Lesson 18: Genesis 10–11

“Lesson 18: Genesis 10–11,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)

“Lesson 18,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 18

Genesis 10–11


After the Flood, the posterity of Noah began to multiply and establish cities and kingdoms upon the earth. Many of the people turned from the Lord and became wicked, and they began to build a great tower in Babel. Because of the wickedness of the people, the Lord confounded their language and scattered them to different places upon the earth.

Suggestions for Teaching

Genesis 10

Descendants of Noah are listed

Have students imagine that after they are married they have a newborn son. Invite them to briefly scan the list of Noah’s descendants in Genesis 10:1–29 to find a name they would be willing to name their son. Ask a few students to tell the class what name they chose. (You might consider looking up the meaning of some of the names to share with the students. For example: Phut [verse 6] means “a bow.” Seba [or Sheba; verse 7] means “seven” or “an oath.” Today, Nimrod may be used as a derogatory name, but the ancient meaning was “rebellion.”)

Point out the name Nimrod in Genesis 10:8. Ask the students to read Genesis 10:8–10 silently, looking for the description of Nimrod, who was a great-grandson of Noah through Ham. Ask them to report what they learned.

Explain that the Joseph Smith Translation changes the phrase “He was a mighty hunter before the Lord” in verse 9 to “He was a mighty hunter in the land” (Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 10:5). Write this change on the board.

  • What is the difference between being mighty before the Lord and being mighty in the land?

  • How is this change significant?

Explain that the reference to Nimrod being a “mighty hunter” refers not only to his ability in killing animals but also to his use of violence to gain power over and influence other people. “Though the words are not definite, it is very likely he was a very bad man. His name Nimrod comes from … marad, he rebelled; and the Targum [ancient Jewish translations or paraphrases of the scriptures], on [1 Chronicles 1:10], says: Nimrod began to be a mighty man in sin, a murderer of innocent men, and a rebel before the Lord” (Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible … with a Commentary and Critical Notes, 6 vols., 1:86; see also Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, 3rd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 57–58).

  • According to Genesis 10:10, what cities were included in Nimrod’s kingdom? (You may want to suggest that students mark “Babel” and “in the land of Shinar” in their scriptures.)

Genesis 11:1–9

The Lord confounds the language of the people and scatters them throughout the earth

Invite students to imagine they have a friend who appears to be happy and successful even though he is involved in serious sin. Because he appears to be happy and successful, some of their other friends are also considering committing serious sins. Invite students to think about what they could say to their friends to help them avoid making that mistake.

Explain to students that as they study Genesis 11, they will learn a principle that will help them know how to respond to those who believe that they can avoid the consequences of sinful behavior.

Ask a student to read Genesis 11:1–4 aloud. Invite students to follow along, looking for what the people in Nimrod’s kingdom—the land of Shinar—began to do.

  • What did the people begin to do? (You may want to point out that this tower is often referred to as the Tower of Babel.)

  • According to verse 4, why did they build the tower?

Explain that the phrase “reach unto heaven” in verse 4 taken literally could mean the people were making a tower that would physically reach heaven so they could avoid the consequences of sin. It may also be more symbolic and mean that the people were attempting to set aside true temple worship and build a counterfeit temple in order to reach unto heaven.

Point out the phrase “make us a name” in verse 4, and explain that the biblical meaning of making a name is to build a reputation, fame, or a monument. By building the tower, the people may have been trying to obtain the glory of the world by creating something that would perpetuate their fame or wickedness.

  • According to verse 3, what materials did they use to build the tower?

Explain that slime, or bitumen (see verse 3, footnote a), was a substance like asphalt or tar that was used not only as an adhesive for the bricks but also to seal objects against water or moisture.

  • Why might the people have wanted to use a substance for mortar that would resist water?

Some people think that the people used slime as mortar to make the tower waterproof so it would keep them safe in their sins if God decided to flood the earth again (see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, book 1, chapter 4, paragraphs 2–3).

