L’venah & Khomer: Building with BRICKS & MORTAR

Mortar, Clay, Cement: Khomer, masculine noun (Strong’s 2563); Bricks: L’venah, feminine noun (Strong’s 3843); Making bricks, white: Lavan, verb (Strong’s 3835). 

Root: חמר (khomer) & לבן (lavan)

Sounds like: khoe’meyr & la’vahn

Yesterday I turned 50. That’s a milestone, they say (whoever “they” are). I’m excited for what the future holds. Yes, my body has aches and pains… but the Bible paints a beautiful picture of our bodies. Our bodies are to be temples… living, breathing, walking God-spaces. Paul said:

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

Yeshua was the first person in the Bible to speak of His body as a temple, even though the people did not understand what He was implying. He was standing by the Temple in Jerusalem when the religious elite questioned His authority to perform miracles:

John 2:18-23

The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” 

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 

The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and yet You will raise it up in three days?” 

But He was speaking about the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

The Spirit of God resides in us, so we are living, breathing, temples, reflecting God’s glory to others through kindness, and compassion, and servitude. That’s why we’ve been given bodies in the first place, so we can worship our Creator and share His undying love to every soul on the planet. 

At 50 I’m certainly older and wiser than I was a few years ago. You could say I’m an established temple; I might have a few stress cracks in the bricks, my mortar is getting a bit loose, and I’m looking a bit weather-worn, but I’m still standing on a well established foundation. I know, because it has been tested. 

So this week let’s look at two words associated with buildings: Bricks [L’venah] and Mortar [Khomer].

The Falling of Bricks and Mortar

It seems like these two words should belong together but, truth be told, bricks and mortar are only paired twice in the Bible. Separately they have their own significant footprint, but put them together and they are presented in a negative light. The first time they are paired together we read this: 

Genesis 11:1-4

Now all the earth used the same language and the same words. And it came about, as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. Then they said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks [l-venim] and fire them thoroughly.” And they used brick [ha-l’venah] for stone, and they used tar for mortar [w-ha-khemar]. And they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let’s make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of all the earth.” 

This story is the classic “Tower of Babel” story. Babel is Babylon. For some reason translators use Babel (בבל) in Genesis 11, but EVERY other time we find Babel/Bavel in the original text, the translators change it to Babylon. Babel/Babylon is the same word in Hebrew. In this story, the people of Babel wanted to build their way up to God in order to make a name for themselves. By their own power they thought they could get to God on their own. But the truth is, no one can get to God by themselves. That was not the plan. YHWH would come to us, in His own time, to bring us Home. To stop the pointless progression, YHWH introduced many languages and the people scattered with confusion. 

The second (and last) time bricks and mortar were found together in the Hebrew Bible, it involved another great enemy of the Hebrew people:

Exodus 1:13-14

The Egyptians used violence to compel the sons of Israel to labour; and they made their lives bitter with hard labour in mortar and bricks [b-khomer u-vi-l’venim] and at all kinds of labour in the field, all their labours which they violently had them perform as slaves.

The story eventually focused in on Egyptian brick-making and how it demoralized and overloaded the Hebrew slaves:

Exodus 5:5-21

Again Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are now many, and you would have them cease from their labours!” 

So the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters over the people and their foremen, saying, “You are no longer to give the people straw to make bricks [ha-l’venim] as previously; have them go and gather straw for themselves. But you shall impose on them the quota of bricks [ha-l’venim]  which they were making before; you are not to reduce any of it. Because they are lazy, for that reason they cry out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Let the labour be heavier on the men, and have them work at it so that they will pay no attention to false words.”

So the taskmasters of the people and their foremen went out and spoke to the people, saying, “This is what Pharaoh says: ‘I am not going to give you any straw. You go, get straw for yourselves wherever you can find it; but none of your labour will be reduced.’” 

So the people scattered through all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. And the taskmasters pressed them, saying, “Complete your work quota, your daily amount, just as when you had straw.” 

Moreover, the foremen of the sons of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and asked, “Why have you not completed your required task of making bricks [li-l’vohn] either yesterday or today, as before?”

Then the foremen of the sons of Israel came and cried out to Pharaoh, saying, “Why do you deal this way with your servants? There is no straw given to your servants, yet they keep saying to us, ‘Make bricks [u-l’venim]!’ And behold, your servants are being beaten; but it is the fault of your own people.” 

But he said, “You are lazy, very lazy; for that reason you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to YHWH.’ So go now and work; for you will be given no straw, but you must deliver the quota of bricks [l’venim].” 

The foremen of the sons of Israel saw that they were in trouble, since they were told, “You must not reduce your daily amount of bricks [mi-liv’nekem].” 

