Bible Tuesday for the Feast of Pentecost, 2016
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2And as they migrated from the east,* they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ 5The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. 6And the Lord said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.7Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ 8So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused*the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
The story of the tower of Babel immediately follows a list of the genealogy of Noah’s descendants, which takes up the entirety of chapter 10 of Genesis. The chapter 10 genealogy lists many peoples and the languages that they speak. It can be understood, then, that the “they” of 11:2 above refers to some of descendants of Noah. The point of this story is to explain that human hubris, and God’s punishment of it, is the cause of the many languages of the earth.
Bitumen is a tar-like substance. The above passage tells us that these peoples build a ziggurat style tower and city of fired brick and bitumen in order that they may “make a name for themselves” and live in, or at least see, the heavens. This story is a foreshadowing of sorts of Isaiah 14:13-24, where God addresses the king of Babylon: “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the starts of God; …I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.’” Note that in verse 7, despite the great height of the human made ziggurat, God must “go down” to it. Once the languages are confused, the place of the tower is called Babel. According to Hebrew tradition, it is from this that Babylon gets its name.
This story is followed in the next chapter, Genesis 12, by the story of the calling of Abram. In this Tower of Babel story, humans want to make a name for themselves, while in the next story God tells Abram, “I will make your name great.”
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
27 These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
28 when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your spirit,* they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.
31 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!
This psalm is chosen for Pentecost because it speaks of the belief that God creates and gives life through the Holy Spirit. God is represented as acting not out of benevolence but rather caprice.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
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 slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
The “they” referred to in the first sentence of this passage refers to the group of people mentioned in Acts 1:13 and following, and includes the Apostles, many disciples, Jesus’ mother and siblings, totally about 120. The number 120 is significant in that it is the number 12, the number of the tribes of Israel and the number of the apostles of Jesus, multiplied. This 120 are to be the voice of God to all the people of the world, starting with the Jews.
It is significant that this 120 people were in Jerusalem for a Jewish festival when the Holy Spirit alights on them. Why does something like flames set upon each of them? From the burning bush to the pillar of fire by night, God has manifest the Holy Spirit to God’s people through the sign of fire. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is both given and revoked by God, but in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is only given, most notably in this Pentecost story.
On the day of Pentecost, the 120 were gathered together in one place, keeping to themselves. It was only 50 days since Passover, the Holiday Jesus was celebrating with the disciples the night he was arrested. In this month and a half, the disciples had seen Jesus but were keeping very much to themselves out of fear of the Romans and Jewish authorities who had executed Jesus. But on this day, when the Holy Spirit fills them, it fills them with new life. All the 120 suddenly become very public evangelists, proclaiming the good news of Jesus life, death, and resurrection in the streets for everyone to hear.
Peter interprets the actions of the Holy Spirit for the crowds. Peter states that the Hebrew scriptures are coming true at that very moment! God’s Spirit has just been poured out on men and women. Call on the name of the Lord! Be saved!
John 14:8-17 & 25-27
Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’9Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me* for anything, I will do it.
15 ‘If you love me, you will keep* my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,* to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in* you.
25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate,* the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Philip demands visible proof of God, of Jesus really being God’s Son. Instead, Jesus promises more invisible manifestations of God: the Holy Spirit, aka Paraclete, Advocate, Breath of God. The Spirit will actually dwell in the disciples and even in us, loving us and praying unceasingly to God on our behalf! This Holy Spirit will be our peace, our shalom, God within us.