Confusing WordsBy Nathan Mates
God normally doesn't normally go for overt meddling in people's minds. Most of the time, he'll use the words (written and spoken) of others, as well as the Bible, to talk to people. However, God, being omnipotent, has the right and ability to mess with people's minds as he chooses. Thankfully, it doesn't happen too often.
Flip back to the Old Testament for the first such instance of God doing this: "Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel -- because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth." [Genesis 11:1-9]
This incident took place some time after Noah's ark survived the flood, when humanity was still relatively small in numbers, and had one language. But, despite the flood in recent memory of that event, humans were plunging towards the same mistakes that'd almost caused them to be obliterated earlier: "The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." [Genesis 6:5] Humans wanted to dominate this area, and build a monument to their own strength, pride and engineering. Like a colony of ants, they pushed singlemindedly towards this goal.
God wouldn't wipe them out like their ancestors, but he did have ways of "crashing the party." As stated above, God took humanity's one language, and splintered it into thousands. God reprogrammed thousands, if not millions, of human brains at once to be unable to work together. God scattered the workers to the ends of the world. In short, God proved his power over humanity.
What purpose is a humanity divided by language and nation then? God proved he was in control, and humans couldn't try and be unified in rebellion against Him. God could also pick a people out of the mix to be his own, as he did with Abraham, the father of the Israelites. Humanity's pride was also crushed, as humans had problems dealing with others.
Before any of the above is (mistakenly) dismissed as something that didn't happen, consider the other evidence for such events in the Bible. In Moses's farewell speech to the Israelites, he quotes God as saying the same will happen again if they misbehave: "However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: [...] The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. [...] The LORD will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind." [Deuteronomy 28:15,20,28]
God later worked miracles of confusing the enemy armies arrayed against Israel by confusing them: "Saul said to Ahijah, "Bring the ark of God." (At that time it was with the Israelites.) While Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the Philistine camp increased more and more. So Saul said to the priest, "Withdraw your hand." Then Saul and all his men assembled and went to the battle. They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords." [1 Samuel 14:18-20] David, in one of the Psalms calls for God to do the same again later: "Confuse the wicked, O Lord, confound their speech, for I see violence and strife in the city." [Psalm 55:9]
As promised in Deuteronomy above, when Israel rebelled, God confused them, as noted in Isaiah: "He said, "Go and tell this people: "'Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.' Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed." Then I said, "For how long, O Lord?" And he answered: "Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land."" [Isaiah 6:9-13]
This is a hard message to understand: God spoke a curse on the people, preventing them from listening to the truth being spoken in their midst. The Israelites were on a course headed for destruction, and God reinforced that plan. And yet these words were quoted later by Jesus on the same subject: "This is why I speak to them in parables: "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: "'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.' But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear." [Matthew 13:13-17]
Jesus chose that his disciples would hear and understand his words-- though sometimes after much effort. Others heard and never understood Jesus-- the Pharisees and Chief Priests heard Jesus's words, down to Jesus's declaration that he was the messiah they were expecting. [Mark 14:61-64] Were the Pharisees of the age simply much dumber than Jesus's disciples? Nope, they had far more experience studying God's words than a bunch of fishermen, tax collectors, and other men.
The obvious conclusion is that God did the same thing as Isaiah prophesied: God prevented the clues from reaching critical mass in the Pharisees' minds. In fact, Jesus himself said it this way: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." [John 6:44] Unless God allows the clues to accumulate in someone's mind, attempts at preaching to them will fail.
What God can do in creating all the languages of the world, he can also undo, when he chooses. After Pentecost, this happened: "Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs--we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?"" [Acts 2:5-12]
All the places listed above are from up to thousands of miles apart, and had radically different languages. Yet God could unconfuse people as easily as he had confused them at Babel, and three thousand were converted that day. Like miraculous instantaneous healings, messing with language is a miracle that requires far more precise control-- messing with the structures of the brain is, in some ways, harder than moving some waters in the Red Sea. But, for God, everything's possible, and nothing's too difficult.