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Friday, June 10, 2016

Divided Tongues; a New Look at the Tower of Babel

We're all more or less familiar with 'The Tower of Babel' Bible Story, found in Genesis 11:1-9, but how many have ever seen it as a prophesy of the giving of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2? 'Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech'; as the Story goes; this was the Creator God's response to His Creation when they thought to become gods themselves. From this plain in what we now know as Central Iraq, Yahweh scattered abroad His children, in effect cursing them by separating them. In sending His Spirit, at Pentecost, in the form of Divided Tongues of Fire. The Hebrew 'balal' translated as 'confuse' in the Story ( depending on the version ) & the Greek 'diameriz┼Ź', translated as 'divided' the Acts 2 description of the Holy Spirit, while having slightly different definitions & uses, are very similar in meaning.

Speaking of 'division'; in the early 13th century, the Archbishop of Canterbury introduced what we now accept as the chapters & verses of our present-day English Bibles. Whatever the reason for these divisions, it is most important to understand that these divisions are not original & thus, in some ways hinder our understanding of the Story of Scripture. Previous to the story of the Tower of Babel, in what we know as Genesis 10, is a genealogy of the sons of Noah. In this genealogy, when the sons of Ham are mentioned, we see that the beginning of his grandson Cush's kingdom, or dynasty, was Babel. At the end of what we know as Genesis 10, we read that 'from these the nations were divided on the earth after the flood.' It is natural to assume, then, that the Story of the Tower of Babel is the story of this division.

From the 'Division of Nations' as elucidated in the 11th chapter of Genesis, we understand that the whole earth was populated, though the Scriptures focus on the nations that we know as the Middle East. From the Middle East, of course, what is often called 'the cradle of civilization', was peopled, as the story goes, the rest of the earth, including Europe & the Americas. Australia, for those who miss the implications of a universal understanding of this passage of Scripture, also bears mention here; the question might be asked, 'from which of the sons of Noah did the Australian Aboriginals come?' Enough about that, though, this post is about the Coming of the Holy Spirit & the Reversal of the Curse, right?

The Fall of Adam & Eve in the Garden produced a long-lasting Curse, one which plagued the children of Israel for generations. Most notably, the Division of the Nations, as recorded in Genesis 10 & 11, was in essence, a result of the separation that our first 'parents' experienced in the Garden. Genesis 3::22 & 23 reads for similarly to Genesis 11:6. In the earlier reference, Yahweh observed that 'the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken'. Because of their desire to be as God, they were separated from His Blessings for a time, so that His Purpose might be Fulfilled!

The Curse that plagued the generations of the children of Israel was brought on by the Fall of Adam & Eve, there is no question, biblically speaking! Because of the curse that Yahweh pronounced on the ground
( Genesis 3:17 ), Noah planted a vineyard ( Genesis 9:20 ) since nothing grew of its own, as had the Garden, and further unleashed the Curse against his son & grandson. That it was the grandson of Ham who at least authorized the building of the Tower is speculative, but it seems possible, even likely.

In the Greatest Sense, one might say, the Division of Nations was a Blessing in Disguise, as was the Curse itself ], which plagued the children of Israel from the very beginning till the End! The End, of course, was Jesus, the Messiah of Israel. He it was that truly reversed the Curse through the Power of the Holy Spirit! By sending His Spirit in the visible form of divided tongues of fire, He showed, both that this was the Baptism that John had promised during his ministry ( Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16 ) & that this Spirit was the same One who had confirmed the Covenant with Abraham ( Genesis 15:17 ). This is not to resolve the children of Israel of any responsibility, but all that transpired in the History of Israel happened according to Plan and led to the Revelation of the Son of our Heavenly Father!

One problem, as mentioned previously, with modern Christianity is that, because of the chapter & verse divisions, many often seem to forget that the Scriptures are One Story! The division of the Genealogy of the sons of Noah & the resulting Tower of Babel is just one example among many that could be given. For instance, because of this separation, we are disinclined to remember that Genesis 11 is simply a continuation of the Story that began much earlier in Genesis & the same Story that continued with Abram in Chapter 12.

In a previous post ( several years ago ), we explored the notion that the Tower of Babel was significant of the beginnings of the Church; even though the Curse was still operative, everything was going according to Plan, even back then! Israel was spread abroad, in much the same manner, during the Dispersion, or 'Diaspora', as well as centuries earlier, when they descended into hell ( went into exile ) at the hands of the Babylonians ( Babel ), so, cursed as they were, it was all part of their Heavenly Father's Plan for the spread of the Gospel!

The Tower of Babel, evil as was the purpose of those building it, actually served the Creator's Purpose! From this Story, then, as well as many other similar ones in Scripture serve to remind us that, as evil & grand as wicked people's plans may be, they all serve our Heavenly Father's Purpose. There is no tower that men or women can construct, no plan that evil minds can devise that is not eclipsed & encompassed by that of the Creator of Heaven & Earth!

Charles Haddon Shank

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