Have you ever looked at a map or a globe and asked yourself, “How come we have those nations?” According to the Wycliffe Bible Translators, there are 6,809 known languages on the earth. Why don’t we all have one language? Wouldn’t that make it easier to communicate? Why don’t we all have one culture? Wouldn’t that make it easier to get along? And why can’t we all be one nation? Wouldn’t that make it simpler for us to coexist in peace?
First a word on Genesis 5-11
Generally speaking, Genesis is put together in chronological order, one of the main variations being the section we’re dealing with today, where chapters 10 and 11 are inverted, and chapter 10 is going to introduce to us a number of nations so that we ask the peculiar question, “Where did they come from?” Chapter 11 tells us how the various nations came into being. Genesis 5 was the genealogy to take us from Adam to Noah – 1,656 years. Genesis 10 is the conclusion of that genealogy, picking it up from the sons of Noah into the future in the various nations that proceed from them. What that means is chapter 5 and chapter 10 go together. Chapters 6-9, those chapters of the life of Noah were an excursion that we went on to investigate the life of one man, the great patriarch, Noah.
Who cares about all these people? What has that got to do with anything?”
1. These are people who, like us, went to school, got married, had kids, bought houses, worked jobs.
2. Nations, cultures, subcultures, tribes, languages, people groups, ideologies come from faithful and unfaithful people.
Second a word about Babel
1. Language is very important to the Bible.
God spoke. God speaks first. God is a God who communicates. Language is the means by which communication happens. Language is the means by which relationships are formed, trust is built, and knowledge of another is made possible. So, God speaks to us. He does that through Scripture, which is the Word of God. This is God’s language, and we speak to God through prayer. That is a language through which we communicate to God.
Language is so important that when the Lord Jesus comes, he is even told to be the Word of God. He is God’s language, he is God’s communication. The Father speaks to us through the Son (Heb 1.1-2). That’s his language. And Paul says in the New Testament that our faith comes through hearing the Word of God. God’s language, through Scripture, shapes us to be people of faith who can trust God because through language, he has informed us of who he is and what he’s done.
2. The sin
In the Bible, going east (at least in Genesis) means you’re getting farther away from God because there was the Promised Land and the Garden of Eden, and when they got kicked out, they went east. Cain went east. You keep going east you get to Babylon. You keep going east, you get to Sodom and Gomorrah. How many of you have heard of the Tower of Babel? The tower is not the centrepiece of the story.
What they’re building here is not just a tower but a whole city. And in the city, there’s a tower. A lot of people read into this. The Bible doesn’t say it, but a lot of people say, “Oh, in ancient societies, they had a ziggurat that would go up into the heavens and they believed that this was like a false Jesus. This was their way to mediate with the gods. So men would go up, and God would come down, and they would meet at the top of the ziggurat, and this is where they would have their idolatry and false worship. They think that they’re gods that are climbing into”
It just doesn’t say that. Maybe it was for military purposes, and they would stand up, and they would look out, and they would see if an army was advancing. Or maybe they just thought, you know, “Our urban landscape needs some sort of demarcation and identity. We need a Gherkin or a Shard.
Those are their two problems, two sins.
1. They want their name to be great.
2. The Babylonians (and many Babylonian-thinking Christians) want to build their four walls, get together with the people they like, and forget about the rest of the world.
3. God has a response to their great plan.
God says, “I promised I won’t flood the earth again. I’ll just confuse their languages. I’ll make them into multiple languages. That way, they won’t have common understanding, they won’t be able to work together, they won’t be able to complete the project, they won’t be able to do great evil, they won’t be able to harm other people – I’ll just make it impossible for them to work together unified. This is God saving them in kindness from themselves. That’s the story of the great city of Babylon.
Can’t we all get along? Can’t we just love each other? Can’t we just care for one another? Can’t we just work shoulder to shoulder for the common good? Can’t we just build a good society, a good nation, a good culture, a good city? Couldn’t we just make our name great? Couldn’t we all rally around that cause?
