וַֽיְהִ֥י כָל־הָאָ֖רֶץ שָׂפָ֣ה אֶחָ֑ת וּדְבָרִ֖ים אֲחָדִֽים׃
Now it was that all the earth was one lip and the same words.
Paraphrase: Now you might ask; how was it that the families of Noah grew into separate and unique nations, all living in different places and speaking their own unique language? I will now explain how this came to be. When Noah and his family left the ark, everyone spoke the same language.
When אֶחָד is plural, it often means the same; Gesenius.
וַֽיְהִ֖י בְּנָסְעָ֣ם מִקֶּ֑דֶם וַֽיִּמְצְא֥וּ בִקְעָ֛ה בְּאֶ֥רֶץ שִׁנְעָ֖ר וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם׃
And it was, while they were traveling from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they settled there.
Paraphrase: Now some of the people of that time were migrating, and a good number of them happened on a large plain in a land which was then called Shinar. They saw lots of advantages for settling there, so they decided to make this their home.
See Ewald §b here for this construction וֽיְהִי… that…
It [Shinar] has long been identified as linguistically equivalent to “Sumer,” the designation for the same region that witnessed the earliest development of civilization. The principal cities of the region in earliest times were Ur, Eridu, Uruk and Nippur. The IVP Bible Background Commentary on Genesis 11:2
For ziggurat, see here.
וַיֹּאמְר֞וּ אִ֣ישׁ אֶל־רֵעֵ֗הוּ הָ֚בָה נִלְבְּנָ֣ה לְבֵנִ֔ים וְנִשְׂרְפָ֖ה לִשְׂרֵפָ֑ה וַתְּהִ֨י לָהֶ֤ם הַלְּבֵנָה֙ לְאָ֔בֶן וְהַ֣חֵמָ֔ר הָיָ֥ה לָהֶ֖ם לַחֹֽמֶר׃
And they said each to his fellow, “Come now, let us make bricks for bricks and let us burn for a burning, and she will be for them for bricks and for stone, and pitch was to them to mortar.
Paraphrase: Thus, they set about building homes and a city in which they could live in safety. They made bricks in their kilns and used stone and asphalt to construct houses and other buildings.
Note the cohortatives.
Alford quotes Herodotus as speaking of a large quantities of asphalt found in this area. He also quotes Layard’s observation that this mortar is so strong that it is almost impossible to detach an entire brick from the mass. source
וַיֹּאמְר֞וּ הָ֣בָה׀ נִבְנֶה־לָּ֣נוּ עִ֗יר וּמִגְדָּל֙ וְרֹאשׁ֣וֹ בַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וְנַֽעֲשֶׂה־לָּ֖נוּ שֵׁ֑ם פֶּן־נָפ֖וּץ עַל־פְּנֵ֥י כָל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃
And they said, “Come now, let us build for us a city and a tower, its top in heaven and let us make for us a name, lest we be scattered on the face of all the earth.
Paraphrase: As they built their homes, they began to think about how they could best come together as a single people and avoid being scattered all over the land. “People of the world, unite!” was their rallying cry. “We have to stick together,” they said, “or we will all fail. United we stand; divided we fall!” They had long forgotten God’s command to “Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1) Their primary concern was with making a name and reputation for themselves as having the most large and prosperous city in the world. Some of their number suggested building a ziggurat, larger and higher than anything anyone had ever constructed before. The top of this tower will enter into heaven itself, they promised themselves. Immediately and with great enthusiasm they set about building a massive ziggurat.
