Studying how God has related to His people from the time of the Old Testament through to the New could not be complete without contemplating what Scripture says regarding the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Today’s passage is the first one we will consider in examining the biblical teaching on the Spirit; however, we need to do some brief theological reflection on the role of the Holy Spirit before we dive into Genesis 11:1–9.
We could say much about the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing about the new birth, honoring Christ, and other aspects of His ministry, but it is His role as the bringer of unity that is pertinent to Genesis 11. Ephesians 4:1–16 is one of the clearest passages on the Spirit’s role of uniting the people of God, and the focus of that text is on Christ’s distribution, through the Spirit, of gifts “for building up the body of Christ,” which moves us to “attain to the unity of the faith” (vv. 9–16). Indeed, the entire text encourages us to see the Spirit of God as the one who brings about true unity between Christians, for there is but “one body and one Spirit.” One of the chief goals of the Holy Spirit, Sinclair B. Ferguson reminds us, is to create a community that is “united by the Spirit” (The Holy Spirit, p. 60).
Yet contrary to the understanding of many leaders in mainline Protestantism today, the unity that the Spirit seeks to create is not a superficial structural unity that papers over many contradictory views of the will of God. Instead, the Spirit builds unity in the truth first, and visible unity is an eventual fruit of shared submission to the Word of God (1 Peter 1:22–24).
If the Spirit works to bring those who believe the Lord’s truth into union, then He also works to create disunity among those who will not receive His truth. That is one of the points of Genesis 11:1–9. At that time, the only thing that people could be united in was sin, namely, the idolatrous desire to make a name for themselves and challenge God through the construction of monuments. But the Lord put up a roadblock, leaving them in their sins but confusing the languages of mankind so that the whole earth might not again put up a completely united front against His Word and His children (vv. 7–9). We who serve Him should be grateful for this act of grace.