The Dispersion Genesis 10

Genesis 10

That all the tribes and nations of mankind have a common origin, is the doctrine of Scripture, and that doctrine has been abundantly confirmed by the most learned and able researches into the physical history of man. This being the case, it is impossible to account satisfactorily for the great and essential diversity of languages but by a miracle. The sacred record  does account for that diversity, and account for it by miracle. It even acquaints us with the circumstances which rendered that miracle necessary, to secure a great and important end.

It seems that as mankind increased in the land in which the ark rested after the flood, a principle began to manifest itself among them, wholly adverse to the Divine intentions. It was the will of God that the fair regions of the earth should not be left unoccupied, during the many ages in which it would take mankind to reach them, under the slow process of certain portions of the surplus population being successively driven out, from the common center, by the pressure of their wants. All the scriptural intimations sustain the explanation to this effect given by Josephus, that they were required to send forth colonies to people the earth; and there can be no doubt, that the Divine intention in this matter was fully known to the leaders of the people. It was certain that mankind would eventually spread itself out over the different parts of the world. But it is clearly intimated in Scripture, that they were intended to disperse themselves according to their families, that is, in a regular and orderly manner; whereas, if they remained together until their wants compelled them to spread forth, only the needy outcasts and desperate characters would go out, and then a confused mixture of all the families, for as yet they all spoke the same language. By keeping together, also, the population of the world would not increase so rapidly as by this dispersion. Nothing is more clearly established, than that population increases far more rapidly in new countries, where the resources of the land are without limit, than in old ones, where men keep together in masses, whose numbers press closely upon the means of subsistence. These family colonies, if they had gone forth, as they were eventually compelled to do, would have become the nucleus of a rapidly growing population in the lands to which they went. There is a very old tradition, that, when the population had considerably increased, Noah, who lived long enough after the flood to see that increase, was commanded to give the needful directions for their  migration, dividing the world, as it were, among them. That something of this kind formed the Divine plan with respect to the dispersion of men, is shown by the fact, that it was what actually took place when the obstinacy of men, in refusing to follow the course indicated, rendered coercion necessary; for it is evident, that the compulsion eventually laid upon them was for no other purpose, than to constrain them to take the very course which they had without compulsion declined to follow.

Well, then, we find the several families of Noah’s descendants perversely keeping together, leaving many fair regions of the world without inhabitants. Eventually, we find that the population of the still united families, had extended itself so far as the land watered by the Tigris and Euphrates, and had come, whether by succession, or consent, or violence, under the chieftainship of “a bold, bad man,” of the name of Nimrod. Concerning the possible character of this man much has been written; but we really know nothing more than that be was a strong, forceful, and unscrupulous character, a leader of men in his generation, and the first founder of the Assyro-Babylonian empire, which, however small in its beginning, was destined, ages after, to overshadow the nations.

Having come thus far, and finding nothing beyond them to the south and west but inhospitable deserts, they may easily have supposed that their extension had already reached the bounds of the habitable earth, and that to disperse, in order to explore those seemingly uninhabitable regions, would be to peril their existence. These apprehensions coincided with the policy of their leader, whose ambition seems to have aimed at nothing less than the rule over mankind, which could only be secured by keeping the families of Noah together. They, therefore, perhaps at his suggestion, concluded to make their stand against further dispersion in the fertile land and by the abundant rivers to which they had come. But coming, as they did, from a land of mountains, and from the sacred shade of Ararat, into flat plains seemingly as  boundless as the sea; and observing that in this plain—the unexplored extent of which must have been greatly exaggerated in their minds—any marked object, such as a tree, could be seen from a great distance, they concluded to set up a lofty tower which would at once, as a common center, be to them what the mountain of the ark had been; and would at the same time declare their purpose not to disperse, and by affording a signal landmark from afar, protect them, as they thought, from being lost or accidentally dispersed in the illimitable plain. In this we may recognize the natural actions of men who, having these objects in view, find themselves for the first time without those landmarks and objects of distant recognition which mountains afford.

So they set about to build a city, and therein “a tower whose top should reach unto heaven.” They used for this purpose the materials still employed in the same country, where there is no stone, and where the dryness of the climate prevents the need of burnt bricks. They constructed their works of sun-dried masses of mud, cemented and strengthened with the bitumen which is abundantly produced in the same region. Two mighty heaps are found on the desolated site of Babylon, formed of the foundations and fallen superstructure of great ancient works thus constructed; and it is thought by some that one of these (either the Mujelibe or the Birs Nimroud) may present the foundations of the very building which those men undertook, but were prevented from completing, although in later ages it may have formed the basis of the tower which counted among the wonders of the ancient world.

“He who sitteth in the heavens” derided this foolish attempt to frustrate his councils. Hitherto they had all spoken the language of the antediluvians, and of their father Noah. This, indeed, had alone rendered possible the union which they were so anxious to preserve. But God “confounded their language,” so that they could no longer understand each other, and they were not only constrained to abandon their work, but their continuance together became  no longer practicable or convenient. As the researches of the most learned philologers have appeared to show that the languages of men may be traced to three principal roots, it is enough to suppose that the result was the formation of two new languages, which, with that already existing, would give one to each of the families of Noah—thus constraining their separation, their dispersion, and the fulfillment of their destinies. But if any one thinks this number of languages inadequate to the proper distribution of mankind—we contend not. It is quite possible that each of these three stems of language might have run into branch dialects unintelligible to those by whom the other dialects were spoken. A very limited degree of experience suffices to show how unintelligible the different dialects of the same language may become to all but those who use them. Du Bartas, whom we formerly had occasion to quote, gives a graphic and curious account of the immediate effect of the confusion of tongues upon the operations of the builders of Babel—

“Bring me, quoth one, a trowel, quickly, quick;
One brings him up a hammer: Hew this brick,
(Another bids), and then they cleave a tree:
Make fast this rope; and then they let it flee.
One calls for planks; another mortar lacks;
They bear the first a stone—the last an axe.
One would have spikes; and him a spade they give;
Another asks a saw, and gets a sieve.
Thus crossly-crost, they prate and pant in vain;
What one hath made, another mars again.”