The following are excerpts from “The Unseen Realm” by Michael Heiser regarding what he sees as the relationship between Babel (Genesis 11) and Pentecost (Acts 2). By studying this relationship, we see that on the Day of Pentecost God began to re-inherit the nations which had been disinherited in the aftermath of the Tower of Babel. It also helps us to see just how strategic God was in how He moved in power on the Day of Pentecost in order to cause the message of the gospel to spread into many nations. These excerpts were shared by Kari Birks in a Facebook note on March 11, 2018.
Babel & Pentecost: God Re-inherits the Nations
“The famous story of the building of the Tower of Babel is about much more than an ill-fated construction project & language confusion. The episode is at the heart of the Old Testament worldview” (p. 112).
Deuteronomy 32:8-9 – “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when He divided mankind, He fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is His people, Jacob His allotted heritage.”
This passage “describes how Yahweh’s dispersal of the nations at Babel resulted in His disinheriting those nations as his people.”
The statement that ‘the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob,’ “tips us off that a contrast in affection & ownership is intended. Yahweh, in effect, decided that the people of the world’s nations were no longer going to be in relationship to Him. He would begin anew. He would enter into covenant relationship with a new people that did not yet exist: Israel. The implications of this decision and this passage are crucial to understanding much of what’s in the Old Testament” (p. 113).
“So what happened to the other nations? What does it mean that they were apportioned as an inheritance according to the number of the sons of God? As odd as it sounds, the rest of the nations were placed under the authority of members of Yahweh’s divine council. The other nations were assigned to lesser elohim as a judgment from the Most High, Yahweh. That this interpretation is sound is made clear by an explicit parallel passage, Deuteronomy 4:19-20. There Moses says to the Israelites:
“And do this so that you do not lift your eyes toward heaven and observe the sun & the moon & the stars, all the host of the heaven, and be led astray & bow down to them & serve them, things that Yahweh your God has allotted to all of the peoples under all of the heaven. But Yahweh has taken you and brought you out from the furnace of iron, from Egypt, to be a people of inheritance to him, as it is this day.”
Deuteronomy 4:19-20 is the other side of God’s punitive coin… God decreed in the wake of Babel that the other nations that He had forsaken would have other gods besides Himself to worship… Psalm 82, where we started our divine council discussion, echoes this decision. That psalm has Yahweh judging other elohim, sons of the Most High, for their corruption in administering the nations. The psalm ends with the psalmist pleading, “Rise up, O God, judge the earth, because You shall inherit all the nations” (p. 114).
“After the flood God had commanded humanity once again to ‘be fruitful & multiply and fill the earth.’ These words reiterated the original Edenic intention. But instead of obeying and having Yahweh be their God, the people gathered to build the tower. The theological messaging of the story is clear. Humanity had shunned Yahweh and His plan to restore Eden through them, so He would shun them & start again” (with Israel).
“While the decision was harsh, the other nations are not completely forsaken. Yahweh disinherited the nations and in the very next chapter of Genesis He calls Abram out of … Mesopotamia. Again, this is not accidental. Yahweh would take a man from the heart of the rebellion and make a new nation, Israel. But in His covenant with Abram, God said that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through Abram, through His descendants (Gen. 12:1-3).”
“From the fateful decision at Babel onward, the story of the OT is about Israel vs the disinherited nations and Yahweh vs the corrupt, rebel elohim of those nations” (p. 115).
“Biblical scholars are in unanimous agreement that the ‘princes’ referred to in Daniel 10 are divine beings, not humans. This is transparent from the mention of Michael in 10:13 & 10:21, who is called ‘prince’ (cf Dan 12:1). They are also agreed that the concept is based on Deuteronomy 32:8-9. This passage, along with Deuteronomy 32:8-9, is the foundation for Paul’s theology of the unseen world. This is made clear in an overarching sense in Acts 17:26-27, where Luke records Paul’s speech at the Areopagus. In talking about God’s salvation plan, Paul says:
‘And he (God) made from one man every nation of humanity to live on all the face of the earth, determining their fixed times and the fixed boundaries of their habitation, to search for God, if perhaps indeed they might feel around for Him and find Him. And indeed He is not far away from each one of us.’
“Paul quite clearly alludes to the situation with the nations produced by God’s judgment at Babel, the Deuteronomy 32:8-9 worldview. God had disinherited the nations as His people and made a new people for himself, Israel, His own ‘portion.’ Immediately after the judgment at Babel God called Abraham for that purpose, initiating a covenant relationship with Abraham and His yet unborn descendants. That covenant relationship included the idea Paul refers to in Acts 17:27, the drawing of the disinherited Gentile nations. Paul’s rationale for his own ministry to the Gentiles was that it was God’s intention to reclaim the nations to restore the original Edenic vision… Salvation was not only for the physical children of Abraham, but for anyone who would believe (Gal. 3:26-29)” (p. 120).
