There have been a number of movies made based on the concept of animals being able to speak like people. From Mr. Ed the talking horse to animated children’s movies to the science fiction series “Planet of the Apes”, animals are often depicted as having the power of speech. “Planet of the Apes” depicts the role reversal which would occur if man lost his power of speech and apes gained it. We understand that these are not portrayals of reality, but sometimes we fail to fully understand the importance of the power of speech. Animals do communicate. Dolphins and whales have their noises. Lions roar. Birds have a wide variety of noises and can even be taught to mimic the words of people. Apes have been taught through repetition to use some basic sign language. However, the brains, mouths, and throats of people and animals have distinct differences in design which give people the unique capacity for their level of language. This is not the function of some random act of nature whereby unguided genetic mutations lead to the superior ability of mankind to have the power of speech. That is scientifically impossible. Science has discovered no means whereby information can be added to DNA to cause it to produce a more complex creature than the one before it. Mutations are always a loss of genetic information and usually lead to sterility and death. There is only one explanation for man’s power of speech, and that is because he is created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). It is more than just a physical difference. It is spiritual. No other creation of this earth has this special gift the way man does because no other creation was made in God’s image. The image of God is not a physical attribute, it is a spiritual makeup that gives us the ability and authorization to make moral choices. That is the biggest difference between man and animals, and it is reflected in the power of speech.
God originally created man with only one language (Gen 11:1-9). This gave him the ability to communicate freely with all other people. This in turn united all people. Sadly, after the flood people chose to use this ability to rebel against God and attempt to build their own kingdom without Him. God looked down at their united purpose and decided to stop their plan by giving them different languages so they could no longer communicate as one. They left the city and the tower they were building, and those who could speak and understand each other formed groups who went off and started the various nations (Gen 10:5, 20, & 31). Ever since, man has been divided instead of united by language. This is illustrated throughout the Bible. Man is categorized into groups according to their languages. There was a language barrier between the early Israelites and the Egyptians (Ps 81:5, Ps 114:1). The Israelites did not speak the language of Babylon (Deut 28:49, Jer 5:15). The phrase “people, nations, and languages” appears six times in the book of Daniel when describing kings being over multitudes of nations (Dan 3:4 & 7, Dan 4:1, Dan 5:19, Dan 6:25, Dan 7:14). Zechariah wrote of “all languages of the nations (Zech 8:23)”. Nebuchadnezzar also wrote of this (Dan 3:29). The Persian emperor in the days of Esther had letters written in the various languages spoken in all of his provinces (Est 1:22, Est 3:12, Est 8:9). This distinction is even described seven times of those in heaven and those on the earth in the book of Revelation (Rev 5:9, Rev 7:9, Rev 10:11, Rev 11:9, Rev 13:7, Rev 14:6, Rev 17:15).
Language defines not only nations geographically but cultures. A culture is a set of values commonly held by a group of people. There can be no culture without a commonly spoken language. Language is the ability to communicate thoughts and information. In the days of Nehemiah, the culture of the Jews became confused when “their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people (Neh 13:24)”. Isaiah prophesied of a day when Israel would gain the upper hand over Egypt, and this would be reflected by five cities in Egypt adopting Hebrew as their language (Is 19:18). The Assyrians and Babylonians used language to not only destroy Israel geographically but culturally (2Ki 17, 2Ki 18:26-28, Dan 1:4-7). God told Ezekiel that He did not send them to a people of a language he did not understand (Eze 3:5-6). He sent them to preach to the Israelites who had been taken captive by Babylon, and to write to those still in Judah. Had the Lord sent him to the people of another language they would have believed despite the language barrier, but Israel was so backslidden they would not believe even though they spoke the language and were supposed to have the culture. When Paul was attempting to destroy the church because he thought it was a threat to the Jewish culture, the Lord appeared to him and spoke to him in Hebrew (Acts 26:14). When the Jews falsely believed Paul was attempting to destroy their culture, he attempted to show them that was not the case by speaking to them in Hebrew (Acts 21:22). People from Europe sometimes criticize people who live in the United States because they often can speak several languages while Americans often cannot. However, the explanation for that is not based in European superiority, but in difference of geography. Nations is Europe are much smaller and inter-connected than America. You can drive for 3,000 miles in the U.S. and still speak the same language. In Europe you can be in several nations in one day. Those nations have different languages and cultures despite being so close geographically. Yet even in America with English being the main language, there are different sub-cultures and dialects. There are also speakers of many other languages, especially Spanish. As the motto on its money states, “E Pluribus Unum”, which means out of many, one. That says that although we can have diverse backgrounds, all Americans can hold to the values expressed in the language in its founding documents that make America one. Multiculturalism is a myth and a fantasy. You can only believe one set of values at a time. You can respect heritage and ethnicity, but you can only be part of one main culture. 2Kings 17 shows us what happens when people try to be two cultures at once, let alone more than two. They were never really either because it is impossible.
