is the history of”, or: “This is the (book of the) genealogy of”. Six of them are clearly genealogies, namely of Adam (5:1), the sons of Noah (10:1), Shem ( 11:10 ), Terah ( 11:27 ), Ishmael (25:12) and Esau (36:1).
This is undoubtedly very important because it places man’s earliest history into a clear historical framework, as is also confirmed by the numerous New Testament references to Genesis 1-11. The message of the Bible is based on definite facts, and not on legends or folk tales. In Genesis 2:4; 6:9; 25:19 and 37:2, the same formula (“These are the generations of”) is used in connection with the history of the heavens and the earth, and the history or genealogy of Noah, Isaac and Jacob.
Apart from this division in genealogies one can also discern seven either shorter or longer biographies, namely those of Adam (Gen. 1-3), Abel and Seth who replaced him (Gen. 4-5), Noah (Gen. 6-10), Abraham (Gen. 11-25), Isaac (Gen. 26-27), Jacob (Gen. 28-36), and Joseph (Gen. 37-50). The main themes of these seven biographies parallel the prologue and the six creation days of Genesis 1. The first three biographies are dealt with in Genesis 1-11:
(1) Adam’s biography (with the account of the creation, the Fall and the curse) corresponds to Genesis 1:1-2 (the good beginning, possibly followed by chaos and ruin).
(2) The biography of Abel and Seth, his substitute, as opposed to that of Cain and his offspring, corresponds to Genesis 1:3-5 (separation of light from darkness).
(3) The biography of Noah and his offspring corresponds to Genesis 1:6-8 (separation of the waters, respectively of the nations).
The book of Genesis, and Genesis 1 in a nutshell too, contains the basic plan of all God’s dealings with His creation, with mankind and with each individual believer. It culminates in the coming of the world ruler (Adam, Joseph, and Christ as the second Adam), and the sabbatical rest of the coming Kingdom.
As far as our personal life of faith is concerned, it is God’s purpose that the second Man from heaven is formed in us, and that we enter into the rest of God (Gal. 4:19 ; Eph. 4:13 ; Heb. 4:1-11).
2. GOD’S P LAN FOR HIS CREATION
Man and his wife
Rather than conflicting, Genesis 1 and 2 are, in fact, complementary stories about the creation. Genesis 1 offers us a description of the creation as it was prepared for man, who at the close of the chapter appears as the head and crown of God’s creation. Genesis 2 begins with the creation of man and then goes on to describe the various relationships into which God placed him:
(1) The relationship with the Creator,
(2) The relationship with the created environment,
(3) The relationship with the creatures over which he was to rule, and
(4) The relationship with the woman whom he had been given as a helper in all his duties.
The name Adam means “red earth”, for man was formed of dust from the ground (Adamah). Eve did not get her name until after the Fall; before Adam called her Woman (Ishshah), because she was taken out of Man (Ish) (2:23; 3:20). She was both the partner fitted for Adam and the mother of the human race, the mother of all living (Eve means ‘living’, or ‘life-giver’). The creation of man, God’s last act, took place on the sixth day, after the whole realm over which he was to rule had been prepared.
Two series of three days
The six days can be divided into two parallel series of three days:
(1) On the first day light was called into being, while on the fourth day the luminaries were appointed to rule the day and the night.
(2) On the second day a firmament (lit., expanse) separated the waters which were under the firmament from those above it, while on the fifth day the waters teemed with living creatures, and birds flew in the open expanse of the heavens.
(3) On the third day the dry land, the earth, was prepared, while on the sixth day the inhabitants of the earth were called into being.
So the first three days refer to the various domains or realms of creation (the heavens, the sea and the earth), while the last three days concern the inhabitants or rulers of these domains.
Adam and Christ
Man, who had been created in God’s image and according to His likeness, received universal dominion. Adam was to function as God’s representative on earth, as the ruler over all the works of God’s hands (Ps. 8:6). This plan of God will ultimately be fulfilled in Christ, the second Man, the Lord from heaven (1 Cor. 15:27 ; Eph. 1:22 ; Heb. 2:6-8).
Just as in Genesis 1 God worked towards the creation of man as the head over the works of His hands, He has been working ever since the Fall towards that moment when all things will be put in subjection to the second Man, the Lord from heaven (John 5:17).
The conclusion of this is the rest of the seventh day: the sabbatical rest of the millennium, which will pass into the peace and harmony of the eternal state, when God will be all in all (1 Cor. 15:25 -28; Heb. 4:9-10).
The new creation
The first creation heralds God’s new creation, of which believers are the firstfruits (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10; Col. 3:10; Jas. 1:18 ; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-7).
A line can be drawn from the completion of the first creation to the completion of the new creation, but it goes via Calvary where the Saviour once cried out: “It is finished” (Gen. 2:1-3; John 19:28 -30; Rev. 21:6). His finished work is the basis of the new creation and of the times of restoration of all things.
Apart from the verb to complete or to finish, we also find the verbs to make, to form and to create in the account of the creation. To create is used only for the original beginning of the heavens and the earth, the creation of animal life, and the creation of man (Gen. 1:1,21,27). The verbs to make and to form indicate the shaping of existing matter. The original creation of matter out of nothing is implied in the words of Genesis 1:1 (in this respect, see also Ps. 33:6,9; Rom. 4:17b; Heb. 11:3; 2 Pet. 3:5).
There is a difference between the beginning of Genesis 1:1 and that of John 1:1-3. John goes back to the dateless past, before time existed. Genesis 1:1 marks the beginning of time and matter. There we have the activity of the eternal Word by whom all things were made.
As the first creation was established by the activity of the Word and the Spirit of God, the new creation is brought about in a similar fashion. God created and formed the world by means of His Word (cf. the repeated “Then God said” in Genesis 1) and by His Spirit (cf. Gen. 1:2; Ps. 104:30). This work is parallelled in the new creation as the new birth takes place by the cleansing and life-giving power of God’s Word and God’s Spirit (John 3:5; 13:10; 15:3; Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23).
God has been dealing with us from the very moment when He shone into the darkness of our existence with the light of the Gospel (2 Cor. 4:4,6), in order that we should grow spiritually and should be conformed to the image of His Son. This is the kind of shaping which takes place in the new creation (Rom. 8:29 ; 2 Cor. 3:18 ).
This is how God deals with the people He created for His glory (cf. Isa. 43:7,21). God forms us to bear the image of His Son, the last Adam, in order that in all things He may have the preeminence (1 Cor. 11:7; 15:48 -49; Eph. 4:24 ; Col. 1:18; 3:10 ).