Invite a student to read Genesis 11:5–6 aloud. Ask students to follow along, looking for what the Lord said about the people who were building the tower.

  • What do you think the phrase “nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” means? (It may mean that the people believed that once the tower was built, they could commit any sin without having to worry about God’s punishments.)

  • How might people try to avoid the consequences of their sins in our day?

Invite a student to read Genesis 11:7–9 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what God did because of the wickedness of the people.

  • What did the Lord do to the inhabitants of earth? (Tell students that the word confound in these verses means “to confuse.”)

  • Since the people were “scattered … upon the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:8), what happened to the construction of the tower? (It may be helpful to explain that the phrase “they left off to build the city” in verse 8 means that they stopped building.)

  • What does this scripture account teach us will happen if we choose to turn away from God? (One principle students may identify is that if we choose to turn away from God, we bring undesirable consequences upon ourselves and others.)

You may want to point out that this account is an example of what happens when people break the laws of God—they are scattered and they become separated from the gospel covenant and God’s covenant people. The Book of Mormon teaches that the children of Israel were scattered when they rejected the true Messiah and His gospel (see 2 Nephi 6:8–11; 10:5–6; Helaman 7:19).

Invite students to reflect on experiences they have had when they have seen this principle in their lives or the life of someone they know.

Remind students of the example of the friend involved in serious sin, mentioned at the beginning of class.

  • What are some possible undesirable consequences this person might experience because of his involvement in serious sin?

  • What are some possible consequences those around him might experience?

To help students feel the truth and importance of the principle identified above, ask them to think of a time when they have seen a person or group of people experience undesirable consequences that came as a result of someone turning away from the Lord.

Ask students to think about the choices they are currently making and to consider what consequences might come to them and those around them because of those choices. Encourage them to seek Heavenly Father’s help to repent of anything that would bring undesirable consequences to them and to those around them.

Point out that in the 2013 edition of the scriptures, an important phrase from the Joseph Smith Translation was added in a footnote to the end of Genesis 11:8: “and they hearkened not unto the Lord” (Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 11:6 [in Genesis 11:8, footnote a]). Explain that while there were many people who hearkened not unto the Lord, there were other people who were righteous and did not have their language confounded. The Lord blessed those who were righteous. The brother of Jared called upon God and was promised that his language and the language of his brother and certain family members and friends would not be confounded. The Lord led them to a choice land where they were able to worship Him and raise their families in righteousness (see Ether 1:33–43).

Genesis 11:10–32

Descendants of Shem are listed

Write the following names on the board: Japheth, Ham, and Shem. Explain that Genesis 10 lists the descendants of these three sons of Noah: Japheth (see verses 2–5), Ham (see verses 6–20), and Shem (see verses 21–31).

Ask students to read Genesis 11:10 silently and identify whom the people listed in the remainder of Genesis 11 descend from. Ask students to report what they learn.

Explain that beginning with Genesis 11, the Bible is mainly the story of some of Shem’s descendants. The term “Semite”—usually referring to the Jews—means “a descendant of Shem.”

Ask students to scan Genesis 11:26–29 to find the names Abram and Sarai. Ask students if they are familiar with these two names. Help them understand that Abram was a prophet whose name was later changed to Abraham. The Lord also changed the name of his wife Sarai to Sarah (see Genesis 17:5, 15).

Tell students that as they continue to study the Old Testament, they will learn about a covenant God made with Abraham and Sarah to bless all the people of the earth.

Conclude today’s lesson by inviting students to share insights or testimonies of truths they learned in the lesson or spiritual impressions they felt.

scripture mastery icon
Scripture Mastery Review

To help students understand the context for the scripture mastery references that have been introduced so far this year, write the following four headings across the top of the board: Speaker, Audience, Purpose, and Other Helpful Insights. Divide students into groups, and assign each group one of the following scripture mastery passages: Moses 1:39; Moses 7:18; Genesis 1:26–27; Genesis 2:24.

