The Tower of Babel versus the Fire of Pentecost

We begin our readings today in Genesis which is a total contrast to our second reading in the book of Acts.  The story of the Tower of Babel is a message of what can go wrong in civilizations and society. The story goes, let’s build us a tower to the heavens and make a name for ourselves otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth. The tower or ziggurat was the great symbol of the ancient Mesopotamian city states of the lower Tigris Valley, an area often referred to as the cradle of civilization. For many years this area was considered the cradle of civilization where the first people settled down together and established agriculture and built cities.

We now have evidence that people lived in community 20,000 years ago in China, 32,000 years ago in France and 35-40,000 years ago in Spain. However in this part of the known world this area founded by Nimrod’s tribe, the son of Ham, one of the sons of Noah was considered the cradle of civilization. One of the greatest discoveries of Mesopotamia along with the wheel, the arch and the calendar, was the ability to manufacture building materials, especially bricks made by pouring clay into molds, drying in the sun and eventually firing them in kilns. And they said to one another: Come let us make brick and burn them thoroughly. (Gen. 11:3) This made possible the construction of buildings on a larger scale and reaching even greater heights. From this grew the Ziggurat (tower) a stepped building of many stories.

Essentially, these towers were man-mad mountains, and archaeologists have discovered at least thirty of them.   An encoded inscription at the top of many of the ziggurats reads we have reached heaven; and the doorway to heaven; and the footstool of heaven. And they said come let us build a city, and a tower, with its top to heaven. (Genesis 11:4) The Tower of Babel is recorded in history to be over three hundred feet high and a base of 300 feet wide. The builders wanted to concentrate humanity in one place.

The message to us behind this story is this: the results of human behavior are sometimes the opposite of what is intended. Let us build a city and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth. (11:4) and just the opposite happened. The Lord scattered them over the face of the earth. The great name they had for themselves, Babel, became a symbol of chaos and confusion. (Gen. 11:4, 8)

 They took much pride in their technological ability to construct buildings never known of before. They did not realize that the greatest creative power is language. With great poetic justice, it was not a technical problem that caused the builders to abandon the project, but rather the loss of the ability to communicate. Babel was not the last civilization to begin with a dream of utopia and end with nightmare of hell.  A world of good is a world of boundaries and limits. Those who cross those boundaries and transgress these limits make a name for themselves, but the name they make is Babel, meaning chaos, confusion and the loss of order.

The juxtaposition of this passage in Genesis with the passage in Acts is this: on the day of Pentecost there were many languages being spoken. The message is that in God’s economy there is only one language. There may be many different voices, but God understands them all and they are all one and the same. Worship breaks all language barriers. In Acts we read: So when the Holy Spirit came and shook the upper room where they were meeting with a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire landed on each one of them.

They began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Not only were they speaking in foreign tongues, but they were speaking in the languages of the people represented from Asia, Egypt, and parts of Africa, Rome, and all the known areas of the world. They understood because they heard some of the disciples speaking in their specific language and probably their specific dialect, to let them know that God understands all languages and in worship they are united as one in the Spirit. (Many parts but unified as one in the Spirit, One in the Lord) Many spokes but only one wheel.

God unites people into one church, breaking down all barriers, gender and nationalities

Genesis 11:1-9            (Babel)                                               Acts 1-2 (Pentecost)

Come let us make a name for ourselves                               constantly devoting themselves to                                                                                                   prayer (1:14)

*** (Proverbs: Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.) (Proverbs 16:18)

***A broken and a contrite heart o God you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

We will ascend to heaven and take what is ours                 Waiting and depending on God

God confused their language and scattered them              Spoke in many languages-others                                                                                                      understood

Scattered chaos and confusion                                 Diversity united Voice and One Spirit

Language barrier                                                       No language barrier

Loss of power and communication                          Empowered with many languages

Defeat and disaster-Lack of Vision                           Power of God and Vision for the future

Mission Aborted                                                        Mission Accomplished

Scattered abroad in confusion                                  empowered to scatter and evangelize


Where in Genesis it went from the one language into many languages, confusion and chaos was the result. But in the message in Acts it is just the opposite; many languages, but synthesis, the Holy Spirit bringing everyone together.

Some scoffers in the crowd said, they are drunk on wine. Peter stood up and addressed them and said: These people are not drunk. It’s only 9 AM in the morning. I’m sure it’s happy hour somewhere, but not here. These people are filled with the Holy Spirit. God has come and made Himself known among us and has filled us with the power and fire of the Holy Spirit.

God has come and made Himself known among us and has filled us with the power and fire of the Holy Spirit.