Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Babble of Babel

If it weren’t for Babel I wouldn’t have a job. For 27 years I have taught languages in various settings. Mostly I have taught Spanish, but I have also taught some German and English as a second language. The rest of my years I worked either in missions in Latin America or with a mission agency at home.

The story of Babel in Gen. 11: 1-9 is said to be an explanation of why there are so many languages in the world. Furthermore, we claim that God gave us so many languages in order to confuse humankind. We tried to be like God and build a tower to reach the heavens to show off our abilities and “make a name for ourselves.” 

Most of miss the real point of the story, however. God is more frustrated with his creation because they became too “settled” (v. 20). Being settled denotes a certain level of comfort. Humankind became too smug in their being together in one place with their language and culture. They became too comfortable where they were and refused to “scatter” in order to spread God’s Good News throughout the earth. 

Like most of us today, the people feared leaving their comfort zone and moving out. They wanted to stay with their own kind and ethnicity. This fear is stated in verse four: “Otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” 

Since the people wouldn’t move, God had to take matters into his own hands and forcefully evict them from their complacency: “So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth” (v. 8). 

This passage is a missionary passage. It is a call to spread the blessings of God throughout the earth. This can’t happen without scattering. It is also a call to be more dependent on God and less dependent on “mak[ing] a name for ourselves.” 

At the university where I teach, there is a cross-cultural requirement to “scatter” our students. They are forced to leave their comfortable lives in order to experience how a part of the rest of the world lives. Most students look forward to this experience, but there are always a number who try every means at their disposal to get out of the requirement. Like the people at Babel, they are afraid to leave their comfort zones.

Even students who eagerly participate in the requirement are quite surprised by how it changes them. Most return being dissatisfied with the comfort they felt before they left. Most change their values and are more open to mixing with people not of their kind. Many report being more grateful and more dependent on God because of their time of being away from their normal situations. Many feel called to scatter and spread the blessings of God to everyone. 

So, bring on the babble of Babel. Not only did it give me a career, but it also made me more aware of others and more dependent on God. How are you “scattering?”


  1. Thank you for that excellent analysis. Too often people focus on the pride of the tower and neglect the "scattering" aspect.

    In fact, if we look at God's story throughout scripture, every time his people get "settled", God unsettles them...

    1. Thank you Robert, for your comment. And you are SO right about God's story being unsettling!