Monday, October 24, 2016

Hurry Up and Wait-Gen. 8:1-19

Growing up I really enjoyed going to Six Flags Fiesta Texas—an amusement park filled with roller coasters and other attractions. Inevitably, we had to wait in lines in order to enjoy the thrills the rides promised and on at least one occasion, this proved exceedingly aggravating. Having already waited for the better part of an hour in a long line, I was devastated when I entered a building that I thought was the end of line and beheld an additional labyrinth of bars and chains guiding dozens of people to the ride's real entrance.
Image result for Ride QueueLong Line

It is always difficult to come to what you believe to be the end of an experience, trial, or difficult season, only to discover that it isn’t over yet. Such sentiments were not lost on Noah and his family in Genesis 8. The end of the rainy forecast was only the beginning of this incredible ordeal and the actions taken in Genesis 8:1-19 tell a story that we could all stand to learn from as we continue to wait on the Lord in this life in general or in any situation in particular.

God Turns off the Rain-8:1-5\

Three powerful words mark the transition from death and judgment (see chapter 7) to life and promise (chapter 8)—“But God remembered…” (8:1). As the Lord promised in 6:18 and reiterated in 7:1, the flood waters begin to drain and Noah, his family, and all of the animals on board the ark are spared—“Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided…” (8:1). The expression “remembered” is far more than simple recollection. Instead, the term is used here of covenant fidelity. In other words, God is acting in accordance with His promise to Noah.

Gen. 6:18-“But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you;…”

This theme of remembrance is carried throughout the rest of the Old Testament It describes the Lord’s response to the requests of His people when He delivers Lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah on account of Abraham’s mediation (19:29) and when He hearkens to barren Rachel, who gives birth to Joseph (30:22). Remembrance was the appeal of Moses’ intervention on behalf of backslidden Israel (Ex. 32:13). God consistently calls Israel to “remember” Him, promising that He would “remember” them. Therefore, Noah serves as a great example for the people of Israel to follow. He remembered the Lord by obeying His instructions and God remembers him and his family.
The way in which God shows His remembrance of Noah is by turning off the water. Just as God had caused the floods to rise, God is the agent behind its reversal. First, God calls the winds to pass over the earth, and the water subsided…” (8:1). There is an interesting parallel that takes place between Gen. 8 (the emergence of the world out of the watery depths) and Gen 1 (the creation of the world). Here, “wind” (ruah), “earth,” “waters,” and “deep” echo Gen. 1:2—“…and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” 

Moses continues to describe the recession of the flood in verse 2 when he says, “Also, the foundations of the deep and the floodgates of the sky were closed, and the rain from the sky was restrained” (8:2). Here, there is a distinct juxtaposition witnessed between the “deep”/“floodgates” (waters) and the “sky” (repeated twice). This is not unlike the juxtaposition witnessed in Gen. 1:7 when Moses says “God made the expanse (sky), and separated the waters which were below and the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse…”

In Gen. 8:2, God turns off both the fountains (water coming up out of the earth) and the floodgates (water raining down from above). 

This, no doubt, allowed the “water” to recede “steadily from the earth, and at the end of one hundred and fifty days the water decreased” (8:3). Draining into the deepest recesses of the ocean and eventually finding its way back into the earth’s crust the ark eventually finds a resting place on a mountaintop.

The Kola Superdeep Borehole is the result of a scientific drilling project of the Soviet Union. The project (which began in May 1970) attempted to drill as deep as possible into the Earth's crust. Though a number of boreholes, the deepest, SG-3, reached 12,262 meters (40,230 ft or over 12km or over 7.5 miles!) in 1989 and still is the deepest artificial point on Earth. To scientists, one of the more fascinating findings to emerge from this well is that the rock at that depth had been thoroughly fractured and was saturated with water. This water, unlike surface water, must have come from deep-crust minerals and had been unable to reach the surface because of a layer of impermeable rock. No doubt, when the God broke open the fountains of the deep, all of this water was able to break through and reach the surface.

 “In the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark rested upon the mountain of Ararat” (8:4). These indications of time are significant in Genesis 8, for, they do not just chart when things took place, but they allude to the religious calendar. The seventh month in the Hebrew calendar was Tishri, the most important month of the sacred celebrations, it included the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Trumpets, Tabernacles, and Sacred Assembly (Lev. 23:23-36). This leaves commentators like Matthews convinced that there is a connection between when the Ark “rested” and the cultic month that celebrates atonement and God’s provision. Though Noah was not privy to these celebrations (as they began after his time), no doubt Moses’ original audience was familiar and could therefore make these connections. More interesting still is that the word “rested” (nuah) is very near the name “Noah.” 