That was the Babylonian answer. The answer is no. Because we’re sinners and we sin. We do evil. The problem isn’t out there. The problem is in here. And it’s not a woman or a man or a son or a flood or a nation or a city that can absolutely deal with the sin problem once and for all. The problem with the Babylonian dream is that they forget that we’re wicked. This is want naïve, optimistic humanists forget. We’re sinners. We’re evil. We only think of ourselves and the present. We don’t think of others and the future. We want our name to be great, not God’s. We want to gather together in affinity with people just like us.
Thirdly a word about scattering
So, God not only comes down to see our sin problem, he comes down as the Lord Jesus Christ to solve it. To solve it. He lives without sin, he dies as a substitute in place of sinners, and he rises to conquer sin and death. He alone deals with – conquers the sin problem, takes it away so now we can be reconciled to God, reconciled to each other.
That means we are Christians and the church, so now the Babylonian dream is a possibility through the Lord Jesus Christ. What happens then is that the Lord rises. What does he say? Go into all nations, and as you go, tell them about me, preach the gospel, make my name great – God’s people are to scatter. We’re not supposed to just be here on Sunday; we’re supposed to scatter. We’re supposed to go into our homes and our workplaces and do whatever it takes to make Jesus’ name great. Church isn’t just what we do here it is what we do when we are scattering.
Don’t despise scattering. If God should scatter you, it’s because there are other people that he loves, and he is sending you there to proclaim his greatness so that they might know of his love. Jesus’ final words to us were, “Scatter, scatter, scatter. Don’t be Babylonian. Don’t build the four walls of the church. Don’t build the four walls of your home. There’s a whole world out there that I love as well.” These are Jesus’ final words. He ascends back into heaven. What is he doing since that time? He’s building a great city. He is working on what was originally the corrupted Babylonian dream. Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you. I am the king in the kingdom that is not built by human hands.”
Jesus is, right now, constructing for us a kingdom that will one day come down, the centrepiece of which will be a city. That city will be surrounded with walls (Rev 21.12). The difference between their walls and the Babylonian walls is that the gate into the walls of the great city of the New Jerusalem are never closed.
Everyone, regardless of who you are, if you are in God’s great kingdom, you can walk into his great city anytime you like. He’s hospitable, not rude. He’s welcoming, not mean-spirited. He’s open-hearted, not narrow-minded. He’s inclusive, not exclusive. He welcomes all people who trust in him. This great kingdom will come down out of heaven, given to us as a gift as creation was in Genesis 1 and 2.
Will there be a high place in that great kingdom? Revelation is the book of conclusions; Genesis is the book of beginnings; there are certain threads that weave these two tapestries together.
Will there be a great high point in this great city of the New Jerusalem as part of this gifted kingdom? Yes. But it won’t be a high tower in which men and women ascend in pride to look out as if they were mini-gods to see the earth.
It’ll be a throne. That is the high point. And on that throne will be seated a king, the Lord Jesus. And so, the Babylonian longing is only made possible and realised by Jesus, who takes away sin, who builds a perfect kingdom, who gives it to us as a gift, who builds the walls for the great city of which is the centrepiece, he sits on the high place on his throne, and he welcomes – he welcomes us to be with him.
The beautiful thing in Revelation 7:9 is that in this great kingdom will be all nations, languages, tribes, tongues, cultures of people. It’s not like the Babylonian dream where we just get together with people like us, but we realise that God loves the whole world. And we see this all beginning in the church.
Pentecost is the counterpart to the story of Babylon. In Babylon, God confused their languages. What did he do at Pentecost in Acts 2 in the days of the early church? The nations get together for this feast of Pentecost. People of different languages, cultures, different ethnicities, they all pack into the city.
Peter, who was hand selected by Jesus as the leader of the disciples, stands up to preach, and he tells them about the greatness of Jesus and this king who has taken away the sin problem and who is building a kingdom to give us as a gift, so that our hearts’ longing to live in that kind of place will be fulfilled by grace.
All these people with all their different languages (and the Bible says also their dialects) hear the sermon in their own language and dialect. And so the reversal of Babylon is the work of the Holy Spirit in the church on the day of Pentecost. The Babylonian longing is only satisfied through Jesus as the church, who is awaiting the gift of the kingdom.
Our hope is not in the kings and kingdoms of this world, and we pray like Jesus, “Thy kingdom come.”