This is Part 6 of 20 in a series about the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. In it we will explore the context of the book, specifically its relationship to the Egyptian culture of its day.
Click here to read the entire series.
So far in our study of the works of Moses, we have studied three sagas. The first saga, the Creation Song, showed how God created everything--an in particular, Moses wrote it in a way that demonstrated to his fellow Hebrews that the Egyptian cosmology was false. The second saga told us of the lives of Adam and Eve in the Garden, and how they were banished from it and one of their sons then banished from their family. The third saga told us how Noah was descended from Seth's line, and how God was angry to find that the pure bloodline of man was now intermingled with the bloodline of the Nephilim (either Cain's descendents or an unholy demon-man halfbreed). Only Noah found favor in the sight of God.
Thus begins our Fourth Saga: "These are the generations of Noah." (Gen 6:9)
Noah is chosen by God (Gen 6:9-22)
We are told that Noah was blameless and righteous, and walked with God. Because we read this with a modern eye, we assume that this means Noah was a Law-abiding Jew...but that is wrong. Noah predates Judaism (by several thousand years, in fact). God has not yet entered the "Game of Thrones" and created a proper religious ritual for how to follow Him...that will come later in Moses' work. So how, then, was Noah righteous?
In the same way that Abraham (who also pre-dated the Law) was. As we will see in Genesis 15:6, "Abram believed the Lord, and He credited to Him as righteousness." It is a false belief among many Christians that God first gave man Law, and then later gave him the Gospel/Grace. Far from it! Even from the very beginning, God determined the righteousness of people not based upon the Law but based upon the faith/loyalty that they had to Him. We saw in the Garden (the Second Saga) that God actually tried to keep man away from the Law, demanding that Adam and Eve avoid the fruit of the tree of moral knowledge. And now later we see that Noah is found righteous, before the Law or any explicit covenant with God exists, purely because he "walked with" God, implying a loyal, faithful relationship.
God tells Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them." Now this is a very typically Western-written sentence: subject (God)-verb (chooses/determines)-object (to kill men). This is how our sentence structure is designed--active voice, cause-and-effect oriented. Yet in the ancient world, they rarely wrote this way; often they wrote in the passive voice and no clear cause is given for the effect.
This passage is the same. The Hebrew literally says, "The end of all human flesh has come before My face, the earth is full of violence from them." I find it interesting here that most of our popular translations (ESV, NET, NLT, NIV) like to point out that God made a decision, whereas the Hebrew (and translations like KJV, NKJV, NASB) sees it as a more passive thing: man is creating violence, so their end has come. It is not really as though any decision were necessary for God--it is the natural and obvious solution. Man has corrupted himself, and God must cleanse it. The time has come to end it all. In the Hebrew God seems to be less acting out in anger and much more sadly resolved about the fate of His beloved creation, doesn't He?
At any rate, He tells Noah to make an arch of gopher 'ets. We do not know what this word means, as it is not used anywhere else in the Bible. We call it "gopher" wood just as a direct letter-for-letter transliteration from Hebrew; we do not actually know what wood type it is. Gesenius' Lexicon says that the root word implies a relationship to a house, so perhaps this was a common building material in Noah's time. Others note that the "g" and "k" in Hebrew are very similar and this may have originally said kopher, which is Hebrew for pitched, implying a sort of ancient lamination process. Others say that this comes from the Assyrian word giparu (reed), and yet others note that the Greek Septuagint transators choose the words xylon tetragonon, or "squared timber," implying that the key thought is shaped or worked wood.
He was told to build a ship about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet tall. This is a massive structure, of essentially the same dimensions as a modern cargo barge. This is very interesting to me as an engineer. Gilgamesh, another ancient flood narrative, describes his ship as a cube and thus, completely unseaworthy. But Noah's Ark in fact is quite seaworthy, as numerous studies have shown. Dr. Hong, a naval architect from South Korea found that no modern cargo ship dimensions significantly outperform the Ark, and that in fact it would have been capable of handling 100 foot tall waves. This same 30:5:3 ratio has been used on many modern-era ships, including the WWII S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien. It is not a ship size meant for speed, of course; but as a "sit still and ride out the storm" bunker, it does quite well, actually. The modern Marmac 400 barge, for example, is about the same length and has dimensions of 30:7.5:1.5, meaning that it is a little shorter and wider, but not that much different than the ark. The Titanic, for comparison, was twice as long as the Ark, nearly 4 times taller, but only 25% wider. So clearly, we must all agree that the Ark was in fact seaworthy. It had three decks, for a total usable space of roughly 100,000 square feet.
