Mess of Potamia


That is why it was called Babel—because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:9)

As far as messing up the world, God’s little huff at the Tower of Babel gets the prize, challenged only by his creation of Adam and Eve in the first place. The big Flood, destructive as it was, at least scoured out the riffraff. The Tower incident, on the other hand, totally mucked up the system. We’ve been living with the disastrous consequences ever since.

Let’s review. It’s 3500 BC (Before Confusion) and everybody speaks the same language. There’s no French, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, German, Yiddish, or Rap. There is only English (as is clear from most movies depicting ancient events). Everybody’s hanging out together in Shinar having a good time. (The sentimental hit “Shinar Harvest Moon” dates from this period.) The whole world is one big happy family.

The gang decides to build a tall tower. It will be a monument to themselves (there isn’t anybody else) and function as a kind of pre-satellite GPS to keep everybody from getting lost. It’s really a great idea, if you think about it. No amber alerts, no photos on milk cartons, no accidental discoveries of North America. No matter where you were, you could look up and find your way home. As a bonus, the new tower would also dramatically improve cell phone reception.

But God comes down to see the construction project and gets nervous. “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us [apparently speaking to his own Multi-Personed Deity—MPD] go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So God sticks his almighty nose (or maybe noses) into their business and totally screws up the communication system. As he had hoped, the tower project dies on the vine and everybody wanders, lost and garbled, across the planet. The place has been a madhouse ever since.

What God solved by his little linguistic intervention is beyond me. We still sin as well, if not better, than before. We’ve learned how to build sky-scrapers that would make the original Tower look like a mud hut. And we’ve sent people to the moon and beyond. As far as I can see, the only folks who benefit from the resulting guttural goulash are Rosetta Stone, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and the Democrats. Besides, the way things are going, God’s probably a nervous wreck by now.

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