Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. Then (the people) said, to one another, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth."
—Genesis 11:1, 4
Thus begins the construction of the Tower of Babel on the plain of Shinar (present-day Iraq). The resulting ziggurat, an enormous ladder-like structure, was the people’s attempt not only to make a name for themselves through their colossal edifice, but also to preserve their homogeneity: strangers are not welcome. (One astute commentator compared the tower of Babel to a sleek stretch limo, absurdly distorted and shielding its occupants).
God is NOT pleased. “God said, ‘Come, let us go down, and confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.” (11: 7-8)
I always thought that God’s punishment for their arrogance was the diversity of languages, making it harder to understand one another. What a revelation to learn a new interpretation of the Tower of Babel story: scattering people far and wide is a blessing instead of a curse. God’s plan is for us to celebrate differences, not to cling to homogeneous societies.
As anyone who has discovered the delight of learning a foreign language knows, there is a richness and depth in a multi-cultured world that one cannot get from one language only, or from one way of thinking, or even one religion.
May we cultivate a new appreciation for difference and diversity,and may we shy away from walls and towers that insulate us from those who are different from us.
Open our eyes, O LORD, to see and appreciate the world, in all its marvelous diversity. Amen.
Copyright © 2010 Margaret Jones.