“Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language” (Acts 2:5–6).- Acts 2
With the division of human languages into different tongues and dialects at the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1–9), the opportunities for disagreement and strife among the peoples of the world were greatly exacerbated. However, the Lord’s judgment of the human race so long ago was not His last word for man. Today, we will look at a New Testament passage that has much to say about Babel before we return to the Genesis narrative tomorrow.
From the beginning, God has intended to unite men from all places into a people to proclaim His glory. In Adam and in Noah, all men are ordered to exercise wise dominion for His glory (1:28; 9:7). However, we united against our Creator at Babel, and so He confused our languages, making us fill the earth as commanded but hindering our ability to coalesce into one rebellious body (11:1–9).
Initially, the Lord worked mostly within the limitations He imposed, calling one tribe and tongue — the people of Israel — as His witness to the nations (Ex. 34:10; Deut. 4:1–8; 26:18–19; Josh 4:19–24). Under the old covenant, the praise of God was limited mainly to one people, but our Father still desired to make Himself known to all men. Yet with few exceptions, Israel failed her duty, and so the prophets looked to the day when the Lord would unite persons from all nations to praise Him (see Isa. 60; Zech. 14:16). The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost began this anticipated day.
At Pentecost, the festival of the firstfruits of the harvest, the church received the firstfruits of cosmic redemption when the Holy Spirit was poured out equally upon all flesh (Acts 2:1–4). The miracle of tongues, where everyone heard the Gospel in his own language (vv. 5–11), provided evidence God was breaking down the cultural and ethnic division imposed at Babel, revealing that the true Israel is defined not by tongue or culture but by common faith in the Messiah.
Linguistic and cultural differences remain, but the power of the Spirit enables us to break through them for the sake of the Gospel. The reversal of Babel has begun, as the elect from every nation gather before the Lord’s throne to worship Him (Rev. 7:9–12).
The diversity of language and culture, coupled with our stubbornness, often hinders the call to be united in Christ. However, it will one day give way to one body that will praise God in multifaceted glory. What are you doing to make this a reality now? Befriend one from a different ethnic background so that you may understand their culture better. If they are not a believer, seek to share the Gospel with them, for they may be one of those who will gather before the Lord.
Passages for Further Study