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Babel, the Curse of Confusion, and the Blessing of Discord

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. (Gen. 11:1-9)

The confusion of the world's languages at Babel is the biblical answer to the origin of the various language families present on this world. At Babel, God came down and altered the languages of the people there, thus causing confusion as men cannot understand each other, and through this halting the construction of the Tower of Babel (most probably a ziggurat). The Tower of Babel was supposed to function as the symbol of Man's unity and might, but God turned the rebellion on its head by making the tower into a symbol of disunity and judgment.

It has often been said that Babel was a curse upon Man because of his rebellion against God, and in this light Pentecost with the speaking of tongues is a type of the eschaton where the curse of confusion caused by the creation of languages has been reversed. At Babel, God confused the language of men, while at Pentecost God caused the Apostles and those with them to praise God in other languages. At Babel, communication was lost; at Pentecost, communication was made. Disunity results from the judgment of God at Babel; Unity in the Gospel is the fruit of the power and blessing of God at Pentecost. The comparison between Babel and Pentecost is very clear. God at Pentecost shows us that He is in the process of saving us and reversing the curses placed upon us and the world, a process which is here in part now but will be complete at the Eschaton.

Yet, there is another lesson for us at Babel. Babel shows us not only the judgment of God but also the mercy of God.

As we can see, Mankind at Babel were united in their rebellion against God. It was their common language and thus culture that allowed such unity to be achieved. A united rebellious humanity was what existed just prior to the Flood and was its cause. Rebellion and wickedness had to be judged, and God in the antediluvian world did it by a universal flood over the whole earth. At Babel, God faced a similar scenario. Instead of destroying all mankind however, God judged them differently. By confusing the languages, God ensured that Mankind cannot be united again in their rebellion against Him, except at the end of time (Rev. 20:8-9). Instead, conflict between ethnic groups and nations will occupy the attention of Man. Attempts at unification like those done by Emperor Qin Shihuang of China caused much death and suffering, and even such attempts were limited in their ability to truly create one common language and culture even within the realm ruled by the king or emperor.

The severe mercy of God at Babel can be seen in this: by creating multiple languages, Mankind is no more united in their pride and rebellion against God. The judgment of Man was averted for a time. As nations worry over the intentions of their neighbors and wars between nations occur, the world takes its [rebellious] eyes off God in order to deal with the more pressing existential concerns of the tribes and nations. Morally, the separation limits the degrading effects of sin. Antediluvian men were of one language and culture, and therefore wickedness will continue to grow and infect and destroy the culture. Post-Babel, the degrading effects of wickedness in one society will be relatively limited to that society, and the judgment of God when it falls will see the destruction of that society by another less wicked than it. We can see such a principle functioning in the destruction of the Canaanites as nations and as a people in Joshua's conquest of Canaan. By turning nation against nation, and peoples against peoples, the wickedness of Man is checked over and over again by God's intervention and judgment.

The blessing of discord from Babel consists in this: That because of Babel, 1) mankind is preoccupied with many things and thus find less time to rage against God (and His people), 2) immorality is checked by the rise and fall of nations as foreordained and instituted by God.

So while we are sad about the discord in this world, we should realize that the discord in the world serves the great purposes of God for the ultimate blessing of His people. For if discord totally ceased, unregenerate humanity will with one voice turn against God and His people. Already, despite the discord caused by Babel, the nations of the world are persecuting Christians. Imagine what would happen if they were all united against God and Christ?

So while saddened at the human suffering due to discord, we must realize that it works for our good as well. That is also why an inefficient executive branch of government is spiritually better for us than a strong government. Nazi Germany after all had probably one of the strongest government of the 20th century, and we knew what happened to true Christians under that regime.

Fellow saints, let us therefore see the curse of Babel as a blessing to us, for all things work together for our good (Rom. 8:28). Let us than God for the presence of discord so that we can live in peace and continue to work for the growth and proclamation of the Gospel. Amen.