Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Noah and sons (Gen 9:18-11:26)

In the last post, God had finished speaking a beautiful covenant to humans, recommissioning them to fill the earth, and promising to hold back his judgment in the future.

Next, the sons of Noah come out of the boat. We are told that from these three sons will come all of the people of the earth. As in the last chapter, women are completely absent, now not even mentioned as existing as wives, in the context of a discussion of reproduction and filling the earth.

In this exclusively male narrative, we hear of the initial misbehavior of those on whom the hope of a renewed civilization is resting. Noah plants a vineyard and becomes drunk, and passes out naked. His son Ham sees him, and dishonors him by pointing the situation out to his brothers. We've noted a few first sins--though surely this had happened before in human history, here is the first recorded example of not honoring one's father or mother. Ham's brothers cover up Noah. When he awakes and realizes what has happened, Noah curses Ham and his descendants, and blesses Shem and Japheth and their descendants.

Here again, these men are heading their families' circumstances in a representative way. As in the last chapter when Noah's obedience saved his whole family from the flood, I think this blessing and cursing is meant to influence physical conditions in the lives of the children of the brothers, but does not influence their spiritual destinies, which are determined person by person. Now, another question here, what does a father's blessing or curse ultimately accomplish? Is Noah actually supernaturally changing things for his descendants? Is he prophesying based on behavior he sees in his sons that he senses will have consequences down through the ages?

Noah lives 350 years after the flood for a total of 950 years. This is interesting, since in the last episode before the flood, the Lord grew tired of human wickedness and cut our lifespans short going forward. Noah is apparently grandfathered in, and exempt from this. His sons through Shem are later recorded as living gradually shorter and shorter lives down through nine generations until Abraham.

The genealogy in Chapter 10 gives us some of the descendants of all three of Noah's sons. Not a single daughter is mentioned either by name or by gender in this genealogy. We are given a few details about the sons. Javan's descendants became seafaring people that spread out and spoke different languages. Cush's descendant Nimrod was a great conqueror of many early lands, legendary as a great hunter. During Peleg's lifetime people of the world were divided into different language groups.

This detail about Peleg prepares us for the next story of the tower of Babel. This linguistically fascinating story doesn't touch gender at all, and I can't really find much to say about it related to the focus of the blog. But after Babel, we have another record of Shem's descendants that will take us down to Abraham, and in this one, the men recorded are said to have had other sons . . . and daughters! Ladies we are back in the text. Woot! Keep reading and we will get to examine the most vividly described female in the Bible to date, Abram's wife Sarai. Can't wait to study her next time!


  • Noah's narrative is completely masculine.
  • Noah's sons receive blessings and curses for all of their descendants.
  • How does a father's blessing or curse actually work? Does it? Or is this poetic?
  • Still wondering why there are no women in this section at all, even in the background. Any more thoughts?

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Lord and Noah (Gen 6:8-9:17)

Last time, we talked about the strange history of the sons of God, the daughters of men and the Nephilites, which leads up to the story of Noah and the great flood. In that last story, the beautiful daughters of men played a notable role (indecipherable though it may have been). However, once we start into the main story of God's judgment of the world and salvation of Noah, women almost completely vanish from the action for several chapters. Though we are told that Noah and his sons have wives, they are not discussed any more than the animals' pairs that are to be taken onto the ark.

But if women are only "extras" in this story, even Noah has only a supporting role. The lead actor here is the Lord. The Lord decides to wipe out all living creatures, but he finds favor with Noah, so he tells him to build a boat, and Noah does it. Then the Lord tells him to bring his family and all the animals onto the boat, and he does it. When Noah and the animals are on the boat, the Lord sends the floodwaters, and the Lord himself closes the door to the boat. Then God wipes out all life, but he remembers Noah and the creatures on the boat. God is doing everything, Noah is just obeying. 

In this story, we see God saving people (and animals too) in families. We are not told anything about Noah's wife's obedience or lack thereof, nor even of his sons nor their wives. God saves all of them because of Noah. This is surely a strong example of male headship of a family, since the whole family's survival rides on Noah's obedience.

At first, I found it hard to make this fit with the idea that salvation depends on each person's individual repentance and faith. But then I remembered that the salvation of my soul that requires repentance and belief is not the same kind of salvation as being saved from a natural disaster. I may die in a natural disaster and still be saved spiritually. That is my only hope, actually, and was the only hope for Noah and his family too, since some kind of physical death, via disease, disaster, violence, etc, comes for everyone.