The ark’s resting place was on “mount Ararat.” Sitting some seventeen thousand feet above sea level and situated in modern day Turkey, this mountaintop was the first sight of land and would prove to be to be the only sight of land for three months!

The account continues by saying “The water decreased steadily until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains became visible…” (8:5). Some seventy-two or seventy-three days after the vessel landed, the waters had regressed far enough to reveal the peaks of various surrounding mountains. “Land Ahoy!” Noah must have shouted, excited to finally perceive something other than water around him. However, it would be five more months until God would give the all clear to depart the ark!

As the land is seen coming up out of the waters in verses 3-5, one cannot help but remember that in Gen. 1:9 “God said, ‘Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”…” Both passages contain the verb “appear,” and the appearance of “dry land.” This helps reiterate the connection between creation and recreation. God created an inhabitable world in Gen. 1 and was in the process of doing the same in Gen. 8.

Noah Sends the Birds -8:6-12

Having made patience his new friend, Noah waited for more instructions. Imagine, coming all this way only to (for a time) sit and wait (with all of those animals!). Perhaps Noah’s curiosity or boredom got the best of him for “…at the end of forty days,…Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made; and he sent out a raven, and it flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth…”(8:6-7). Many who are aware of Noah’s story know about the dove; however, how many forget about the raven? The raven was probably sent out for the same reason as the dove; however, perhaps the raven was sent out first because of his strength and ability to fly longer distances without returning for food. “According to rabbinic tradition, the raven was released first as expendable since it was neither good for food nor sacrifice…its departure from the ark signified that the impurities of the past had been removed and the creation of the new world had a fresh start” (Matthews, 387). Whether or not Noah understood this is unclear. However, progressive revelation is able to help us understand what may have been involved in this decision.

Seven days later, the second animal to leave the ark is a dove—“Then he sent out a dove from him, to see if the water was abated from the face of the land” (8:8). Remember, if we take the specifications of the ark literally, the only way for Noah to see outside of the ark is through the lone window on top. Therefore, he is made to rely on these winged shipmates of his to scope out the surroundings to see if there is any dry land that they can inhabit.

Unfortunately,”… the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot, so she returned to him into the ark, for the water was on the surface of all the earth. Then he put out his hand and took her, and brought her into the ark himself,…” (8:9).

The difference between the dove and the crow is striking. The dove is beautiful and a symbol of peace and purity. The crow is anything but these things.

Noah patiently waits another seven days “and again he sent out the dove from the ark…” (8:10). This time “the dove came to him toward evening, and behold, in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the water was abated from the earth” (8:11). Eureka! This fresh leaf confirmed that the earth was dry enough to yield foliage and perhaps even vegetation. Such a discovery must have reassured Noah (the new Adam) that God had made good on His promise.

 “Then he waited yet another seven days, and sent out the dove; but she did not return to him again” (8:12). It is obvious that this time the bird left, she found something better than what she already knew was on the ark (freedom in a sustaining environment). “By not returning it proclaims this freedom to those who are still shut up in the ark” (Westermann, 449).

Noah’s birds reveal that the earth was drying up and able to sustain life. However, these birds also parallel the birds that were created on the fifth day of creation—“…and let birds fly above the earth, in the open expanse of the heavens” (Gen. 1:20). As these birds were some of the first visible organisms on the earth, so too are they the first seen outside the ark and the first to witness signs of life following the flood. 

The Passengers De-Ark-8:13-19

 “Now it came about in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first of the month, the water was dried up from the earth,…” (8:13a). An entire year had passed since the rain began to fall (see 7:6). However, by now the earth was dry again.

I imagine with great alacrity, “Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the surface of the ground was dried up…”(8:13b). For the first time, Noah could see what his birds had seen. 

There, in the midst of that profoundly tender and quiet moment as Noah perceived the barren landscape—no people, no animals as far as the eye could see—God breaks the silence and speaks for the first time since He gave Noah his final instructions—“then God spoke to Noah saying…” (8:15).

 “…go out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and your sons’ wives with you…’” (8:16). These are the words that Noah and his family had longed to hear. They had heard the words of God’s judgment on the earth, the instructions they were given, and the promise God had made; however, now they heard the unmistakable sound of hope realized. They were alive following the most cataclysmic ordeal the world had ever seen and could now start their lives in a new world.