The mystery of Christ and the Church
Adam was to become the progenitor of the human race — which bore his likeness after he had fallen into sin (Gen. 5:1,3). As the progenitor of the family of man, Adam is a type of Christ, who after His resurrection from the dead became the Head of a new generation of men. “Adam was a type of Him who was to come”, Paul says in Romans 5:14 .
But in many respects Adam is also the antitype of Christ, as can be noted from the sharp contrasts mentioned by the apostle in Romans 5:12-21. Through Adam’s transgression, sin entered the world, and death through sin. This resulted in the condemnation of guilty sinners. But through Christ’s obedience until death, there is an abundance of grace, righteousness and life for all those who are joined to Him.
In 1 Corinthians 15 the contrast between the two family heads comes up again, but now in connection with the subject of the resurrection. For since by man (Adam) came death, by Man also (Christ) came the resurrection of the dead. When God formed man of dust from the ground, he became a living being as God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. But the risen Christ became a life-giving spirit by breathing the breath of life into His disciples Himself (Gen. 2:7; John 20:22 ; 1 Cor. 15:45 ).
While Adam’s descendants were natural and mortal, Christ’s descendants are spiritual and immortal. “And as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:48 ). While the creation of the first man was a great miracle because of the incomprehensible union of mind and matter, of the breath of life and the dust of the ground, still greater and more unfathomable is the mystery of the new creation, the new birth and the resurrection from the dead of those who are united with the Man from heaven!
Just as Adam and Eve were a human couple, there is also a special union between Christ and the Church. Eve was both the bride and the body of Adam, for she was “bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh” (Gen. 2:20-24). Similarly, the Church is both the bride and the body of Christ, the last Adam (Eph. 5:23 -32). Just as Eve came forth, so to speak, out of Adam’s side after a deep sleep had fallen upon Him, so the Church is the fruit of Christ’s ‘death-sleep’, having been taken out of His pierced side. Adam and Eve were set to rule over the earth and similarly, Christ and His bride, the Church, will reign during the coming Kingdom.
Another point which we find in Genesis 2 is the institution of marriage as God’s sanctified and blessed way for the communal life of husband and wife. Christ refers to this institution in the New Testament (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:3-8). The epistles of the apostle Paul also show us that the order of creation is normative of the position of the man and the woman (1 Cor. 11:7-12; 14:34 -35; 1 Tim. 2:12 -13).
True enough, as far as salvation in Christ is concerned, there is no difference between men and women. They are equal as to their position in Christ (Gal. 3:28 ), but they remain different as to their position in creation. The reality of the redemption does not annul the creation order and the headship of the man. This is to be manifested in the congregations of the redeemed, for there the angels witness the divine order (1 Cor. 11:10 ).
3. MAN’S FALL INTO SIN
The reality of the Fall
The New Testament shows that both the Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul used the account of the creation in Genesis 1 and 2 as the starting point of their teaching about the roles of men and women. But they also used the account of man’s fall into sin, as it is described in Genesis 3.
It is interesting to note how in First Timothy 2 Paul links the account of Creation with that of the Fall, and draws important conclusions concerning the behaviour of man and woman. He gives two arguments for his reasoning that a woman should learn in silence with all submission and should not have authority over a man. The first argument is the order of creation: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve”.
The second argument is the order of the Fall: “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (vv. 13-14). This is not how it ends, however, for Paul concludes with the comfort of God’s gracious promise: “Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing” (v. 15). The Fall and the curse do not have their final say, for God meets fallen man in grace — already in Genesis 3 — and offers him the hope of salvation.
Genesis 3 explains to us how the entrance of sin utterly distorted the originally perfect conditions in the garden of Eden, so that things are often totally different from the way that God had intended them to be. Sin makes itself felt in the relationships between God and man, in mutual relations between people and also in man’s relationship with the created reality that has been entrusted to his care.
The serpent of old
Man’s fall from the state of innocence in which God had placed him was the result of the temptation by the serpent, which was “more cunning than any beast of the field” (Gen. 3:1). The serpent was used as a mouthpiece by Satan, the adversary of God and the saints.
For this reason Satan himself is referred to as “that serpent of old” (Rev. 12:9). As the Devil he is acting as the slanderer and the accuser of God’s people (Rev. 12:10). He is also called the tempter (1 Thess. 3:5). John calls him the wicked one, or the evil one (1 John 5:18 -19). Sometimes he walks about like a roaring lion, but he also appears as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14 ; 1 Pet. 5:8).
Christ Himself called him “a murderer from the beginning”, and “a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44 NASB). As the father of lies, Satan made Eve doubt both God’s faithfulness and love. He suggested that God withheld something from man and that God’s words were not reliable. In doing so, he deprived God of His honour before His creatures, something which was only really put right when Christ as the obedient Man fulfilled God’s will and honoured and glorified God on the earth (John 13:31; 17:4).
Eve was the first to fall and then Adam also ate of the forbidden fruit. Paul refers to this in both First Timothy 2 and Second Corinthians 11. The serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so that she obviously neither considered asking Adam for his will nor proved herself to be loyal to him.
Similarly, the believers in Corinth had been led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (2 Cor. 11:3 NASB). So here the relationship between man and his wife is applied again to the relationship between Christ and the Church. A similar reference can be found in the Revelation, where the unfaithful Church is accused of having forsaken her first love and having fallen (!) from her high position (Rev. 2:4-5).
The nature of sin
The temptation appealed to the whole man and offered him fulfilment in every aspect of his life:
(1) physically — the tree was good for food,
(2) aesthetically — it was pleasant to the eyes, and
(3) spiritually — it was desirable to make one wise.
Alas, man gave heed to the wiles of Satan, who because of his pride and his desire to be like the Most High was a fallen creature himself (Isa. 14:13-14; Ezek. 28:17a; 1 Tim. 3:6).
What he had said to the woman were only half truths. True, man’s eyes were opened, but only to discover that he was a guilty sinner unable to stand before God. It is also true that man obtained knowledge of good and evil, but not in the way in which God possesses this knowledge. On the contrary, while God is of purer eyes than to behold evil and is totally separated from it, man became the slave of sin. His only gain from the knowledge of good and evil was an accusing conscience.
Thus Satan succeeded in implanting into the human heart the seeds of lust and pride. These are the evil principles that have marked the world system of which he has been the god and the ruler ever since (Dan. 10; John 14:30; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 6:12; 1 John 5:19). For John describes all that is in the world as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16 ).