When they left Pharaoh’s presence, they met Moses and Aaron as they were waiting for them. And they said to them, “May YHWH look upon you and judge you, because you have made us repulsive in Pharaoh’s sight and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us!”

Then Moses returned to YHWH and said, “Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not rescued Your people at all.

These were harsh words from Moses to God: “You have not rescued Your people at all”. Pharaoh’s impossible demand (to expect more bricks with less resources) was the final straw (pun intended). YHWH waited to rescue His people at their lowest point. He would send the plagues to Egypt and bring His people home. But the promised land they expected wasn’t filled with high rising buildings and vast amenities. No, first they would wander in a wasteland, completely dependent on God.

Babylon and Egypt built extensive cities and were proud of their architectural accomplishments. They wanted to take control of their own lives and make a name for themselves. And they would do anything (including oppressing other humans) to accomplish their desires. Human slavery was used to build up walls. YHWH would tear those walls down.

To accomplish this, YHWH raised up Moses to lead the people out of Egypt. They would pass by all the grand brick buildings and enter into the wilderness where they would rely wholly on their God, YHWH.

It wasn’t an easy ride. And they didn’t always rely on YHWH as they should have. Over and over they failed in their devotion to the God who had saved them. Eventually, four decades later, a new generation of people entered the Promised Land. But when things got easier, the people became overconfident and arrogant. Reminiscent of Egypt and Babylon, they began to build their own cities under their own power and pride:

Isaiah 9:8-12

The Lord sends a message against Jacob, and it falls on Israel. And all the people know it, that is, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, asserting in pride and in arrogance of heart:

The bricks [l’venim] have fallen down, but we will rebuild with smooth stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will replace them with cedars.”

Therefore YHWH raises superior adversaries against them from Rezin and provokes their enemies, the Arameans from the east and the Philistines from the west; and they devour Israel with gaping jaws.

In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away, and His hand is still stretched out.

The Hebrew people became exactly like their foreign oppressors. They began worshipping pagan gods and building cities reaching up to the heavens.  They desired to make a name for themselves. They were no longer behaving like YHWH’s Image Bearers and they started to look more and more like their power-hungry pagan neighbours. But regardless of their bad behaviour YHWH still wanted to take them by the hand and lead them home.

Isaiah 65:1-5

[YHWH:] “I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me.

I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ to a nation which did not call on My name.

I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts, A people who continually provoke Me to My face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on bricks [ha-l’venim];

Who sit among graves and spend the night in secret places; who eat pig’s flesh, and the broth of unclean meat is in their pots. Who say, ‘Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am holier than you!

These are smoke in My nostrils, a fire that burns all the day.”

YHWH’s chosen family of people became exactly like their former enemies. They used bricks to build up high places and they used bricks as platforms for pagan worship. They tried to place themselves higher than their own Creator and YHWH had no choice but to tear down the bricks and place His people’s feet back on the ground. And so God sent adversaries against them. During the days of Isaiah, the Assyrians attacked the Northern tribes of Israel and exiled the people by spreading them across the known world.

Approximately 135 years later, in 587 BCE, the Southern tribes of Benjamin and Judah (which included Jerusalem) were attacked by the Babylonians, the same people group who had first tried to build a tower rising up towards the heavens. The Babylonian army ripped through Jerusalem, tore down the city walls and destroyed the Temple. It was utterly devastating and demoralizing to the Hebrew people. They were forced to leave Israel and become captives of Babylon.

The people who once were freed from Egypt, by YHWH’s hand, now were sent back into slavery by their own hand.

This was not what God, ultimately, wanted for His people. He wanted them to be free from human oppression and to freely choose YHWH to be their loving and affirming Creator-God. But their own terrible decisions placed them under the yoke of slavery once again. Fortunately, YHWH would not allow Babylon to hold His people forever. He made a promise to bring them home. 

Years later, the Hebrew people were allowed to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and Temple. By the time of Yeshua (Jesus), this second Temple had been around for a few centuries, but Yeshua noted that it too, would fall:

Luke 19:41-44

When He [Jesus] approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known on this day, even you, the conditions for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will put up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground, and throw down your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

This time it was a brand new enemy to attack Jerusalem and dismantle the bricks and mortar. It was the Romans.

In 70 AD, the Roman legions annihilated Jerusalem. They utterly destroyed the city with barely a single stone standing. The bricks and mortar crumbled to dust and the Temple was never rebuilt again.