After calling them out of the ark, God issues two commands. The first of these is in the first part of verse 17—“ Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you, birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, that they may breed abundantly on the earth,…”. This new world not only belonged to mankind, it belonged to the creatures on the ark. However, just as humans were over and above the animal kingdom in Genesis 1:28b, so too is man given authority here in this new situation as mankind leads the animals off of the ark and sees to it that they breed accordingly to fill the earth with their presence.

The second command God gives to Noah’s family is to get busy —“be fruitful and multiply on the earth” (8:17b). As the fountainheads of the human race, it was Noah’s family’s job to help repopulate the planet—just as Adam and Eve were commissioned to do in Genesis 1:28a. What a responsibility! 

Having heard this newest list of instructions, Noah, as he has proved to do time and time again, obeys without hesitation—“So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him” (8:18). Though their eyes needed some adjusting as they emerged from the darkness of the ark, I believe this family was eager to get some fresh air. When they stepped out of the ark, they were stepping out of a world that God had destroyed and into a new world teaming with possibilities and potential—a world preserved just for them because of the overwhelming grace of God.

Following mankind’s lead, “Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by their families from the ark,…” (8:19). The implication here is that Noah's family and the animals with them began to do just as God had commanded—reproduce and fill the earth.

So What?

The actions taken in Genesis 8 reveal the faithfulness of God and the values of patience and obedience. When God turns off the rain, He makes good on the covenant that He cut with Noah. When Noah sends the birds while waiting for final instructions, he demonstrates incredible patience. When the passengers finally leave the ark, they do so in obedience to the Lord’s command.

Though we may be far removed from Noah’s situation and the global flood, the principles of this passage continue to speak loud and clear. God has cut a covenant with you and with me—a covenant of grace. Our hope in Jesus Christ and the heaven that is coming is the destiny we will one day reach after our journey through the storm of this world. However, for the time being, patience is required as the Lord tarries and time continues its march. At times, I imagine that many of us feel like Noah in his ark. Like him, we see only a small section of what is going on and are made to wonder what is out there and what is coming. We throw out our birds to get a read on the world around us, hoping that relief is around the corner. In the meantime, what is required of us is obedience. Like Noah, our responsibility in this journey is simply to do what God instructs when He instructs it and how He instructs it. Who knows how things may have turned out if Noah had not done as he was told when he was told to do it! Just imagine what would have happened if Noah wasn’t patient to wait and took matters into his own hands!

 Our patience to wait on the Lord and obedience to answer His call is essential to accomplish the mission that God has given us. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Holiness and Power of God-Gen. 7

When we teach the story of Noah and the ark to our children, most of the emphasis lies in the animals coming two-by-two and Noah and his family’s safe trip to dry land. These stories all end with the beautiful rainbow that indicates the reminder that “God will never flood the earth again.” Though these retellings of the story highlight most of the important elements, at least one detail tends to be overlooked—the total annihilation of mankind and all of the world’s creatures.

Image result for Dark Puddles of Water

While I cannot blame parents and Sunday school teachers for glossing over this less attractive element of the account, we must not overlook what it has to say to us about God. Therefore, today we are going to dive deep into the darkest recesses of this powerful account in order to appreciate the holiness of God, and afterward check to be sure that we have a seat on the ark that He has provided us.  To this end, we will observe four actions God takes in Genesis 7.

1. ACTION #1: God Gives Final Instructions -7:1-5

After the ark was complete, “the Lord said to Noah ‘Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time,…” (7:1). This command matches what will eventually come in 8:16 when God will command Noah out of the ark. Noah’s family enjoyed exclusive entrance into the ark, safe passage while on the ark, and was permitted to exit the ark on dry land because of Noah’s response to God’s grace, rendering him “righteous” before God in his time—a time described elsewhere as desperately wicked and only evil continually.

However, Noah and his family are not the only ones on this large vessel. As God continues he says, “You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female, also of the birds of the sky, by sevens, male and female, to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth,…” (7:2-3). Beyond bringing two of every animal kind on the ark, Noah is commanded to bring with him seven, or seven pairs, of “clean” and “unclean” animals. Both the verbiage here-- “seven”-- and the designations provided --“male and female”-- seem to suggest that God intended to bring “a full complement, adequately representing the whole created order that was fit to reproduce on the earth following the flood” (Matthews). In other words, the use of “seven” here may be more figurative than literal, indicating, in conjunction with what has already been said earlier, that God wanted to bring in all of the animals in pairs—male and female.

Perhaps seven is used because of the timing that is indicated in verse 4—“for after seven more days, I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights; and I will blot out from the face of the land every living thing that I have made” (7:4). The flood was imminent and, for Noah and his family, it was time for final preparations.