Sinful lust or evil desire is the root of all evil, as we know by the last commandment of the Law: “You shall not covet” (Ex. 20:17 ; Rom. 7:7). Evil desire gives birth only to sin, and sin brings forth death (Jas. 1:15 ).
Deliverance from sin
Thus fallen man is subject to the power of sin and death. Sin is so deeply rooted in human nature that salvation is only possible if man is cut off from his old roots and grafted onto a new stem. The epistle to the Romans teaches us that this is indeed possible, in that we have been united with Christ both in His death and in His resurrection (Rom. 6:2ff).
The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). When trying to tempt Christ, Satan could not touch Him (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12 -13; Luke 4:1-13). By clinging to the Word of God, Christ was able to fend off all attacks of the wicked one, so that he had to depart from Him. In the same way we, too, should always use the written Word of God. This gives strength to overcome, and to live by the Spirit.
The first man fell in paradise, although he lived in the most favourable of circumstances. But Christ, the second Man, stood His ground when tempted in the wilderness, in the most unfavourable of circumstances. In the end, He destroyed the devil who had the power of death, by going through death Himself and defeating the adversary in his own stronghold (Heb. 2:14 -15).
The Son of God really delivers from the power of Satan, sin, and death (John 8:36 ). At His second coming Christ will publicly dethrone him and deliver the creation from the bondage of corruption, to which it was unwillingly subjected by the fall of the first man (Rom. 8:19-22; Rev. 20:1-3).
4. JUDGMENT AND REDEMPTION
The consequences of sin
Meanwhile, even as children of God, we are still living in a world where Satan is allowed room for his activities, in a creation still groaning because of all the consequences of sin.
The curse of Genesis 3 upon the serpent, on man and woman and the ground is still valid. Sin and illness are still prevalent, and paradise is a thing of the past. We live in a broken world where everything is marked by imperfection.
Yet, even in this sad situation the light of God’s grace shines through, so that we can discern important prophetic promises in this chapter of the book of Genesis.
The promise of the seed of the woman
In Genesis 3:15 we find the promise of a seed that would come and bruise the head of the serpent. This is usually called ‘the mother’s promise’, which is not a very good title since it is a part of the serpent’s judgment. In this verse God announces the unceasing conflict between the seed of the serpent and that of the woman, between the children of the devil and the children of God (John 8:38 -47; 1 John 3:8-10).
Finally, however, the woman’s Seed refers to Christ who was born of the virgin Mary — not of Joseph. Christ is not only the Seed of the woman (Gal. 4:4), but also the Seed of Abraham the patriarch (Gal. 3:16 ), and the Seed of king David (1 Chr. 17:11 -14; Matt. 1:1).
By His death and resurrection He has bruised Satan’s head, while Satan bruised His heel in causing His life here on earth to end on the cross. Being children of God we, too, share in Christ’s victory, for soon the God of peace will crush Satan under our feet (Rom. 16:20 ).
This metaphorical explanation of the serpent’s judgment does not exclude its literal application. The animal Satan had used as his tool was humiliated so as to bite the dust: “On your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust” (Gen. 3:14). Even in the coming Kingdom of peace this judgment will not be removed: “And dust shall be the serpent’s food” (Isa. 65:25).
As for Satan himself, we know that he will be humiliated in several stages. In principle he was judged at the cross, when he led the world in its rebellion against God and His Anointed. But the verdict will not be executed until he has been thrown out of heaven; then he will be humiliated even further and cast into the bottomless pit (the abyss), and finally — at the end of the millennium — he will be thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone (Rev. 12:9; 20:2,3,10).
The judgment on man
While the serpent was the first to be judged by God, man was the first to answer to the Judge. God asked him some probing questions: “Where are you? (...) What is this you have done?” (vv. 9-13). Because of his fall, man is now separated from a holy God. Henceforth he is a sinner, and he commits transgressions and sins.
Adam tried to pass the guilt to Eve, whereas she, in turn, passed the blame onto the serpent. All three of them were punished, but in reverse order, that is: (1) the serpent, (2) the woman, and (3) the man. God’s judgment was strictly just and balanced. It related to life here on earth, not to eternal punishment.
Then God’s grace and goodness tempered the judgment, for in spite of her sorrow and pain in childbearing the woman was still left with the joy of motherhood, and the man in spite of his laborious toil was still left with job satisfaction. For this reason one could speak of a mild judgment. On the other hand, it remains a highly tangible and concrete punishment as these natural blessings are also surrounded by “thorns and thistles”.
God’s grace for man
God in His grace came to meet fallen man. He gave him time to come to his senses and went to meet him quietly in the cool of the day. He did not come in a dark cloud, in fire and thunder as on Mount Sinai . God spoke quietly and seriously, convicting man of sin and guilt and at the same time granting him His gracious promise of the coming Redeemer.
From the narrative we can conclude that Adam in faith accepted God’s promise concerning the seed of the woman: “And Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20). J.N. Darby in his Introduction to the Bible remarks at this point: ‘Before being driven out [of the garden], Adam, by faith, as it seems, recognizes life in the place wherein death had entered. But there is more. There is the promise made to the woman, of the Seed which would bruise the serpent’s head: the Christ, Seed of the woman by whom evil entered into the world, was to destroy all the power of the Enemy’.
In the following verses we find further proofs of God’s dealing with man in grace, in spite of his deep fall. The first one is that God Himself clothed the guilty sinner, thus covering his nakedness. God took away his covering of fig leaves: the garment of man’s own righteousness and his own good works. Instead, He clothed man with garments of skin: “Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21).
To this end He first had to sacrifice and shed the blood of an innocent animal. God Himself was the first One to bring a sacrifice! In this respect one cannot but be reminded of the words of Abraham to his son Isaac: “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:8). It is only on the basis of the death of a sacrificial lamb that God can show mercy to the sinner and clothe him with “the robe of righteousness” (Isa. 61:10).
The expulsion from the garden
Then we see that God did not want man to live as a sinner eternally. In his fallen state, he could not be allowed to eat from the tree of life. For this would have meant that he had continued his life in this state for ever (Gen. 3:22). So he was driven out of the garden of Eden, and the way to the tree of life was blocked by cherubim with flaming swords (Gen. 3:24).
Now, however, by His atoning death, Christ has opened up a better, that is, a heavenly Paradise for all those who believe in Him (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7; 22:1,2,14,17). The way to the tree of life and the river of water of life in this Paradise of God is open for all those who believe: “And let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).