The word used for tower is מגדל (migdāl). Since this word is often used in the OT for a watchtower or a defensive tower (e.g., Judg 9:45, 51; 2 Kgs 9:17; 17:9; Isa 5:2) and nowhere else refers to a ziggurat, what reason is there to believe that in Gen 11:4 it refers to a ziggurat? The first reason is that the setting is in Babylonia where the ziggurat was the most prominent structure in a city—both visually and ideologically. Secondly, the tower in our text was designed to bring fame and glory to the builders (“so that we may make a name for ourselves”). Mesopotamian kings often took pride in building ziggurats, but no such pride was taken in defensive towers which were simply parts of the city wall. The use of baked brick and bitumen also tells us that the migdāl in our text was a ziggurat rather than a defensive tower, for baked brick and bitumen were very expensive in Mesopotamia and hence were saved for luxurious architecture like palaces, temples, and ziggurats. Seely, “The Date of the Tower of Babel,” Westminster Theological Journal 63, no. 1 (2001): 18.
וַיֵּ֣רֶד יְהוָ֔ה לִרְאֹ֥ת אֶת־הָעִ֖יר וְאֶת־הַמִּגְדָּ֑ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר בָּנ֖וּ בְּנֵ֥י הָאָדָֽם׃
Then YHWH went down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men were building.
Paraphrase: After some time, YHWH, the Great King, went down to the city to see how they were getting along. He also observed the tower which they were working hard to build.
See Hodge on anthropomorphism. “…if we are not justified in referring to God the attributes of our own nature, then we have no God. The only alternative is anthropomorphism (in this sense) or Atheism. An unknown God, a God of whose nature and of whose relation to us we know nothing, to us is nothing.” source Also Milton Terry.
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָ֗ה הֵ֣ן עַ֤ם אֶחָד֙ וְשָׂפָ֤ה אַחַת֙ לְכֻלָּ֔ם וְזֶ֖ה הַחִלָּ֣ם לַעֲשׂ֑וֹת וְעַתָּה֙ לֹֽא־יִבָּצֵ֣ר מֵהֶ֔ם כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָזְמ֖וּ לַֽעֲשֽׂוֹת׃
Then YHWH said, “Behold, one people and one lip to all of them, and this they begin to do, and now they will not be restrained from these; all what they plan to do.
Paraphrase: Upon seeing this, YHWH reflected within Himself. “Look, if these people are allowed to unite and to consolidate their efforts into one, then there is no end to the degree of wickedness they could accomplish. This tower is a perfect example. It represents all that fallen man, as the children of the serpent (Genesis 3:15), will do in opposition to Me and My purpose for this world. It is a monument of man’s defiance against the God who created them.”
Clearly, there is a condition implied here. The NET notes say, “The foundational clause beginning with הֵן expresses the condition, and the second clause the result. It could be rendered “If this … then now.”
Wesley asks whether there was perhaps a godly remnant somewhere on the earth that these wicked people, consolidated into one, would soon swallow up and destroy if they were allowed to continue. source
הָ֚בָה נֵֽרְדָ֔ה וְנָבְלָ֥ה שָׁ֖ם שְׂפָתָ֑ם אֲשֶׁר֙ לֹ֣א יִשְׁמְע֔וּ אִ֖ישׁ שְׂפַ֥ת רֵעֵֽהוּ׃
Come now, let us go down and confuse there their lips which they will not hear, each man the lip of his fellow.”
Paraphrase: Then God announced His decision. “Come on, let us go down there again and break up their plans to consolidate. I will change their languages with the result that they will no longer be able to understand each other. Then, they will have to separate and each will go their own way with the people they are able to understand.”
Why would YHWH need to go down when he had already descended in v5. Driver supposes that some words are missing here and that the thought is that God had returned to heaven. source
The rebellious men say הָבָה but now YHWH says הָבָה.
וַיָּ֨פֶץ יְהוָ֥ה אֹתָ֛ם מִשָּׁ֖ם עַל־פְּנֵ֣י כָל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וַֽיַּחְדְּל֖וּ לִבְנֹ֥ת הָעִֽיר׃
Then YHWH caused them to be scattered from there over the face of all the earth, and they stopped building the city.
Paraphrase: This is what took place; and immediately, the workers were no longer able to understand each other’s speech. Bewildered, they packed up and left. They settled down in new places with those whose speech they could understand. The grand city with its massive tower was left unfinished and became a ghost town.