As we move through Genesis 6 we se that God tells Noah to start gathering up mating pairs of all animals (Gen 6:19-20), and to gather up a bunch of stored food so that they can live in the ark for a while (Gen 6:21), and promises that when all of this is over there will be a covenant established between God and Noah for going forward (Gen 6:18).
The Flood (Gen 7:1-8:19)
This is the first passage of Scripture which refers to cleanliness or uncleanliness. Now since there was no ritual purity law in Judiasm yet, we know that it is not the Deuteronomically clean animals (such would be a major contradiction!). So this is likely not a dietary issue. As we will see in Genesis 8:20, the reason for the clean animals was to offer burnt offerings to God...similar to Abel's offering in Genesis 4. Thus I think that we must conclude there was some sort of tribal knowledge of offering cleanliness. This could have been just one or two types of animals, or a whole bunch of them; there's no way to be sure any more.
A week after commanding Noah to enter the ark, God sends 40 days and 40 nights of rain (Gen 7:4) to blot out every living creature from the 'adamah. What is being blotted out here? The use of the word 'adamah is interesting and has caused much debate. As we discussed earlier, this is almost exclusively a reference to local geography--a land, city, country, plot of ground, etc. It can be used to mean simply "the soil," or it can be used in opposition to the idea of a global/worldwide event. This in turn brings up the big debate among Christians about the Flood: was it global or was it local?
The Flood: Global or Local?
Christians universally agree that the Flood was designed to wipe out the intermarrying of Genesis 5, and was effective at doing so. Further, all Christians agree (as we showed this week) that Noah and his family are the only ones with a soul from Seth's line to survive this event.
But a great deal of Christian disagreement occurs over whether the Flood actually covered the entire world (the globe), or just the inhabited world of the day (the Mediterranean)?
Now on its surface, this actually does not matter, of course. People had not yet migrated throughout the earth (that comes later in Genesis), so a local flood is just as effective at God's intended purpose as a global one.
But to Young Earth Creationists (YEC), it is very important. An Old Earth Creationist can take a global flood or a local flood, and it makes him no difference: there isn't any real impact on his theology either way. But for a YEC, the geological world around us is completely unexplainable without a global flood. Geological strata, fossils, and the like are explained by YEC as being formed through "Diluvian Geology," that is, geology as explained by a massive amount of water covering the entire Earth.
So while an OEC can take it or leave it, a YEC must accept a global flood.
During my first draft of this post, I had a HUGE section here about whether the flood was global or local. I examined arguments from both Ken Hamm's Answers in Genesis (arguing for a global flood) and Rich Deem's God and Science (arguing for a local flood).
In the end I have deleted this as not important, frankly. That is--it is not important to this passage of Scripture which is actually correct. Because all of Adam's descendents lived in this one area, it is irrelevant whether the floodwaters covered Pike's Peak in Colorado. So I have removed it from this post; perhaps some other time I will cover it. I looked at 8 arguments from each side, and found that (in my opinion) 3 favored a Global Flood, 4 favored a Local Flood, and 1 could go either way. So I found neither case overwhelming and definitive.
In the process though I did have one other thought, which no one else had mentioned that I could find. The Bible says that there were Nephilim in the earth both before and after the Flood (Gen 6:4, Num 13:33). (People often miss this, because the word Nephilim is usually translated as giants in the Numbers account, even though they are the same word.) If the Flood was global, how did they survive? Or is this a second coming of Nephilim afterward?
In either case, it is irrelevant to the story whether Moses was referring to a Global or Local phenomenon here. The important thing is that all of those who had souls except for Noah were wiped out. Remember my common refrain...it is not NECESSARY for the text to be true that the Flood was global, nor is it NECESSARY for the text to be true that the Flood was local. Therefore we must give each other grace in those interpretations.
