The tower of Babel is a well-known story but not necessarily a well understood event in redemptive history.
In the first blogpost in this series, I argued that the tower of Babel is a reminder of something greater than human pride and divine judgment. It is a testimony to God’s mercy and common grace. God impeded our ability to communicate with each other but not our ability to know and praise him.
Let’s continue our study and consider Babel in light of another miraculous event—Pentecost.
In the aftermath of the confusion and scattering of the people at Babel, the descendants of Japheth and Ham were largely driven from the region. Nimrod, for instance, travelled north to the region of Assyria and built new cities (Gen 10:11 ESV).
By contrast, it appears that Noah and his immediate family remained in the plain of Shinar. Shem, Arphaxad, Rue, and Peleg may have as well. We read that Peleg’s descendent, Terah, lived in Ur, in the region of Shinar. His sons include Abram (Gen 11:27-32).
In Gen 12, God chose Abram to have a special covenant relationship with him. God promised to bless Abram and through him to bless the nations (Gen 12:3).
Now I don’t think any study of this passage is complete without considering its relationship to the events on the day of Pentecost. For centuries, students of Scripture have compared the events at Babel with those at Pentecost.
Let’s turn to Acts 2 and consider the events that took place on the day of Pentecost, focusing on the first part of the chapter, verses 1-13. We read in this passage that the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak other tongues or languages (Acts 2:4).
It appears that they miraculously spoke in other languages for a period because they left the place where they were meeting and went outside where they met people from various regions of the world, who understood what they were saying.
At this point, these events resemble Babel in that God is moving miraculously, even in a way that would have surprised and shocked everyone, causing people who spoke one language to speak languages they don’t normally speak.
Note that we are given a summary of what the disciples were saying while speaking in these languages (Acts 2:11). It says they were speaking about “the mighty works of God.” In this context, the might works of God would have included the coming of the Holy Spirit and the greater work of God in the life of Jesus Christ, namely, his death and resurrection. The disciples may have preached the gospel just as Peter is recorded doing later in this chapter.
The Languages of the Nations
It’s important to note that the Holy Spirit was moving the disciples to proclaim the might deeds of God in the languages of the pilgrims, who were visiting Jerusalem from around the known world.
The Spirit didn’t empower the pilgrims and other Jews in Jerusalem to understand one language, such as Aramaic or Greek. No, the Spirit was affirming that the gospel was to be proclaimed to the nations and in the languages of the nations.
It follows from these events that the church is to preach and teach in the languages of the nations. I would even suggest that this passage gives a biblical basis for the translation of the Scriptures into the languages of the nations, since believers cannot read, preach, and teach in their own languages unless the Scriptures are translated.
Reversal of Babel
How then does Babel relate to Pentecost?
At Babel, God confused their language, leading to many languages being spoken. At Pentecost, God moved through the disciples by the power of the Spirit to minister to the nations in their respective languages.
At Babel, God divided the peoples by distinct language for their good, to impede their rebellion. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit ministers in every language, not removing the division but overcoming it and redeeming it. So, the Gospel is to be proclaimed in every language, and the redeemed of every tribe and tongue will eventually be united around the throne.
Babel and the Eternal Praise of Heaven
If Babel was not reversed at Pentecost, will it ever be reversed?
In Rev 22:3, we have a glimpse of heaven. It says, “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.”
Jesus has redeemed a people for himself from every tribe and tongue, yet in heaven, with our redeemed bodies engaged in eternal worship, our heavenly praise will no longer bear the marks of Babel. Instead, I believe we will worship in a heavenly way that we can’t yet imagine.
In the meantime, Jesus has redeemed a people for himself from every tongue, the Holy Spirit works in every language, and God the Father receives praise from the lips of all of his people.
So, let us praise our triune God for the gift of language by which we are able to know and glorify him. Despite our rebellion, God was rich in mercy and common grace at Babel, impeding our ability to unite with a common tongue to rebel but allowing us to unite in praise of him.
And now we live in the light of Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to proclaim the gospel to the nations in their respective languages, preparing them to take the gospel to the nations.
May we seek to advance his Kingdom, in whatever way we are called, to whatever degree we are capable, with whatever language is on our lips to the eternal praise of his glory.