Babel Turned Upside-Down
One of the saddest passages of Scriptures comes in Genesis 11:1-9. There the people of the earth gather, having multiplied for some time after the flood, and are of one language. God had told them to fill the earth, but they didn’t want to (Genesis 1:22, 28; 9:1, 7). Instead, they are concerned that they shall be scattered over all the earth, and so fancy that if they only build a tower up to the heavens, then they shall make a name for themselves. So they begin this grand building project, dedicated to themselves, and God takes notice – as God always does (Job 34:21). In an act of judgment and mercy, He confuses their language and thus they are scattered over all the earth. And so they left off building and the place was called Babel. I say this was a mercy, for if we are as wicked as we have been when we were separated by so many language barriers, well, imagine how wicked we could have been all united in our wickedness!
So the hope of Genesis 12 picks up where the sorrow of Genesis 11 left off with God’s call of Abraham and the whole story of redemption beginning with him and told from there to Revelation 22. The prophets told of a wonderful time when God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:28-29). Well, here it is fulfilled. And as the Holy Spirit falls like a rushing wind on his people, they begin to speak in other languages, only this time, they are understood. The day of Pentecost here in Acts 2 turns the Babel of Genesis 11 on its head! Judgment is now turned to blessing. The meaning is that the gospel will now go out to all the earth, in all the languages represented by the numerous different peoples gathered that day in Jerusalem. While man’s sin on that Mesopotamian plain so long ago ended in tragedy, God’s grace and mercy make a way for man to be gathered together again as one family under the dominion, not of Nimrod, but of Christ Jesus.
Amazingly and quite stupidly some onlookers accuse the believers of being filled with new wine, as if inebriation enhances facility with languages. But in another way, these first Christians were filled with new wine, as hinted by our Lord when he compared the new covenant he was bringing to new wine (Mark 2:22). These were filled with the Holy Spirit who was doing a new thing, bringing a new reality, bringing the new world into the old world and creating anew his people and gathering them in all their several languages into his one and only Church. It’s really a picture of heaven: God redeems man from his sin and separation from God, others, and himself, and gathers them all together into one family of unity and love. As always, God wins.