27. Genesis 7:1 to 8:19 part 2

II. A. 3. continued (The Flood)

Clearly I am working on the assumption that the Flood actually occurred, so we should now briefly consider the time and place of the Flood. First there is no reasonable way to date the Flood or the time span from Adam to Noah using the genealogical data in Genesis. If you assume the genealogy in chapter 5 leaves no gaps and gives an exact account of all the generations from Adam to Noah, then there were just over a thousand years from the Fall to the Flood. However, genealogies in the Old Testament, particularly ones covering long periods of time, sometimes left out generations, mentioning only well-known or representative ancestors. This was a practical necessity whether the records were written (clay tablets get heavy and papyrus was a an invention from much later) or oral (long lists of names are tedious to memorize or recite around a campfire). Further, the phrase “and he begat” is sometimes used in a very loose way to mean “he became the ancestor of”. So a biblical dating of either Adam or of the Flood is impossible with any degree of certainty. There is some geological evidence that a major flood, covering a lot of the Middle East, occurred in about 8000 b.c. but it is only speculative whether that flood is the same as the one in the Bible.

There is disagreement over the extent of the Flood, obviously. Some hold that the Flood was world-wide while others hold that the Flood covered only a portion of the Middle East; the Hebrew language in the biblical account is ambiguous enough for either. There are several arguments in favor of a local Flood from within the Bible itself. First, the genealogy of Noah’s descendants in Genesis 10 does not seem to include Africans, Asians, or Native Americans. The names in that genealogy are frequently plural and probably indicate tribes of people rather than individuals and it seems that non-Middle Eastern peoples either were simply left out of the genealogy or else were descended from people before the Flood who weren’t destroyed in the Flood. Second, the Bible seems to mention specific tribes who lived before the Flood and yet were not destroyed by the Flood. In Genesis 6:4 the Nephilim are mentioned as living before the Flood, and later the Nephilim are mentioned in Numbers 13:33 as living in the Promised Land when Israel arrived there. However it is true that “Nephilim” simply means “giant”, so it is not clear whether the Nephilim were a particular tribe or were merely giants who might be born into any tribe. A third biblical argument for a local Flood is the genealogy of Cain. In what sense can Jubal have been the father of those who do music if the descendants of Cain had all perished in the Flood? It would have been as if Cain had never existed, and all his descendants would have been simply forgotten and irrelevant. Music, metal-working, the nomadic life style, would all have had to be re-invented by one of Noah’s descendants. The whole genealogy of Cain would have been pointless.

On the whole then it seems to me that the Bible does not claim that the Flood was a universal one. The Bible only apparently teaches a universal Flood because of the way this passage has been translated over the years. It is more internally consistent with the rest of Genesis, more faithful to what the Scripture actually says, to believe in a local Flood over most of the Middle East.

Now if the Flood was not universal, then that suggests that the moral degeneration was not as great among the peoples who were more distant, the peoples not mentioned in the genealogy of Noah’s descendants. If the rest of the world was not so evil that it had to be destroyed, were the people from whom Noah derived more evil than all the other people of the world? Perhaps, but it may be that God had somehow hindered the expression of evil in the rest of the world, and that for His own purposes He had allowed the people of the Middle East to degenerate to the point where they were no longer tolerable. When the descendants of Cain wandered away from their brethren and went out from the presence of God, God did not let them simply go their own way with no divine presence whatsoever. He loves His creation too much to abandon it. Rather, He may have imposed restraints upon the expression of evil among the descendants of Cain so that they were spared the necessity of something like a Flood. As we will shortly see, He was about to do exactly this with Noah’s descendants to prevent the necessity of a future Flood. In view of what comes after the Flood in the biblical narrative, it becomes more plausible that God had simply not hindered the moral degeneration in Seth’s line as He had elsewhere.

But why not? Why would He allow the descendants of Seth to deteriorate but not the descendants of Cain? If this is what happened, I believe the explanation lies in the burden God had placed on the descendants of Seth: they were chosen to suffer the Flood because they had been chosen to bear the revelation, the oracles of God, the oral tradition. The purpose of the moral degeneration that led to the Flood was revelation. Carrying God’s revelation to a corrupted world is an honor, but not necessarily a pleasant job. The bearers of revelation don’t just carry a scroll or a stone tablet; they carry the revelation in their bodies, their families, their history, their interactions with an interfering God. God speaks to the world through the events of their lives, lives which are no longer their own.

By this interpretation, Caucasians and Semites and Hamites are the remnant through Noah of a people too ruthless and violent to be permitted to live on the earth, and they got that way because God allowed them to get that way, and He allowed them to get that way as a tangible manifestation to the rest of the world of how horrible the corruption of evil can get if it is not curbed. This is the nature of revelation.

