In Genesis 11:1-10, the Genesis author provides an explanation for the profusion of languages in the world. Whether you belong to a tradition that interprets this historically or not, you have to admit it is a pretty good explanation.
- It emphasizes universal humanity. All nations are united in constructing the tower and the city (vv 1-4) which implies that no type of human being is necessarily or genetically better than any other.
- It revolves around universal sin. No one group protests the construction of the tower, which shows us that all mankind is equally sinful.
- It illuminates God’s sovereignty over all of us. When God chooses to act, even the united front of all of mankind is not enough to deter Him.
The faith of the Genesis author is quite unique from even Judaism because of the emphasis on universal humanity. At the time, most religions of the region provided for the distinction between slaves and freemen, between genders, between language groups; but this passage lumps all of humanity together. Even if it isn’t meant to be historical, it is certainly meant to be didactic – to teach us that all mankind is the same, equal before God.
This theme of universal humanity resonates throughout Genesis. Cain is still shown mercy (Genesis 4:15) and all nations are blessed through Abraham’s seed (Genesis 18:18). Only sin creates divisions of jealousy and enslavement – as embodied in the story of Joseph.
Right now, I am teaching through the Gospel of Luke, which emphasizes the universal nature of Jesus’ work on earth – that all mankind is called to redemption through Him. It is easy to think this is something that was unique to Jesus, but it is actually present in Genesis. The original religion of the Genesis narrative (whatever you want to call it) was uniquely universal, embracing all of mankind.
Jesus again fulfills the Law and the Prophets, rather than replacing them.