There is no mention of speaking in tongues in the Old Testament. A few times we are told of people whom the Spirit of God came upon but none of them spoke in tongues.
We know of Samson whom the Spirit of God used to come upon and would become super strong. We know of King David who killed Goliath after the Spirit of God came upon him and several prophets who would prophesy when the Spirit of God came upon them.
Speaking in tongues largely remained a mystery in the Old Testament. One of the closest instances the Bible came to mentioning speaking in tongues in the Old Testament was during the prophecy of Joel.
In the book of Joel, there is the mention of the outpouring of the Spirit of God that would come in the latter days. We now understand that the prophet was referring to the day of Pentecost and days that would follow.
Despite the Bible not mentioning speaking in tongues in the Old Testament, there are notable occurrences that relate to speaking in tongues that are worth mentioning.
Speaking in Tongues in the Old Testament: Notable Occurrences
1. Speaking in Tongues as a Reversal of the Division of Languages in the Old Testament
In the book of Genesis 11, the Bible narrates to us the story of the building of the tower of Babel. From the narration, we are led to understand that God was against the building of the tower.
As a tactic to stop men from building the tower, He divided the languages of men. From that day, the languages of men have always been divided.
The story of the tower of Babel may seem pointless in the face of speaking in tongues until you realize that speaking in tongues is the restoration of the one world language.
God divided languages because men were uniting in rebelling against Him. Out of the love that God had for men, He saw it fit to divide their language so that rebellion would not spread.
Fast forward to the time of Jesus and we see God restoring the fallen state of the world. First, there is the reversal of the original sin and then human interactions. Previously it had been an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth but Jesus introduces turning the other cheek.
In the midst of the restoration, the language of men that had been divided was also restored through the gift of Speaking in Tongues.
On the day of Pentecost, people who did not speak the same language could understand what each other was saying which was a reversal of the day of building the tower of Babel.
It is also important to note that God restored the language of men but only for those who were faithful to Him. With this move, God ensured that the unity of language can’t be used to rebel against Him as it was before.
2. Speaking in Tongues in written form in the Old Testament
The writing on the wall is one of the closest instances the Bible gets to mentioning speaking in tongues in the Old Testament.
The writing on the wall was written in an unknown language in the Kingdom of Babylon and it needed an interpreter to decipher the message.
We know that there is the gift of speaking in tongues and the gift of interpreting tongues. From the incident of the writing on the wall we clearly see both those gifts at work.
The tongues were not spoken but written. Their interpretation was only possible because Daniel had the Spirit of God.
God could have allowed Daniel to speak the tongues that were written on the wall and give their interpretation but out of His wisdom He chose to write them Himself. It was not yet time to reveal the gift of speaking in tongues.
Christ had not yet come and men were still in sin. Uniting them with one language would lead them to unite in sinning against God.
3. God promising to Speak in Foreign Tongues in the Old Testament
God promised to speak in foreign tongues to the people of Israel so that they would not understand. In one way, we know that God sent foreign kingdoms against Israel. The other way was God Himself speaking in parables through the prophets to the Israelites.
Speaking in tongues comes into the picture when we realize that God was teasing to us about speaking in tongues that would come in the later days.
Those who believe in God and have the gift of speaking in tongues are definitely foreigners. To the heathen, speaking in tongues is gibberish but they don’t realize that it is God speaking to them.
The Bible even mentions that speaking in tongues is a sign for unbelievers. God began speaking in tongues to the Israelites in the Old Testament because at that time they were unbelievers.
Today, God speaks to unbelievers through those believers who speak in tongues. When believers speak in tongues, they draw attention and God expects that attention to rouse the curiosity of the unbelievers.
From the incident of the writing on the wall, we see God speaking to unbelievers through unknown tongues. Speaking in foreign tongues is the method that God uses to address unbelievers.
When Jesus came, He often spoke in parables partly because He was speaking to unbelievers. By speaking foreign tongues, unbelievers remain puzzled and curious to find out more. In the process, God gets an opportunity to reveal to them the truth.
Speaking in Tongues in the Old Testament: Conclusion
Though there is no direct mention of the gift of speaking in tongues in the Old Testament, there are instances that point towards the gift. A keen eye can’t miss them.
What does this mean?
The gift of speaking in tongues has always existed even in the Old Testament. The day of Pentecost only marked the day when men were allowed to exercise the gift.
Just like many other spiritual phenomena, speaking in tongues had an appointed time when it would be revealed.
This should encourage you as a believer that speaking in tongues is a gift of the Holy Spirit that every believer should practice.
If you do not have the gift, seek to receive it from the Holy Spirit.
Speaking in tongues is diverse and mysterious. It is only through practicing the gift that you will get to learn its depths.
May God guide you!