To Babel and Back again
languages of the world, a blessing disguised as a curse.
Learning any language is hard-work- struggling to learn how a new assortment of sounds should be patterned together to to communicate sounds awful to me! I have never been gifted at learning languages. I just don’t have an ear for it.
I know that everyone here who has studied a second language will remember a time when you felt the same way that I have felt.. All these languages in this world are a bad thing.. It would be better if we just had one language!
But after spending this week thinking about it and studying scripture carefully I think that the languages that god has given us are far more a blessing than a curse. ..
So to understand my point I want to invite you to look with me at that day that God started this strange multilingual world that we have today.
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
Why did God scatter the nations and disrupt their speech.
because they had gathered together for idol worship, to replace God and to be ruled by a false God.
because they were not obeying the command of creation to fill the earth Rather than scatter slowly across the earth and flourish they were grouped together a great crowd of people in one spot. Devoted to empire building rather than family and community building.
What is going on here- on the surface God is just changing their languages.. it is enough to scatter them but to us in the west its significance is lost to us.
It takes a close look at another part of scripture to help us interpret what is going on here. Remember Scripture interprets scripture. If you don’t follow that simple rule you can get some pretty crazy ideas about what the bible is saying.
Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you. When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.
The descendants of Noah have rebelled against God again. But rather than flood them God disinherits them. He will no longer lead them himself.
He invites the spirits of the divine council to go down with him and he confuses the languages of the people.. then he portions these new nations out to the divine counsel to rule.
God he will not take any of them as his own people.
but later he will choose one man from Shenair - ancient pre-Babylon- Ur - the ones who lead the rebellion
to be his own- after many generations. He will covenant with Abraham and tell him that through his family and this covenant He will bless all the nations.
So the nations spread across the world. Their languages and cultures continue to diverge. We see the beautiful collage of foods and songs cultures that span the world as we know it.
Israel has its ups and downs- they are rescued given the law and the Land. But they fail in worship, they fail in mission and it is clear that if the nations are to be blessed through Abraham's line it will be a surprise to everyone involved.
And Jesus was a surprise A descendant of Abraham and of David. he came the son of God in human flash to dwell in Israel and to proclaim the plan of God! He preaches, he heals he re-frames scripture in such a way that those who know him begin to see that from the beginning God was planning on sending his son. To live and to Die for Israel and for the World.
fast forward to the first Pentecost celebration after Jesus has been crucified and is risen from the grave. There can be no doubt that Israel has failed be a blessing to the nations. their focus on purity has made them a pain in the sides of even their closest neighbors for centuries.
But God has at last revealed himself to them in Christ. Jesus has changed everything thing for those Jews that have trusted him.. And Jesus isn't done yet. 10 days after He ascended into heaven the early church is gathered to celebrate pentecost, a harvest celebration and the celebration of Moses receiving the law from God on mount Sinai.
On that day the holy spirit descends on the church in the upper room.
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
travelers from afar hear the prayers and celebrations of the church in their own languages! why- Because god has released his spirit on mankind. no longer is he just the god of Israel. All the nations are now free to receive the gift of his grace.
But it will take a while for the Jewish Christians to figure this out. Peter is going to have a vision about unclean animals from heaven. And Paul is going to be sent to the far corners of the world as the Apostle to the gentiles.
God's curse at Babel is being rolled back.
But it is important to note what that doesn't mean.
It doesn't mean that the church is one homogeneous group by language or culture. Contrary to the beliefs of the Vatican God doesn’t intend for Christians to all speak one language in this age. The gift of tongues as a gift of automatic translation is very rarely reported out of that one instance. And so we have to learn humbly how to understand one another and how to translate God’s word into the thousand of languages of the world.
And that makes sense because language encapsulates thought and so if we suddenly lost our languages we would lose much of the beauty of cultures that we share. God doesn’t take away our ethnicity or culture when we meet Jesus- he does challenge it and its idols. But the Gospel unites us despite our differences in the person and the spirit of Jesus.
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
So if Pentecost doesn’t mean that languages are being simplified to one tongue then what does it mean..
It means that God has once again claimed all the nations as his own. And as Peters said on that day.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
And the Holy Spirit is how God has accomplished this and certified it. Now all who received the good news of the Gospel received God dwelling with them.
At Babel the nations wanted to build a tower to reach a god to dwell with him, but at Pentecost God’s spirit descended to dwell in the hearts of the nations.
At babel God separated himself from the nations- but at Pentecost he drew near to them.
Now you might say- Joash- I still don’t think that languages of the world are a gift. they must be a curse.. look at how much damage has been caused by miscommunication and our inability to understand each other.
Yep, I wondered about that too.
I have two reasons why it is a wonderful thing that the nations of the world are separated by language.
Facebook- twitter and google translate- The argument that more communication is better between has been proven wrong by our incredible ability to communicate in the modern age. It is great to be able to speak to people on the other side of the world and with our neighbors 25 times a day. but that has proven to be fare more of a problem than a blessing. The more sinful humans communicate the more we see our sin stain our relationships and our communities. More is not always better! I have a theory that the languages of the world have prevented far more violence and destruction than they have caused. They tend to slow down communication to give level heads time to work things out
The languages of the world have brought about the fantastic and wonderful cultures of the world. As each language encompasses its own patterns of thought. So too does it bring about its own understanding of holiness, beauty and Glory- So in it own way each language and culture brings Glory to god in a wonderful and unique way!
Humility for western culture our way of doing things is not “right” just because!
humilty to learn about eachothers cultures. The more we learn the bigger and more beautiful God will be.
My journey through the world of russian xianity
A passion for mission. God intends that every tribe tongue and nation be brought into his kingdom. That takes missionaries willing to learn the languages, translate the scriptures and suffer in the process of gospel proclamation. We should pray for them, support them and if called- join them in their work.
As Paul the apostle to the Nations says...
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.