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Genesis 11:4-8

Context
11:4 Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens 1  so that 2  we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise 3  we will be scattered 4  across the face of the entire earth.”

11:5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the people 5  had started 6  building. 11:6 And the Lord said, “If as one people all sharing a common language 7  they have begun to do this, then 8  nothing they plan to do will be beyond them. 9  11:7 Come, let’s go down and confuse 10  their language so they won’t be able to understand each other.” 11 

11:8 So the Lord scattered them from there across the face of the entire earth, and they stopped building 12  the city.

1 tn A translation of “heavens” for שָׁמַיִם (shamayim) fits this context because the Babylonian ziggurats had temples at the top, suggesting they reached to the heavens, the dwelling place of the gods.

2 tn The form וְנַעֲשֶׂה (vÿnaaseh, from the verb עשׂה, “do, make”) could be either the imperfect or the cohortative with a vav (ו) conjunction (“and let us make…”). Coming after the previous cohortative, this form expresses purpose.

3 tn The Hebrew particle פֶּן (pen) expresses a negative purpose; it means “that we be not scattered.”

4 sn The Hebrew verb פָּוָץ (pavats, translated “scatter”) is a key term in this passage. The focal point of the account is the dispersion (“scattering”) of the nations rather than the Tower of Babel. But the passage also forms a polemic against Babylon, the pride of the east and a cosmopolitan center with a huge ziggurat. To the Hebrews it was a monument to the judgment of God on pride.

5 tn Heb “the sons of man.” The phrase is intended in this polemic to portray the builders as mere mortals, not the lesser deities that the Babylonians claimed built the city.

6 tn The Hebrew text simply has בָּנוּ (banu), but since v. 8 says they left off building the city, an ingressive idea (“had started building”) should be understood here.

7 tn Heb “and one lip to all of them.”

8 tn Heb “and now.” The foundational clause beginning with הֵן (hen) expresses the condition, and the second clause the result. It could be rendered “If this…then now.”

9 tn Heb “all that they purpose to do will not be withheld from them.”

10 tn The cohortatives mirror the cohortatives of the people. They build to ascend the heavens; God comes down to destroy their language. God speaks here to his angelic assembly. See the notes on the word “make” in 1:26 and “know” in 3:5, as well as Jub. 10:22-23, where an angel recounts this incident and says “And the Lord our God said to us…. And the Lord went down and we went down with him. And we saw the city and the tower which the sons of men built.” On the chiastic structure of the story, see G. J. Wenham, Genesis (WBC), 1:235.

11 tn Heb “they will not hear, a man the lip of his neighbor.”

12 tn The infinitive construct לִבְנֹת (livnot, “building”) here serves as the object of the verb “they ceased, stopped,” answering the question of what they stopped doing.



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