The title of this article, Pentecost and Babel, may sound a little strange, but the Tower of Babel sheds wonderful light on the glory of Pentecost. My last article covered two important aspects of the Day of Pentecost:
- The memorial of the birth of the church and
- The celebration of the day that the Holy Spirit inhabited the church as the presence of God among men.
The additional aspect of Pentecost I introduce in this article comes from a comparison of the Tower of Babel disaster with the triumph of Pentecost.
To discover this we need to refer to Genesis chapters l0 and ll.
Genesis 10:8-10(a) reads: ‘Cush was the father of Nimrod, who grew to be a mighty warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; that is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.” The ﬁrst centres of his kingdom were Babylon…’
Because the Hebrew alphabet has no vowels, much is lost in this translation. However, an ancient commentary, the Jerusalem Targum (A Jewish Rabbinical paraphrase of the Old Testament), more accurately describes Nimrod as ‘powerful in hunting and wickedness before the Lord, for he was a hunter of the sons of man and he said to them “Depart from the judgement of the Lord and adhere to the judgement of Nimrod.”’
Now, where have we read something like this happening before? Oh yes, in the Garden of Eden when the serpent led Adam and Eve into rebellion against God. Satan appeared again later, not through a serpent, but through the great Nimrod of Babylon who instructed the building of a tower to reach the heavens. Here is the biblical account of this:
‘Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel – because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth’(Genesis 11:1-9)
The Tower of Babel
The word Babel sounds like the Hebrew word for ‘confusion’ but in the ancient Akkadian language of that part of the world, it meant ‘Gateway to god’.
In the early 19th century, a Leut-Gen Chesney excavated the ruins of ancient Babylon and found evidence of a Ziggurat, a stepped pyramid, at the top of which was a temple to the stary host complete with a depiction of the Zodiac.
The prophet Isaiah wrote something that sheds light on the motivation for building this tower:
‘How you have fallen from heaven, O Lucifer son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High. But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit’. Isaiah 14:12-14
The tower of Babel was all about a satanically inspired leader attempting to ascend to the heavens and be as God, and in the process bringing judgement upon the people that scattered them across the earth.
The Reversal of Babel
About 3,000 years later, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, ascended to Heaven and on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to Earth to inhabit a temple not build with bricks but with living stones. A temple not in Babel on top of a Ziggurat, but in Jerusalem in the upper room. This temple on earth is the Church!
At Babel, the people of the world were scattered to many nations with many languages, but on the Day of Pentecost, they were gathered from the many nations. On that day they heard the glory of God extolled in tongues, the language of the church, and 3,000 were saved and baptised.
Now, this is key: When the Holy Spirit came upon the 120 members of the ﬁrst church, they went out into the streets extolling the wonders of God — they were empowered and they went OUT!
At Babel, God judged idolatry and scattered the people. At Pentecost, God blessed the people. Today, God still blesses the nations of the world through the church and there are now an estimated two billion members of the universal!
What is All This to us, Today?
Now, this is all very interesting and inspiring, but what does it mean for us today, here and now?
Well, for me, the lesson that dominates the comparison of Babel to Pentecost is that we, the Spirit-empowered church of Jesus, need to emulate the ﬁrst disciples and pour out into the world. The message of the reversal of Babel is of a church that unites the people of the world into one body speaking one spiritual language. A church that goes out to gather in the scattered nations of the world.
What Jesus Said
Consider what Jesus said concerning this, and these are just some of his pronouncements:
- Mark 1:38-l9: “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” And then it says, ‘So he travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons’.
- John 6:38-40: “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
- John 12:46: “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
The conclusion is clear and it is this; If we are followers of Jesus then his mission is our mission. So then let’s apply these statements of Jesus to our mission as follows:
- Being light in the darkness: This entails being positive and hopeful and it includes doing good.
- Teaching truth: We can do this through preaching, training, writing, and podcasting the truth that Jesus spoke and embodied.
- Raising up the name of Jesus: This we do by witnessing to his reality in our lives and his centrality in all things.
- Ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit: This includes healing, delivering, speaking out Words of knowledge and wisdom, and so on.
If you are in any doubt that this applies to us, you and me, then just read again the lord’s commission to us:
Matthew 28: l 8-20 ‘Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Mark 16:15-18 “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
Our Negative Circumstances
It is so easy in these long months of COVID-19 lockdown to become defensive and inwardly orientated. We are faced with such huge social and economic challenges that we tend to direct what little resources we have to survive or to caring for the hungry and needy amongst us. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that human need goes beyond physical bread to the bread of heaven, and that we Christians are the only ones who can distribute ‘spiritual bread’.
So the question before us is: ‘How can we break free from bondage to our circumstances and ﬁnd innovative and inspired ways to do as Jesus did in the world’.
Two Practical Suggestions
I want to offer two suggestions:
- Recognise that reaching out into society is not limited to Evangelism and Evangelism is not just formal presentations and tracts etc. Outreach is an outward orientation from a Jesus centre and includes poverty alleviation, education, acts of kindness, and personal witness to Jesus. All of this needs to be in his name. If we provide loaves of bread to the hungry without telling them about the bread from heaven, then we meet just a physical and temporary need.
- Secondly, outreach ﬂows from the realisation that we have something of immense worth to share.
Just consider what we, as born again, spirit-ﬁlled Christ-followers have:
- We Know Jesus and his way of salvation and we know how others can come to know him and be saved.
- We have Good News (The Gospel) in a world full of bad news. The good news is that Jesus came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, not his judgment.
- We have hope, light and life and oh, how people today need this.
- We have access to the power of the Holy Spirit to minister and help.
- We have truth amid the ﬂood of false news, lies, and deception.
So, to break out and reach out we need to change our orientation from inwards to outwards and to realise that we have much to share that people desperately need. But we also need to act.
The Need to Act
Here are some ways we can act:
- Start to phone, visit and interact with others as much as safety will allow at this time.
- Join in what the church body is doing to reach out.
- Decide how you can reach out and then contact your church leader to see if there are others you can join with.
Pentecost signiﬁes the reversal of Babel, the replacement of curse with blessing, the birth of the church, and the advent of the empowerment and presence of the Holy Spirit.
No wonder the ﬁrst disciples burst out of the upper room enthusiastically proclaiming the glory of God and immediately getting involved with growing the church and reaching the nations. A good example for us to follow.