So, the dismantling of language was a key aspect of the world’s descent into disarray.
Language then also becomes a key component of God’s plan for redeeming and restoring the world.
1. The Call of Abraham.
Right on the heels of the Tower of Babel story, what happens? In the first verse of the next section of Genesis (vs. 12:1 – the beginning of the arc of redemption in the Bible), God speaks. Again, we have God’s WORDS setting in motion his plans for the universe. He calls Abraham, through whom his plan of redemption will be fulfilled.
2. The Law of Moses.
Skipping ahead in the story, God leads the people to freedom through Moses, giving them the Law. One key purpose of the Law was to be a guide for the people of God until Jesus came. The primary embodiment of the Law was in the tablets of stone upon which the Ten Commandments were written. But guess what? The Bible doesn’t actually call them the “Ten Commandments”. The Bible calls them the “Ten WORDS” of God. So again, language and words are playing a central role in God’s plan for bringing redemption to the world. God’s “Ten Words” are the embodiment – the incarnation – of God’s perfect will for all things.
After the Law came Christ. And, as I’ve already discussed, Jesus is described as “The Word” (logos) made flesh (incarnated). Are you catching the theme here? Speech is of great cosmic significance! When thoughts become solid, they are “incarnated” in the form of words. When God became flesh, he was incarnated in the form of “The Word” – Jesus. And that Word brought redemption to the world.
[As a side note: For a very interesting and fruitful study on this subject, take a look at every instance of the word “logos” in the book of John.]
Now, here’s where it gets real crazy. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus’ followers all hang around for a while waiting for the Holy Spirit to come. And on the day of Pentecost, it came. And how was this manifested? “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” (Acts 2:3) The Greek word for “tongue” (as in English) is used not only to indicate that thing in your mouth with which you taste and speak; it’s also used to indicate a language.
So the very first manifestation of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was in the form of something that gave people the ability to speak powerfully. When these “tongues of fire” had gone into the disciples, they began to speak in other languages, and all the people who were in Jerusalem – “from every nation under heaven” – were amazed that suddenly this group of disciples from Galilee were able to speak every language at will. As a result of this miracle, Peter had the opportunity to share the gospel with the crowd, and 3,000 people were saved!
This is an amazing story no matter how you slice it. But taking special note of the parallels between this story and the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11 illuminates the cosmic significance of what is happening here: In Genesis, the confusing of languages was the last step in the disollution of God’s created order. Now, as the Kingdom of God is being inaugurated, that process is reversed: The language barrier is obliterated, and the result is the redemption and salvation of thousands of souls.
I believe that God is winking at us here, hoping we’ll recognize the parallels between Babel and Pentecost. The confusing of languages at Babel was the last step in the disollution of the created order; the reintegration of languages at Pentecost is the moment at which humans begin to live out – to incarnate – God’s restored order.
So… how does this affect your life? Next…