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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: How Did God Scatter the People?

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Don Stewart
The Tower of Babel was built to prevent the people from scattering across the earth. Because the people would not scatter themselves, God scattered them.

Various Dialects

In the account of the Tower of Babel the text seems to indicate that the various dialects had not appeared yet and that everyone on earth had one language and vocabulary. The Lord understood the motive and ambition of the people. Because the people had built a tower in defiance of Him, God then caused the one language on the earth to be confused. Once the languages were confounded the people scattered. Many questions arise concerning this account.

One Language?

Did they all speak the same language? There are some people who feel the biblical text does not demand that there was only one language at the time. They point to the preceding chapter, Genesis ten, which divides the table of nations based upon the various languages. However, we must not assume a chronological sequence here. Allen P. Ross writes:

At the beginning of chapter 11 the whole world is of 'one language' and one vocabulary. But chapter 10 has already divided the nations according to peoples and tongues. . . Probably 11:1-9 explains how the arrangement in chapter 10 came about. Genesis often goes outside the chronological order to arrange the material thematically (Allen P. Ross, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Editors John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1985, p. 44).

How did God scatter them? Was it a change in their organ of hearing? Was it a change in their speech? Or was it a deeper change in the mind itself? We simply do not know.

Babel And Pentecost

There is an obvious contrast between Babel and Pentecost. At the tower of Babel the languages were confused and the people were scattered. At Pentecost God supernaturally allowed the people to speak languages and dialects they had not previously learned to testify to the glory of God. Pentecost was the reversal of Babel.

Final Uniting Of Languages

The prophet Zephaniah speaks of a final uniting of the languages.

For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my worshipers, the daughter of My dispersed ones, shall bring my offering. In that day you shall not be shamed for any of your deeds in which you transgress against Me for then I will take away from your midst those who rejoice in your pride, and you shall no longer be haughty in My holy mountain (Zephaniah 3:9-11).


We conclude that God supernaturally confounded the languages at Babel but we do not know how he did it because the text does not tell us.

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