Image by Pexels (Pixabay.com)

The Potter’s Clay/Mortar

The Hebrew word for mortar (khomer) can also be translated as clay (although it should be noted that there are more than one word for clay in the Biblical Hebrew language). According to the Bible YHWH made humans out of clay/mud and breathed the spirit of life into them. Essentially, without God’s breath (spirit) of life, we’re just dirt-people. We have come out of the ground, and eventually we are returned to the ground:

Job 10:8-9, 18-19

[Job to YHWH:]Your hands fashioned and made me altogether, yet would You destroy me?

Remember that You have made me as clay [ka-khomer]; yet would You turn me into dust again?… ‘Why then did You bring me out of the womb? If only I had died and no eye had seen me! I should have been as though I had not been, brought from womb to tomb.’

We have been created out of clay by a Master Potter. It’s a stunning image picked up by the prophets. The prophet Jeremiah didn’t just announce the metaphor of the potter and the clay; under YHWH’s direction he took it one step further. He marched down to the Potter’s house and made his proclamation there, to drive the image home:

Jeremiah 18:1-8

The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH, saying, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay [ba-khomer] was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.

Then the word of YHWH came to me, saying, “Am I not able, house of Israel, to deal with you as this potter does?” declares YHWH. “Behold, like the clay [ka-khomer] in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot it, to tear it down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I planned to bring on it. 

The prophet Isaiah also described YHWH as the great Potter who took the clay and built something beautiful with it:

Isaiah 64:8-9

But now, YHWH, You are our Father; we are the clay [ha-khomer], and You our potter, and all of us are the work of Your hand.

Do not be angry beyond measure, YHWH, nor remember wrongdoing forever. Behold, please look, all of us are Your people.

We are the beautiful, artistic, creation of the Maker, yet we act like children who think we are more enlightened and more wise than the Father who created us:

Isaiah 29:15-16

Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from YHWH, and whose deeds are done in a dark place, and they say, “Who sees us?” or “Who knows us?”

You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay [k-khomer], that what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”; or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

We argue with YHWH, as if He knows nothing and has no significant thing to say to us:

Isaiah 45:9-13

“Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker— a piece of pottery among the other earthenware pottery pieces!

Will clay [khomer] say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’? Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you fathering?’ Or to a woman, ‘To what are you giving birth?’

This is what YHWH says, the Holy One of Israel and his Maker:

“Ask Me about the things to come concerning My sons, and you shall commit to Me the work of My hands. It is I who made the earth, and created mankind upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands, and I ordained all their lights.

I have stirred Him in righteousness, and I will make all His ways smooth. He will build My city and let My exiles go free, without any payment or reward,” says YHWH of armies.

There will be One who will build YHWH’s cities and free the exiles. Unlike the Babylonians and Egyptians, who built cities under the direction of their own power, this One would build a Kingdom under the direction of YHWH. Slavery would not be associated with YHWH’s Kingdom; instead it would be a place of freedom, not captivity. 

Building the Kingdom

The people had wanted to go up to God on their own terms, but YHWH had different plans. He would send a part of Himself to us. Yeshua (Jesus) came to earth as a tiny infant, wholly dependent on his human parents to care for him. As an adult He preached God’s Word and healed both minds and bodies. He spoke the word of YHWH by reciting the Tanakh and presenting parables:

Luke 12:16-23, 30-32

And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began thinking to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and I will store all my grain and my goods there. And I will say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years to come; relax, eat, drink, and enjoy yourself!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is demanded of you; and as for all that you have prepared, who will own it now?’ Such is the one who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich in relation to God.”

And He said to His disciples, “For this reason I tell you, do not worry about your life, as to what you are to eat; nor for your body, as to what you are to wear. For life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing

…For all these things are what the nations of the world eagerly seek; and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, because your Father has chosen to give you the kingdom.

We don’t need vast brick warehouses to hoard goods, or lofty mansions to idly live in while we wait for death to take us. We need to seek the Kingdom! Why work to the bone for a brick mansion on earth when there’s already one waiting for you in heaven? 

We have to stop building up, higher and higher, for where will it get us? It won’t get us closer to God. We are commissioned to be God’s reflection here on earth, not up in the clouds. Stop looking up. Look out. As Yeshua repeatedly said, “the Kingdom of Heaven is near”. We can’t get to heaven by building a lofty tower made of bricks and mortar, so that we can march into heaven by our own power. The only way to face YHWH in His Garden Kingdom is to be redeemed by the One who YHWH sent to save us.

We couldn’t go up, so Yeshua came down. He sacrificed His life, went to the grave, conquered death, broke the chains, and set us free. He paid the price to bring us Home. We are now houses of the living God… temples of His Spirit… and guideposts to the Path that leads to life everlasting. Bricks and mortar crumble and fall, but YHWH stands forever.

Next week: Satisfied

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