5. CAIN AND ABEL
The contrasts between Cain and Abel
The Scriptures picture a sharp contrast between these two brothers, not only in Genesis 4, but also in the New Testament (Matt. 23:35; Heb. 11:4; 1 John 3:7-12; Jude 11). The differences are evident in their works, in the sacrifices which they offered, as well as in the differents ways in which they walked.
Ultimately, it concerns the basic contrast between God and the Devil, between light and darkness, between life and death. The history of Cain and Abel confirms the words of Paul that light has no communion with darkness, and that a believer has no part with an unbeliever (2 Cor. 6:14-15).
At first the differences did not appear to be so great as both brothers seemed to fear God. Cain started out as a religious person, but he finished as someone living in the world without God and without hope. He went out from the presence of the LORD (Gen. 4:16; Eph. 2:12). He turned away from God and went his own way, leading to destruction. John concludes: he was of the wicked one, and his works were evil (1 John 3:12).
The offerings of the two brothers
In the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. But it was in vain. God did not respect Cain and his offering (Gen. 4:3-5).
Cain brought a bloodless offering. He did not take into account the fact that the gap between God and fallen man could be bridged only by the death of a substitute. For without shedding of blood there is no remission (Heb. 9:22).
Neither did he consider the fact that the ground had been cursed by God (Gen. 3:17; 5:29). He appeared before God with the results of his own painful labour as a tiller of the ground, expecting that God would appreciate his efforts and look with favour on the work of his hands. This was not the case, however, for the LORD had no regard for Cain and for his offering.
In contrast, Abel brought a better offering, “a more excellent sacrifice than Cain” (Heb. 11:4). He brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat (Gen. 4:4). This was a bloody offering, an offering made by fire. The sweet aroma of this offering went up to the LORD and was acceptable to Him. That was why He could respect Abel and his gifts. Just as the offering made him acceptable before God, God has made us accepted in the Beloved, our Lord Jesus Christ, by virtue of His sacrifice (Eph. 1:6-7; 5:2).
By his works Abel bore a clear testimony to the way of life, which God had shown earlier to Adam and Eve, by clothing them with garments of skin (Gen. 3:21). Cain, on the other hand, wanted to approach God on the basis of his own achievements (Cain means ‘acquisition’). But this did not please God, for without faith in an atoning sacrifice it is impossible to please Him. Abel understood this, and by faith he offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. So he was justified by faith: he himself was righteous before God, and his works were righteous too (Heb. 11:4; 1 John 3:12). The sense of our own sinfulness and total depravity makes us recognize the need for such an offering. Abel’s name means “breath” or “vanity”.
Cain, the first murderer
But the favour which God showed to Abel only stirred jealousy and hatred in Cain’s heart. When they were in the field, Cain rose against Abel his brother and killed him (Gen. 4:8), thus becoming the first murderer.
Sin takes different forms and shades. Adam sinned against God, while Cain sinned against his neighbour. Moreover, Cain showed a combination of inner iniquity and outward violence. This is the way in which sin, originating in the heart, works its way out. Later on, we see this combination again: “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11; cf. v. 5).
Even after his crime God dealt with Cain in grace, although He had warned him beforehand of the power of sin which lay at the door (Gen. 4:7). But Cain had refused to listen. After he had murdered Abel, God went to meet him and called him to account. Although he was condemned to lifelong exile, his life was spared, for the death penalty did not yet exist (cf. Gen. 9:5-6). It was an obvious case of wilful murder, and Cain should have been sentenced to death. But he was shown mercy by God, who even set a mark on him, lest anyone finding him should kill him and escape unpunished (Gen. 4:15,24).
It is also important to see that God Himself acted as the Avenger of blood, since there was no human government at the time. So God took care of Abel’s interests and called Cain to account for what he had done: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10).
Cain, the first murderer, is a striking picture of the unbelieving people of Israel as being guilty of the death of Christ. Just as Cain after Abel’s death became a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, so the Israelites were scattered among the nations after Messiah was cut off from the land of the living. The earth has become ‘the field of blood’ for them to this day (Matt. 27:8). But in the end time God will turn the captivity of His people.
Cain went out from the presence of the LORD (like Jonah, cf. Jon. 1:3), and he settled in the land of Nod (meaning ‘wandering’ or ‘flight’). His attitude is typical of a man who has strayed from God, and whose way leads him further and further away from Him. The way of Cain leads to ruin (Jude 11). Although he seemed to realize his guilt, it was no godly sorrow producing repentance to salvation; it was the sorrow of the world which produces death (Gen. 4:13; 2 Cor. 7:10).
Abel and Christ
We consider Abel to be a type of Christ, for the New Testament tells us that the blood of Jesus speaks better things than that of Abel (Heb. 12:24). Whereas the blood of Abel called for revenge upon the wrongdoer, the blood of Christ speaks of the redemption which He obtained for guilty sinners.
Christ’s death does not call for retribution, but for redemption, remission and salvation: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17ff). Although He was cut off from the land of the living, this was precisely the way which God had determined for Him to bear much fruit (John 12:24 NASB).
By His death and resurrection Christ has become the Head of a new generation. After His deliverance from the pains of death, He has appeared in the midst of a redeemed people where He sings God’s praises (Ps. 22:22-23; Heb. 2:12). Having been made an offering for sin, and having borne the sin of many, He has seen His seed, that is, an offspring of believers (Isa. 53:10-12).
6. THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS
Seth, Abel’s substitute
A s Abel is a type of the Christ who died, Seth is a type of the risen Lord. For Seth, whose name means ‘appointed’ (cf. Gen. 4:25), took the place of the deceased Abel. He became the new head of the children of light, the woman’s seed, while Cain became the family head of the godless, the serpent’s seed, the line of darkness.
These two lines in Genesis 4 and 5, the ungodly line of Cain and the godly line of Seth, are entirely opposed to each other. That is why these chapters correspond with the work of the first day of creation, when God separated the light from the darkness, the day from the night (Gen. 1:3-5).
So the contrast between the two brothers, Cain and Abel, continued in these two families. Cain’s offspring was opposed to Seth’s, the one who replaced Abel. Similarly, the children of the world are opposed to the children of God, who bear the image of the risen Lord. Do we take the Head of the new creation as our Example? If so, we shall be marked by the same features of the sons of light as described in these two chapters.
