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SERMON X XI.
THE DISPERSION AT BABE
So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth.
GENESIS, xi. 8.
Since the greatest part of the Bible is properly historical, we may justly conclude that history is not only entertaining, but useful. The scripture history of the world is the most ancient, as well as the most authentic. Profane history is altogether fabulous, which pretends to give an account of the world from Adam to Noah, and from Noah to Alexander. From that time downwards, the history of nations becomes more clear, just and authentic; but from that time upwards, the Bible is the only source of authentic information. This book, indeed, gives us a history of the world, from Adam to Noah, and then from Noah to Abraham and his descendants. The Bible history from Noah to Abraham is very concise, but extremely interesting. The Flood was an astonishing and important event. It reduced a world full of people to one single family of eight persons. From these all mankind since that memorable catastrophe have descended. The history of Noah's family is the history of all mankind in miniature. Could we know how they increased, when and where they spread over the face of the earth, we should have a general and comprehensive knowledge of all antiquity. And so far as the Bible will conduct us in searching for this useful knowledge, we may safely proceed. The words I have read, relate to the interesting event of the building of Babel, and the dispersion of those who were concerned in that impious design. " So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth.” I shall
first inquire who those persons were; and then what were the most remarkable consequences of their dispersion.
I. Let us inquire who were dispersed over the face of the earth, at the destruction of Babel. This is a more difficult and important point to ascertain than some may imagine. It is generally supposed that they were the whole of mankind at that day; but, perhaps, in the course of our inquiry, we shall find this to be a mistake. We are told in the ninth chapter of this book of Genesis, ihat Noah lived after the Flood three hundred and fifty years. He was probably a very great, as well as good man. Of his goodness God himself testified, when he told him he had found him perfect in his generation. But mere goodness would not have qualified him for the great and extensive service which God assigned him. He was to be the preserver of the old, and father of the new world. He was to erect a stupendous building to preserve the human race in the Deluge. This was a work of art, as well as of time; and when he had preserved the world, he was also to be the guide and governor of it. It is therefore to be presumed that he was a man of extensive knowledge, as well as of eminent piety. Such a man must have had a great and powerful influence over all his posterity as long as he lived, and kept them in order, peace and harmony. And this is, probably, what the heathen poets allude to, when they celebrate the once golden age, as a time of universal justice, peace and prosperity. But if, during Noah's lise, mankind lived in peace and prosperity, then it is reasonable to suppose they increased very fast.
fast. It is computed that a people, at this day, double in number once in twenty-five years. And according to this ratio of increase, the eight persons in Noah's family must have increased to above one hundred and thirty thousand, before he died. This number was too large to live comfortably together on the plains of Shinar, all the while he lived. This leads us to inquire when his family first began to disperse. It is natural to conclude that they would wish to live together as long as they could, or as long as Noah would perinit them to do it.
If we now look back into the chapter preceding our text, we shall there find an account of a regular and general dispersion of Noah's family. The sacred historian first gives the genealogy of Japheth; and then says, “By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands, every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations." He next gives the genealogy of Ham; and “these are the sons of Ham, after their families, after their tongues, in their countries, and in their nations." In the last place, he gives the genealogy of Shem; and among his posterity he mentions Peleg, in whose days the earth was
divided, and concludes by saying: “ These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations; and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.” This was certainly a general dispersion of mankind into the various parts of the world. And from the account here given of it, as well as from other accounts, it appears to have been a regular and peaceable dispersion. Hence we must conclude that it took place during the life of Noah, and under his direction, according to a divine appointment. This is intimated in several places of scripture. We read, Deuteronomy, xxxii. 8, 9:" When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord's portion is his people, Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.” This refers to the dispersion of mankind after the Flood, and represents God as allotting the places of the several nations in reference to Judea, the land of his chosen people. This agrees with what God says by Ezekiel. Thus saith the Lord God, This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her." And Paul, speaking of the general dispersion of mankind, represents its taking place according to the will and direction of the Deity, “who hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation." This plainly intimates that God appointed the time when, and the places where, mankind should be dispersed. The time was probably just before Noah's death. And this, Eusebius says, was the case. The places were these, according to the best accounts given us in history. The posterity of Japheth were sent into Europe; the posterity of Shem into Asia; and the posterity of Ham into Africa. The land of Judea was not divided among the nations, but reserved by God for his own use, to be given at a future time to his own people, the seed of Abraham.