The New Covenant (Gen 8:20-9:19)
After the Flood, we return to the major point of this Saga--the upcoming Covenant between God and Noah.
God wipes out all of those who had polluted the human bloodline by intermarrying with the Nephilim. After Noah's family offers a thanksgiving, God says that He will never again strike down all living creatures (Gen 8:21).
God then enters into the Noahic Covenant, which I covered extensively before here. Basically, God tells Noah (and us, as some of his descendents) that God promises never again to wipe out the people off the Earth. In return, He gives us a few commandments:
1. Be fruitful and multiply. (We've certainly done that!)
2. Subjugate the Earth and serve as its governor. (We probably went too far here.)
3. Don't eat animal blood. (Most of us don't; I guess if you take this to the extreme you could give up sushi and rare meats.)
4. We are commanded not to murder.
5. We are commanded to put murderers to death.
So the Noahic Covenant it seems to me allows (indeed, requires) the death penalty for murder, but for no other situation. It also would be binding on us still today, as the rainbow in the sky is supposed to remind us.
The Rape of Noah (Gen 9:30-9:29)
Okay, maybe that subtitle is (purposefully) a little strong. But I want to get across to you that the actions of Ham, following the Flood, are majorly shameful in this passage, and often Christians overlook it.
After the Flood, Noah started a vineyard (Gen 9:20). Eventually he made some wine with it, and got drunk and fell asleep naked in his tent (9:21).
Then something happens which is so shameful that Noah would curse him: "And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside."
The typical reaction of Christians is...Um, that's it?
Well, hold on. There is more to this story than you think. There is something "between the lines" here which was obvious to the readers but is not to us.
The term "saw the nakedness" is a euphamism for incest (the same phrase shows up in Leviticus 18:6-18 and 20:17, referring to incestuous relationships). It is nearly universally agreed by scholars of the Ancient Near East that this passage is telling a much darker story than we normally think.
Noah got drunk and fell asleep naked. His genitals were exposed, which Shem and Japheth avoided looking at out of respect. They just went about their day, allowing him to sleep it off.
But Ham did not. Ham entered his father's tent, and performed some sexual incestuous act with him. The act itself is uncertain, but most agree that he either masturbated Noah or raped him. In either case, we are talking about a horrible, disgusting sin, no?
Then--perhaps worst of all in the minds of the readers of Moses, whose culture was so honor-based--he went and actually bragged about it to his brothers. Shem and Japheth, horrified, tried to return at least some honor to their father, carefully entering his tent backward and covering him with a blanket.
Later Noah awoke and could tell what had been done to him. He realized it was Ham, and cursed Ham and Canaan, removing their rightful inheritance. (Some suggest that Canaan was cursed because he was involved in his grandfather's rape/molestation; others suggest that he was cursed because he was Ham's favorite and due to no fault of his own.)
Nothing like a little incestuous homosexual molestation to turn your stomach, eh?
Anyway, preachers generally don't know this (or ignore it if they do). On the rare times that it is taught, it is usually taught as a warning against the dangers of drunkenness, or as a proof that depravity still existed immediately after the Flood. Both of these are certainly true things to take from this passage, but neither is the key point. The key point was to record WHY the tribes of Canaan and his offspring had been cursed by Noah, and had failed to receive their proper inheritance and honor.
(Aside: I am writing this on January 11, having set up the schedule for this series back in early December 2012. I did not realize until I just "scheduled" the blog posting that this wonderful story of Ham molesting (or raping) his father would be posted just a few days before the biggest romantic holiday of the year. So Happy Valentine's Day to all! May this story not ruin your romance.)
Fourth Saga Conclusion
Again we have a Saga whose main point is very easy to understand: man polluted his bloodstream, and God purified us, promising that He will never do it again and in return demanding that we do not murder people (or abide murderers to live). But once again, this simple point is often misunderstood as we get sidetracked into admittedly interesting, but ultimately unimportant arguments--in this case, whether the Flood is global or local in nature.
Next week we move into the Fifth Saga received by Moses, and find out about the generations after Noah.