Paradise Lost Book 12 Summary and Analysis
by John Milton

Paradise Lost book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Paradise Lost Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Book 12 Summary and Analysis

After the vision of Noah and the destruction of the world by flood, Michael pauses for a moment to give Adam an opportunity to ask further questions. Since he does not respond, Michael hurries on to resume the story of human history, but instead of showing the events he will now tell about them.

With the judgment of God by flood still fresh in their minds, Noah’s descendants live righteous and peaceful lives, Michael says, until Nimrod, ambitious for power, rises up in rebellion to God. To make a name for himself that will be remembered throughout the world, he gathers a crew to help him build the Tower of Babel “whose top may reach to Heaven.” It is made from brick and the bituminous elements that boil onto the plain from the mouth of Hell. Before the tower is completed, however, God intervenes, confusing their native language so that the builders cannot communicate. Feeling mocked by God, they angrily leave the ridiculous tower unfinished.

Displeased with his descendant, Adam criticizes Nimrod for usurping the authority of God who has given Man dominion over beast, fish, and fowl but has not made him lord over other men. Adam is appalled at the insolence of a wretched man who would think that he could encroach upon Heaven and defy God. He argues that the air is too thin above the clouds, and there is no food to sustain men at that height. Michael replies that Adam’s accusation of Nimrod is justified, but he must remember that “rational liberty” along with “right reason” was lost after the fall, and men and government are often controlled by their passions. Sometimes nations become tyrannical as is the case with the “irreverent son” of Noah, Ham, whose people and their succeeding generations are cursed to become a race of servants.

The world goes “from bad to worse” until God, weary of people’s immorality, resolves to leave them to their own wicked ways and focus his attention on “a mighty nation,” Israel, that springs from “one faithful man,” Abraham. His race is blessed with the seed that will produce the “great Deliverer, who shall bruise/ The Serpent’s head,” Michael says, but this will be revealed to Adam more clearly at another time.

Moses is later sent by God to deliver his people out of captivity in Egypt and into the promised land. Extending his rod over the Red Sea Moses with God’s power, parts the sea and the Israelites march safely through on dry land to Canaan on the other side. The Egyptians, led by Pharaoh, follow in pursuit but are swallowed up by the sea as Moses bids the waters return. The Israelites found their government in the wilderness, and Moses establishes the Ten Commandments, ordained by God on Mount Sinai, as their laws. A tabernacle is built to house the ark containing the testimony of God’s covenant “promised to Abraham and his seed.”

Adam replies that he now sees how all the nations will be blessed through Abraham, but he still does not understand why so many laws are needed. Many laws indicate sins, and he wonders how God can tolerate such sinful people. Michael tells Adam that the laws govern them only until they can move “from inposition of strict laws, to free/ Acceptance of large grace.” It is, therefore, not Moses who leads his people into Canaan, Michael says, but Joshua, who comes later. Judges and kings then rule the Israelites, and from the royal stock of King David, the “Woman’s Seed” will produce a kingdom without end. David’s son Solomon, famous for his wealth and wisdom, builds a “glorious temple” where he places the Ark of the Covenant. The “foul idolatries” of Solomon’s subjects “so incense God,” however, that he allows them to be taken to Babylon and held in captivity for 70 years. Upon return, they live moderately for a few years, but dissension, starting among the priests, soon grows among them, and they lose the kingdom to foreign powers. “Barred of his right” to inherit the royal kingdom, the...

(The entire section is 2,252 words.)