It would appear that the first revelation of God came to humanity in a sound:
We heard the sound of you in the Garden.
They knew God was about to appear because they heard the sound in the garden. ‘Those who have ears, let that person hear’. We so need our ears opened so that we discern the sounds.
At Pentecost God came in a sound.
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting (Acts 2:2).
Language. Through language we both communicate so as others can be included in the conversation or we use language to divide. Identity is strengthened through language. We are first ‘Catalans’ not Spanish is one aspect of language, hence it was no surprise that at times language (such as Catalan or Welsh) was forbidden to be spoken.
Was the language confusion at Babel a good or bad thing? It certainly was a necessary thing, so that they might not destroy the whole future through a united imagination that was focused on making a name for themselves. [Babel and Babylon not only sound alike, but are one and the same… the reason for translating it as babel historically was simply that it communicated the English ‘to babble on’. The chapter is a critique of Empire where one language and one vision will make a name for us. ‘Make the land of anywhere great again’ is not a very smart move!]
Understanding one another is desirable. My mother used to say she could not understand why other people did not speak English… (a little question here that you can easily get the answer to via Google, so no prizes… my family came from Orkney and one of the many words that one does not find in the English language that we always used was ‘peedie’, such as ‘luk at that peedie buey’… so my mother wanted everyone to speak English?). Speaking the same language – wow that would help me and many others!
Yet God seems to honour language difference. The day of Pentecost where the vast majority – if not all – gathered spoke Greek fluently (the language that Peter used when he stood up to address the crowd… common Greek spoken to the people with an accent from Galilee!) yet they heard God speak to them in their own language when the disciples were speaking as a result of the Spirit coming on them. (I have twice that I know of spoken in languages that I have not known – that might take another post to explain.)
Imagine being in a restaurant / bar where each table is from a different language background and everyone is speaking at the same time and all at a volume. In your head you would go from ‘I think they are speaking English at the table over there… I am sure I heard something in German spoken over there…’ but you would be unable to be absolutely sure, as you might hear half a word here and there but each language would be lost in the next one as the words poured out and the volume ebbed and flowed at each table.
I had two experiences within weeks of each other similar to the above. I was present with one other person in a prayer house, and it was dedicated sacred space (don’t like the language but in a fallen world that is what it was). All of a sudden my ears were opened and I could hear angels communicate. It was strange and I could not make out a word. As I tried to focus on something another ‘voice’ came over the top… this continued for some minutes and I thought I am not sure how to describe that.
A few weeks later I was present in a prayer gathering for Europe. Many languages were present and the encouragement was that everyone should read the ‘Disciples Prayer’ in their language. It was the same sensation. Straining to hear a word in one language was almost discernible but was soon overridden by another stream of speech in a different language. It was a strange experience as the overall effect was the same as I had experienced a few weeks earlier.
The overall effect I realised was so similar to the sound of rushing water. A flow but as each water movement makes a sound it then gives way to the next and the next and…
And there the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east; the sound was like the sound of mighty waters, and the earth shone with his glory (Ezek. 43:2).
and his voice was like the sound of many waters (Rev. 1:15).
And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters (Rev. 14:2).
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals (Rev. 19:6)
How does God speak? Not in the voice and language of a white Western male. Not in the voice of the majority; not in the voice of Imperial rule. God speaks in diversity; the smallest language group (and culture) carries something of God. We read (and from memory that fourfold description comes 7 times in Revelation):
every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.
The sound of many waters; not one sound dominating – hence the lie of Babylon had to be acted against. If we do not silence diversity something amazing happens… ‘we hear them speak in our language’. God can communicate to us… if we do not silence what we do not understand.