Thursday, March 17, 2011

Genesis 11:1-8 | Part II (structural observations)

Structural observations (immediate context)

1. Contrast

The contrasting nature of this story is very prominent with two very important aspects: common language and unity. In v. 1c, the whole world had a “common speech” and in v. 4c they did not want to be scattered. However, the Lord came down from the heavens to confuse their language (v. 9b) and also scattered them across the earth (v. 8a).

2. Recurrence

There are several phrases that are used more than once. This denotes the importance of what the author wanted us to learn. “Come, let’s make” (v. 3a) and “come, let us build” (v. 4a) denotes the independent nature of the builders; likewise, the Lord says, “Come, let us go down” (v. 7a). From this we could infer the two forces, the builders and the heavens, were working against each other. Also, there are multiple references to language and speech (cf. 1b, 6a, 7b, 9a) which forces the reader to understand the importance of what the people were doing.

3. Point of cruciality

The point of cruciality is marked by the sudden shift in the storyline at v. 5. “But” is a key identifier, as well, we see the story shift from only the builders and their plans to God and His plans. The story also shifts from the execution of the Babylonian’s plan to that of God’s, which ultimately prevails as supreme.

Placement of the Tower of Babel (literary context)


The story of the Tower of Babel in the immediate context is part B of an intercalated A-B-A storyline relating to establishing the table of nations. This storyline is in the middle of a developing genealogical account leading to the birth of Abram. The placement of this story could perhaps lead us to understanding at least part of the larger picture at work: God’s preparation in the world for a righteous leader.

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