The Bible is a narrative and must be read and studied that way. The stories of the Old Testament are not isolated but are critical components in Scripture’s redemptive drama. The account of Babel (from which we get the English word “babble” – like in, “Linden’s a babbling idiot”) is but one example of how God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, moved these prophets and writers to share things which, on the surface, seem somewhat trivial. Only by looking forward do we begin to understand why these details are included for our edification.
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. —Genesis 11:1-9, ESV
Yes, the account of Babel is about pride, self-sufficiency and rebellion. But it is also about how God uses the scattering of languages to bring Himself glory. This isn’t some random event – Scripture unfolds how the dispersion of people groups and the introduction of different languages and dialects would point people to the Gospel and to His greatness. We have to look forward and find, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”
Let’s now go to Pentecost where we first see the church taking shape by the proclamation of the Gospel. You can read about it in Acts 2. Folks from numerous geographies with various languages had assembled for this celebration. With Holy Spirit power the disciples use this platform to announce the good news to the diverse masses.
But there is a barrier in communicating to this disparate gathering – they spoke in various “tongues.” That’s because of the Babel incident that seemed insignificant, but now takes on new meaning. God knew what He was doing in Genesis 11 and the same is true in Acts 2. He now “gifts” these new believers with the supernatural ability to communicate God’s truth in these foreign languages, “tongues” that were unknown to them.
This miraculous event sparked the first revival in the church as thousands embraced the truth of Jesus and His Gospel. This also initiated the first missions campaign – these new converts went back home and indigenously shared their experience in their native tongue. Now the church’s trajectory and momentum took it outside of Jerusalem and to other people groups and lands.
How supernaturally God had overcome and used the language barrier He Himself had created shows His sovereignty, and gives us a glimpse into His mysterious methods for pointing all of creation to Himself.
But the amazing narrative that started in Shinar continues. If we go further, we see how the idea of scattered languages and people is further connected to the Gospel and God’s glory. You see, He dispersed them so that He could unite them in one voice and as one people, worshippers whose minds and hearts (unlike the rebels of Babel) are now, by the grace of the Gospel, focused solely on Him and His glory. Now let’s go to Revelation 5:9-14:
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
And now we see the rest of the story.
God scattered sinful, rebellious humanity and created the confusion of different languages at Babel. But He did so that He could, through the Gospel, unify His redeemed into one glorious place and give them one majestic voice of exultation to trumpet His glory and worship in His presence forever. The confusion is now gone, and with great clarity the language of permanent praise echoes through the universe.
From Babel to Pentecost and then to the glorious vision of the heavenly throne, God was working out His plan that He might be glorified and that every tongue would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.