The first is the day of Pentecost. The events of this day bear striking similarities and contrasts to the Tower of Babel story. In a very real way, Pentecost begins the reversal of the nation’s scattering and babbling across the earth.
The story actually starts with knowing that the apostles, joined by another hundred, spent forty days in Jerusalem waiting and praying in an upper room. They were there by command of the risen Jesus: “stay in the city under the promised Holy Spirit comes upon you.” Sounds like a holy quarantine to me. Likely they didn’t know what else to do anyway and faced potential danger from those who had put their Lord to death.
One thing is for sure: they were not designing a church building tower or forming a new movement nor thinking they could play the role of God and take control of anything. In response to the challenge to take Jesus to the world, they cried out to God. They stayed put in the place of prayer and petition.
So, when Pentecost came, they were humbly ready to be changed, led, and used by God.
On that memorable day, God’s Spirit alighted on those praying like flames of fire over their heads. Heaven now was coming down to earth, not vice-a-versa. Though they all spoke one common language in that room, the Spirit’s next gift was to give them new utterances, an unexplainable ability to speak languages they did not know. Their speaking in tongues brought people from all over Jerusalem, gathering together as the people had on the plain of Shinar.
Why did they come? Because each in the crowd all at the same time heard the message of Jesus in their own tongue. Confusion? Yes. Babbling? Hardly.
God’s Spirit was bringing the nations together again, under the rule of one God, Jesus Christ.
By the end of the day, with Peter’s preaching and final invite, thousands had decided that being their own god, living by their own wisdom alone and seeking their own honor were dead end streets. Three thousand responded in unity, not to build a tower, but to repent and follow Christ. Christ through them, Christ in them, Christ with them – God launched his Church.
The story from there moves to a long chapter called church history, and it is the one we still live in. The gospel since Pentecost has stretched into most of the nations of this world. Preaching from the Bible and establishing kingdom outposts has planted lights on a hill and truth to counter the babbling. Millions have come to follow this Jesus that Peter preached that day. They, too, have been filled by the same Spirit that breathed fire among the crowds.
The promised next chapter of God’s story is the story of how life as we know it here on earth will one day come to an end, and fully reverse the curse of Babel.
You see, God’s deep held intentions for His world will not forever remain on the back burner. A day is coming when the nations will come under the weight of their own futility and experience sin’s full consequences. Gathered and together again, the nations will see the day come when God himself in the New Heaven and Earth will be the one true tower. Sickness, infection, mourning, death and tears will be buried in the sand along with the dust of sin’s last remnants on earth.
God doesn’t need our technology to make it happen.
Those who still insist on trusting their “clay bricks” and self-efforts will find themselves in the dust outside the New Jerusalem! Surrounding his throne will be those who worship the Lamb in a voice and language that will again be unified. A new song will be sung in the temple of God’s presence. In that day, all people will be more than delighted to let God be God.
How might the larger story of Babel and the Bible speak to us in today’s Covid crisis?
- A Warning: The world must beware of relying solely on our technology and efforts to take us to new heights and discoveries, and… all the while, forgetting the wise injunction of Proverbs 3:5-7:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…”
For unless the Lord builds the house, the tower and the solutions, even our best and most compassionate efforts, will, without exception, fall short. We will be disappointed as they give way to life’s next challenge.
2. Certainly, many are acting out of the compassion that God placed in them when they were created in their mother’s womb. For those who have sacrificed and served so well, we should all be inspired and grateful. Still, and I want to be careful here, from God’s perspective, the temptation at Babel was not to choose selfishness over service, but to choose to live without God, to live as if we are god. The heart of sin is not limited to flagrant self-seeking, but it is acting as if God does not exist, living without acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus Christ. By this standard, we all need a savior.
So, the question is at hand: will the nations and rulers, all of us really, fall further into Babel’s resolve to solve problems and live on our own? Or will we resist the tower’s temptation, admit our limits, and see our need for God?
Perhaps this is a good place to insert an example for us all, from a critical moment in American history, a description of leaders who were able to overcome Babel’s temptation:
After four weeks of failure by the constitutional convention to write one word of a constitution for the United States, Benjamin Franklin addressed George Washington as follows: “I have lived to sir a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, thank God governments in the affairs of humanity… And I also believe that, without his concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by a little partial, local interests, our projects will be confounded… And mankind may hear after, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest. I therefore beg leave to move, that henceforth prayers, imploring the assistance of heaven and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning.” From that moment they began to make progress and produced the constitution… make progress and produced the constitution, which was as Gladstone said, the most remarkable work known to humanity in modern times to have been produced by the human intellect, at a single stroke. Prayer turned the tide.
God turns the tide in a way all our human efforts alone cannot. May we learn from the lessons of Babel and American history; a lesson of enormous consequence.
Yes, Lord, teach us to pray before we build. Turn the tide of this insidious virus, flatten Babel’s curve and bring us home to you.
 E. Stanley Jones, The Way, week 30 Wednesday, page 207