Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
A crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
Peter said, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel," “In the last days, God says, 'I will pour out my Spirit on all people. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ "
I. Back When People were United
Take a look at Genesis 11. This takes place right after the worldwide flood. God had sent this flood to reset the world. There had been thousands of unbelievers – and only 8 – yes, 8 – believers. (If you ever feel alone in your faith right now, think about what it would have been like back then. That’s enough believers to maybe fill up 1 pew here in church).
In flooding the earth, God pressed the reset button. Genesis 10 talks about how that family of believers grew. They had kids and their sons and daughters had kids (and so on and so on). Which means that when you get to Genesis 11 – the people had one awesome, uniting factor. They were of the same family. They had the same lineage.
I don’t where you’re from, but whatever your culture, I imagine you’re proud of it. It’s ok to be proud of your culture. Maybe you enjoy that kind of food that reminds you of your culture. That’s great! I love cheese because of my German roots. You might love sushi because of your Japanese roots or barbecue because of your Southern roots. That fine. It’s good to be proud of your culture.
The problem is when we start setting up our culture as better than another culture. There will be problems. No one likes to hear that their culture is worse than another.
So can you imagine what is what like to not have that be an issue?
"What’s your favorite kind of food? Ancient human food. That’s where my family’s from.” "What!?! Me too! I’m a human too!” "That’s awesome. Let’s get together and eat human food, drink human drinks, and we can set up an ancient human restaurant!"
Besides making for a boring variety in food trucks, you get the drift. They didn’t have to argue about culture. That made them united.
That’s not all they had in common. Take a look at Genesis 11:1. Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. In the Hebrew, that literally means “They had a common lip.” That doesn’t mean they shared the same lip OR even that their lips looked similar. It’s a figure of speech meaning that they had the same language.
Have you ever tried to learn a language? It’s quite, difficult. I’m trying to learn Spanish right now using the DuoLingo app. I’ve been stuck at 53% fluency for about three months – Remembering to do it every day is difficult. It’s why I only know “un poquito Espanol”.
So can you imagine a world in which the Rosetta Stone language learning software did not exist? A world where there weren’t Second Language electives in school? A language in which you didn’t get upset that you couldn’t communicate with tech support from another country OR you went on a trip and didn’t have to carry a pocket dictionary with you just to order “ein Bier.”
What I’m saying is: Not having language barriers must have made for very pleasant communication. It must have really united those early humans.
Then, look at verse 2: “As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” Now Shinar is eastward of where they were originally. Remember – Noah and his family had come down off of Mt. Ararat. It’s not a mountain that we can pinpoint today, but a good guess is that it’s somewhere in the middle east. The Plain of Shinar would be more East than that. A lot of scholar think that this would become Babylon.
This leads to one more commonality among these humans. They all shared the same land.
This means they all wanted the same geographic region to succeed! It was the Plains of Shinar Mets v. the Plains of Shinar Yankees – and everybody was cheering for the team from the Plains of Shinar. All the economic funding, all of their working, all of their prayers, all of their time, all of their effort went towards building up the Plains of Shinar.
In fact, this led to one more thing they all had in common. Check out verse 3-4. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a toward that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
In other words – they shared the same plan.
This wasn’t the idea of some dictator NOR was it a politic thought that was pushed through the media. Notice it says “They said to each other.” Everyone had the same thought. Everyone had the same desire. Everyone had the same goal – let’s build a giant tower so that this city becomes the best city of all time! A memorial to how awesome we are!
So they got to work. Brick material gatherers gathered brick materials. Brick makers made bricks. Oven heaters heated ovens. Bricklayers laid bricks. Architects sipped their coffees and architected. Everyone worked on it. Everyone supported it. Everyone was for it. Everyone was on board with it.
Everyone…except the One they forgot.
The Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “if as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
Not that God didn’t notice before. God knows all things. He sees all things. He is by all things. But verse 5 describes how God made a concerted examination of the building project; he examined the building & their hearts and he saw a few very ugly things.
1) They were united in their disobedience.
If you go back to when Noah got off the ark, God gave a pretty simple command. He had just saved them from complete destruction on earth by warning Noah and telling him about the flood. Secondly, by wiping out unbelief so that he didn’t lose his people forever in hell. In return, he says to them, “Be fruitful, increase in number & fill the earth.” (9:1)
This is the exact opposite of their reasoning for building the tower. “Let’s build ourselves a city so that we might not be scattered over the face of the earth.”
In fact, when you take a look at their building materials, they decide to bake the bricks (most likely in ovens) rather than let them sundry which was the common way of making bricks at that time. They decided to use tar for mortar – which was different than the common adhesive used at that time.
The result? The bricks were more permanent. The adhesive was more permanent. The building was more permanent.
