Summary: Babel speaks of "confusion", and is a byword for all that is wrong with the world. Only Pentecost could bring order.
A PATH FROM BABEL TO PENTECOST
The height of our tallest building does not necessarily impress God: He has to “come down” even to see it (Genesis 11:5). Babel - to the Babylonians - spoke of ‘the gateway to the gods’: and yet man was there found still aspiring to get where he hoped to go by his own resources (cf. Genesis 3:6). To God, to Israel, and to the Church, Babel speaks of “confusion” (Genesis 11:9), and is a byword for all that is wrong with the world.
It is interesting to note, as we review these few verses, how that man in rebellion against God accomplished the exact thing that he was trying to avoid. They built lest they might be scattered (Genesis 11:4): but it had been God’s purpose all along that man should subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28), and to that end the LORD did scatter them (Genesis 11:8). In order to accomplish this, the LORD confounded their language (Genesis 11:7), teaching us thereby the need for diversity rather than uniformity.
It would take the Pentecost event to teach us that unity-in-diversity is possible: but that lay far in the future. The LORD would begin to lay a path which led in this direction with the call of Abraham, through whom all the families of the earth would eventually be blessed (Genesis 12:3). The seed of Abraham is Christ (Galatians 3:16), and the seed of Christ is the church (Hebrews 2:13).
The path leads through the history of Abraham, Isaac and Israel: to King David and his bloodline. Then, in the ‘fullness of time’ (Galatians 4:4), the Eternal enters time through the Incarnation of Jesus (John 1:14). Our sin was attributed to Jesus on our behalf, and He paid our debt through His death: but death could not hold Him, and He is risen for our justification (cf. Romans 4:25).
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He told His disciples to expect an empowering from the Holy Ghost ‘not many days hence’ (Acts 1:5). For another ten days after the ascension, we are told, the small band of Apostles, along with the women and Jesus' brothers ‘continued with one accord with prayer and supplication’ (Acts 1:14). When the Church unites in prayer, things begin to happen!
It was “when the Day of Pentecost had fully come” (Acts 2:1) that the three phenomena of a wind-like noise, fire-like tongues and coherent words in strange languages heralded the dawn of the age of the Spirit.
The “other tongues” of Acts 2:4 have been recognised as a reversal of the curse of Babel. Just as God came down upon Babel to “confound” the language of mankind (Genesis 11:7), so He came at Pentecost with a universal message which could be understood by Jews and proselytes from throughout the Roman world, whose native tongues included languages from all the main family groups of Noah's sons. As such, the hearers represented all mankind.
The miracle of these tongues is all the more apt in that the men who testified that day were all Galileans (Acts 2:7). They were looked down upon as common country folk, whose accent would always give them away (a fact known only too well by Peter, Luke 22:59). They were considered uncultured, and uneducated: yet here they were coherently speaking the words of God in languages which they had not learned, but which their hearers could clearly understand.
Thus began the age of the out-poured Spirit: the age in which we are now living. This is the age of the church, when young and old, near and far, servants and free are enabled to speak forth the words of God, and when all who call upon the name of the Lord (Jesus) shall be saved (Romans 10:13). This is the age in which the confusion of tongues is itself confounded, and when people are drawn from every tribe and kindred and tongue and nation to worship God through the blood of Jesus (cf. Revelation 7:9-10), and in the power of the Spirit.
Whilst the Day of Pentecost as such is unique, let us (like the Apostles) give ourselves to pray for fresh outpourings of the Holy Ghost in revival power. Let us proclaim Christ, and worship the name of our great God. To Him be praise and honour and glory forever. Amen.