עַל־כֵּ֞ן קָרָ֤א שְׁמָהּ֙ בָּבֶ֔ל כִּי־שָׁ֛ם בָּלַ֥ל יְהוָ֖ה שְׂפַ֣ת כָּל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וּמִשָּׁם֙ הֱפִיצָ֣ם יְהוָ֔ה עַל־פְּנֵ֖י כָּל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃פ
Therefore, her name was called Bavel because there YHWH confused lips of all the earth and from there, YHWH caused them to be scattered over the face of all the earth.
Paraphrase: Because YHWH had confused the languages of the people in this place and had sent them in all directions, the name of this place was called Babel which comes from the verb balal or “to confuse.”
אֵ֚לֶּה תּוֹלְדֹ֣ת שֵׁ֔ם שֵׁ֚ם בֶּן־מְאַ֣ת שָׁנָ֔ה וַיּ֖וֹלֶד אֶת־אַרְפַּכְשָׁ֑ד שְׁנָתַ֖יִם אַחַ֥ר הַמַּבּֽוּל׃
וַֽיְחִי־שֵׁ֗ם אַֽחֲרֵי֙ הוֹלִיד֣וֹ אֶת־אַרְפַּכְשָׁ֔ד חֲמֵ֥שׁ מֵא֖וֹת שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֥וֹלֶד בָּנִ֖ים וּבָנֽוֹת׃ס
וְאַרְפַּכְשַׁ֣ד חַ֔י חָמֵ֥שׁ וּשְׁלֹשִׁ֖ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֖וֹלֶד אֶת־שָֽׁלַח׃
וַֽיְחִ֣י אַרְפַּכְשַׁ֗ד אַֽחֲרֵי֙ הוֹלִיד֣וֹ אֶת־שֶׁ֔לַח שָׁלֹ֣שׁ שָׁנִ֔ים וְאַרְבַּ֥ע מֵא֖וֹת שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֥וֹלֶד בָּנִ֖ים וּבָנֽוֹת׃ס
וְשֶׁ֥לַח חַ֖י שְׁלֹשִׁ֣ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֖וֹלֶד אֶת־עֵֽבֶר׃
וַֽיְחִי־שֶׁ֗לַח אַחֲרֵי֙ הוֹלִיד֣וֹ אֶת־עֵ֔בֶר שָׁלֹ֣שׁ שָׁנִ֔ים וְאַרְבַּ֥ע מֵא֖וֹת שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֥וֹלֶד בָּנִ֖ים וּבָנֽוֹת׃ס
Gen 11:16 וַֽיְחִי־עֵ֕בֶר אַרְבַּ֥ע וּשְׁלֹשִׁ֖ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֖וֹלֶד אֶת־פָּֽלֶג׃
Gen 11:17 וַֽיְחִי־עֵ֗בֶר אַחֲרֵי֙ הוֹלִיד֣וֹ אֶת־פֶּ֔לֶג שְׁלֹשִׁ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה וְאַרְבַּ֥ע מֵא֖וֹת שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֥וֹלֶד בָּנִ֖ים וּבָנֽוֹת׃ס
Gen 11:18 וַֽיְחִי־פֶ֖לֶג שְׁלֹשִׁ֣ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֖וֹלֶד אֶת־רְעֽוּ׃
Gen 11:19 וַֽיְחִי־פֶ֗לֶג אַחֲרֵי֙ הוֹלִיד֣וֹ אֶת־רְע֔וּ תֵּ֥שַׁע שָׁנִ֖ים וּמָאתַ֣יִם שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֥וֹלֶד בָּנִ֖ים וּבָנֽוֹת׃ס
