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?

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