So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name 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.Through the act of confusing their language, God dispersed everyone across the whole earth. (Genesis 11:8-9 ESV)
In the end, God’s sovereign will must be done, through either obedience or judgment. For the men at Babel, it came through judgment.
And the ramifications of this judgment are significant. Since only five or so generations from Noah had passed, there would have likely been a strong familial bond between the people of the city. Yet in one swift act of God, the relatives that each man had known for centuries were suddenly speaking gibberish. With no way of communicating with one another the people left Babel by families to form the nations and groups seen in the Table of Nations (Gen. 10).
The city was then called Babel because it sounds like the Hebrew verb for “to confuse.” However, throughout the Old Testament, Babel is the name used for the city of Babylon. Just as Babel is here associated with sin, so Babylon is known as a representation of wickedness.
Since the division of languages is a judgment of God, they stand today as a reminder of sin and its consequences. We are no longer able to communicate with everyone that we encounter because of the depravity of the human heart.
However, human sin does not have the final word.
Zephaniah 3:9-13 speaks of God reuniting the human tongue under one language:
For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord.
Furthermore, the speaking in tongues in Acts 2 seems to anticipate the undoing of the judgment at Babel.
Indeed, it is only in Christ that people are able to truly unite without the devastating effects of sin and pride. Jesus has bridged the linguistic and cultural divide, commanding us to reach every ethnicity.
As with the people of Babel, we cannot gather in one place, but the body of Christ unites as it multiplies.
The Church grows together as it disperses among the nations.
And just as their gathering at Babel was contradiction of the divine commission to all humans to fill the earth, so is a Christian who does not seek to fulfill the Great Commission.
The call to make disciples of every ethnicity is the great calling for every Christian.
There is no such thing as a Christian who does not fulfill the Great Commission. Whether it is inches or miles, every follower of Christ will go and make disciples.
It’s fundamental to the Christian identity, and it’s the undoing of Babel.