Sin, Mercy, and the Flood

Today’s reading in The Daily Bible (Genesis 6-9) – the story of Noah and the ark – is one that virtually every child who has been to Sunday school remembers. Noah was at least five-hundred-and-some years old and had three sons when the rest of mankind had become so sorry that God became sorry He had made them – and determined to wipe them and, necessarily, the animals and birds off the face of His earth.

All except Noah and his family.

God, expressing His disgust with mankind’s continued predilection toward indulging self, has either cut human lifespans short to a general maximum of a hundred-and-twenty years … or has cut the lifespan of humankind to the hundred-and-twenty years required to build a lifeboat. The language isn’t crystal-clear.

He instructed Noah to build a great watertight, wooden box, half the length and nearly as wide as an iron ship built thousands of years later: H.M.S. Titanic. But unlike Titanic, this ark is watertight for more than a year after forty days and nights of unrelenting rain and unstanched flow from underground springs began.

Inside her is that family and a mated pair of each unclean animal and seven of each clean animal, male and female (with “unclean” and “clean” evidently a distinction which long predated Moses’ law), plus all the food that they will need, and the stamina of people whose only hope is God. Near the end, they could hear a wind blowing outside their craft, and the waters began to recede – for the next hundred and fifty days.

Almost every child remembers how Noah sent out birds after the rain had ceased, to see if there was yet dry land. Almost every child remembers that Noah sacrificed some of those precious clean animals, and the scent so pleased God that He promised never again to exterminate all life with a flood, setting His rainbow in the sky as a reminder of the covenant. Some children will remember that God then gave Noah and his family permission to consume the animals as food, and warned that both men and animals would be accountable for each life they took – and that man should not eat any flesh with the lifeblood still in it.

There’s a very important detail that we forget to tell our children:

The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” ~ Genesis 8:21

The time for judgment against all of mankind has come and gone.

The time for judgment of each man and each creature has come. It is a new era: one of personal responsibility.

What we also rarely share with our children is the rest of the story. It continues the pattern that the Bible has established in those few previous chapters: that God entreats man not to sin, man sins anyway, man is punished, the punishment eventually leads to death, and that God shows mercy to those who want to walk with Him.

The rest of the Noah story is embarrassingly sordid. Noah turned to farming, planted a vineyard, let some of the grapes go sour, distilled wine, became drunk from it, and passed out stark naked. His son Ham discovered him, tattled to his two brothers Shem and Japheth, who took great pains to restore his clothing as well as preserve his dignity. Noah, made aware of the indignity later, pronounced a curse on Ham, whose descendants through son Canaan would serve his brothers’ seed.

So it is Noah, not God, who issues this curse and sets up the consequences that will persist through many, many generations to come … until the prophecy of an era when God’s original intention would be restored:

The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: ” ‘The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son—both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die. ~ Ezekiel 18:1-4

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One thought on “Sin, Mercy, and the Flood

  1. I don’t like how they choose to translate adamah in Gen 8:21. I’d prefer “earth” — I think it fits the context of the narrative better.

    You’re right, though, about the rest of the story: move/counter-move between God and the forces of chaos/evil that want Him defeated.

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