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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

BIBLE: Genesis (Noah and the Flood)

The creation of heaven and earth went smoothly at first, all according to plan, because “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”  “Every thing” doesn’t seem “very good” now.  What happened?  Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden of Eden (which was, in fact, very good) and things started going downhill from there.  Soon “men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them.”  Sons too.  Genesis goes on to say that “the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.”  Who were these “sons of God”?  Angels is one interpretation.  Ancient mythologies are full of divinities interacting with, and even procreating with, humans.  In the Iliad (GB3) Achilles is the son of a nymph (a minor nature goddess) and a human father.  Helen of Troy is the daughter of Zeus and a human mother.  But the tone of the story in Genesis doesn’t suggest that the sons of God were angels.  We’re told that after Cain killed Abel he “went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod.”  Then Adam and Eve went on to have another son named Seth and to Seth “there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then men began to call upon the name of the Lord.”  The story may be suggesting that “the sons of God” were from the line of Seth and they “called upon the name of the Lord” while the “daughters of men” represented the line of Cain and did not.  This could be interpreted that believers intermarried with non-believers and after several generations human culture was rotten to the core.  Genesis says “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” 

The God of Genesis is not a blind force but more like a “person” who can see into the hearts of men.  He can see their wickedness and be grieved by it.  A heart that feels grief can also feel anger: “And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth… for it repenteth me that I have made them.”  The wickedness of Cain and his children triumphed over the goodness of Abel and sons of Seth.  Or so it seems.  “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”  Who was this Noah and why did he find grace in the eyes of the Lord?  Genesis says “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.”  His life was a stark contrast to the rest of human culture, where “the earth was filled with violence.”  Cain’s tendency to violence had been passed down to his offspring.  The result was the kind of world Thomas Hobbes spoke about in Leviathan (GB2) where life becomes nasty, brutish and short.  This is also the kind of world Genesis implies when it says “God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.”  The only way to cure that much corruption is a thorough cleansing with clean water.  So God told Noah “Make thee an ark of gopher wood… every thing that is in the earth shall die.  But with thee will I establish my covenant, and thou shalt come into the ark.”  Noah and his family were the only humans spared by the great flood sent to wash the planet clean again.  It was a fresh start so “Noah builded an altar unto the Lord… and offered burnt offerings on the altar.”  This reflects the sacrifices made by Abel in the garden of Eden.  “And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”  If the story had ended there it may have been a happy ending.  But it didn’t stop there because “Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken...”  Why are we told that?  Maybe because if “perfect” men like Adam and Noah can fall prey to evil, what about ordinary people?  If gold rust what shall iron do?  That’s how Genesis portrays the human condition.


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