Seven (the number of days before the rain would start) and forty (the number of rainy days) are important numbers in the Hebrews Bible. For instance, it took seven days to create the universe. Now, in seven short days, God would destroy the earth and everything in it with a cataclysmic flood. “Forty” is how old Isaac and Esau were when they married, how long Moses was on the mountain when he received the law from God, how long Israel’s spies inspected the land of Canaan, and how many years God people spent in wilderness captivity.  At least in these examples, 7 represents order, life, etc. while 40 is associated with God’s message either in word or action and this is not always an easy message to hear.

In this particular situation the message was judgment and the medium through which this message would come was a flood. God takes personal responsibility for dishing out this wrath saying, “I will blot out from the face of the land every living thing that I have made,…” (7:4b). He had created the world and now, after finding it unsatisfactory, He decides to destroy it.

God chooses to send the rain as His method of judgment. Often rain is associated with either life or death. In Gen. 19:24 God rained down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah. In Exodus 9:18, 33-34, He rained down hail fire after Pharaoh challenged God’s authority. However, later in the wilderness manna rained down from heaven to sustain the people of God. It would seems as though the effect the rain of God has on a person depends on whether or not that person is a part of the family of God. For the children of God, rain brings life and promise; for those outside the family, rain brings judgment and destruction.

In the midst of these instructions, Noah, as already iterated at the end of chapter 6, remained obedient—“Noah did according to all that the Lord had commanded him,…” (7:5). With plans like these, I cannot blame him!

2. ACTION #2: God Sends the Rain-7:6-12

Next, God sends the rain. The Bible says in verses 6 and 10-11a “Now Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of water came upon the earth…It came about after the seven days, that the water of the flood came upon the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day…” Noah’s age not only serves to highlight how long he had graced the planet with his presence, it also helps the reader understand how long his saga lasted. He is six hundred years at the inception of the flood (when the rain started) and six hundred and one at its completion (when the earth was dry) (see 7:6, 11; 8:14).

Following Noah’s example of obedience “…his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him entered the ark because of the water of the flood. Of clean animals and animals that are not clean and birds and everything that creeps on the ground, there went into the ark to Noah by twos, male and female, as God had commanded Noah…” (7:7-8).

It is here that the rain begins to pour and the waters begin to rise up out of the earth—“all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened. The rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights…” (7:11b-12). Coming from the ground and falling from the sky, the earth is held in tension in between and the floods prove overwhelming.

According to Answers in Genesis, “Noah’s Flood was much more destructive than any 40-day rainstorm ever could be. Scripture says that the “fountains of the great deep” broke open. In other words, earthquakes, volcanoes, and geysers of molten lava and scalding water were squeezed out of the earth’s crust in a violent, explosive upheaval. These fountains were not stopped until 150 days into the Flood—so the earth was literally churning underneath the waters for about five months!”
Such an event had never before nor will ever again be witnessed on the earth.

3. ACTION #3: God Closes the Door-7:13-16

On this fateful day, as everyone looked to the sky and around them in horror as the water began to pool, “Noah and Shem and Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered [safely onto] the ark” (7:13). God’s grace in the Noah’s family’s life secured their salvation from the storm.

Not only was Noah’s family’s salvation secured on this vessel, but “They and every beast after its kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, all sorts of birds” (7:14) was saved.  

These were there because of God’s provision—“so they went into the ark to Noah, by twos of all flesh in which was the breath of life. Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him;…” (7:15). The command of God called down judgment upon the world, had called Noah and his family, and summoned two of all the animals unto salvation. His Word had spoken the world into existence, and this same word would destroy it. His Word had created mankind and all of the animals; now it would save mankind and the animal kingdom from extinction. God is the grand mover and shaker of His story.

Not only does God’s word call Noah to his work and the animals his way, it closes the door of the ark—sealing the fate of all those in the world and those on this exclusive vessel—“and the Lord closed it behind him” (7:16).

I cannot help but marvel at the concrete metaphor this door is for salvation. For those outside of the ark, what follows is destruction. For those inside the ark, what follows is salvation. What made the difference? Passage through this lone door in the side of this big boat. Though God would have been totally justified to destroy everything and everyone, His perfect will decides to remake the world using some of what was there. However, all that would be used would have to pass through this fateful wooden entrance.