Invite students to discover the context of their assigned passages as they identify information that corresponds to each of the headings on the board. Explain that they can do this by reading the scripture chapter summary and some of the verses before and after their scripture mastery passage. Have them write their findings on the board. Then ask each group to explain the context of their assigned passage and how this information affects their understanding of the truths taught in that passage.

To add another element to this activity, you could ask the class to guess the scripture mastery references based on the descriptions on the board before each group gives its explanation.

Commentary and Background Information

Genesis 10:8. What sort of man was Nimrod?

“The Joseph Smith Translation indicates, not that Nimrod was ‘a mighty hunter before the Lord’ (Genesis 10:9), but that he was ‘a mighty hunter in the land’ (JST, Genesis 10:5).

“One scholar said the following of Nimrod:

“‘Though the words are not definite, it is very likely he was a very bad man. His name Nimrod comes from … marad, he rebelled; and the Targum [ancient Jewish translations or paraphrases of the scriptures], on [1 Chronicles 1:10], says: Nimrod began to be a mighty man in sin, a murderer of innocent men, and a rebel before the Lord. The Jerusalem Targum says: “He was mighty in hunting (or in prey) and in sin before God, for he was a hunter of the children of men in their languages; and he said unto them, Depart from the religion of Shem, and cleave to the institutes of Nimrod.” The Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel says: “From the foundation of the world none was ever found like Nimrod, powerful in hunting, and in rebellions against the Lord.” The Syriac calls him a warlike giant. The word … tsayid, which we render hunter, signifies prey; and is applied in the Scriptures to the hunting of men by persecution, oppression, and tyranny. Hence it is likely that Nimrod, having acquired power, used it in tyranny and oppression; and by rapine and violence founded that domination which was the first distinguished by the name of a kingdom on the face of the earth’ [Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible … with Commentary and Critical Notes, 6 vols. [n.d.], 1:86].

“Thus, in the same patriarchal age, Melchizedek … established a Zion after the pattern of Enoch, the prototype of the true city of God, the freest of all societies, and Nimrod established a Babylon that gave its name to the prototype of the kingdom of Satan, the antithesis of Zion (see Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, 154–64)” (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, 3rd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 57–58).

Genesis 11:1–9. The Tower of Babel

In addition to providing an explanation for the numerous languages now found on the earth, the account of the Tower of Babel shows how quickly (in less than 150 years) the people forgot the lessons of the Flood and turned again from the Lord. The Book of Mormon illustrates how the actual confounding of the languages may not have occurred instantaneously but may have happened over an unknown length of time. Jared asked his brother to call upon the Lord and request that their language not be confounded. This request was granted. Then Jared asked his brother to plead that the language of their friends would stay the same as theirs. This request was also granted. (See Ether 1:33–38.) These events imply that the confounding of the languages did not happen in an instant. (For more information on the Tower of Babel, see Bible Dictionary, “Babylon or Babel”; Lee Donaldson, V. Dan Rogers, and David Rolph Seely, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Feb. 1994, 60–61; Donald W. Parry, “The Flood and the Tower of Babel,” Ensign, Jan. 1998, 34–41.)

Genesis 11:10–26. What does the chronology of Shem teach us?

The chronology of the patriarchs given in Genesis 11 teaches several things. It helps us understand that Shem, the son of Noah, was alive during the next 10 generations, which means he was still alive when Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were born. This is one of the reasons why some have wondered if Shem was also known as Melchizedek. Many scholars believe that Eber’s name (see Genesis 11:14, 16–17) was used to designate his descendants, called the Hebrews, just as Shem’s descendants were called Shemites (Semite peoples), and Canaan’s descendants were called the Canaanites. (See Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, 3rd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 58.)

Genesis 11:31. How does the book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price help us understand this verse?

From Genesis 11:31 it seems that it was Terah who directed his family to leave Ur and go to Canaan by way of Haran. Abraham 2:3–5, however, makes it clear that Abraham, under the Lord’s direction, was the leader of the group.