These are the generations of Noah
We have gone from the generations (towl@dah) of the heavens to Adam to Noah. But here we find the first real challenge to a transformational view of God:
And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
Frankly, this seems like regression rather than transformation. God is going to destroy (machah) what He had created (bara’) — He appears to be repenting (nacham) of his prior efforts. What’s going on? It’s enough to make you sympathize with either the liberal view that it was some random natural catastrophe spiritualized by the bible writers, or the process view that the Old Testament God was arbitrary and violent.
But perhaps there’s more going on here. How does God justify Himself?
And 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 earth is filled with violence because of them
Clearly, God feels that man was greatly (rab) wicked and evil (ra’). In fact, this is one of rare occasions in Hebrew where I can actually see the English qualifiers: only evil continually (raq ra’ yown). Put another way, it appears Adam’s line had entirely failed in its task of being transformational – of establishing good governance, healthy families, and productive work. This is especially true if you interpret Sons of God (ben ‘elohiym) as referring to Adam’s line as implied by Luke 3:38, and that they had intermarried with other humans rather than remain faithful to God’s calling (see my note on Genesis 2).
Still, this raises the difficult question, and not for the last time: does man’s evil mean that God is good? This question, technically known as theodicy, is far from an abstract intellectual concern. It is also a gut-wrenching emotional response to our experience “under the sun” of God’s apparent indifference towards, or even causation of, human suffering. How can we be happy, much less trust God, in a world so full of pain?
Given that this question has baffled philosophers and peasants for millennia, I can’t hope to answer it here. And since we’ll face it more directly in Job in a few days, I won’t even try. Let’s go back to the story.
But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD…Noah was a just man [and] perfect in his generations, [and] Noah walked with God.
Amidst all this corruption (shachath) and violence (chamac), somehow Noah found grace (matsa’ chen). He was just (tsaddiyq) and walked (halak) with God. A lot of contrasts. And God responds to Noah accordingly, with the famous ark-building command. And, interestingly, a command to bring the animals created in Genesis 1, male and female, to allow them to continue filling the mandate originally given to them, after their kind (miyn):
And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every [sort] shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep [them] alive with thee; they shall be male and female.Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every [sort] shall come unto thee, to keep [them] alive.
Even though mankind had failed in its larger mandate, Noah is still given a chance to help the creature fulfill theirs. And he does (‘asah), emphatically.
Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.
God, I confess that I don’t understand your ways. I don’t know why you often allow evil to flourish, nor why you sometimes act with brutal efficiency to squelch it. Grant me the honesty to face my uncertainty, as well as the humility to not demand answers. Help me to live like Noah, obeying the commands I do understand. If I can’t save the world, let me at least save that which I can. Let me take care of my family, but don’t let me focus inward: keep me always mindful of your larger mandate toward creation, and build a house big enough for anything you send my way. May I find your grace. Amen.