In a Nutshell…
Read the passage here.
The story of Noah’s and the flood takes several chapters in the book of Genesis and we’re not going to read all of it. I’m hoping that most of us are familiar with the story, even though you may not remember all of the details. What I’d like to do today is discuss a few details which may be important or interesting and talk a little about where this places us in the story of Israel.
The first thing to take note of is that, similar to our discussion of the creation story in Genesis 1, flood stories are not unique to the Bible. On the contrary, flood stories are actually very common around the world. We won’t go into detail about these, but we should say that some of these stories share significant similarities with the biblical story – but others are quite different. There are a number of ways to account for these similarities and differences, none of which are conclusive.
The point I want to make here is simply that (claimed) proof for or against a global flood is not what determines the truth of the biblical witness. Nor is the point of the story to relate a scientific account of a geological event.
So what about our story? Let’s take a brief look at the structure.
A – God’s Warning/Judgment
B – Construction of the Ark
C – Entry/Gathering
D – Increase of Waters
E – Prevailing of Waters
D’ – Decreasing of Waters
C’ – Departure/Disembarking
B’ – Consecration of the Contents of the Ark
A’ – God’s Covenant
Rikk Watts talks about this pattern as a reversal of creation. As the flood increases, we move towards the center of the chiasm, the prevailing of the waters. Remember in the Ancient Near East, the waters/seas represents chaos. This is what we see in Genesis 1:2:
1:2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
The flood, which arises as a judgment on the sinfulness of humankind, moves us away from God’s ordered creation towards the “prevailing of the waters.”
Now, another interesting thing to notice is Noah’s name.
8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
There is a wordplay going on here between Noah’s name and the grace of God. That in some way, probably a pretty obvious way given the story, that the story of Noah is representative of the grace of God.
A final thing that I would like us to consider is that, ultimately, this story is about salvation. Depending on your point of view, this may not seem obvious. For the Christian, usually recognize the redemption aspects of this story. But it’s also possible to see the story as primarily about destruction. After all, God destroys everything except for one family. This seems like a pretty extreme action.
However, this is why we need to locate the story in the biblical canon. As we’ve been talking about for the past several weeks, the story has moved so far from a good creation made by a good God, to a humanity which chooses to reject that God. And in the midst of that rejection and rebellion, God chooses to save a remnant.
So this is something that we want to pay attention to – that God’s redemption happens in the midst of, or through, judgment. It’s actually a theme that we will see again and again in Scripture.
I don’t want to go too far into this subject except to say that I know a lot of people who think that God should just forgive people without punishment. “Why doesn’t God just save everyone?” And I get this point of view. But in the very same breath, we will also demand that certain people receive punishment or justice.
How many people were horrified to find out that O.J. Simpson was released on parole this week? We actually want justice, and we want God to judge – we just don’t want Him to judge us. But what we’re seeing through this story and other places in the bible is that judgment of the wicked is (can be) the means of the redemption of God’s people.
So Now What…?
So, what I’ve laid out is not a systematic presentation of the story, but rather several themes that show up that I hope we pay attention to. But here is what I primarily want us to notice:
Several scholars have argued that the creation stories (the beginning stories – the primordial history) are actually relatively new introductions into the Hebrew canon. In other words, the earliest documents that belonged to the Israelites were probably the Law (which makes sense because this is how the Israelites primarily understood their self-identity). Other elements were added to that to flesh out their understanding of God and themselves (as the people of God).
Gerhard Von Rad argues that the primary Israelite understanding of God through most of its history was that of a Saving God. e. this was their understanding of God’s primary attribute – Redeemer. If you understand the identity of Israel as beginning with the Exodus out of Egypt, this makes a lot of sense. The creation elements, the notion of God as creator, according to Von Rad, came later. (This is not to say that they didn’t exist, nor that the stories didn’t exist, simply that they became part of the national understanding later on.)
My point in bringing this up is that we’ve spent several weeks reading about beginnings. We’ve been reading about the creation of the world and the beginnings of sin and rebellion. And we’ve talked about how sin leads to death (or demands judgment) and how even still God shows grace and mercy.
So what we might be seeing here is the movement in the biblical narrative from a creator God to a saving God. (This is not the same as saying God moves – rather, the understanding or description of God is shifting / changing foci).
And this is what I want us to grasp, to literally take hold of. Sometimes we think of God as aloof – as way up “there” more or less ignoring what’s going on here. Sometimes we think of God as judgy. We think that the biggest part of His day is telling us what’s wrong with us. And sometimes, it’s tempting to think of God as being at fault for the failings of human beings and the difficulties of life. We think that God should rescue us from all of these things that cause pain and suffering and confusion.
But isn’t that exactly what He does? Isn’t that the entire message of the Biblical narrative? That God saves. Now He doesn’t do it in the way we think He should. He doesn’t give us what we think we deserve not, thank goodness. Because of Jesus, whose righteousness is counted as ours, if we are willing to take hold of it, God gives us life. We are like Noah, who was told to take a leap of faith, to do a thing that seemed absurd.
It probably didn’t make any sense to Noah. But it was that leap of faith that allowed God to save Him. In fact, it was a leap INTO God’s salvation. Every day, we’re being asked to make that same leap of faith. That this world that we can see is not all there is. That this life that we have is not all there is. So let’s leap into the life that God alone can give.