In my book Redbud Corner, Ah Ni must struggle with all the things she doesn't understand about the English language, which got me thinking about why God confused the languages in Genesis 11:1-4:
At one time all the people of the world spoke the same language and used the same words. As the people migrated to the east, they found a plain in the land of Babylonia and settled there.
They began saying to each other, “Let’s make bricks and harden them with fire.” (In this region bricks were used instead of stone, and tar was used for mortar.) Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.” (NLT)
It’s interesting that in popular folklore, a perfect, utopian world would be one where everyone is in complete harmony, and part of that usually has us all speaking the same language. Most science fiction stories include a device available that allows a person to understand another person’s language without going through the painstaking work of learning that language. That would be great, we think. And as I’ve tried to learn another language without spectacular results, I agree. Such a device would be nice, but if it’s anything like the translators on my computer, we could start a world war with misunderstandings since language is so much more than mere words. By learning a language, we learn a culture and begin to understand what makes it tick.
Yet, different languages are the very thing God used to keep a people from becoming arrogant and powerful too quickly. By confusing languages (as he does in the passage above), he forced people to slow down their progress. We aren’t told in the text exactly why God did this, except that “nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them!” (v. 6). Evidently, God in his wisdom knew this would be a bad thing for humans.
So what can I learn from that? In my humanness, I think I know what is good, but as in all things, God knows so much more than I do. I need to check my motives, and I also need to listen to God so that my goals and desires are lining up with his.
I also got wondering about ways I try to make a name for myself. It made me want to make sure I'm slowing down, bringing things to God, and seeking his wisdom on it. As I prayerfully listen to him, his Holy Spirit will make clear to me what will be best for me and those I influence. I want to take time to be sure that God and I want the same thing. Psalm 139 also helps me in this.
So, I pray that you, too, are able to slow down and listen...