Genesis 11:1-9 (GW)
The whole world had one language with a common vocabulary. As people moved toward the east, they found a plain in Shinar [Babylonia] and settled there.
They said to one another, “Let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used bricks as stones and tar as mortar.
Then they said, “Let us build a city for ourselves and a tower with its top in the sky. Let us make a name for ourselves so that we will not become scattered all over the face of the earth.”
The LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the descendants of Adam were building. The LORD said, “They are one people with one language. This is only the beginning of what they will do! Now nothing they plan to do will be too difficult for them. Let us go down there and mix up their language so that they will not understand each other.”
So the LORD scattered them all over the face of the earth, and they stopped building the city. This is why it was named Babel, because there the LORD turned the language of the whole earth into babble. From that place the LORD scattered them all over the face of the earth.
Are you a polyglot? Would you like to become a polyglot? (Gary Ott is a polyglot. Ted and Karen Orosz are polyglots also.) There are a few in this congregation who also are polyglots. That may sound like some sort of disease, but a polyglot is someone who has the ability to speak in other languages in addition to English. Many would like to become polyglots. Conversations which might sound to us like mere babbling would make sense to you. If you could speak several languages then traveling in other countries could be more enjoyable. One would not have to worry about mistakenly asking for something and getting what you did not want.
There are over 5,000 languages in the world. It would be quite a challenge to become fluent in every one. Some have said that this variety of languages is an example of human cleverness. But in reality the multitude of languages is this world is evidence of human sinfulness. We learn of this when we compare what happened at Babel in the Old Testament with what happened on Pentecost in the New Testament. The reason for different languages on one hand was God’s judgment when sin divided the unity at Babel. On the other hand, It was by the grace of God the Holy Spirit that those divided by language differences became reunited.
Let us turn our attention to Babel, a city on the plain of Shinar (Babylon, modern day Iraq). The people who built this city were close descendants of Noah, who settled there around 100 years after Noah left the ark. God had told Noah and his family to spread out and populate the whole world. But his descendants decided to settle down in one place. They not only challenged God’s command to spread out, but in an effort to show how great they thought they were, they decided: (Genesis 11:4) … “Let us build a city for ourselves and a tower with its top in the sky. Let us make a name for ourselves so that we will not become scattered all over the face of the earth.”
There was nothing wrong with building a tower. It was the motivation for building the tower that was not God pleasing. The tower was not for defense or homes. It was to show off that they really did not need God.
That is how Satan works. He does not have to get us to bow down to an idol to disobey God. He is happy if he can get us to praise ourselves instead of God. He wants us to think that everything we have is because of our brains and hard work, not God’s blessings. He wants us to put our trust in science alone by thinking that it holds the answers to the problems of the world. If the study of science alone could figure out all the mysteries of life and death, what is taking so long. For generations people have thought they were on the verge of solving all mysteries. But why haven’t we? What makes our generation so special to think that we are going to solve all the world’s problems?
We as Christians are not immune either to such temptations of conceit. When God crowns our work with success, we all too easily feel that we were more deserving than others because we have worked harder. Was it not God who gave us parents who cared for us? Was it not God who gave us good health to succeed? God should not be a footnote in our lives. He made us, and saved us. He deserves our very best praise in word and in deed.
How does God react to rebellious people? We find an answer in Psalm 2:4 The One enthroned in Heaven laughs. The Lord makes fun of them. So at Babel God squelched the rebellion when (Genesis 11:5-7) The LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the descendants of Adam were building. The LORD said, “They are one people with one language. This is only the beginning of what they will do! Now nothing they plan to do will be too difficult for them. Let Us go down there and mix up their language so that they will not understand each other.”
The reference to the name ‘The Lord’ is a special name that emphasizes God’s love and patience. Instead of destroying everyone as He had done with the flood, God chose to simply confuse their speech. That did cause chaos and drove the people apart, but it also gave them time to think about what they done.
Thankfully, God still works that way in our lives. He deals with us on the basis of His patience and love. Therefore when we feel as if we are being treated unfairly by God, we need to think again. It is true that God will allow us to go through difficulties. But His purpose is always to get our attention tp try to bring us back to Him. Had God not intervened in the lives of the people of Babel, they would have ended up facing eternal wrath from further disobedience. Therefore thank the Lord when He chooses to send confusion into our lives. He does this to force us to refocus on His promises, not on our rebellious interests.
Although God did cause the people to move apart, it was their own sin that caused the united to become divided at Babel. Sin continues to drive us apart yet today. It moves us to take advantage of others, to say hurtful things, and to refuse to admit it when we are wrong. As we think about it, this world is a horrible place to live. But God has provided the remedy to sin. While the people of Babel tried to create unity through earthly human accomplishments, God has made unity possible through His Son, Jesus. Even more, God has sent the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith in Jesus’ work for our salvation.
Only the Holy Spirit can repair the sad confusion that sin has caused. He does that through the common language of the Gospel. This was demonstrated on that Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. Some 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and gave them the ability to speak in foreign languages they had never studied before. The disciples used this new ability to share God’s Word with the many visitors that were in Jerusalem for the Festival. People from all over the world heard in their own language about the wonderful works of God. Peter preached to the Jews about how they had sinned in their crucifixion of Jesus. But Peter went on to assure them that God had raised Jesus from the dead, and their sins too had been paid for. In a single day 3000 people came to faith, people who before had been enemies.
Today people with different languages and cultures are still being drawn together by the common language of the Gospel. Only the Holy Spirit can bring about something like that. What else could move Japanese people to listen to American missionaries after World War II? What brings us together to worship each Sunday – our common likes and dislikes – our political views? No! The only thing that brings us together is the common knowledge of our sin and a common faith in our Savior, which moves us to have the common goal of sharing the Good News.
That does not mean that everything will always go smoothly for us. Even Christians still struggle with what we call our sinful nature. Therefore we have the tendency to think that our personal views are the ones that are the most right. By nature we are suspicious of others. But it does not have to be that way, nor should it be. The Holy Spirit still unites the divided. He does that by reminding us of Christ’s love.
Therefore if you are still at odds with someone, go with God’s love to make amends with that person. First admit our own wrongdoing, and then seek God-pleasing solutions to your differences.
Companies pay well these days for polyglots to work for them. That is because they know the importance of employing people who can bridge cultural gaps and cross language barriers if they want their business to succeed. But just because people can speak 2 or 3 languages does not mean that they are not prone to divisive babble. The sinful nature lurks in each one of us urging us to put ourselves ahead of God and others. Therefore if you are looking for a meaningful way to work with others, first learn to speak the language of the Gospel. Speak as God speaks to you, with words and deeds of patience and love. You will find out that the more you speak that language, the less you will get caught up in worthless babbling but will be united with others in Jesus’ name. Amen.