In that way, the Lord scattered them all over the world, and they stopped building the city. That is why the city was called Babel, because that is where the Lord confused the people with different languages. In this way he scattered them all over the world.—Genesis 11:8-9, NLT
The confusion of the languages that finalizes the story of Babel has traditionally been understood as a curse visited upon humanity. According to that interpretation, the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4) with its distribution of tongues and communication of the wonders of God in all languages has been seen as a reversal of Babel.
That tradition not withstanding, Genesis does not say that God cursed the people of Babel. God did not distribute different languages to humanity to curse but rather to correct the proud builders of the Empire of Babel. As 1 Peter 5:5 says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” By humbling the people of Babel, God made them eligible for grace.
The linguistic and ethnic diversity of humanity illustrates the grace of God toward us. Obeying the migration mandate would have led to gradual linguistic diversification anyway, but the rebellion of Babel serves as a motive for God to accelerate that natural process, giving different tongues in a single blow, a coup de grâce against static monoculturalism.
When we see Babel that way, Pentecost takes on a different appearance. Far from being a repudiation of Babel, it becomes a reaffirmation of the value before God of every language, tribe, and nation. The God who gave multiple languages to humanity loves human diversity in all its glorious flower. Through migration, God continues to create an ever more diverse and flourishing humanity.
Copyright©2013 by Joseph L. Castleberry.
Dr. Joseph Castleberry is President of Northwest University in Kirkland Washington. He is the author of Your Deepest Dream: Discovering God’s Vision for Your Life and The Kingdom Net: Learning to Network Like Jesus. Follow him on Twitter at @DrCastleberry and at http://www.facebook.com/Joseph.Castleberry.