Gen 11:20 וַיְחִ֣י רְע֔וּ שְׁתַּ֥יִם וּשְׁלֹשִׁ֖ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֖וֹלֶד אֶת־שְׂרֽוּג׃
Gen 11:21 וַיְחִ֣י רְע֗וּ אַחֲרֵי֙ הוֹלִיד֣וֹ אֶת־שְׂר֔וּג שֶׁ֥בַע שָׁנִ֖ים וּמָאתַ֣יִם שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֥וֹלֶד בָּנִ֖ים וּבָנֽוֹת׃ס
Gen 11:22 וַיְחִ֥י שְׂר֖וּג שְׁלֹשִׁ֣ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֖וֹלֶד אֶת־נָחֽוֹר׃
Gen 11:23 וַיְחִ֣י שְׂר֗וּג אַחֲרֵ֛י הוֹלִיד֥וֹ אֶת־נָח֖וֹר מָאתַ֣יִם שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֥וֹלֶד בָּנִ֖ים וּבָנֽוֹת׃ס
Gen 11:24 וַיְחִ֣י נָח֔וֹר תֵּ֥שַׁע וְעֶשְׂרִ֖ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֖וֹלֶד אֶת־תָּֽרַח׃
Gen 11:25 וַיְחִ֣י נָח֗וֹר אַחֲרֵי֙ הוֹלִיד֣וֹ אֶת־תֶּ֔רַח תְּשַֽׁע־עֶשְׂרֵ֥ה שָׁנָ֖ה וּמְאַ֣ת שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֥וֹלֶד בָּנִ֖ים וּבָנֽוֹת׃ס
Gen 11:26 וַֽיְחִי־תֶ֖רַח שִׁבְעִ֣ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֙וֹלֶד֙ אֶת־אַבְרָ֔ם אֶת־נָח֖וֹר וְאֶת־הָרָֽן׃
Gen 11:27 וְאֵ֙לֶּה֙ תּוֹלְדֹ֣ת תֶּ֔רַח תֶּ֚רַח הוֹלִ֣יד אֶת־אַבְרָ֔ם אֶת־נָח֖וֹר וְאֶת־הָרָ֑ן וְהָרָ֖ן הוֹלִ֥יד אֶת־לֽוֹט׃
Gen 11:28 וַיָּ֣מָת הָרָ֔ן עַל־פְּנֵ֖י תֶּ֣רַח אָבִ֑יו בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מוֹלַדְתּ֖וֹ בְּא֥וּר כַּשְׂדִּֽים׃
Gen 11:29 וַיִּקַּ֨ח אַבְרָ֧ם וְנָח֛וֹר לָהֶ֖ם נָשִׁ֑ים שֵׁ֤ם אֵֽשֶׁת־אַבְרָם֙ שָׂרָ֔י וְשֵׁ֤ם אֵֽשֶׁת־נָחוֹר֙ מִלְכָּ֔ה בַּת־הָרָ֥ן אֲבִֽי־מִלְכָּ֖ה וַֽאֲבִ֥י יִסְכָּֽה׃
Gen 11:30 וַתְּהִ֥י שָׂרַ֖י עֲקָרָ֑ה אֵ֥ין לָ֖הּ וָלָֽד׃
Gen 11:31 וַיִּקַּ֨ח תֶּ֜רַח אֶת־אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֗וֹ וְאֶת־ל֤וֹט בֶּן־הָרָן֙ בֶּן־בְּנ֔וֹ וְאֵת֙ שָׂרַ֣י כַּלָּת֔וֹ אֵ֖שֶׁת אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֑וֹ וַיֵּצְא֨וּ אִתָּ֜ם מֵא֣וּר כַּשְׂדִּ֗ים לָלֶ֙כֶת֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ עַד־חָרָ֖ן וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם׃
Gen 11:32 וַיִּהְי֣וּ יְמֵי־תֶ֔רַח חָמֵ֥שׁ שָׁנִ֖ים וּמָאתַ֣יִם שָׁנָ֑ה וַיָּ֥מָת תֶּ֖רַח בְּחָרָֽן׃ס