Spiritual Meaning of GENESIS 11:3
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AC 1294. Verse 3. And they said a man to his fellow, Come, let us make bricks, and let us burn them to a burning. And they had brick for stone, and bitumen had they for mortar. "And they said a man to his fellow," signifies that it was begun; "Come, let us make bricks," signifies falsities which they fashioned for themselves; "and let us burn them to a burning," signifies evils from the love of self. "And they had brick for stone," signifies that they had falsity instead of truth; "and bitumen had they for mortar," signifies that they had the evil of cupidity instead of good.

AC 1295. And they said a man to his fellow. That this signifies that it was begun, or that they had begun, follows from the connection. In this verse the third state of the church is treated of, when falsities had begun to reign; and in fact from cupidities. There are two beginnings of falsities, one from ignorance of truth, the other from cupidities. Falsity from ignorance of truth is not so pernicious as falsity from cupidities. For the falsity of ignorance arises either from one‘s having been so instructed from childhood, or from having been diverted by various occupations so that one has not examined whether what professes to be true is really so, or from not having had much faculty of judging concerning what is true and what is false. The falsities from these sources do not inflict much harm, provided the man has not much confirmed and thus persuaded himself, being incited thereto by some cupidity so as to defend the falsities for by doing this he would make the cloud of ignorance dense, and turn it into darkness so that he could not see the truth.

[2] But the falsity of cupidities exists when the origin of the falsity is the cupidity or love of self and of the world; as when one seizes upon some point of doctrine and professes it in order to captivate minds and lead them, and explains or perverts the doctrine in favor of self, and confirms it both by reasonings from memory-knowledges, and by the literal sense of the Word. The worship derived from this is profane, however holy it may outwardly appear; for inwardly it is not the worship of the Lord, but the worship of self. Nor does such a man acknowledge anything as true except in so far as he can explain it so as to favor himself. Such worship is that which is signified by "Babel." But the case is different with those who have been born and brought up in such worship, and who do not know that it is false, and who live in charity. In their ignorance there is innocence, and in their worship there is good from charity. The profanity in worship is not predicated so much from the worship itself, as from the quality of the man who is in the worship.

AC 1296. Come, let us make bricks. That this signifies falsities which they fashioned for themselves, is evident from the signification of "brick." In the Word, "stone" signifies truth, and therefore "brick," because it is made by man, signifies falsity; for brick is stone artificially made. That "brick" has this signification may be further seen from the following passages. In Isaiah:--

I have spread out My hands all the day unto a refractory people, that walk in a way that is not good, after their own thoughts, sacrificing in gardens, and burning incense upon bricks (Isaiah 65:2, 3).

"Burning incense upon bricks" denotes worship from things fabricated and false; and therefore they are said to walk after their own thoughts. Again:--

For the elation and pride of heart of Ephraim and of the inhabitant of Samaria, that say, the bricks have fallen down, but we will build with hewn stone (Isaiah 60:9, 10).

"Ephraim" denotes an intelligent person who falls into perversities, and calls or makes to be true things that are false, or "bricks;" "hewn stone" denotes what is fabricated. In Nahum:--

Draw thee water for the siege, strengthen thy fortresses, go into the mud and tread the clay, repair the brickkiln. There shall the fire devour thee, and the sword shall cut thee off (Nahum 3:14, 15).

Here "to tread the clay" denotes falsities "to repair the brickkiln denotes the derivative worship; "the fire" is the punishment of cupidities; "the sword" is the punishment of falsities. In Ezekiel:--

Take thee a brick, and set it before thee, and grave upon it a city, even Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4:1)

and he was commanded to besiege it, in which prophetic matter there is involved that the worship was falsified. That "brick" signifies falsity, may be still further seen from the signification of "stone," which is truth, concerning which presently.

AC 1297. And let us burn them to a burning. That this signifies evils from the love of self, is evident from the signification in the Word of "to burn," of "a burning," of "fire," of "sulphur," and of "bitumen," which are predicated of cupidities, especially of those which belong to the love of self. As in Isaiah:--

Our house of holiness, and our beauty (decus), where our fathers praised Thee, hath been made a burning of fire; and all our desirable things have been made a waste (Isaiah 64:11).


Conceive chaff, bring forth stubble; your wind is a fire that shall devour you; thus will the peoples be burnings of lime; thorns lopped off they will be kindled with fire (Isaiah 33:11, 12).

Not to mention many other similar expressions. "To be burned" and "fire" are predicated of cupidities, because the case as regards them both is much the same.

AC 1298. And they had brick for stone. That this signifies that they had falsity for truth, is evident from the signification of "brick," just now shown to be falsity; and from the signification of "stone," which in a wide sense is truth, concerning which above (n. 643). Stones have signified truth for the reason that the boundaries of the most ancient people were marked off by stones, and that they set up stones as witnesses that the case was so and so, or that it was true; as is evident from the stone that Jacob set up for a pillar (Gen. 28:22; 35:14), and from the pillar of stones between Laban and Jacob (Gen. 31:46, 47, 52), and from the altar built by the sons of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, near the Jordan, as a witness (Josh. 22:10, 28, 34). Therefore in the Word truths are signified by "stones;" insomuch that not only by the stones of the altar, but also by the precious stones upon the shoulders of Aaron’s ephod and upon the breastplate of judgment, there were signified holy truths which are of love.