The greatest use of language is to give glory to God in worship and in speaking His word. The creation speaks the language of the glory of God to all people (Ps 19:1-4, Rom 1:20). There is no more powerful word than His word. By it He created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1, Ps 33:6, Jn 1:1-14). He upholds it all by His word (Heb 1:3). Then He imparted to man the gift of language (Gen 2). By it man is to communicate with God first in prayer and worship, and then to each other. Our first priority in speaking to each other should be to communicate the word and will of God (Deut 11:19, Acts 1:3, 1Cor 2:13, 1Thes 2:4, Titus 2:1, 1Pet 4:11). We can do this voluntarily, but someday every tongue will confess that He is Lord (Is 45:23, Rom 14:11, Phil 2:11). Since mankind has chosen to use language like they did at Babal for his own sinful purposes instead of the will of God, the Lord came in the flesh as the Word to save us (Jn 1:1-4, 1Jn 1:1-7, Rev 19:13).
There are obviously other things we need to talk to each other about, but all of our conversation should be governed by the principles of the truth of word of God and motivated by love (Eph 4:15). We should always seek to be helping others with our words and not hurting them (Eph 4:29). The book of Proverbs is a spiritual and literary masterpiece. It speaks about many different topics, but none more than the importance of the words we speak. There are 105 references to our words. They tell of the influence of both good and bad words. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof (Prov 18:21).” The saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” may be an attempt at deflecting the damage words can cause but it is not true. Words can build up or destroy. They can heal or wound. Even the word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb 4:12). James spoke powerfully about the great need to control the tongue (Jam 1:26, Jam 3).
As God used language to divide, He also uses language to unite. The prophet Isaiah spoke of “stammering lips and another tongue (Is 28:11). Similar statements are found in Isaiah 32:4 and Isaiah 33:19. Zephaniah wrote, “For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent (Zeph 3:9)”. While the original context of these verses is the restoration of the nation of Israel, they like other scriptures have more than one application. Jesus told the apostles when He sent them to go preach the gospel after He rose, “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues (Mk 16:17)”. This began to be fulfilled in Acts 2 when on the day of Pentecost the disciples first received the New Testament baptism of the Holy Ghost and “began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4)”. Tongues in this context are simply languages not learned naturally (Acts 2, 1Cor 14). They could be earthly or heavenly (1Cor 13:1, 1Cor 14). It is both the initial outward sign someone has been filled with the Holy Ghost as well as one of the spiritual gifts available to those who have received the Spirit (1Cor 12). When Peter went to preach to the household of the Gentile Cornelius, the Holy Ghost fell on his audience and the Jews were astonished, “For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God (Acts 10:46)”. When Paul preached in Ephesus, they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and “the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied (Acts 19:6).” Paul quoted Isaiah 28:11 when writing about the gift of tongues (1Cor 14:21). God is uniting out of all nations one new nation - the church (Eph 1-2). He is giving them one new language through His holy Spirit. The curse of Babel is being reversed. “I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see my glory (Is 66:18).”