Some Bible students have speculated that in the Kingdom of God there will be a single, new "pure language" spoken by all. Many further speculate that the "pure language" may be Hebrew in some purified, updated form. Well, my friend Noel suggests that such speculation misses the point and by quite a bit. I believe he is right. What do you think? --Editor
Will there be but one language in the World to Come?
Is that what is meant in Zephaniah 3:9?
by Noel Rude
כִּי־אָז אֶהְפֹּךְ אֶל־עַמִּים שָׂפָה בְרוּרָה
For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language,
לִקְרֹא כֻלָּם בְּשֵׁם יהוה
that they may all call upon the name of the LORD,
לְעָבְדוֹ שְׁכֶם אֶחָד׃
to serve Him with one consent.
Here the Hebrew uses the word שָׂפָה śāpāʰ ‘lip’—and this indeed recalls the confounding of the languages at Babel (Genesis 11):
1 And the whole earth was of one language [שָׂפָה], and of one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. 4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. 6 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language [שָׂפָה], that they may not understand one another’s speech [אִישׁ שְׂפַת רֵעֵהוּ]. 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. 9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth [שְׂפַת כָּל־הָאָרֶץ]: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
Nevertheless I find it hard to accept that a language would not beבְרוּרָה bǝrûrāʰ ‘pure’. What’s not “pure” about English? It is we ourselves and what we say that is impure. And therefore I think that has to be what is meant in Zephaniah 3:9. A key verse is where Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite prefaces his remarks to Job with (Job 33:3 – my translation),
My words shall be the uprightness of my heart,
וְדַעַת שְׂפָתַי בָּרוּר מִלֵּלוּ׃
and my lips shall utter pure knowledge.
Notice that the same two words occur above (שְׂפָתַי בָּרוּר śǝpātay bārûr ‘my lips pure’) as in Zephaniah (שָׂפָה בְרוּרָה śāpāʰ bǝrûrāʰ ‘pure lip’). Psalms and Proverbs have many verses where “lip” is used metaphorically and not just in reference to a language—following are a few examples:
ü Psalms 12:2-4[3-5] They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips [שְׂפַת חֲלָקוֹת] and with a double heart do they speak. The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips [שִׂפְתֵי חֲלָקוֹת], and the tongue that speaketh proud things: Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips [שְׂפָתֵינוּ] are our own: who is lord over us?
ü Psalms 17:1 Hear the right, O LORD, attend unto my cry, give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips [שִׂפְתֵי מִרְמָה].
ü Psalms 17:4 Concerning the works of men, by the word of thy lips [בִּדְבַר שְׂפָתֶיךָ] I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer.
ü Psalms 22:7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip [יַפְטִירוּ בְשָׂפָה], they shake the head…
ü Psalms 31:18 Let the lying lips [שִׂפְתֵי־שָׁקֶר] be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous.
ü Psalms 34:13 Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile [וּשְׂפָתֶיךָ מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה].
ü Psalms 59:7 Behold, they belch out with their mouth: swords are in their lips [חֲרָבוֹת בְּשִׂפְתוֹתֵיהֶם]: for who, say they, doth hear?
ü Psalms 59:12 For the sin of their mouth and the words of their lips [דְּבַר־שְׂפָתֵימוֹ] let them even be taken in their pride: and for cursing and lying which they speak.
ü Proverbs 17:7 Excellent speech becometh not a fool: much less do lying lips [שְׂפַת־שָׁקֶר] a prince.