What does Genesis 11:3 mean?
ESV: And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.
NIV: They said to each other, 'Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly.' They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.
NASB: Then they said to one another, 'Come, let’s make bricks and fire them thoroughly.' And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.
CSB: They said to each other, "Come, let's make oven-fired bricks." (They used brick for stone and asphalt for mortar.)
NLT: They began saying to each other, 'Let’s make bricks and harden them with fire.' (In this region bricks were used instead of stone, and tar was used for mortar.)
KJV: And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
The previous verses revealed that the peoples of the earth had not yet divided and scattered into separate tribes and nations. The descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth remained a single people group with a single culture and language. Together, they had migrated to the region of Shinar where Babylon would be established.
Here, we're told that together these people made plans to build a huge structure in their new homeland. This verse seems oddly specific in describing their building materials: bricks hardened by burning—or baking—and mortar made from tar. Scholars suggest there is wordplay going on in these verses, connecting the words for these building materials to the name of Babel. In addition, Israelite readers would have likely been interested to know that these ancient people used bricks while they themselves often used stone for building.
Genesis 11:1–9 recounts one of the most dramatic acts of God recorded in Genesis. Before the tribes and nations described in Genesis 10 were formed, all the people of the earth shared one language and one culture. They also shared the goal of not wanting to be separated. To that end, they decided to make themselves great by building a great city with an enormous tower—and without apparently acknowledging God. To keep humanity from being too powerful, and lapsing into the widespread sin which inspired the flood, God confuses human languages and scattered mankind around the world. The city of Babel, similar to the Hebrew word for ''confused,'' would later become known as Babylon.
Genesis 11 contains three sections: God confuses and scatters the people of the world to stop the building of Babel and its tower. A genealogy is provided showing the direct links between Noah and Abram. The ''generations'' of Terah are introduced, providing a description of the family out of which God will call Abram to become the father of His chosen people.
Genesis 10 provided a table of the nations, describing the peoples and tribes that descended from Noah's three sons and where they settled. Genesis 11 describes how God scattered the peoples of the world after confusing their languages to stop the building of Babel and its tower. The chapter also provides a direct genealogy from Noah to Abram and then introduces Abram by way of his father Terah. The following chapter will begin the story of Abram and God's chosen people, Israel.
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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