The Dividing Peleg

“It came to pass that Eber had lived thirty-four years and he begat Paleg. After Eber begat Peleg, he lived four-hundred and thirty years and he begat sons and daughters.”

(Genesis 11:16-17)

 

Like Shelach, we find Peleg presented with two sets of vowel, which again should not cause us to stumble greatly as we are reminded that the vowel pointing is present for pronunciation, not for definition. Of the Sons of Shem, this is the first case where more than one son is mentioned (see Genesis 10:25) and in that context we are also given the meaning of his name: “division.” We are told that it was in this generation that the earth was divided up — in context, most likely speaking about the various clans going in their separate directions. God had commanded the children of Noah to be fruitful and multiply, filling the earth with their kind (Genesis 9:1), yet the children of Noah settled in Shinar and set forth to build a city in their own honor (Genesis 11:1-4). God confused their languages and thus divided the people, forcing them apart and to migrate to every corner of the earth, leaving behind their plans for vain-glory and being made to be obedient even if that was not their intent. While we do not know for sure exactly which “division” that Eber had in mind when he named his son, it is not unreasonable to consider Babel as the event behind the division. Peleg’s brother’s name was Yoqtan, which means “watchful,” and traditionally is seen as the forefather of those who live in the Arabic nation of Yemen.

How often disobedience brings division. Our culture is one which celebrates the individual and tends only to think of the ramifications that one’s actions may have on oneself. Yet, what of the ramifications of one’s actions on the community around us? God would have us understand that one’s actions either bless or bring trial upon the community around us — hence the seriousness of the punishments prescribed for Old Testament Israel were incremental based on the seriousness of the crime within the covenantal community. Division was brought in Peleg’s day. If as a result of Babel, then we know exactly the kind of disobedience that caused the division. If as a result of something else, then all we know is that the actions of the day were ones that brought division — something that brought grief and separation on the face of the earth — no longer could the people dwell together but they had to separate and divide.

As Christians, we are called to be a people of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Yet how often we act as Pelegs — people of division. Numerous protestant denominations are a testimony to this fact. And, though there are certainly times when denominations separate themselves from the body of Christ by their unfaithfulness, how many small, faithful denominations are there whose only point of separation was on whether one sang psalms, hymns, or praise choruses? Loved ones, we are quick to divide and slow to reconcile…it ought to be the other way around.

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