Among Seth’s offspring we find many model believers:
(1) Believers such as Enosh (which means ‘mortal’), who called on the name of the LORD in the awareness of his own fragility and mortality (Gen. 4:26; Ps. 8:4; 144:4);
(2) Children of light like Enoch (meaning ‘dedicated’, or ‘teacher’), who walked with God and received insight into God’s plans and thoughts — even in the distant future (Gen. 5:22,24; Heb. 11:5; Jude 14,15);
(3) Sons of the day like Noah (meaning ‘rest’, or ‘comfort’), who found grace in God’s eyes and, as a herald of a new day, brought comfort to a cursed earth (Gen. 5:29; 6:8; Heb. 11:7; 1 Pet. 3:19-22; 2 Pet. 2:5; 3:5-6).
Pictures of the End Time
Noah, a preacher of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5), was saved by God in the ark when bringing in the Flood on the world of the ungodly. Christ Himself compared the days of Noah before the Flood to the day of His Second Coming (Matt. 24:37-39).
In other words, this period is a picture of the last days before the coming of the Son of Man. He will come unexpectedly, as a thief in the night, and His coming will bring a devastating judgment on the godless. Again, unrighteousness on earth will become so rampant, that God’s judgment will be delayed no longer.
The Flood speaks of the tide of God’s wrath which will flow over the earth in the end time, and also points to the final judgment which will be carried out not by water but by fire (2 Pet. 3:7). Enoch’s translation to heaven — which interrupts the refrain “(...) and he died” in Genesis 5 — is a picture of the Rapture of the saints.
Just as Enoch was taken away from the earth before the great Flood, so the Church will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air before the apocalyptic judgments (1 Thess. 4:15-18; Rev. 3:10).
In contrast, Noah was brought safely through the waters of the Flood, which devastated the earth. In this respect he is a type of the remnant of the people of Israel , who will be kept through the judgments of the Great Tribulation in order to enter the new millennial earth safely.
The line of Cain
The book of Genesis sharply contrasts the sons of light with the family of Cain: the man without God, who became the founder of a civilization without God.
Although he lived far from the presence of the LORD, Cain still tried to find a place of security on the earth. He built the first city in the history of man, and called its name after the name of his son — Enoch (Gen. 4:17). Nimrod (meaning ‘rebel’) became the second builder of cities, leading mankind in open rebellion against God (Gen. 10:10-12). Abraham, however, is the shining example which we should keep in mind. In this world without God, Abraham became a pilgrim, setting out for a better, that is, a heavenly city, whose builder and maker is God Himself (Heb. 11:10).
Although man was alienated from God, the proofs of God’s goodness were not withheld from him. God still makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt. 5:45 ). He gives us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:17 ).
However, in spite of all the manifestations of God’s grace the way of Cain took him further and further away from God. It is very unlikely that his son Enoch was familiar with God’s thoughts as was the case with his namesake in the godly line of Seth: Enoch, the seventh from Adam (Jude: 14).
It is true that Cain’s descendants showed themselves to be very creative people, but they used their forging ability to make weapons and their musical ability to write a song of revenge! Cain’s line ends up in Lamech’s brute force (Gen. 4:23-24).
Genesis 6 shows the deep degeneration of the human race without God. The wickedness of man was great in the earth, and the earth was filled with violence.
After the Fall, man walked by the light of his conscience to help him to discern between good and evil. Since no human government was established and man’s evil was not immediately punished, this resulted in universal corruption.
Having shown patience for a long time, God intervened and put an end to this situation by the judgment of the Flood. It was only after the Flood that human authorities were set up in order to restrain man’s evil — in particular human violence, the shedding of blood (Gen. 9:5-6).
In this terrible time before the Flood we can also see satanic influences at work. For in Genesis 6:1-4 we read about marriages between “the sons of God” (i.e., fallen angels who had not kept their own original state, cf. Job 1 and 2; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude: 6 JND), and the daughters of men.
After all these illegitimate connections had been destroyed by the Flood, the evil influences assumed a different form by the introduction of idolatry — the worship of demons (Deut. 32:17; Josh. 24:2; 1 Cor. 10:20 ). Abraham was called to leave this idolatrous world, in order to become the progenitor of a people who would be wholly set apart to the Lord.
The increase of diabolic powers before the Flood confirms the parallel between this epoch and the end time before the return of the Lord, a period which will be marked by an unprecedented activity of Satan (Matt. 24:11,15,24; 2 Thess. 2:3ff; Rev. 13).
So let us be watchful and walk as sons of light and sons of the day. For God did not appoint us to wrath — God’s judgments will strike the world of the ungodly — but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that we should live together with Him (1 Thess. 5:4ff).
7. NOAH’S ARK
The meaning of the ‘waters’
Noah’s life was dominated by water, and in two ways at that. Of course, we first think of the waters of the Flood by which the world that then existed perished (2 Pet. 3:6).
In Scripture, water often has a positive meaning as it is one of the primary necessities of human life (cf. John 7:37 -39; 1 Cor. 10:4; Rev. 22:17). But it is also used to indicate negative things, such as curses and judgments (cf. Ps. 42:7; 66:12; 69:2; 109:18). The waters of the Flood came over the earth as a devastating judgment, from which only Noah was saved, in the ark — the means of salvation for him and his household.
Apart from this, Scripture sometimes uses the waters as a picture of the turbulent, restless multitudes (Isa. 8:7-8; Jer. 47:2; Rev. 17:15). This metaphorical meaning of the word can also be found in Noah’s life, in the times after the Flood. A new era then began, when the peoples and nations were divided on the earth like waters spreading in every direction.
The Ark of salvation
Noah’s ark is also a beautiful type of Christ as the Ark of our salvation. Without Him, we are lost, and the wrath of God abides on us (John 3:36 ). Only in Him we are safe from the waters of judgment, for “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
Christ shelters us from judgment. The waters of death have gone for good now that He has brought us into a new world, where we stand before God on wholly new ground — on resurrection ground.
This is also expressed in baptism: the washing of water which speaks of death on the one hand, on the other hand, however, of new life in Christ Jesus the Lord ( Rom. 6:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:20 -21). We were buried with Him through baptism into death, in order to reach a new position and a walk in newness of life.
Something similar can be seen in the life of Moses. He was ‘buried’ in the waters of the river Nile in an ark of bulrushes and in this way he was saved through the water, drawn out of the waters of death. Genesis 6 and Exodus 2 use the same Hebrew word for Noah’s ark and the vessel in which Moses was saved.
