With world population exceeding 6 billion it is hard to imagine a time when every human on the planet was gathered together in one place, but that is the situation we find in Genesis 11.1ff. Everyone lived together on the plain of Shinar and they wanted to stay together. To that end, they developed a plan (building a city with a tower – v.4) developed new technology (the firing of bricks – v.3), and set measurable, intermediate goals en route to the shared final goal of staying together (acquiring the needed supplies – v.3).
This defiant posturing is nothing new. Even in the earliest childhood of our species we learned to rebel against God. The ease with which God thwarts their plan is no surprise either – who in heaven or on earth can contend with God? The curious and startling thing in the Tower of Babel account in Genesis 11, is the comment God makes before he scatters them: “Behold, they are one people and they all have the same language…now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them” (v.6). This account of human failure, then, demonstrates the boundlessness of human possibility. When we are united in purpose, in plan, and in language, nothing will be impossible for us. God said so. And so the simple thing God had to do to bring this rebellion to a halt was to confound their language. When different groups of them spoke different languages they scattered.
The curse of Babel was transcended literally, visibly, and completely at Pentecost. Speakers of at least 15 native languages heard 12 apostles speak, each in their own tongue, and that simultaneously. This is a miracle. The math makes it so. The apostles didn’t spend the 7 weeks between Jesus’ resurrection and Pentecost listening to Berlitz records. The Holy Spirit, Himself, undid the curse of Babel. This was not only accomplished in transcending the language barrier, but also by bringing together many into one family. “There is neither male or female, Jew or Greek, bond or free, but you are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3.28). Baptism (Acts 2.38-39, Galatians 3.27-28) accomplishes what the erstwhile builders of Babel could not – bringing and keeping us together.
That special miracle of Pentecost, the special spiritual gift of languages, was temporary (I Corinthians 13.8). But the blessing of Pentecost, which transcends the curse of Babel, abides. It abides when a Spanish speaker comes to our English-speaking congregation, and finds Spanish speakers here, and a Spanish language Bible class. It abides when we gather together on Wednesday mornings to conduct free ESL courses. It abides every first and third Mondays when we provide free tutoring to school-aged children from Spanish-speaking homes. It abides when we come together in one building, as one family. It abides when we pray together, sing together, take communion together, share fellowship together.
The first act of the Christian Age, the first shot across Satan’s bow was the breaking of language barriers. Two thousand years is enough time for Christians to stop accepting, protecting, and cherishing the language barriers that separate peoples. English is the official language of our great Nation, but we Christians are citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3.20).Will we accept being hindered by Old Testament curses when New Testament blessings have nullified them?
“Nothing will be impossible for them” God said in Genesis 11 – for those humans were not limited by language barriers and crossed-purposes. We are also without these limits. They failed because they were defiant of God. If we are obedient to Him, nothing will be impossible for us either.