And so was the people’s disobedience.
2) They were united in their pride.
Did you notice that about their brainstorming session? They said, “Let us make bricks…let us bake thoroughly…let us make a name for ourselves.”
This is entirely different from how the people of God had acted in the past. In Genesis 4:26 it says the people began “to glorify the name of the Lord.” That means they sang songs to the Lord. They built houses to show God’s glory. They grew crops to God’s glory.
Is God’s name anywhere on this building? No. The people didn’t even recognize God. They only thought of themselves. They only wanted their own glory.
It’s like the guy who goes on TV after a star basketball performance and he says, “I earned this. I did great. I’m number one. I want to keep winning so that I can cement my own legacy and get some more glory!”
Your legacy? Your glory? What about the God who created you?
Take a look at what God does. “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
One minute – a guy is asking for a hammer; then next minute he is being told “No lo puedo descubrir.”
One minute – the foreman shouts: “Release the rock on three." The next he’s shouting "eins, zwei, drei!”
One minute everyone understand each other and everyone is getting along. The next minute? They’re confusing each other; arguing each other; and leaving their grand plan.
God scattered them from there over all the earth.
II. Now When People are Divided
But you know…What’s interesting? It wasn’t their new found differences that caused them to abandon their building project. It was the one thing they all had in common.
Pride. Sinful, disgusting, disobedient, pride.
It is the exact same thing that divides people today.
Instead of thinking what another’s culture is like and taking that into consideration, we think of our own and demand they take that into consideration.
Instead of saying, “How are things difficult for you?” we say, “Listen to how things are difficult for me!”
Instead of humbly accepting our failures in whatever culture we’re from, we love to blame others and force them to wear the label we’ve constructed.
Is it any wonder why we, as a people, are so divided? It’s because of what we have in common.
Jerusalem. A couple thousand years later.
The city was bustling. A group of Parthians are arguing with some Medes about the price of a horse. The Parthians are having a hard time understanding why that Arab wears his clothing that way. A Phrygian is having a hard time ordering off the local Hebrew menu and an Egyptian is giving the Roman guards an earful about why he hates their government.
Then, everyone quiets down. They hear something like a tornado wind coming from a small house in the corner of the market. From where they are looking, they see a group of men inside – little flames of fire on the top of their heads – as crowds start to gather, the men come out of the house. They begin speaking.
But not just in Hebrew. Not just in Latin either. In the languages of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Jews, Cappadocians, Pontians, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Cretans and Arabs.
While each person is hearing a different language, they are all hearing the same message – You’re sinners. You need a Savior. Jesus, who died and rose again is that Savior.
A few people mock them: “They have had too much wine.”
But one of the men stands up in reaction. He speaks with one voice – one voice heard by all their languages. 2 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 36 Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
The men looked around. Different faces. Different skin shades. Different cultures. Different headdresses. But they all had the exact same look of concern on their face. “Brothers,” a phrase absent of any cultural bias, “what should we do? How do we defeat our sins? How do we get on God’s good side? How do we return to our God?”
Listen to Peter’s reply if you are wondering the same thing – “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins “
Notice it wasn’t any different for the different people gathered that day. He didn’t tell some to pray. Some to dance. Some to sing and some to chant. Nope. This was no time for culture. This was time to address the One Shared Problem with their One Shared Savior.
Brothers and sisters – this is how God defeats division.
First, He defeats the division between us and God! Jesus lived perfectly when we couldn’t; he died innocently in our place and he rose triumphantly to proclaim us at peace with God.
It means that your selfishness is forgiven. Your racist attitude are forgiven. Your sinful ethnocentric cultural pride is forgiven.
Then, God defeats the division amongst humans.
It’s pretty interesting. The people wanted to build a big old tower – a tower so big that they would be united around their own awesomeness and never be lost. But then sinful pride got in the way and they never completed it.
Now God has something for all of us to unite around. Something else tall. Something else up.
It doesn’t matter if your Persian or Greek, Mede or Roman, Jew or non-Jew. It doesn’t matter if you are European American, African American, Asian American, Latino American, Middle Eastern American or any other kind of American – of if you don’t even consider yourself American at all.
The Cross unites us. Jesus unites us. One Savior. One Ruler. One Lord. One family.
God does all this because the Holy Spirit works through this.
As great as the miracles were that day – a whirlwind sounds without any wind, flames of fire without any burning, languages spoken without any learning – the most incredible miracle of all was thousands united – united to God & united to each other. The Holy Spirit does this in spite of our sinfulness, in spite of our pride, in spite of our misunderstanding, cultural confusions, and the straight up racism of this world.
The Holy Spirit unites us as family in one faith!
May he continue to do so, now and always. Amen.