(1) The description of the ark. Noah’s ark was a huge wooden chest of three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high (a cubit is about half a metre). It had three decks with compartments or rooms which served as living quarters and storage rooms. It had an entrance in its side, a door which was closed by God Himself (Gen. 6:16; 7:16 ). It also had a window on top, which was later opened by Noah to send out the raven and the dove (Gen. 8:7-8).
(2) Looking at the ark as a type of Christ, the true Ark of salvation, the wood as the fruit of the earth speaks of His true humanity (cf. Isa. 4:2; 53:2). There is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5).
(3) Noah had to cover the ark inside and outside with pitch. These two cognate words in Hebrew are rendered “(to make an) atonement” and “ransom” in the rest of the Old Testament. This coating is a picture of the atoning power of Christ’s blood — which covers our sins, makes us acceptable to God, and delivers us from judgment.
(4) The door in the side of the ark reminds us of Christ’s pierced side, which opened the way of salvation to sinners (John 19:34 -35; 1 John 5:6-9). Christ is the door. If anyone enters by Him, he will be saved (John 10:9).
(5) The rooms or cells (lit. “nests”) in the ark speak of the protection and the security which are the portion of all those who are in Christ: “And now, little children, abide in Him” (1 John 2:28 ). In this way He will be as a sanctuary (Isa. 8:14 ). We recall that Solomon’s temple also had rooms in three stories, just as in the ark (Gen. 6:16; 1 Ki. 6:4-5). In God’s house there are many mansions, for there is room for whoever believes.
(6) Finally the ark had a window, an opening for light. In the same way Christ revealed light from above, divine light from heaven in a scene of darkness and confusion (John 1:9; 3:12,31,32).
(7) The preparation of the ark. The ark of Noah also teaches a practical lesson to Christian parents. Just as Noah prepared an ark for the saving of his household (Heb. 11:7), so they should lead their children to Christ and bring them to the only place of safety in this world of sin.
A new beginning
When the waters had dried up from the earth, the dove sent out by Noah found a resting place for the sole of her foot. The dove is a type of the Holy Spirit (John 1:32-34). The Spirit descended and remained on Christ, because He was the beloved Son, with whom the Father was well pleased. No sin could be found in Him, and therefore God could set His seal on Him.
And after the cross, and Christ’s glorification in heaven, the Holy Spirit has found a permanent resting place and dwelling place on earth in the Church of the living God (John 7:39; 16:7; Acts 2:33; 1 Cor. 3:16). The waters of judgment have left us for good, and God has given us His Spirit, “the Spirit of His Son” (Gal. 4:6).
On the basis of the finished work of Christ upon the cross, God finds His good pleasure in us as well. Having believed in Christ, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit and we now walk in newness of life by the Spirit. We shall also bear fruit for God then by the Spirit, just as a “freshly plucked olive leaf” was found on the new earth, cleansed by the waters of the Flood (Gen. 8:11; cf. Zech. 4).
8. THE NOAHIC COVENANT
The basis of the covenant
A fter Noah had left the ark and set foot upon the new earth, he built an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings of every clean animal and of every clean bird (Gen. 7:2; 8:20). In this way he paid homage to God for His wonderful salvation.
The burnt offering, with its sweet-smelling savour (lit. “aroma of rest”) going up before God, is a type of Christ’s sacrifice, with which God is fully satisfied (Gen. 8:21; Lev. 1:9; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 9:14). We have already seen the great importance of a sacrifice in which atoning blood was shed, in the life of Abel and that of the first human couple (Gen. 3 and 4). Then in Genesis 22, we find an indication that the Son of the Father Himself had to pour out His soul unto death in order to become the Lamb of God.
The sacrifices offered here by Noah, made up the basis of God’s covenant with him, his descendants, and every living creature on the face of the earth (Gen. 9:9-10). Henceforth man would live on a cleansed earth by virtue of the acceptability of the burnt offering. He would find favour with God, although in himself he was no better than those who lived before the Flood. For the imagination of man’s heart remained “evil from his youth” (Gen. 6:5; 8:21).
Man only was in favour with God because of the value of his offering, the sweet savour of which went up to God and gave Him rest. So God bestowed His favour upon Noah and his descendants, and all flesh that was on the earth. Even the earth itself shared in it and was included in God’s covenant (Gen. 8:21-22; 9:11-13).
In the same way God now shows His kindness toward man because of Christ’s sacrifice, although by the cross of Jesus man’s corruption has been fully revealed. God is patient with man and has the Good News preached to him. God still allows the earth to remain, and He upholds all things by His power. To us as believers this is clear proof of God’s favour and the value of Christ’s finished work. It also opens up to us the hope of a new heaven and a new earth on the basis of His work!
The provisions of the covenant
So God made a new start with Noah, who became the first ruler of the new world after the Flood. He received a position comparable to that of Adam as God’s vice-regent (Gen. 1:28; 9:1ff).
There are, however, major differences between Adam and Noah, such as the fact that from now on, man’s rule over the animal world was to be marked by fear and dread (Gen. 9:2). We do not find this from the beginning of creation, when everything that God had made was very good. It proves that the original harmony between the creatures had been disturbed.
Furthermore, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs” (Gen. 9:3). Here for the first time we read about animal food for man, for until then only green herbs had been given for food to both man and beast (Gen. 1:29-30). This new diet contains an important spiritual lesson for fallen man, namely that man is to live by the death of a substitute! This is a truth that for example vegetarians erroneously reject (1 Tim. 4:3-5).
Regarding the eating of meat, however, one restriction was given: “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gen. 9:4). It had to be eaten without the blood. Thereby the eater would recognize that only God the Creator is entitled to the life which is in the blood (Lev. 7:26-27; 17:10-14).
The blood was not given for food, but to make atonement for sinful man: “I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11; cf. Rom. 3:25).
Acts 15 goes back to this rule. This chapter confirms that, by virtue of the Noahic covenant, the ban on eating blood not only applied to Israel but to all mankind. Therefore, believers from the Gentiles were to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood (Acts 15:20). These instructions are based on the order of creation and God’s covenant with Noah, and have a far wider scope than the Mosaic covenant.
Following the ban on eating blood, we find the ban on shedding blood, which was punishable by death. In this way the sacredness of human life was established: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man” (Gen. 9:6). This also implied the establishment of human government: governing authorities to carry out this sentence, thus punishing and restraining evil (cf. Rom. 13:1-4).
An everlasting covenant
The first mention of the word ‘covenant’ is found in the history of Noah (Gen. 6:18; 9:9-17). But Adam’s sin can already be seen as a rupture of the Edenic covenant (Hos. 6:7 NIV, NASB). The Noahic covenant is mainly unilateral: it is a divine promise that never again there shall be a flood to destroy the earth and mankind (Gen. 9:11).
