“and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
~ Revelation 7.9-10
One of the things that strikes me the most about Revelation 7 is the nature of the Church’s praise. Here in this passage we see the merging of nations, tribes, peoples, and languages into one voice.
Languages are funny things. I don’t pretend to be a linguist, but I know that languages help us communicate, cooperate, and even derive common meaning from the events around us. We use language to express how we feel, to hold fast to what is true, and to praise what we love. Language reflects the best and worst of what it means to be human – it’s central to what makes us “us”.
When humankind rebelled against God at Babel, they sought a purpose that was opposed to His purpose for them: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11.4). Rather than filling the earth with fruitfulness as the Lord commanded, they sought to gather together and glorify themselves. Rather than extol the name of the Lord, they sought to elevate their own name. As it turns out, God did not sit idly by and allow us to thwart His purposes. He confused the languages of the people at Babel and dispersed them over the face of the earth. Babel has remained a symbol of the arrogant pride of the human heart and the futility of acting against God. The idolatrous city Babylon, spoken of so much in Revelation, derives its name from Babel.
I can’t help but feel like we’ve been talking past each other ever since Babel. Communication, cooperation, and common meaning are elusive things in our day. The chaotic nature of 2020 doesn’t need to be rehashed here, but suffice to say, I’m conscious of vast disconnects in our world, in our country, and even in our individual relationships. Why is it that so many of us can’t seem to speak the same language, even though we’re all speaking English?
Revelation 7 envisions a new reality that God’s grace bestows upon the Church. Somehow, His grace makes a way for different nations, tribes, peoples, and languages to cry out with one singular loud voice. There’s no indication the individual languages disappear. They’re not homogenized, but rather united. John hears a loud corporate voice lifting high the name of God because He is able to understand what each person is saying. It seems that in redeeming Babel, the Lord does not just redeem our voices, but our ears as well. I won’t speak for you, but I know that the ability to hear the voice of God and the voice of my neighbor is something I desperately need, and the salvation wrought by the Lamb makes it possible.
~ Pastor Jeremiah Hill