I can ask where the bathroom is in three different languages.
Spanish, Japanese and English.
There’s just one problem.
If someone then tried to give me directions to the bathroom in Spanish or Japanese, I couldn’t understand them.
I’d probably just give them a confused look.
They’d need to point me in the right direction or speak to me in English.
But at least I could start the conversation, right?
Life can get complicated when you can’t understand what another person is saying.
Such things remind me of a Bible story.
It’s found in the 11th chapter of the Old Testament book of Genesis.
This situation occurred after God saved Noah, his family and a bunch of animals from a flood in a huge boat called an ark.
After the flood, God blesses Noah and his sons and tells them to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”
So they start doing that.
At this point in time, the whole world has one language.
As people migrate, they settle in a plain in the land of Shinar, which according to the Fire Bible, is a place that later becomes Babylonia.
The people begin making bricks and mortar. They decide to build a city and a tower with a top that reaches the heavens.
And they decide to make a name for themselves so they won’t be scattered over the whole earth.
What’s wrong with a little building project?
Bible commentators say the people were disobeying God by building a city instead of spreading out and filling the planet.
Some suggest the people were trying to build a tower to reach the heavens so they could be like God. Other scholars believe they wanted it as a place to better view the stars for occult practices.
The Fire Bible also says the people had increasingly rejected God and were embracing idolatry.
And they seemed to have embraced pride. Instead of worshiping and honoring God, they were out to become famous.
At any rate, God obviously isn’t pleased.
The Scriptures record that the Lord comes down to see the city and the tower.
“This is only the beginning of what they will do,” God says, “And nothing they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”
Was God intimidated by mankind? Afraid they might reach him with that tower?
No, I don’t believe the creator of the universe — the God who created galaxies billions of light years away from earth — felt threatened by a bunch of people and a brick tower.
Instead, I think he knew this group of people — so unified in ungodly attitudes — could have become involved in some really bad endeavors.
Or as The Message Bible says: “No telling what they’ll come up with next — they’ll stop at nothing!”
So he frustrates their plans in a big way.
“Come, let us go down and confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech,” the Lord says.
Did you notice the word “us”?
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Bible commentators say that’s reflective of the Trinity — the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Lord confuses their language, then disperses the people over the face of the earth.
They quit building the city — which is called Babel — because it was there that the Lord confused the language of the entire world.
What happened to the tower?
It doesn’t say the Lord destroyed it — maybe because he had more of a problem with the builders’ intentions than the building itself.
And did that tower remain as a monumental reminder of the price of disobedience?
Centuries later, people would have a very unifying experience with language when the Holy Spirit came upon the first Christians at Pentecost.
Before the resurrected Jesus ascends into heaven, he tells his followers not to leave Jerusalem.
They’re supposed to wait for the promise of the Father — they’ll be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
When the day of Pentecost arrives, the disciples are all together in one place.
Suddenly, there comes from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind that fills the whole house where they are sitting.
Divided tongues of fire appear and rest on each one of them.
All the disciples in that house are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in other languages as the Spirit enables them.
Devout Jewish people from every nation are in Jerusalem and at the sound, a multitude gathers.
They are bewildered because each one of them hears the disciples speak in their own language.
They know the speakers are Galileans.
So how are they hearing these men speak in all these other languages?
“We hear them telling us in our own languages about the mighty works of God,” crowd members say.
It doesn’t say that everyone started speaking the same language.
Instead, the Lord enables the disciples to praise him in the different languages of the people who were there that day.
Doesn’t sound like there was any confusion.
The Apostle Peter shares the Gospel, telling how Christ was crucified and resurrected and he tells them the way to be saved.
About 3,000 souls will come into the kingdom that day.
In the centuries that have followed, people have translated the Bible into many different languages.
Fremonter Charlotte Young, who works with Operation Christmas Child, tells me that children who get one of the gift-filled shoeboxes also get a Gospel booklet in their own language.
After children get their box, they can take a discipleship program called, “The Greatest Journey.” When they complete the program, they get a Bible in their own language.
I’ll bet those kids are so excited when they get those booklets and earn their Bibles.
Sometimes, I think it might be easier if we all spoke one language.
I wouldn’t have any trouble finding my way to a bathroom in another country if I couldn’t understand someone’s directions.
But maybe I wouldn’t have the fun of learning a few words in another language either.
At the same time, I look forward to the day that the Apostle John talked about in the book of Revelation.
In Chapter 7, the Apostle says he saw: “…a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne of the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
I don’t think we’ll have trouble understanding anything that day.