I was reading the story of Noah and wondering why the Bible makes a point to say, in Genesis Chapter 11, “now the whole world had one language and a common speech.” I kept thinking to myself, isn’t that the same thing – language and speech? And since Google and I are really good friends, I looked it up, and to my surprise, they are not the same thing. If you are smarter than me, you already knew that. But if you, like me, don’t know the difference, speech is the production of sounds that make up words and sentences, and language is how we use words and sentences to communicate ideas. But knowing this still didn’t answer the question as to why both those terms were listed in the beginning of Chapter 11. So I read on.
The Bible continues here to talk about how all the descendants of Noah had moved eastward and wanted to build a great tower of brick, instead of stone (keep that in mind), and they wanted to also use tar for mortar. They had a grand plan to build this tower that they thought could reach to the heavens. And their reason for this? “so they would make a name for themselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But, the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. And He put an end to their plans by confusing their language so they could not communicate with one another, and they would be forced to abandon the plan, divide off into groups, and go their own way. As I thought about all of this, I realized that God had to not only change the language – or the way they used the words and sentences to communicate ideas, but he had to change the speech so that the sounds they were making would also be foreign to one another. Had He just changed the language, they might still have been able to piece together the ideas that each other had and continue on their project. But changing the way they even formed words, made it that much more difficult to understand. I equate this to, for example, the Mandarin language. Not only is the speech extremely different from mine, but the way that they form their sentences is also very different. This drastic change to these men had to signal to them that God was punishing them and scattering them. Yes, I did say punishing them. No, the Bible does not specifically state that.
Go back to the beginning of Genesis. What was the original sin? Eve wanting to “be like God”, thus eating the fruit. What was the result? Punishment and being driven to another part of the earth. What were these men, in Noah’s day, really trying to accomplish here? They “wanted to make a tower that reaches to the heavens”. They wanted to “make a name for themselves.” They, in essence wanted to be like gods (little g). So the very act of relying on themselves and even how great their ideas were, like using brick instead of stone and tar for mortar, was placing their focus on themselves and not the God who had delivered their ancestors from a Great Flood.
Some people today are the same way. They elevate and build themselves up, wanting everyone to focus on them and how great they and their accomplishments are. We only need to watch a few of the award shows on TV to witness this “human worship”. God was reminding the people in Noah’s day, that His purpose for them is not to “make a name for themselves” and not to have others worship them and stand in awe of their accomplishments. The focus needed to be then, just as it is today, only on God and to stand in awe of Him and what He has accomplished for us.