From Babel to Pentecost
The Lord said, “Come let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” – Genesis 11:7 (NIV)
Out in the vast deserts of present-day Iraq, there existed a plain called Babel. At Babel, God confused the language of a people who had united together to build a city tower that would glorify their names.
Some assume God confused the people’s language by interposing new and different languages among them. But most translations of the original Hebrew simply say that God confused or confounded their language.
Even without the introduction of a different language, people who speak the same language are often confused. I recently thought I’d booked a round-trip airline ticket from Atlanta to Miami, by phone. But when I reviewed my email confirmation, I discovered that the round-trip ticket wasn’t from Atlanta to Miami, it was from Miami to Atlanta.
The booking agent and I both spoke the same language, but our common language did not prevent confusion.
There is no greater confusion than people who speak the same language, but who mean different things when they speak it. Words like freedom … patriot … righteous … race… all mean very different things among people who speak the same language.
Perhaps the confusion at Babel was not to punish the people’s common language, but to punish the disconnect of people’s values. Perhaps the dispersion of the people was a result of their own unwillingness to move past common words toward a greater common understanding.
In our communities today, common language is not the problem. The problem is failure to value one another’s history and identity. The problem is failure to listen past common language in order to recognize echoes of common ideals.
Lord, let me perceive meanings beyond words and values beyond verbiage. Amen.
Kenneth L. Samuel is Pastor of Victory for the World Church, Decatur, Georgia.