And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.…
(text and Genesis 11:4): —
I. THE OLD TESTAMENT TEXT carries us back to the period when "the whole earth was of one language and of one speech."
1. At that period the human race had begun to so multiply, that it became necessary for them to lengthen the cords of their habitations. A considerable horde journeyed westward, with the view of settling wherever the advantages of pasture might tempt them to fix their residence. Faction, however, soon began to divide them, and it became evident that such a spirit, if some effectual remedy were not applied to it, would issue in their dispersion over the earth's surface. Such a prospect, it appears, was intolerable. Even in the infancy of the race it was felt that union was strength — that to disperse the family was to debilitate it. Possibly there was another motive. The deluge was fresh in the memory, and a guilty dread of some similar judgment drew them near to one another for shelter and support. It was the period when man was beginning to awake to self-consciousness and a knowledge of his own resources. Might not those resources, wisely applied, enable him to hurl defiance at the Most High, and serve to secure him against a second deluge? This presumptuous horde then laid aside for a while their petty differences, and exclaimed, as with one voice, "Go to, let us build us a city," etc. Do not such thoughts, widely different as to outward shape, find an echo in the minds of men of the present generation? There never was a generation which possessed a fuller consciousness of the physical resources at its command, and a higher estimation of the results which, wisely applied, those resources may achieve. And never was there a stronger yearning after union. Men recognise the evils which are incidental to partisanship and division, and profess to deplore even where they cannot remedy them. But to return to our narrative.
2. The people had proceeded some way, when "the Lord came down to see the city... Let us go down, and there confound their language." The miracle seems to have consisted of two parts — first, their language was confounded on the spot — secondly, an instinct of dispersion was sent by God among the builders. Without such aa instinct the confusion of tongues would have failed to effect its object. "So the Lord scattered them abroad upon the face of all the earth," which points to the effects of such an instinct. Each little band took its own path, and finally settled down in a separate district, placing between them and their former companions the natural barriers of mountains and rivers. Here, in this state of isolation, national character began to develop itself. Those who lived much abroad in a sunny and genial climate became keenly alive to the various forms of beauty, and susceptible of a high refinement; those whose allotted district was a northern and a cold country, became rude in their manners, and adopted superstitions of a ferocious cast, in which was blended a strong element of the mysterious. Language, too, declined more and more from its original model, and assumed in each case certain great distinguishing features. And thus were the members of the human family effectually separated, and their design of establishing one great central institution baffled, while God's counsel of dispersing them stood for ever.
3. Now this narrative is fraught with admonition to those who, under the conviction that man can only be strong and happy in union with his fellows, desire to compass that noblest of all ends, the universal brotherhood of the race. It testifies that genuine unity is only to be compassed by striking at the original root of discord. To bring men to recognise one another as brethren is a noble aim; but it is not to be achieved by a fundamental alteration of the arrangements of property or rank, while we leave untouched those springs of selfishness which lead to the accumulation of property in certain hands. To make wars to cease in the world is indeed the very prerogative of Deity; but assuredly it is not otherwise to be effected than by aiding those spiritual influences which modify and repress the unruly wills and affections of sinful men. That Christians should agree in the truth of God's Holy Word, and live together in unity and godly love — this were the very realisation of Christ's prayer — but it is an end which cannot be otherwise furthered than by the more effectual propagation of the gospel of love and peace, an end which no uniformity of ecclesiastical discipline on the one hand, no sinking or waiving of distinguishing tenets on the other, will avail to secure. That all nations should recognise their common fellowship in one world-embracing community — this is the very consummation to which true believers are looking forward; but then it cannot otherwise be brought about than by a spiritual agency, and its attempted achievement by the wider establishment of commercial relations, or by any other method of the kind, will issue most assuredly in failure. To counteract this instinct, by diffusing one of an opposite tendency, is the only sure method of success in such a work.
II. LET US NOW TURN OUR THOUGHTS TO THE NEW TESTAMENT TEXT.
1. It pleased God, in His own good time and manner, to realise the presumptuous design of the Babel builders. In the mediation of His Son, which unites heaven to earth, He hath reared up a tower whose top reaches to heaven, while its base is accessible to the heirs of sinful flesh and blood, whereby the communications of prayer and praise may pass upwards to Him, and those of grace, mercy, and peace, may descend to His creatures. Clustering round the base of this tower is a city which He hath founded, and which is designed to be world-embracing. The members of the community thus formed are united together by strong and efficacious bonds, although such as are invisible to the eye of sense. They have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of them all, who is above all, and through all, and in them all. The same hope animates, the same Word guides, the same bread feeds, the same providence directs, the same blood cleanses, the same grace quickens and consoles them. Aye, and their fellowship extends its ample bounds beyond the barriers of the world of sense. It embraces within its fair girdle an innumerable company of angels and the spirits of just men made perfect (Hebrews 12:22, 23). This community, so constituted, is the appointed centre of union for mankind. There, within its invisible precincts, the families of the human race may meet and recognise one another, as all claiming by faith a common interest in Christ. There, at length, the dusky Moor and the frozen Laplander, the rude Goth and the refined Greek, may acknowledge their oneness of blood. In Christ all national distinctions are annihilated (Colossians 3:11).
2. It was in order to gather the nations into this world-embracing community, that the apostles, after the Holy Ghost had fallen upon them at Pentecost, went forth as ambassadors of reconciliation. As an outward token that the Spirit, whose operation should re-unite in one mystical body the scattered families of man, was issuing forth to the moral world, the physical impediment obstructing union was removed. The apostles "spake with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." It was not, however, this miraculous faculty which was the secret of their success: rather it was their burning love to Christ, their burning conviction that His word was truth, their burning zeal in the cause of perishing and benighted souls, so aptly emblematised by those cloven tongues like as of fire, which sat upon each of them.
3. Nor has the spirit and power of apostles failed in the Church, although the extraordinary gifts which attended their mission have been withdrawn. The Church has now gained a firm footing in the earth, and accordingly is left to work her way with that spiritual power which is still alive and vigorous within her. As with the spirit of love any triumphs of Christianity may be achieved, so without it, let us not think to do anything. This is the only spirit by which we can be instrumental in repairing the breaches of mankind, and building up the family again in the second Adam.
Parallel VersesKJV: And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.