Language: From the Tower of Babel to the Day of Pentecost

By Randy Blackaby

The Bible records that following the Great Flood the descendents of Noah attempted to build a city and a tower “whose top may reach unto heaven” (Gen. 11:1-9). God saw this effort and that it could be achieved. So he confounded the language of the people, forcing them to stop the construction and scatter over the earth.

What is the message and lesson of this historic text? Is it simply to explain how multiple languages developed? Was God genuinely concerned that men would build a tower that would invade the divine habitation?  

Let’s look more closely. These men in Shinar (ancient Babylon — Dan. 1:1-2) wanted to build a city and a tower. There seems nothing inherently wrong in that alone. The Bible says they wanted to construct it so its top might reach unto heaven or, as other translations say, “into the heavens.”

God thought that without intervention “nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.” It hardly seems likely that God feared men could build a brick tower all they way to heaven itself.

We must look more closely to see what the real sin at Babel involved. God had told Noah, after the Flood, to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1).

The people at Babel wanted to build a city and a tower, to make a name for themselves, and to prevent being scattered over the earth. Whereas God had given command to replenish the whole earth, these people were attempting to thwart God’s plan and develop a name for themselves at the same time. God had destroyed sinners in the Flood but not sin. The common elements of sin were present at Babel — human pride and rebellion.

So, God caused a division among the people by confounding their language so they couldn’t communicate. He did so because they had a unity of purpose in rebellion and this was propelling them toward the exact same conditions that existed immediately prior to the Flood.

By this means, Noah’s descendents were scattered over the face of the earth, just as God had initially commanded.

The site of the rebellion became known as Babel, which means “confusion.” Notice that Babel is the root of the name Babylon, which became synonymous with opposition to God from the time of the prophet Daniel to John’s writing of the Revelation.

Parallels Today

God has told the saved today to be fruitful, multiply and spread the gospel into the whole world (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). When human pride drives us to build monuments to ourselves instead of to God, we repeat the sin of Babel.

When instead of being spiritually fruitful we try to build  our own material security, we repeat the infidelity of   Babel. When we refuse to hear God’s word, he sends us strong delusion — or a confusion like he sent to Babel.

When men get full of human pride, confusion always results. We live today in a world of religious “babble.” Only the spelling has changed.

What can reunite men and end the religious confusion? Simply listening to God and obeying his commands.

God once caused rebellious men to lose their ability to communicate. But after Jesus died on the cross, God did something equally phenomenal. He gave the apostles the power to speak in the languages of all the people assembled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5-12). The language barrier was dropped for a brief time so that God’s message of salvation could be heard with utter clarity. The miracles of “speaking in tongues” evidenced God’s presence and power just as the confusion of tongues had done centuries before.

Babel forever represents the confusion and division of humankind; but Zion, the city of God, the church, draws men and women of every language, color, culture, and nationality into a kingdom where there is neither Greek nor Jew, bond or free, but where all are one in Christ Jesus.

Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 23  p5  December 7, 2000