One Language

When did people first start speaking in "tongues"? Did you know that the gift of tongues first appears in the Torah? Long before Pentecost in Acts 2, God gave human beings the gift of speaking in tongues.

Tradition says that God descended to confuse the languages and disperse the peoples. He divided the people of Babel into seventy nations, and He split the single one tongue into seventy tongues. (Image: The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563), public domain via Wikimedia)


Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Noach (נח | Noah)
  • Torah: Genesis 6:9-11:32
  • Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-55:5
  • Gospel: Luke 17:20-27

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Genesis 6:1 | The Wickedness of Humankind
    • Genesis 6:9 | Noah Pleases God
    • Genesis 7:1 | The Great Flood
    • Genesis 8:1 | The Flood Subsides
    • Genesis 8:20 | God's Promise to Noah
    • Genesis 9:1 | The Covenant with Noah
    • Genesis 9:18 | Noah and His Sons
    • Genesis 10:1 | Nations Descended from Noah
    • Genesis 11:1 | The Tower of Babel
    • Genesis 11:10 | Descendants of Shem
    • Genesis 11:27 | Descendants of Terah
  • Prophets
    • Isaiah 54:1 | The Eternal Covenant of Peace
    • Isaiah 55:1 | An Invitation to Abundant Life

Portion Summary

The second reading in the book of Genesis is named after Noah. In Hebrew, the name Noah is spelled Noach (נח). The word Noach is related to the Hebrew word for "rest." Genesis 5:29 says that his parents named him Noah (Noach נח) because they hoped their son would give them rest (nacham, נחם) from their toil. The contents of section Noah tell the story of Noah's flood, the tower of Babel and the beginning of the Abrahamic line.

In the days of the Tower of Babel, all human beings spoke one language. The Torah uses two different words to indicate a human language: lip (safah, שפה) and tongue (lashon, לשון). In the Hebrew idiom, to say that a person “speaks in tongues” means that he speaks multiple languages. The Hebrew of Genesis 11:1 literally says “And it was that all the earth was one lip.” If our apostolic writers selected that Hebrew term for language, Pentecostals today would advocate “speaking in lips.”

According to some opinions, prior to the confusion of languages at the tower of Babel, all human beings spoke Hebrew, the language with which God created the heavens and the earth. Rabbinic literature calls Hebrew the tongue of angels and the “Holy Tongue.” Hebrew is the “one tongue” as opposed to the “seventy tongues” of mankind.

If I speak with the tongues of men (the seventy languages) and of angels (Hebrew), but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

Tradition says that God descended to confuse the languages and disperse the peoples. He divided the people of Babel into seventy nations, and He split the single one tongue into seventy tongues. Linguists count more than seventy spoken languages in the world (even after many languages have become extinct), and they assure us that Hebrew was not the mother tongue of humanity but is itself a descendent of an earlier Semitic language. Nevertheless, Judaism considers the Hebrew language holy. Hebrew is to Judaism what Latin is to the Roman Catholic Church and what Greek is to the Greek Orthodox Church. Hebrew is the language of the Torah, the language of the Scriptures, the language of the prayers, and (along with Aramaic) the language of the rabbis and our Master.

The revelation of the Torah and the good news of the Messianic Era gather scattered humanity back together into one kingdom and one tongue. Tradition says that when God spoke the Torah at Mount Sinai, He spoke it in the seventy languages of mankind so that all mankind might hear and understand His summons. In the days of the apostles, on the anniversary of that miracle, the Spirit of God again transcended the language barriers created at Babel when the apostles miraculously proclaimed the gospel in all languages. The gospel in all languages reverses the curse and summons humanity to return and reunite under the kingdom of heaven.

Though the LORD dispersed the generation of the flood to the four corners of the earth, the Messiah comes to gather His elect into His kingdom. The holy city, Messianic Jerusalem takes the place of the unholy tower of Babel. In the Messianic Era, all nations will speak the holy tongue of Hebrew: “For then I will give to the peoples purified lip, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD, to serve Him shoulder to shoulder” (Zephaniah 3:9).

Adapted From: Torah Club Commentary Set: Depths of the Torah. Learn more about Torah Club and how you can start a Club of your own, or join a Torah Club in your area. Visit TORAHCLUB.ORG

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