As mentioned before, it has a universal character as well. For it relates to mankind, but also to the animal world and the earth, in short to the whole of creation (Gen. 9:9ff).
God also called it an everlasting covenant (Gen. 9:16). The Noahic covenant will last as long as the earth remains, that is to say, until the day when the earth will be destroyed not by water but by fire (2 Pet. 3:3ff).
Finally, God has given a visible sign of His covenant: the rainbow was to be seen in the clouds as a reminder of God’s faithfulness. The never-ending arc assures man of the fact that there are no limits to God’s goodness. When it starts raining, people can see the rainbow in the clouds and know that they need not fear another worldwide flood. But more important still, this sign reminds God of His own promise never to destroy the earth again by water (Gen. 9:16).
9. NOAH’S PROPHECY AND MANKIND AFTER THE FLOOD
Noah, the ruler over the new earth
After the Flood, Noah acted as the first ruler over the new earth. But alas, all too soon he failed when, losing his self-control, he lapsed into drunkenness. There is nothing wrong with the fruit of the vine itself; it was even one of the blessings of the Promised Land.
But Scripture does oppose the abuse of wine. Believers are called to be sober and watchful and not to get drunk with wine since this leads to licentiousness (Deut. 8:8; Judg. 9:13; Ps. 104:15; Rom. 13:13; Eph. 5:18; 1 Thess. 5:6-7; 1 Tim. 5:23).
When Noah was drunk he no longer knew what he was doing and lay uncovered inside his tent. His son Ham saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside (Gen. 9:21-22; cf. Lev. 18:6ff). Unlike his brothers Shem and Japheth who — in an appropriate manner — covered Noah again, Ham did not act discreetly.
When Noah awoke from his wine and heard what Ham had done to him, he pronounced an important judgment (Gen. 9:25-27). Similar prophetic declarations were made by the patriarchs Isaac and Jacob (Gen. 27 and 49).
The curse on Canaan
Noah’s prophecy consisted of two parts: a blessing and a curse. Ham was cursed because of his shameless behaviour towards his father. But it was Canaan, his own son, who was struck: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brethren” (Gen. 9:25).
On the basis of this passage, discrimination of black races — as has been done in the past — cannot be justified (Ham means ‘hot’ or ‘black’). For the curse was clearly confined to Canaan, and it was largely fulfilled in the conquest of the Promised Land by the Israelites — although the subjugation of the Canaanites took many more centuries to be realized, and even in Abram’s day their iniquity was not yet complete (Gen. 15:16).
Thus Canaan was enslaved to Shem: “And may Canaan be his (i.e., Shem’s) servant” (Gen. 9:26b). The same thing is then repeated for Japheth: “And may Canaan be his (i.e., Japheth’s) servant” (Gen. 9:27b). Canaan’s servitude to Japheth became clear through the ages in that this country was subdued by the world powers surrounding it, such as the Medes and the Greeks, who were the descendants of Japheth.
The blessings for Shem and Japheth
Shem and Japheth, however, were blessed. Their father Noah blessed them with the words: “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem” (Gen. 9:26a), and: “May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem” (Gen. 9:27a).
Shem’s special blessing was the fact that God was with him. God is called, “the LORD, the God of Shem”. Shem simply means ‘name’. But here his name is linked with the Name which is above every name: YHWH, or Yahweh, the eternal I AM (Ex. 3:14). If the LORD is the God of Shem, then Shem must be happy and blessed, and likewise his posterity. If God is with us, of whom shall we be afraid? If He is for us, who can be against us?
This was not only valid for Israel, the people descending from Shem and enjoying a close relationship with the LORD. It also applies to Christians. God has richly blessed us, and no curse can harm us (cf. Rom. 8:31-34). Moreover, we call on Him now as our Father in the Lord Jesus Christ, in a very personal and intimate way. This was unknown in Old Testament times (John 20:17; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6; Heb. 2:12).
As the LORD, God has a special relationship with Israel, His redeemed people (Ex. 3:13-18; 6:1-8). Yet this name is also used in the book of Genesis when God enters into a special relationship with His creation and with man. The fact that He does so has to do with His foreknowledge and predestination.
This is made clear by Noah’s prophecy in Genesis 9 and the following genealogies in Genesis 10 and 11:
(1) For God was the God of Shem (9:26),
(2) And Shem is the father of all the children of Eber (10:21),
(3) And Eber was the forefather of Abram (11:10ff.).
This shows how the line of God’s grace went from Shem via Eber (which means ‘passing over’, or ‘region on the other side’) to Abram, the progenitor of the people of God. God established His covenant with a people of pilgrims whom He called out of an idolatrous world, in order to serve the true and living God.
The God of Shem is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Hebrews (meaning ‘passing over’). The knowledge of God’s Name and of God’s revelation distinguished Israel from the other nations.
Yet, God also watched over these Gentile nations and He blessed them as well. God blessed Shem, but He also blessed Japheth (which means ‘Let him spread out’, or ‘enlargement’). Japheth was to become the progenitor of the nations that would spread to the north and to the west, and to whom later would fall the dominion of the then known world (the Medes, Greeks, Romans).
God would enlarge Japheth and also make him dwell in the tents of Shem (Gen. 9:27). In a literal sense, these important words refer to the expansion of Japheth’s dominion even over the Semitic peoples. But the deeper meaning of Noah’s prophecy is that the nations would find their true blessing only in the tents of Shem, by sharing with them the knowledge of God’s Name. As believers from the Gentiles, we have taken shelter in Shem’s tents, for salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22; Rom. 9:5).
God’s hand in man’s history
Thus Noah’s prophecy shows us the hand of God in world history. This is confirmed by the genealogies of Genesis 10 and 11. It is God who determines the course of things and divides their inheritance to the nations (Deut. 32:8; Acts 17:26).
The table of peoples in Genesis 10 also contains a lot of geographical data. The chapter starts with Japheth, to whom the great expansion was promised. From Japheth’s sons the coastland peoples of the Gentiles were separated into their lands, everyone according to his own language (Gen. 10:5). Of the sons of Ham and Shem it is also stated that they were separated according to their languages (Gen. 10:20,31).
This division of the nations on the earth did not take place immediately after the Flood (Gen. 10:32). It occurred only after the construction of the tower of Babel and the subsequent judgment of the confusion of the language of all the earth. These events are related in Genesis 11:1-9.