Surviving a flood would not automatically equal spiritual salvation (see the story of Noah's sons, next chapter), but it would dramatically influence who was around to rebuild civilization, particulary, to reproduce. Perhaps Noah was saved as a godly man who would obey the Lord and lead those under his care and authority to do the same. The earth needed to be cleansed en masse of evildoers who were ruining everything with their sinful ways, and the flood accomplished this, leaving only Noah and his family to restart human life on earth. From what we know from the rest of the Bible, God must have eternally judged each son and wife according to his or her own heart. But this family was chosen together for the family job of repopulation of the earth.

After all of the Lord's movement of the plot, Noah's first self-determined action is to release the raven and the dove. He also decides to lift the cover of the ark back, but they all wait to get out until God tells them to. When he does tell them them to come out, The Lord issues his first "be fruitful and multiply" command of three in the chapter, to the animals. 

Noah's next self-determined act is to offer a sacrifice to the Lord (according to God's instructions.) God is pleased with the sacrifice and now delivers his longest speech yet in the Bible, even longer and more substantial than the curses delivered when humans left the garden. This seems significant to me, since we saw humanity totally lose touch with God,with no dialogue between them recorded over several chapters and many years as people became more and more evil. There are several parallels here that recall the first days of humanity, and make this really seem like a restart of our human race.

God's first words are to himself. We've previously seen the Lord speaking to himself when he said the words of creation (ch 1), when he decided that the humans must be banished from the garden (3:22) and when he decided to destroy all life in the flood (6:3, 7). To himself, he purposes never to curse the ground again despite his expectation that humans will continue to be pretty much evil all the time. God also says he will never again destroy all things and will keep the seasons going as long as the earth remains. 

Remember that Noah's father Lamech gave him the name Noah, which sounds like their word for relief, with this hope "May he bring us relief from our work and the painful labor of farming this ground that the Lord has cursed." Is that what is happening when God says he will never curse the ground again? Is he lifting the curse of the ground in some way? Maybe it used to be even harder to farm before the flood, or maybe God had previously left open to himself the option of cursing the ground further? [If God is lifting the curse of the ground in some way, why doesn't he say he will lift it at all for childbearing? Hmm. I think all we can do for now is file this story and that question away for further illumination as we read through.]

Then to Noah, God repeats the initial commission he first gave to human beings in Eden--to be fruitful and multiply, and to rule over the creatures of the earth. But there are a couple of differences. In the first version, God tells us to rule over the animals and to eat plants, and that animals will also eat plants. Now he says that we may eat animals, but may not eat anything that is still alive. He also makes it clear that we are not to take the lives of other humans. In this section God says he will require blood from anyone who takes a human life life. This is a foreshadowing of the sacrificial system that will be so important to the Bible's message. 

God then repeats his command for humans to be fruitful and multiply to replenish the earth. Though women are not mentioned, you could argue that this single main job God now gives humanity falls mainly upon them. A second notable difference between this section and the first time God tells humans to be fruitful and multiply in Eden is this: in Gen 1:27-28 we are told that God created humans in his image, male and female, and then he blessed them and said "be fruitful and multiply," etc., but the second command is issued "to Noah and his sons." Women are really conspicuously absent from this story. Is this just stylistic, or does it mean something?

The last part of what God says, is the symbolic rainbow promise he makes to all creatures on earth, both humans and animals, that he will never again destroy the earth with a flood. 

To wrap up, in this story it is really striking how God drives the action, and the human beings are just spoken to and acted upon. Though women are so absent, perhaps this is because the story is so much about God and people-- people being represented by one man, the head of his whole family and the new line of humans. In the next story, the personalities and actions of Noah and his sons are emphasized much more, though women are still missing. But we'll save those observations for the next post!


  • Women are totally missing from this story.
  • God saved people and animals in families in the flood.
  • The Lord starts humanity 2.0 with the same command for people to be fruitful and multiply, which depends heavily on women.
  • Why are women so conspicuously absent from this story?
  • Did God lift the curse of the ground in some way after the flood?
  • If he did, why don't we hear anything about Eve's curse? Is it because there are no women in this story? And again, why?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Sons of god and daughters of men (Gen 6:1-7)

Chapter 6 opens with what is to me one of the most fantasticly perplexing little sections in the entire Bible: 
  • Then the people began to multiply on the earth, and daughters were born to them. The sons of God saw the daughters of men [translated "beautiful women" in the NLT] and took any they wanted as their wives. Then the Lord said, 'My Spirit will not remain in humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. In the future, their normal lifespan will be no more than 120 years.' In those days, and for some time after, giant Nephilites lived on the earth. For whenever the sons of God had intercourse with the daughters of men, they gave birth to children who became the heroes and famous warriors of ancient times." 
All together now, "HUH?"

