When the Holy Spirit came in the Pentecost story of Acts Chapter 2, the believers that the tongues of fire rested on began to speak in many other languages. “God fearing Jews from every nation under heaven”, heard the disciples speaking and declaring the wonders of God in their own native tongue. This was such a powerful and miraculous event that three thousand people believed in Jesus the Messiah and were baptized (read Acts 2:5-41).
What I had never noticed before was that the events of this story are an exact reversal of the story in Genesis 11of the Tower of Babel! Up until the time of Genesis 11, the whole world had one language and a common speech. However, the people unified under a common, but sinful and egotistical purpose to try to build a staircase to God and to thus dominate all of creation. God punished the people by confusing their common language so that they couldn’t understand each other. Our English word babble comes directly from the Hebrew word in this story. Then he scattered the people from Babel all over the earth and from this scattering came all the different nations. At Pentecost, God reversed what He had done 2,500 years earlier. He brought together the same scattered nations that had different tongues and dialects and brought them back together so they could once again understand each other. On this occasion, they came together and were unified for the correct reason, to praise and exalt the God of the Universe.
If you look further into the writings of the early Jewish rabbis there is even more to get excited about. Shabbat 88b in the Talmud says “God’s voice at Sinai was heard in all languages”. When God was giving His written Torah to Moses and the people at Mt. Sinai, something interesting happened. In Exodus 19:16, what the people heard was not, ”thunders”, as most translations have, but, “voices”, (the Hebrew word is kolot; see also They Many Parallels of Sinai and Pentecost)! Think for a minute how that ties into the Acts 2 story. Because of this, the Rabbis taught, that at Sinai, God’s great voice went out and was divided into seventy languages, with seventy being an editorial way of saying, all the nations. Now, at Pentecost, the praises of God are heard and understood by those same “seventy nations”, as one common language. To the Jewish audience, the events of Pentecost would have confirmed and fulfilled the rabbinical teachings they had heard for generations!
I am continually amazed at how the Hebrew Text and the New Testament are so integrally intertwined. As someone once wrote, “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament Revealed”. Stories like these are real faith builders for the believer as they show how God intricately planned the Beginning and the End and everything in between, down to every jot and tittle.