It is not quite certain whether the division of the earth in Peleg’s days also refers to the scattering of mankind over the face of all the earth (Gen. 10:25). Some expositors take the view that the surface of the earth was literally divided by the continental drifts that must have taken place after the Flood.
Japheth was not going to receive dominion over the world straightaway. For in Genesis 10, Ham holds a more prominent place. He was the progenitor of the Egyptians, the Assyrians and the Babylonians, who first ruled the ancient world. In the records of the sons of Ham it is particularly Nimrod who draws our attention, and much information is also given about the inhabitants of Canaan: the future inheritance of the people of Israel.
10. THE TOWER OF B ABEL
Babel, the cradle of idolatry and astrology
The description of Nimrod (meaning ‘rebel’) in Genesis 10, the first despot of the post-flood world, brings us to the building of the city and the tower of Babel. Man’s rebellion at the tower again led to a direct divine intervention in the history of mankind. It was there that the pursuit of human power and unity was destroyed by the confusion of the single language, and the subsequent scattering of mankind over the face of the whole earth.
After the Flood, people moved further eastwards, in the same way as Cain had gone out from the presence of the LORD and lived east of Eden (Gen. 4:16; 11:2 NIV, NASB). They found a plain in the land of Shinar (i.e., Babylonia), which was suitable for them to settle there. But according to the clear testimony of Scripture, this land quickly became the cradle of idolatry and astrology (cf. Josh. 24:2; Dan. 1:2; Zech. 5:11). It will find its counterpart in the end time in Babylon the Great, which will be full of idolatry (Rev. 17 and 18).
After people had settled in the land of Shinar, they devised a plan to build themselves a city, and a tower with its top reaching to heaven. It was to serve as the symbol of the unity of the undivided human race, and the centre of their power (Gen. 11:4). The tower may have been a Babylonian zikkurat, a huge pyramidal structure which was used by the astrologers. The ascent of the tower was a meritorious approach to the gods, and the summit was regarded as the entrance to heaven.
Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the LORD
Being one of the founders of the Babylonian civilization, Nimrod was involved in the building or rebuilding of Babel and other cities in the land of Shinar (Gen. 10:10). Later on he also built Nineveh, that is the great city (Gen. 10:11-12; cf. Jon. 1:2; 3:2; 4:11).
Thus Nimrod followed the example of Cain, the first builder of a city. However, the capital of his kingdom was not the city of the living God, but that of sinful man who wanted to be like God. The building of this city was the expression of human pride and presumption.
Nimrod is described as “a mighty one on the earth”, and also as “a mighty hunter before the LORD” (Gen. 10:8-9). He was a great tyrant and ruler of men. Apparently, he abused the principle of human government which God had established after the Flood, to suppress peoples and nations. However, the men whom God chooses to realize His plans are not hunters, but shepherds like Abel, Abraham, Moses, David and Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd of His sheep.
Although Babel seemed to be a high point in the development of mankind it was, in fact, a low point. For it showed how deep man had sunk, and how far he had turned away from God. Babel was the symbol of human pride and self-glorification, the place where people said, “Come, (...) let us make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4).
Many centuries later, king Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honour of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30). But there is a limit to man’s haughtiness, for the Most High is able to humble those who walk in pride. This is what Nebuchadnezzar experienced, and this is also what happened to the people who built the tower of Babel.
In the end time this will happen again when the future world dictator will exalt himself, showing himself that he is God. In Nimrod, the first mighty warrior on the earth, we can see a type of the last world ruler. In the book of Revelation, he is described not as a man but as a beast (cf. Dan. 4). I now refer to the future ruler of the revived Roman empire, who will have close ties with Babylon the Great of those days (Rev. 13 and 17).
The confusion of tongues
The undivided humanity, having no knowledge of the true God, served the idols and wanted to make a name for sinful man. Here we see how man without God exalts himself and tries to reach to heaven.
God put an end to this ambition by confusing the single language of mankind, and so He scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. It is not the name of proud man, but the name of God which should be excellent in all the earth (Ps. 8:1,9). Proud man’s ‘Come’ was answered by God’s ‘Come’, for the LORD said: “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Gen. 11:3,4,7). Babel means ‘confusion’ (Gen. 11:9).
People could no longer understand each other, and they were unable to work together. Thus their craving for union and strength was abruptly put to an end: “So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city” (Gen. 11:8).
Since then, God has allowed all nations to walk in their own ways, although divine providence determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their habitation (Acts 14:16; 17:26).
But God went His special way with Abraham, whom He called out of an idolatrous world, and with His chosen people Israel, until the coming of Christ who was to give the divine dealing with the human race a clearly universal character again.
At Christ’s coming into this world, God did not come down to man in judgment but in the fullness of His grace (John 1:14-18). By then, it had become sufficiently clear that sinful man himself was unable to reach to heaven and draw near to God.
The incarnation shows the great contrast between these two places: Babel and Bethlehem. Babel speaks of the pride of man wanting to reach to heaven, but Bethlehem testifies to the meekness of the Lord from heaven, who veiled His glory and visited man in grace.
Babel and Jerusalem
We should note a similar contrast between Babel and the city of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven and the sentence of the confusion of tongues was more or less reversed. For the apostles were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. So the people were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language (Acts 2:4ff.).
From Babel the sons of men were scattered abroad over the face of all the earth, but in the city of the great King God Himself created one new man, one body of believers out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation. All true believers are members of the one body of Christ, members of the one Church of which Christ is the Head in heaven. Thus the new unity that God has given since the day of Pentecost is the opposite of the dispersion at the tower of Babel.
Moreover, Pentecost also contrasts sharply with the dispensation of the Law, which Paul calls the ministry of death and the ministry of condemnation (2 Cor. 3:7,9). When Moses had given the Law and it had been violated at once by Israel, three thousand men of the people fell that day (Ex. 32:28). But on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured out and the grace of God abounded to many, three thousand souls were saved (Acts 2:41).
As we have already seen, ancient Babel will find its modern counterpart in Babylon the Great in the end time (Rev. 17 and 18). The last book of the Bible very clearly depicts the contrast between this city, the city of man, and the city of God, the new Jerusalem, the bride of the Lamb (Rev. 21 and 22).
The city of God, the heavenly seat of government in the coming Kingdom, will descend out of heaven from God. This heavenly city is God’s gift to mankind and the seat of Christ’s millennial reign. God will for ever destroy man’s pride and replace man’s city with His city, which will be the light of the world. This is the city of true hope.
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth.
Then I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband”.