Where did all the languages come from?

All gifts, stories, enterprises and miracles are God’s, not ours. We can choose to believe we’re the masters and creators of our intelligence, that we’re independent, free from one another, free to choose this, that or the other. But the reality is comfortably different. God is the architect of the unique and extraordinary maze we call life from the entrance to the exit.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 27:1

Planet Earth is currently comprised of 195 countries. Of these, 193 celebrate some form of National Day. Whether it commemorates their date of independence, revolution, unification, or other outliers (the National Day of Greenland, for example, falls on the longest day of the year; the sun is in the sky for about 21 hours), the National Day tends to be a public holiday.

Before Noah and the flood detailed in Genesis 6:9, everybody spoke the same language. Following the flood, the world was repopulated through Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. In Genesis 10:5, 20 and 31

, each of the clans, nations and lands of Noah’s sons spoke their own languages.

We read in Genesis 11:1, “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” Rest assured, this is not a contradiction. As with many Bible stories, the events of Genesis were not written or assembled in chronological order. Instead, the events of Genesis 11 and the Tower of Babel illustrate the reason behind the ensuing language varieties we have today.

“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2And as people migrated from the east”, they got together to plan a way to “make a name for ourselves”. So, they built a grand city with a tall tower to advertise their greatness, effectively challenging the sovereignty of God.

3D Model of the Tower of Babel Courtesy of Jeremy Parks from Bible-Scenes.com

As we see today, humans tend to bunch together according to their spoken language or cultures. If everyone spoke alike, there’d be no reason for them to separate, explore, or build their own cities, fulfilling the command given to Noah in Genesis 9:1, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”

Through their increasing arrogance and desire for godlike greatness, the people squandered the blessings given to them. So, as a means of correction and reparation, God declares in Genesis 11:7,

Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.

We learn in Genesis 11:9 that following the Lord’s actions, the city

…was called Babel because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there, the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

According to Ethnologue Languages of the World, 7,139 languages are spoken today (2021), but around 40% of these are considered endangered.

There are plenty of detailed research studies on human linguistic diversity (see, for example, the International Journal of Advanced Research, IJAR). I’ve just read an interesting article by Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann from the University of Adelaide, that language diversity and cultural autonomy bring us together. It doesn’t divide us. I find this argument a touch contradictory…

Indeed, we see humanities search and desire for wisdom and independence (autonomy) from God, and each other, from our very beginning:

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves waist coverings.

Genesis 3:6-7
23So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
Genesis 3:23-24

Humanities desire for language difference and independence from each other is something we should lament, not celebrate.

…if we accept that the multiple languages we experience on earth are all imperfect representations of reality, none of them can be the language we will speak in that perfect place.

Compelling Truth, Eternity

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