I am mostly trying to let scripture speak here and see what I can make of it without the outside voices of commentaries, but for this passage I have done a bit of reading. And no one seems to know with certainty what this is talking about. To keep us from being drawn into a lengthy review of ancient literature and Hebrew words etc, I am going to stick to the strategy of gleaning what is glean-able here and leaving the (many!) questions to the side.

What I think we can tell is that there was some lust happening from males (male somethings!) toward women, which they were freely acting on in a way that displeased the Lord. This is the first record of the sexual sin that history will reveal to be such a serious problem for men through all time. What specifically displeased the Lord in these relationships? To me there are a couple of possibilities. Though it's hard to know what is meant by the distinction that the sons were sons "of god" and the daughters were daughters "of men," I think there's a chance that this intermingling in itself was the problem. But without knowing what the groups are, it's hard to really say much about that. To me it seems more likely that the fact they "took any they wanted" to be their wives might be the real issue. 

Based on the design for marriage described earlier in the story of creation, we know God wants us to have one spouse to unite ourselves to, to reproduce with, to rule over creation together with, in submission to Him. Let's also remember that Eve was given as a helper for Adam in marriage, and this does imply that men are leaders in the marriage relationship. But from this story we can tell that this leadership does not mean freely taking women when desire strikes. We'll have to keep our eyes open for a positive example of how marriage should be established outside Eden as we keep reading.

So, God cares deeply who we marry. It's not ok to just take whoever you want, based only on your own desire. In this ancient situation, taking anyone you wanted for a wife might have meant having multiple wives, abandoning previous wives and children, taking other people's wives or other abuses. Whatever was specifically happening, we can see that disregarding God's plan for marriage separated us even further from fellowship with him ("my Spirit will not dwell in humans") and from immortality ("their normal lifespan will be no more than 120 years"). 

The punishment God gives is interesting in that it isn't specific to the sinners, or the sins, nor does it really rectify anything that has happened. It just sets a limit on the amount of time that men will be able to sin in this way in the future. Like the initial consequence of sin for humanity-death, it just puts a temporal limit on the moral decay of people, now an even lower limit.

Were the "daughters of men" complicit in this sin, and hence, justly punished in the judgment, (which they also received)? Or were they just delivered from suffering as recipients of lust after 120 years? The text doesn't make that clear, but I think either is possible. The main thing, though, is that God is not happy with men brutishly taking any women they want and he will not put up with it. 

In this chapter, childbearing continues to be a main element in the story of humanity. The fruit of the relationships between the sons of God and daughters of men is a group of children  called giant Nephilites, who "became the heroes and warriors of ancient times." 

Heroes are only made through great feats, and warriors through battle, so here again we find a reference to exciting things happening offstage from the action in the text.The author seems at first glance to be describing the Nephilites with favor, calling them heroes and warriors. But when we consider what follows in the text, we may change our opinion about that. 

These strange paragraphs together form the introduction to a dark and difficult story of judgment with a spark of hope, the second of it's kind we have encountered so far. (The first was the fall of humanity with a promise of future triumph through the offspring of Eve.) This is a theme which the whole story of the Bible repeats again and again in different settings. Here, God is about to judge and destroy the mass of humanity in a flood, because "The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, "I will wipe out this human race I have created from the face of the earth." 

These verses tell us that life on earth including marriage, brotherly relationships (Cain and Abel), heroic deeds and battles (the Nephilites),  advances in farming, music, and metal-working (the sons of Cain) had become completely corrupt. What we have been puzzling over in the previous paragraphs was certainly sinful, whatever exactly was going on.

"But," the text tells us "Noah found favor with the Lord." We'll pick it up there next time!

  • God cares deeply who and how we marry.
  • Male leadership in marriage does not equal license for any men to take any women they want for wives. The Lord refuses to tolerate this kind of behavior.
  • Children born out of toxic relationships can turn out to be heroes.
  • Anyone want to take a stab at the "sons of god" and "daughters of men"?
  • Nephilites, famous or infamous?
  • Do you think the "daughters of men" were victims in this story or were complicit?