[2] As regards the altar,--when the worship of sacrifices upon altars began, the altar signified the representative worship of the Lord in general; but the stones themselves represented the holy truths of that worship; and therefore it was commanded that the altar should be built of whole stones, not hewn, and it was forbidden that any iron should be moved upon them (Deut. 27:5-7; Josh. 8:31); for the reason that hewn stones, and stones on which iron has been used, signified what is artificial, and thus what is fictitious in worship; that is, what is of man‘s own or of the figment of his thought and heart. This was to profane worship, as is plainly said in (Exodus 20:25). For the same reason iron was not used upon the stones of the temple (1 Kings 6:7).

[3] That the precious stones upon the shoulders of Aaron’s ephod, and in the breastplate of judgment, signified holy truths, has been shown before (n. 114). The same is evident in Isaiah:--

Behold I will make thy stones to lie in carbuncle, and I will lay thy foundation in sapphires, and will put rubies for thy suns (windows), and thy gates in gem-stones, and all thy border in stones of desire; and all thy sons shall be taught of Jehovah, and great shall be the peace of thy sons (Isaiah 54:11-13).

The stones here named denote holy truths, and therefore it is said "all thy sons shall be taught of Jehovah." Hence it is said in John that the foundations of the wall of the city, the holy Jerusalem, were adorned with every precious stone, and the stones are named (Rev. 21:19, 20). The "holy Jerusalem" denotes the kingdom of the Lord in heaven and on earth, the foundations of which are holy truths. In like manner the tables of stone, on which the commands of the Law, or the Ten Words, were written, signified holy truths; and therefore they were of stone, or their foundation (fundus) was stone, concerning which see (Exodus 24:12; 31:18; 34:1; Deut. 5:22; 10:1), for the commands themselves are nothing else than truths of faith.

[4] As then in ancient times truths were signified by stones, and afterwards, when worship began upon pillars and altars, and in a temple, holy truths were signified by the pillars, altars, and temple, therefore the Lord also was called "a Stone;" as in Moses:--

The Mighty One of Jacob, from thence is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel (Gen. 49:24).

In Isaiah:--

Thus saith the Lord Jehovih, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a Stone, a tried Stone of the corner, of price, of a sure foundation (Isaiah 28:16).

In David:--

The Stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner (Psalms 118:22).

The like is signified in Daniel by "the stone cut out of the rock," which brake in pieces the statue of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:34, 35, 45).

[5] That "stones" signify truths, is evident also in Isaiah:--

By this shall the iniquity of Jacob be expiated, and this shall be all the fruit, to take away his sin; when he shall put all the stones of the altar as chalkstones that are scattered (Isaiah 27:9)

"the stones of the altar" denote truths in worship, which are dispersed. Again:--

Make ye level the way of the people; flatten out, flatten ye out the path; gather out the stones (Isaiah 62:10);

"Way" and "stone" denote truths. In Jeremiah:--

I am against thee, O destroying mountain; I will roll thee down from the rocks, and will make thee into a mountain of burning; and they shall not take of thee a stone for a corner, nor a stone of foundation (Jeremiah 51:25, 26).

This is said of Babel; "a mountain of burning," is the love of self. That "a stone should not be taken from it," means that there is no truth.

AC 1299. And bitumen had they for mortar. That this signifies that they had the evil of cupidity instead of good, is evident from the signification in the Word of "bitumen" and of "mortar." As the subject here treated of is the building of the Babylonish tower, such things are set forth as are used in building; here, bitumen, because it is sulphureous and inflammable, and in the Word by such things there are signified cupidities, especially those which belong to the love of self. Here, "bitumen" signifies both the evils of cupidities and the derivative falsities; which also are the evils wherewith the tower was built; concerning which hereafter. That such things are signified, is evident in Isaiah:--

The day of vengeance of Jehovah; the torrents shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into sulphur, and the land thereof shalt be burning pitch (Isaiah 34:8, 9).

"Pitch" and "sulphur" denote the falsities and evils of cupidities. And so in other places.

AC 1300. That "mortar" (or "clay") signifies the good whereof the mind or the man of the church is formed, is also evident from the Word. Thus in Isaiah:--

Now, O Jehovah, Thou art our Father; we are the clay and Thou our potter, and we all are the work of Thy hand (Isaiah 64:8)

"clay" denotes the man himself of the church who is being formed, and thus the good of charity, by means of which comes all the formation of man, that is, his reformation and regeneration. In Jeremiah:--

As the clay in the potter‘s hand, so are we in Thy hand, the house of Israel (Jeremiah 18:6);

the meaning being similar. It is all the same whether building by means of clay, or formation, is spoken of.

AC 1301. That these things are signified may now be seen by any one, both from the signification of all the things mentioned in this verse, and from such things being here mentioned as the kind of stones and of mortar that they used; things by no means worthy to be mentioned in the Word of the Lord, unless these arcana were contained within them.

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Author:  E. Swedenborg (1688-1772). Design:  I.J. Thompson, Feb 2002. www.BibleMeanings.info