Summary: Is this a true story? (Hint: yes) And why did God include it in the Bible?
OPEN: Several years ago, there was a tiny village in Scotland called “Lost.” It’s a quaint name for a quaint little village… but they had a problem. Lost kept losing their sign. A local official explained, "For many years now, the sign has continually been taken because all it says on it is 'Lost.'" He said, “Many people want to have their photograph taken by it looking bewildered (because the sign said “lost”) and every so often it gets taken.”
Now that created two problems: 1st – it got expensive. The signs cost about $400 a piece. And 2nd - deliveries were often lost because some delivery drivers have no idea where "Lost" was. Eventually they renamed the city “Lost Farm” and apparently haven’t had a problem since.
(Reuters, “Hamlet Tires of Thieves Stealing Lost Property” 2/27/04)
APPLY: Down thru history towns and cities have been named for all kinds of unusual reasons including the city we’re talking about today… the city of Babel. Why was it called “Babel?” Genesis 11:9 explains: “… its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused (babel) the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.” Genesis 11:9
Now the story in Genesis only takes 9 verses to tell (and is never referred to again in Scripture) but its impact on mankind has been really long-lasting. From that day to this… the world has been divided by about 5000 languages. And that diversity of languages has created misunderstandings, tensions, conflicts… even wars.
But it wasn’t always that way. Before Babel “… the whole earth had one language and the same words.” Genesis 11:1
As I was preparing for this sermon, it occurred to me that one of the first questions people might ask is this: “Is this a TRUE story?” Was there really a city called Babel with a tower reaching to the heavens, and do all languages really come from one original language?
Those who reject Scripture mock this story. They’ll say it was “an origin myth meant to explain why the world's peoples speak different languages.” And they dismiss it as a “made-up” story created by an ignorant culture.
So, was it made up? Is it a myth? Of course not. The fact that it’s in the Bible is really all I need to convince me - really happened. But there are outside sources to verify that this is indeed a true story.
ILLUS: For example, the ancient culture of the Chaldeans (from about 1500 BC) retold the story this way: “The building of this temple offended the gods. In a night they threw down what had been built. They scattered them abroad, and made strange their speech. The progress they impeded”
(From an 1880 translation of a Chaldean text by George Smith of the British Museum)
Another ancient culture of about that time period, called the Sumerians, had several that spoke of a golden age when all mankind spoke the same language. Speech was then confused by the god Enki, lord of wisdom.
Fast forward to about 600 B.C.. Babylon had a King named Nabopolassar who was something of an ancient archaeologist. He apparently would find old temples and other ancient buildings and rebuild them. He claimed that he had found the remains of the Tower of Babel and wrote: "At that time, [the god] Marduk commanded me to build the Tower of Babel which had become weakened by time and fallen into disrepair..."
(translated by 1800’s archaeologist Robert Koldewey who unearthed the base of this tower)
From what I can tell, Nabopolassar didn’t finish the tower. That task fell to his son, a King we all know as Nebuchadnezzar. Recently, a chiseled stone came to light which is called the “Tower of Babel Stele” which has a large engraved picture of Nebuchadnezzar looking toward the tower he built.
That tower appears to have stood for another 300 years until destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 BC (it was in great disrepair and he intended to have it rebuilt… but died before the task could be completed).
So, this was a true story. And given the Bible’s consistent accuracy on other historical events that’s good enough for me. But what about the language thing? I mean… we have about 5000 languages now, can we seriously believe that all those languages started with ONE language?
Well, yeah… that’s what the Bible says. But, don’t take my word for it.
ILLUS: Back in 1990 - U.S. News And World Report had this on their cover of their magazine: "The Roots of Language - How Modern Speech Evolved From A Single, Ancient Source." In the article, they wrote about modern linguists who were “reconstructing the pathways by which the world's roughly 5,000 languages arose from a handful of ancient 'mother' tongues. A few radical linguists have gone even further, claiming they have reconstructed pieces of the mother of them all: the original language spoken at the dawn of the human species.” (Nov. 5, 1990 issue of US News and World Report magazine)