Summary: Compare Babel’s Babblers with Pentecost’s Polyglots 1) Sin divided the united at Babel 2) The Spirit united the divided at Pentecost
Are you a polyglot? Would you like to become a polyglot? Mrs. J is a polyglot. Chuck is a polyglot. I think Jordan and Vanessa are well on their way to becoming polyglots too. It may sound like some sort of insect or disease but a polyglot is someone who has the ability to speak several languages. Who wouldn’t want to become a polyglot? If you could speak several languages, traveling in foreign countries would be much more enjoyable, as conversations which once sounded like mere babbling would make sense. Nor would you have to worry about inadvertently ordering chicken feet soup when you really wanted chicken noodle at your favourite Chinese restaurant.
Since there are over 5,000 languages in the world it would take quite a bit to become fluent in every one. Someone once said that this diversity of speech is a monument to human cleverness. In reality it’s a testament to human sinfulness. We’ll come to understand that as we compare Babel’s Babblers with Pentecost’s Polyglots. We’ll see how the ability to speak a foreign language on one hand was God’s judgment, as sin divided the united at Babel. On the other hand we’ll see that it was a testament of God’s grace, as the Spirit united the divided at Pentecost.
Let’s start our study in Babel. Babel was a city on the plain of Shinar, which is in present day Iraq. The people who built this city were close descendants of Noah and probably settled in Shinar just 100 years after Noah left the ark parked on Mr. Ararat. Although God had told Noah and his family to spread out and fill the world, when his descendants poured unto the plain of Shinar they decided to settle down right there. They not only challenged God’s command to spread out, but in an effort to show how great they were they decided to build a city with a soaring tower reaching the heavens. The people said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (v.4).
Now certainly there was nothing wrong with building a tower; it was their motivation for building it that was not God pleasing. That tower was not for defence, forest fire detection, offices, or condos. The sole purpose was to show off brain and brawn and to make the statement that they really didn’t need God. “Glory to man in the highest!” that’s what they were saying.
Do you see how Satan works? He doesn’t have to get us to bow down to an idol to disobey God. He’s perfectly happy if he can get us to hallow our names instead of God’s. He wants us to think that everything we have acquired is a tribute to our hard work and smarts, not God’s blessings. He wants us to put our trust in science thinking that it holds the answers to the problems of the world. But what a joke it is to think that science can unravel the mysteries of life and death. People of every generation have thought they were on the verge of cracking those mysteries but where are they now? They’re lying six feet under because technology can’t defeat death. What makes our generation so special to think that we are on the cutting edge of discovery and self-preservation?
We Christians aren’t immune to such conceited thoughts either; we’re just better at concealing them. When God crowns our work and our schooling with success it’s easy to look down on those who haven’t been so successful and think that we deserve our achievements because we’ve worked harder. Haven’t we thus failed to give credit to God when it was he who gave us faithful parents and mentors who instilled in us this work ethic? Wasn’t it he who gave us the good health to succeed as we did? Friends, God cannot stand being treated as a footnote in our life. He made us, and saved us. He deserves our very best - not just in our offerings but in the songs that we sing and the attention we give to the Scripture readings, prayers, and sermon during the service.
How does God react to rebellious people? King David once wrote, “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them” (Psalm 2:4). Someone else once observed how “Man proposes but God disposes.” God did quell that rebellion at Babel but not as you and I might have. Moses wrote, “But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other” (Gen. 11:5-7).