But if this be a just account of the general dispersion of mankind which took place in the life time of Noah, and under his direction; the question will naturally arise, Who were those that lived on the plains of Shinar, built the tower of Babel, and were scattered over all the earth? It is evident they could not be the whole of mankind; for they had before been sent to the various places of their divine destination. Some had gone to one quarter of the world, and some to another. Who then could the builders of Babel be, that, after the general dispersion of mankind, were scattered over the earth? The scripture history will inform us upon this subject. They were the sons of Ham; for the sacred historian tells us, “ The sons of Ham were Cush, and Misraim, and Phut, and Canaan. And the sons of Cush; Seba, and Havilah, and Sabtah, and Raamah, and Sabtecha: and the sons of Raamah, Sheba and Dedan. And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel.” But how came Nimrod the son of Ham, and his posterity, at Babylon, where Babel was built? This portion of the earth was allotted to Shem; and Nimrod, with all the posterity of Ham, was appointed to go to Africa. What right then had Nimrod, or any of the sons of Ham, to take possession of the plains of Babylon? Undoubtedly they had no right at all. But this is the scripture account of the event. “ The whole earth was of one language, and one speech. And it came to pass as they journeyed from the East, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And ihey said, Go to, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto the heaven, and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they all have one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth." In the first verse in this account, it is said that the whole earth was of one language; and that as they journeyed, they found a place, &c. But the original word, translated whole or all, may be translated every; and the original word translated earth, may be translated a land or province. With this criticism, the two first verses may be read thus: " And every region was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass in the journeying of the people from the East, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar." The people, then, who journeyed from the east, were not all the people of the earth, but only the posterity of Ham, and es. pecially Nimrod and his posterity. This is a very rational account. But it is absurd to suppose that the posterity of Noah, who consisted of an hundred and twenty or an hundred and thirty thousand, should all move in a body from the rich and fertile country around Mount Ararat, where they first settled after the Flood, without any divine direction, or natural necessity. Hence it is natural to conclude that the people who journeyed from the East to the plain of Shinar, were Nimrod and his posterity. Especially when we reflect, it is expressly said that “the beginning of Nimrod's kingdom was Babel.”
But how came Nimrod to pitch upon the plain of Shinar, after the general dispersion of mankind, and after he was directed to go into the parts of Africa, a country far distant from Babylon? To this I would answer, There seems to be no account given of his conduct, but the following. When the posterity of Shem and Japheth obeyed the divine direction to separate, and go to the places allotted them, the posterity of Ham, or at least Nimrod and his descendants, refused to obey the divine command. In open defiance to God, they moved from the East, and came to the pleasant land of Babylon, and there by force of arms, took the plain of Shinar out of the hands of the children of Shem. This is agreeable to the character of Nimrod; "he was a mighty hunter;" a man of a bold, enterprising spirit, and destitute of the fear of God and every principle of humanity. Having taken possession of this pleasant spot by violence, he viewed himself exposed to be molested by the posterity of Shem. And to guard himself, his family, and his followers, and to prevent being scattered any farther, he formed the scheme of building a great tower; at once to display his great strength, and to be a centre of union among his future offspring. This is agreeable to the account which the builders of Babel give of their design. “ And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name,” or as it may be rendered, a mark or sign, “lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” They determined not to disperse, as God had required, and as the other branches of Noah's family had done. This shows that they built Babel in rebellion against God; and that God had just cause to come down and defeat their impious design, by confounding their language. What is to be understood by this, interpreters are divided in their opinion. Some suppose that the builders of Babel entirely lost their language, and had to get a new language in order to converse together. But others more naturally suppose that the confusion of language happened only to the builders of Babel; and that, by losing their pronunciation, until they were dispersed. This seems highly probable; for we find that different nations could converse together after the dispersion, without an interpreter. And it is supposed by many, that all the different languages now in the world may be accounted for, by those variations which would naturally arise from the dispersion of VOL. VI.