It is often said that the events on the Day of Pentecost, when Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit, reversed the confusion of language which occurred at Babel. The astute observer will notice however, that if this was The LORD’s intention, He was not nearly as effective then as He was when He scattered human race across the face of all the earth. Two thousand years after Pentecost, language still divides. Did God fail?
History Not Myth
The story of the Tower of Babel is told in just 9 verses in Genesis 11. Perhaps its brevity allows us to overlook its significance. It makes an excellent Sunday School lesson, but is it reliable history? It comes at the end of the early chapters of Genesis and many regard it, along with what has gone before, as no more than a myth with a moral. However, set properly in context, Babel and its consequences help us to understand the world in which we live and what is yet to happen.
The Bible is a history book with a difference. It covers the whole of human history, past, present and future. Yet its central theme throughout is the character and work of one person. It starts and ends with a wide perspective, but much of its content concerns two groups of people - Israel and the Church. The link between these two is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we are to grasp the significance of Babel, then we must first understand its place in history.
The End of an Era
Genesis 1 is concerned with events throughout the universe. Genesis 2 however concentrates on the creation of mankind and our role upon the earth. Whilst the Scriptures concentrate on one family line, the context through to chapter 11 is global. We are introduced to Babel with the words, "Now the whole earth had one language and one speech." (11:1). After Babel the reader’s attention is narrowed down to one man, Abram, and the nation which would arise from his descendants. Israel remains the main concern of Biblical history for the next 2000 years or so, that is until the birth of Jesus Christ. All this is then mirrored in the "second half" of history (see diagram). The main interest is no longer a nation, but an "ecclesia" - a people called out of many nations. (Note: there is not space in this article to discuss Israel’s continued place in the purpose of God). However, before the end the Scriptures again speak of a period of global history which finally culminates with events that affect the whole of the universe.
Although the initial "universal" and "global" phases are mainly recorded in Genesis, that wide view of the character of the beginning is maintained throughout the Bible. The LORD is the one who created "the heavens and the earth", whilst Peter reminds us that at the Flood, "the world that then existed perished". Likewise, although Revelation is the main book about the culmination of world history, the other passages which look forward to these periods do so with the same global or universe-wide context. Because Genesis and Revelation are considered difficult books by some, and no more than illustrative literature by others, their importance in understanding world history has often been disregarded. Whilst it is no coincidence that these have been placed at the start and finish of the Bible, the sixty-four books in between them all tell the same story with the same emphasis.
What is the importance of Babel to today and tomorrow? First, Babel is the event which brings to a close the period where The LORD deals with mankind as a whole. The major events between creation and Babel are community-wide in their effect. The LORD’s judgement of Adam’s sin not only affected Adam, but also all his descendants and the environment in which they lived. Though Noah and his family survived the Flood, they inherited a far inferior world. The rest of the human race had been obliterated and the environment had taken an enormous battering. A clear indicator of how severely the physical creation suffered is the life spans of those born after the Flood. The three generations after Shem lived an average of 444 years - less than half that of the pre-Flood generations.
However, it is sobering to consider that shortly after the devastating Flood, most of mankind were once again rejecting God’s ways. They wanted to build something which would keep them from being scattered over the face of the earth. Yet The LORD had commanded Noah and his family to "fill the earth". Gen. 11:5-7, tells us that when He came down to see the city and the tower, The LORD identified their unity as a major cause of their arrogance. Knowing that their common language facilitated this, He decided to disrupt their godless plans by destroying their ability to communicate. He brought about the very thing they were seeking to prevent - no longer able to get on easily, the different groups were scattered over the face of the earth!
The effects of this third judgement upon the whole of the human race were not limited to human society. Gen. 10:25 records that Peleg was so called because "during his days the earth was divided". There is some question as to the actual events at this time, but it seems almost certain to have been associated with Babel. Whatever happened the further drop in human lifespans make it certain that once again the earth and its environment suffered drastically. Peleg is the first of the next three generations, and their lifespans average just 236 years. Admittedly long by our standards, but very short when compared to the generations from Adam to Noah. Less than 1700 years after creation, the earth had drastically deteriorated under the strain of human sin. The creation, initially "very good" was now battered, bruised and scarred - unable to sustain the quality of life that Adam enjoyed.
In The LORD’s wisdom all was not doom and gloom. He knew that the earth could not continue to suffer global judgements. In dividing human society into many nations, He made it possible for His judgements to be local and not global. Babel marks the boundary in history at which the Scriptures turn their attention from the whole world to one nation. From now on we read of The LORD’s dealings with nations of which Israel is the prime example. Throughout the Old Testament there are many examples of national sin being judged and the judgement falling not only upon the people and their cities, but upon the land in which they live (Ezek. 14:12ff for example). These were often terrible events, yet they were not as widespread in their consequences as the judgements of Genesis 3 to 11. Being local, they were limited and relatively easy to recover from. By contrast, the earth and those who live on it have never been restored to the condition in which we were created. These events and their effects today are a clear reminder that the wages of sin are assuredly death!
A Return to Old Ways
We must ask, if God had reversed Babel at Pentecost, what would have been the result? Amongst other things the human race would have been reunited into "one language and one speech" and would once again have required judging as one society. Thankfully, we know it was not The LORD’s intention to do this at that time. In Athens Paul told his audience that God had divided mankind into nations, "so that they should seek The LORD" (Acts 17:27). However, the Scriptures do make it clear that before the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, The LORD will once again allow the nations to unite and their corporate pride and arrogance to prosper (e.g. Ps. 2). Understanding that it was The LORD’s mercy which divided mankind at Babel, we need to consider why the time will come when He will allow His work to be reversed.
The LORD is a God of justice. His judgements are righteous. Whilst the effects of sin spread far beyond the guilty individual or nation, His judgements are upon them and their descendants. Ps. 96:13 states, "For He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with His truth." The judgement which is still to come upon all the nations of the world, coming from God can only be just and righteous. If He is to judge them with equity, then they all must share in the rebellion. Today, for the first time since Babel, we can see not only the philosophy and ideology of globalism becoming predominant, but also rapidly developing technology is making these godless ambitions more feasible. (We must remember though that the real godlessness lies in the thoughts of men and not in their technologies per se.)
These Things Must Happen
Having thwarted human arrogance at Babel in order to allow His purpose to be accomplished, The LORD will at the right time, allow the nations to re-unite before His Son returns. The move towards world-wide political, economical and religious concord (whilst not His perfect will) clearly must happen if mankind is once again to become ripe for global judgement which is both righteous and just. The Scriptures compare the judgements of closing periods of history with those of the opening ones. They will affect the whole of the earth and it will become a terrible place to live. "The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard," for "Its transgression shall be heavy upon it" (Is. 24) - sin will again shatter the earth, but this time it will herald the return of Christ.
The present day is both frightening and exciting. The human race is uniting in self-importance and rejection of their Creator. As He seeks to warn men and women of the dangers ahead unless they repent, His judgements on the earth will become more and more severe. The time for individual nations bearing individual judgement will be complete. As nations band together they will pave the way for His righteous judgement once again to fall on mankind as a whole. Then and only then, Jesus Christ, its Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer will return as its Judge.
This article was first published in Prophecy Today magazine. Subscription information and back copies are available from www.prophecytoday.co.uk
This study is intended as a stimulus to personal bible study. Every effort has been made to be accurate, but the reader should test everything (Acts 17:11; 1 Thess 5:21). Please report errors and omissions, and queries unresolved after consulting The LORD to the writer: Email Randall Hardy
© Randall Hardy, March 2001. This paper may only be copied in its entirety for private non-commercial use. All other usage requires the written permission of the author.
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