Ever wonder why the strange story of the Tower of Babel is included in Scripture? Skeptics may declare it’s a Just So story made up to explain how all the languages of the world came about. Actually, the language thing was a mere means to an end. It’s really a story of the whole human race once again deciding to directly disobey their Creator by doing the opposite of what He told them to do, and what He did to reassert His sovereignty.
First let’s put the story in its Biblical and historical context. The era is after the Flood, and before Abraham, and that puts us in Genesis 11. Genesis chapter ten lists the descendents of Noah and his three sons. If you follow Shem’s line down four generations you come to Peleg, whose name means division. Genesis 10:25 tells us that “in his days the earth was divided.” Into many languages, we extrapolate, though that isn’t explicitly stated.
After the Flood (Genesis 9:1), God told Noah and his family to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” By a couple of hundred years later or so, they had made it only as far as the plain of Shinar. They decided to stay there, stick together, build a tower to heaven, and “make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4)
Have you ever read Prince Caspian? Specifically I’m thinking of the scene where the group doesn’t believe Lucy has seen Aslan, and they take a different route than she believes he has indicated. Their decision turns out badly, and when Lucy sees Aslan again, she asks him what would’ve happened if she’d gone his way instead of sticking with the others. He says that no one is ever told what would’ve happened. The implication is that it would have been much better than the painful course they must now endure.
I want to know what would’ve happened if human beings had obeyed God’s command to fill the earth, without Him having to force them apart by simply rendering them unable to communicate with each other. How great a portion of the fear, distrust, and war we have inflicted on each other could have been easily avoided if we all spoke the same language? Perhaps He will tell us one day, but surely it would break our hearts to know.
Linguists organize the almost 7000 languages extant today into approximately 94 language families. Secular linguists have theorized that all these languages derive from a single ancient tongue (but they are far too dissimilar for that to have happened), or that language developed independently in different groups of ‘evolving’ people (but for language to have arisen even once, let alone multiple times is mathematically untenable).
The Tower of Babel, read and interpreted in a “plain meaning” fashion, remains the best explanation of our current chaotic situation. Now our challenge is to translate God’s Word into the heart languages of the remaining 2200 or so people groups that don’t yet know that God speaks their language.