When the people of Babel decide to build a “city and a tower” in order to make a name for themselves (Gen 11:4), God confuses their language and scatters them over the face of the earth (11:7-8). In response to this mass dispersion, God chooses one person, Abram, whose lineage leads to the formation of Israel. Through this single nation, God resolves to bless “all the families of the earth” (Gen 12:3) – the descendants of those scattered at Babel. The beginning of Exodus recalls the Hebrew of Genesis 11 in order to show the reader that Egypt is the new Babel, and that God will choose Moses to carry on Abram’s call.

The people of Babel build their city and tower using “brick (לבנה; levenah) for stone, and bitumen for mortar (חמר; chomer)” (Gen 11:3). The next time that Scripture mentions “brick” and “mortar” together is in Exodus’ description of the Hebrews’ slavery; the Egyptians “made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar (חמר; chomer) and brick (לבנה; levenah), and in all kinds of work in the field” (Exod 1:14). In this way, the biblical writer shows us that Egypt is a new Babel.

Casting Egypt as Babel anticipates God choosing Moses—and the entire nation of Israel—as the conduit to fulfill the divine promise to Abram. When Israel comes out of Egypt in the exodus (Exodus 14-15) and receives the Torah on Sinai (Exodus 20), it marks the formation of a “kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Exod 19:6). Ultimately, God’s love of Israel will lead to the chosen people being “a light for the nations” (Isa 49:6). The mention of “brick” (לבנה; levenah) and “mortar” (חמר; chomer) in Egypt tells the reader that, as with Abram, God is about to choose one man (Moses) and one nation (Israel) — just as God did after Babel — as the divine means to bless and regather the whole world.

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20 COMMENTS

  1. Shalom! Many thanks for the insight into scripture! The direct phraseology tying Babel to Egypt is striking on many levels I think. Further, these insights of how Israel was an idea, a dream, to Abram, Adam, are compelling, suggesting a continuity of the same intrinsic core to Jewish identity, awareness, prophecy, all prior to the actual creation of Israel, or occupation of the land!
    Have you read the Testaments of the Patriarchs? Very compelling.

  2. I’ve read genesis 11 and it seems to me that you are stretching things to make it seem like Egypt was the new Babel. In the kjv it says that they had brick for stone and slime for mortar. In exodus all it says is brick and mortar.

  3. Thanks for the excellent exposition. If I’m correct I’d say that the Babel-Egypt, and Abram-Moses connection positions Israel as the Messianic nation. Right? Further, what does Gen. 3:15 which predates the Babel-Egypt-Abram-Moses narrative mean in connection with the divine redemptive plan?

  4. Shalom. God has brought the Jewish people back to their land and I think he is begining to make them a light to the Nations. I believe this lessons are a part of that light. Thank you for these teachings.

  5. Francis, I was just reading this from Tov Rose’s Jesus In The Targums. “Gen 3.15 (Pseudo-Jonathan): “They are destined to make peace at the end, in the days of King Messiah” Gen 3.15 (Frg.): “They will make peace with one another in the end, in the very end of days, in the days of King Messiah” Gen 3.15 (Neof.): Gen 35.21 (Ps.-J): ” Some of what I have read regarding what was being written about the “Word” makes John 1 come to life in ways we generally do not think today or teach regarding Yeshua and writings of Jewish scripture.

  6. Richard Elliott Friedman assigns Gen 11 to J, but Exodus 1:14 to P (Bible with Sources Revealed). On the strength of your arguments here. Perhaps one could reconsider. And reassign part of the exodus verse to J?

  7. Fascinating concept and article. God’s heart is for man to ‘fill’ the earth (pioneering, exploring, expanding) as directed, trusting HIM to implement ‘the Plan of Salvation’ (selecting, refining, preparing the Way). Man’s self-willed stubbornness is well epitomised in ‘bricks-and-mortar’ bondage to ‘the world’ and its vanities (today’s globalist vaniities/ rebellion).

  8. (continued)
    The contrast between (man’s) ‘bricks-and-mortar’ and God’s instructions for building of the Temple is striking: no ‘brick-baking’, no ‘mortar-mixing’, no ‘trowel-scraping’; not even the sound of ‘stone-dressing’ on site!
    Then, the converse Election, ‘Refining’ to the ONE, the Mashiak, and the (‘scandalous’) Salvation for ALL…
    Dissolution of HIS Temple

  9. In Chapter 10 of Genesis, it describes clans within nations who all had their own language. If the confusion takes place in Chapter 11, is the chronology wrong? Please explain. Thank you.

    • Great question, Susan. Israelite genealogies (like the one in Genesis 10) are not strictly chronological — they are overviews of generations that are deliberately presented to highlight certain things over others. Some of the chronology of Gen 10 occurs before the Babel event, while other parts of it come after Babel. The introduction begins with the offspring of Noah (10:1), but moves quickly to a post-Babel period by 10:5 (and then back again to Noah’s sons). This kind of “flexible time” is standard practice in ancient Semitic genealogies.

  10. God’s creation is and remains “good” (i.e., perfect), but in arrogance human beings think that their “works” can improve or be superior to God’s. How the ancient bricks and mortar crumble – just like the thoughts, plans, schemes, purposes, and products (BCE and CE) of the human “heart” (mind)!!!

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