Genesis 11:5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. 6 And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Ba’bel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
“So the LORD scattered them abroad” Not only does God create confusion among the humans by creating many different languages, He also scatters them abroad as He did to Eve and Adam by expelling them from Paradise. Now God scatters the human from proximity to each other, moving them far apart so that they are separated both by language and geography which will soon give birth to cultural separation as well. God who originally blessed the humans to fill the earth, now scatters them in such a manner that they will be pitted one against the other. And instead of subduing the earth they will turn instead to subduing each other.
“…the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth…” The scattering of humans across the face of the earth and the rise of diverse languages will bring an end to the universal nature of the story unfolding in Genesis. Furthermore, humanity will lose its oneness and unity of focus after this event and become scattered not only geographically but also in terms of goals and agenda. Although the story has paid special attention to one lineage of people, it still has generally been the story of all people, of any people, of humanity and of being human.
At this point in the story however Genesis will cease being the story of all humanity and will concentrate its focus on the man Abram, toward whose birth the narrative was leading, and on his descendants. Now the story is to become God working out His plan for the salvation of the world through Abraham and the Jewish people. But the scattered people of the world will be reintroduced into God’s story at the Nativity of Christ: “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1-2). With the arrival of the Magi, we have the beginning of all the nations and people of the world realizing that they are indeed part of the promise to Abraham and are to be recipients of God’s special favor. God promised Abraham, “by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves” (Genesis 22:18). The Magi lead all the nations of the earth to come to worship Abraham’s descendent and to enter into the eternal promise of God.
This scattering of people as an act of God in Genesis 11 contrasts with the more natural spread of the growing human population described in Genesis 10. This is certainly indicative of there being more than one “source” contributing to the Scriptures. The final editor of the Scriptures places both stories side by side in the Bible. He doesn’t try to harmonize the stories nor did he choose between them. Neither should we. The final editor of the text accepts both versions – contradictions and all – as inspired by God. So should we. But what lesson are we to learn from the fact that texts with contradictions and inconsistencies get accepted into the Scriptures? One possible lesson is not to read these verses purely literally. Perhaps their true importance lies somewhere other than in the plain reading of the text. As many Patristic writers suggested, the text is telling us to dig deeper beyond the literal – don’t reduce this text to a history lesson, it is about God’s revelation. Seek out that deeper and more important meaning. Our work is to interpret the scriptures we have received, not to change them or ignore them or to eliminate their challenges and mysteries.
Some speculate that in the modern world there is a new single language which is uniting humanity together. It is the language of mathematics, which is the same in every culture and tongue. It has a logic which is not based in any one language but is universally recognizable. And it is sometimes said that the universal language of mathematics which dominates conversations around the world is closely linked to two other phenomenon. First there is the Internet which is based in computers which are completely based in the language of mathematics. The Internet has made global conversations a reality. The Internet whose foundation is in mathematics makes it possible for the humans to again work for a common language for the world. The other phenomenon related to math is finances and economics. It appears in the 21st Century world that one form of economics – capitalism – dominates the language of commerce. It is the bottom line which determines so much about what we think of things. Will math, the Internet and capitalism – the modern trinity unifying humanity cause some in the world to create a new Ba’bel? God has not forbidden humans from using their brains, but it has been His desire that knowledge will lead us back to Him.