“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. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
Genesis 11:6-7 ESV
Growing up I went through a phase where I was obsessed with Greek mythology. I loved all the stories of the gods and goddesses living on Mt Olympus, detached from but still interested in the affairs of mortals on earth. Occasionally they would come down from Olympus because they saw a beautiful woman they wanted, or because they wanted to help or harm people. I remember the gods and goddesses were a vengeful and petty bunch, jealous of one another, prideful, playing pranks, losing their temper, and so forth. In other words, all the frailties and foibles humans have, but with superpowers. And these stories were often used to explain things about nature. The oceans are salty because they were formed by the tears of a goddess. There is evil in the world because Pandora got curious. And so on.
So when I first read the story of the Tower of Babel, it sounded a little like a story out of Greek mythology. It sounded like God got threatened by what humans were capable of, so he came down and confused their language, and that’s why we all have different languages today.
But that’s not it at all. God isn’t threatened by what we can accomplish. His heart is good toward us. But God could see trouble brewing. He heard the people saying things like “let’s make a name for ourselves (v. 4)” when He desires us to make His name known.
“This will keep us from being scattered all over the earth (also v 4),” when God had already commanded them to fill the earth (Genesis 9:1).
God created us to glorify Him and enjoy fellowship with Him. So he knew that in the big picture, unity apart from God is a bigger threat to God’s children than being scattered over the earth. God would rather us be divided and dependent on Him than unified and independent. So He confused their language and scattered them.
But God didn’t leave us scattered and divided. Thousands of years later, on the day of Pentecost, Babel got unraveled, and the curse got reversed. At Babel, one language became many. At Pentecost, many languages all heard one message (see Acts 2:6). At Babel, a people gathered were scattered. At Pentecost, people who had been scattered were united (see Acts 2:5).
At Babel God’s people were together to make a name for themselves. After Pentecost, people dispersed to make God’s name famous.