Genesis 11:1-3

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Genesis 11:1
  • Genesis 11:2
  • Genesis 11:3

Genesis is a book about many beginnings. The beginnings of the world, the human race, sin and redemption, and the nation of Israel to name a few. In fact, the word Genesis from the Greek means “origin,” and in Hebrew it means “beginning.” The book of Genesis contains the events of the flood, tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the lives of the Patriarchs.

In the beginning, God created everything by simply speaking, “God said…and it was so” (Genesis 1:6-7, 9, 11, 14-15). This is not a scientific technical account of creation, but it shows a loving God creating a universe and mankind to rule it and fellowship with God. Man was formed especially from the ground and given the breath of life from God. The woman was made from the man’s rib (Genesis 2:7).

After man fell into sin, things began to spin out of control quickly. Cain murdered his brother Abel and the human race became so violent that God decided to destroy them all with a flood. God saved one righteous man (Noah) and his family in an ark filled with animals to deliver the human race from extinction. God chose Abraham and blessed a special group of people named “Israel.” God began to unfold a plan of salvation from a coming famine by sending Joseph to rule in Egypt. The failure of man in every circumstance is met by the salvation of God. We fail, but the good news is God saves us.

In Genesis chapter 11 mankind groups together to build powerful cities instead of obeying the command of Genesis 9:1, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” The old spirit of rebellion and human pride was again in control, mankind was back to doing their own thing. The people came together to build a tower that would reach the heavens. God saw that their effort was leading to a rebellion against Him, so God intervened. After these events, another genealogy is given from Shem that leads to Abram. This chapter answers the questions, why are we divided and why are there so many different languages? It ends with the beginning of Abraham’s story.

At this time there was only one language used worldwide. A group of people settled in the plain of Shinar where they learned to make bricks and use mortar to build.

As the population of the world migrated, the whole earth used the same language and the same words. The original language could have been Hebrew as it is the oldest recorded language. But we are not told. Having one language, enabled cooperation.

In disobedience to God’s command to fill the earth (Genesis 9:1), the people decided to settle and build a city; they found a plain in the land of Shinar. Shinar is the plain that includes Babylon, in modern day Iraq (Daniel 1:2). When they came to Shinar they “settled” there. Later they will be “scattered” by God who confuses their language. “Settled” and scattered are antonyms or opposites in meaning. God commanded humans to fill the earth, which meant they needed to scatter. God called Abram to “leave” his land and “go.” He is a picture of obedience. The inhabitants of Babel were determined to stay and “sit tight.” It was Abram’s willingness to obey God by departing from the land of Shinar that resulted in the salvation of the stubborn people who refused to “fill the earth.” This is because God’s promise to Abraham was fulfilled in Jesus coming to earth.

Bricks made the construction of multistoried architecture possible. They used brick for stone and tar for mortar. Tar was made from bitumen, a natural, waterproof mortar (Genesis 6:14; Exodus 2:3). Bitumen was found in abundance at Hit on the Euphrates river, about 140 miles upstream from Babylon. This could have been from an oil seep. Brick making was celebrated in the ancient world. Akkadian building inscriptions, which hail the achievements of the great kings, repeatedly emphasize the making of bricks. The molding of the first brick in a new project was regarded as an important rite and was accompanied by elaborate ceremonies according to historical archeological knowledge of brick making.

Biblical Text

1 Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. 2 It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.

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