Babel at Pentecost?
Acts 2:1-13……”This description of the events of Pentecost is sprinkled with divine council imagery and has secure connections to the supernatural Deuteronomy 32 worldview we’ve talked about at length. Revealing those features is central to understanding what’s happening in Acts 2 and the role it plays in Yahweh’s plan to reclaim the nations and restore Eden” (p. 296).
“There are two key terms in the passage that connect it back to Babel in an unmistakable way. The flaming tongues are described as ‘divided’ (Greek: diamerizo), and the crowd, composed of Jews from all the nations, are said to have been ‘confused’ (Greek: suncheo).
The second term, suncheo (v. 6), is the same word used in the Septuagint version of the Babel story in Genesis 11:7: ‘Come, let us go down and confuse (suncheo) their language there.’ The multiplicity of nations represented at Pentecost is another link to Babel. Each nation had a national language. More importantly, all those nations referred to in Acts 2:9-11 had been disinherited by Yahweh when they were divided.”
The other word of importance (diamerizo: v. 3) is also used in the Septuagint… In Deuteronomy 32:8, ‘When the Most High divided (diamerizo) the nations, when He scattered humankind, He fixed the boundaries of the nations.’ This is a strong indication that Luke is drawing on the Septuagint, and specifically the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11 and Deuteronomy 32:8-9, to describe the events on Pentecost” (p. 298).
“At Pentecost the tongues are ‘divided’ (diamerizo) or, perhaps more coherently, ‘distributed’ among the disciples as they are commissioned to preach the good news to the throng at Pentecost. As Jews, gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration, heard and embraced Jesus as Messiah, they would carry that message back to their home countries – the nations. Babel’s disinheritance was going to be rectified by the message of Jesus… and His Spirit. The nations would again be His” (p. 299).
“Three thousand Jews came to believe in Jesus as a result of the events at Pentecost (Acts 2:41) and those three thousand Jewish converts went back to their homelands after the Pentecost pilgrimage. These new disciples were the seeds of the gospel, Yahweh’s plan to reclaim the nations” (p. 302).
“…Paul was convinced that his life’s mission as apostle to the Gentiles –the disinherited nations–would only be finished when he got to Spain. As incredible as it sounds, Paul was conscious that his mission for Jesus actually involved spreading the gospel to the westernmost part of the known world –Tarshish–so that the disinheritance at Babel would be reversed” (Rom. 15:24, 28) (p. 303).
“Paul saw his ministry as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 66, where Yahweh would take people from all nations to be His children. Paul believed he was the instrument bringing in the “full number of the Gentiles’ that would result in all true Israelites–those who believe in Jesus–being saved (Rom. 11:25-27). Tarshish is listed in Isaiah 66, but was not represented in the names at Pentecost. The farthest point west in the Pentecost list is Rome (Acts 2:10). Paul knew that Spain (Tarshish) was part of the mission of Isaiah 66. He needed Spain so that his ‘offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:16)” (p. 305 – 306).
“And so it was that a room full of Jews, commissioned directly by the Spirit, went out and began the process by which the disinherited nations would be brought back into Yahweh’s family. Pentecost marked the beginning of an unstoppable march across the known world–and our world, a world they didn’t know–that would culminate in a global Eden” (p. 306).
As a point of interest, here are the chiastic structures of the relevant texts in Genesis 11 and Acts 2:
A The whole earth had one language (v. 1)
B Settled in Shinar (v. 2)
C Come, let’s make bricks (v. 3)
D Let’s build for ourselves (v. 4)
E a city and a tower (v. 4)
F And the Lord came down to see
E’ the city and the tower (v. 5)
D’ that the humans built (v. 5)
C’ Come, let’s confuse (v. 7)
B’ Scattered from Shinar (v. 8)
A’ Confused the language of the whole earth (v. 9)
A 1 And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.
B 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.
C 5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because they were each one hearing them speak in his own language.
D 7 And they were amazed and marveled, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
E 8 “And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?
F 9 “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—
E’ we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”
D’ 12 And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.”
C’ 14 But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea, and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give heed to my words. 15 “For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day;
B’ 16 but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,’ God says, ‘THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT UPON ALL MANKIND; AND YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, AND YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, AND YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS; 18 EVEN UPON MY BONDSLAVES, BOTH MEN AND WOMEN, I WILL IN THOSE DAYS POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT And they shall prophesy.
A’ 19 ‘AND I WILL GRANT WONDERS IN THE SKY ABOVE, AND SIGNS ON THE EARTH BENEATH, BLOOD, AND FIRE, AND VAPOR OF SMOKE. 20 ‘THE SUN SHALL BE TURNED INTO DARKNESS, AND THE MOON INTO BLOOD, BEFORE THE GREAT AND GLORIOUS DAY OF THE LORD SHALL COME. 21 ‘AND IT SHALL BE, THAT EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED.’