To restrain the expression of evil is to disguise it, to make it appear more benign than it is. God’s intent was to cloud the knowledge of good and evil, to anesthetize us spiritually. He did not wish us to bear the pain of knowing the true horror of the evil in us, so He blunted it. But He wanted to warn us about what He was doing so that we could understand the truth about ourselves without fully experiencing it. He left us the memory of the Flood, a sign like a nightmare, of a greater horror that lurks just beneath the surface of our hearts.

From this point on, the forces of nature, and especially the sea, were objects of awe to all the ancient people of the Middle East. They would identify the ocean with Chaos, the forces of disorder and destruction. It was not just that they worshiped the forces of nature, but they recognized those forces as being beyond human power, as threats to the very existence of humanity, as forces that only God had it in His power to control. The sea was an object of fear among the ancient Hebrews, a tangible reminder that the chaos of the oceans had once invaded the land and overwhelmed it, and only the authority of God kept it restrained in its boundaries. And thus the ocean became the symbol of the evil nature in men’s hearts.

To conclude my discussion of this passage we must consider what exactly there was good about Noah? What made him so special? Why was he alone righteous? In fact the Bible almost seems to hide any particular reason for Noah’s favor with God. You have to carefully watch the details to see it, and even then it is only as the revelation unfolds in the ensuing millennia that it becomes clear. The key to answering the question, the crucial detail to notice, is that Noah did not leave the ark until he had received specific permission to do so. When he removed the covering of the ark in Genesis 8:13 he could see that the ground around the ark was dry, but he still waited in the ark nearly two more months until God told him he could leave. He must have had the worst case of “cabin fever” in all time. Why didn’t he just use his common sense and get out?

One way to answer this question is to say that Noah had humility. He understood that God Himself had sealed them into the ark; Genesis 7:16 says, “… and the Lord closed it [the door] behind him.” Did he have the right to open what God had closed? It is a question that perhaps not many of us would think to ask, but it is the question that Noah knew the answer to without having to ask. I think it is his knowing the answer to the question that is the clue to the favor he found in God’s sight. The general principle Noah knew instinctively, and that was the source of his favor with God, might be summed up in this way: only God can fulfill the promises of God; it is not my job to make His decisions happen. It was Noah’s unwillingness to usurp God’s place, to make God’s choices or to do God’s work for Him, that is the quality which God sought out, which God looked for around the world, and which Noah alone possessed.

This specific quality could be called humility, but we might also call it faith. And yet it is more basic than simply believing in God and more vivid than simply trusting in God’s care. But it is exactly trust in God that is the issue, a trust in God so total that there is a willingness to simply wait on God to do what He promised however long it takes, even when we could make it happen, even when waiting itself seems silly. This quality, the willingness to obey God combined with the unwillingness to act in His place, becomes a theme that is repeated throughout Scripture. Note that the quality I am suggesting as the root of God’s favor toward Noah did not make him a righteous man by any moral standard. We don’t know what other personal traits Noah had (except that he liked wine a lot), and it is too much to assume that Noah was an all around good guy super-hero with virtues God just happened to want to keep hidden. God’s partiality to Noah was meant to highlight one and only one desirable trait. The blamelessness that Noah had was this quality of character: a respect for God, a humility that allowed God to be God and Noah not to be God. There is no intrinsic merit in respecting God; it is merely what we owe Him. Merely to do what we ought to do is no great and virtuous deed, as the Messiah would later say in Luke 17:10. When Noah found favor in God’s sight, it was because God was counting his faith as righteousness just as He would later do with Abram. Righteousness in this world is always and has always been by grace through faith whether it was explicitly stated or not.

If Noah had no intention of leaving the ark without God’s express permission, then why did he send out the birds, first the raven and then the doves? The information they brought him about conditions outside the ark did not affect his actions in any way, so why do it at all? I think he sent them simply out of curiosity. He was not accumulating information in order to make more informed decisions since he wasn’t planning to make any decisions; he was just curious. He knew he would be allowed out of the ark eventually and he was content to wait, but he wanted to know what was going on out there.  Some people, with the best intentions, take the insight of Noah to an extreme and are afraid to so much as blink without God’s permission. But God does not intend that we be paralyzed in life by fear of Him; that is not true humility; that is the servant who hides his talent under a rock. We are to be careful not to take over God’s work, to not try to do what only He can do, but everything else is left to our initiative. We must learn to fear where fear is appropriate and to be fearless everywhere else.

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