4. ACTION #4: God Floods the Earth-7:17-24

The final act that God is said to have taken in this passage involves flooding the earth. The totality of the flood is described by means of several phrases that begin with either “the flood came” (7:17) or “the water prevailed” (18-19, 24). First, the water was so immense that it lifted the 450ft long ark—“then the flood came upon the earth for forty days, and the water increased and lifted up the ark, so that it rose above the earth” (7:17). This must have been some spectacle to see the ark budge and hear the creaking of its rafters as it shifted on its foundation.

The account continues by saying “The water prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water” (7:18). After creaking and shifting, eventually the water became so great that the ark scooted away from its resting place and began to float away –guided by the prevailing waters that were taking over the earth.

However, the rain continued to come down and the floods continued to go up—so far up that even the mountains were hidden beneath the watery depths—“The water prevailed more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heaves were covered. The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered” (7:19). In other words, the water rose to a level 22.5 feet above the tallest mountain! God did not just cover the earth, He completely flooded the earth—so much so that no land could even be perceived beneath the surface.

This flooding continued for one hundred and fifty days—“The water prevailed upon the earth one 
hundred and fifty days” (7:24). The magnitude of the waters poured out and raised up is met with a long duration. Most floods last hours or days; this lasted for the better part of a year!

The way that this flood is described by Moses in this account convinces the reader that the flood was total/complete. The planet, at least for a time, was a watery sphere floating in the solar system with a lone ark and single family bobbing on the surface of the waters. The earth had come full circle in a short amount of time. It began as watery chaos in Genesis 1 and was now a watery chaos in Genesis 7.  

Running parallel to the phrases describing the completeness of the flood are phrases indicating the completeness of God’s judgment. These are identified by the repetition of words like “all,” “perished,” and “death.” The first of these is found in 7:21—“All flesh that moved on the earth perished, birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind…” (7:21).  As if “all flesh” was not enough to indicate the extent of God’s judgment, Moses lists all of the different kinds of animals he can think of to accentuate the point being made.
If this did not suffice, he continues in verse 22 by saying, “of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died…” (7:22). Just into what had God breathed life? Every living thing (Gen. 1:30), and, in a special way, mankind (Gen. 2:7).

Gen. 1:30-“and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves 
on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food"; and it was so.”

Gen. 2:7-“Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

In a word, all life perished on the earth.

Making good on his promise in Genesis 6:7 (“I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”) God “blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth” (7:23). However, making good on his promise to Noah 6:18 (“But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.”), “only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark” (7:23).

So What?

What are we to glean from this passage? God floods the earth? Perhaps the message of this is no 
more complicated than this—God is a holy God and this makes His wrath against wickedness necessary. God not only deals with wickedness, He does so completely. The biggest illustration of God’s matchless holiness and corresponding power to deal with sin is witnessed in this global flood that totally blotted out the earth and every living thing and person in it.

Such a message is important in our world today that tries to dilute morality and relativize absolutes. God’s holiness is a radical concept in a world in which anything goes and everyone’s truth is considered equal. Though an all-powerful holy God may seem queer to a postmodern world, the very God people deny today is the One who will one day deal soundly with our present world of sin and death.  When He does, He will do so completely.

This makes one’s relationship to the ark of the utmost importance. Those on it will be saved from the coming judgment. Those not on the ark—who deny God’s existence and scoff at His holiness---will perish. Who is the ark? His name is Jesus. He is both the salvation God has provided from God’s justified wrath and the door through which salvation is accessed.

The door of salvation works the same way today as it did for Noah and his family. Jesus calls Himself the “door” in John 10:9.

John 10:9-"I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”

Have you passed through its frame? 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Doomsday Preppers-Gen. 6:9-22

Entire industries have been built on the premise that the end of the world is upon us. Gold companies project financial meltdowns and encourage people to prepare accordingly by purchasing precious metals. Food storage companies describe natural disasters that leave grocery stores empty or unavailable in order to sell freeze dryers. Still others sell emergency food supplies or even food insurance in case the worst of the worst takes place. No doubt, the success of these industries comes, in part, from marketing that takes advantage of the palpable fear that pervades our culture. To be sure, as we learned last week, our culture has every reason to fear, for human depravity has taken over and, in many ways, escorted God off the premises of our schools, razed Him from our social commentary, and banned Him from our government. However, men and women are a special kind of arrogant if they believe they can come to their own rescue.

In Noah’s day, things were even worse than they are now. Because of terrible sin, God decided to send a watery apocalypse to the entire planet. Humanity’s only hope for survival was Noah whom God had appointed for a special task. Let us take a look at three components of his pre-flood experience that prepared him for what was coming in Genesis 6:9-22. In this passage we will learn that the only salvation available to the world comes from God and this is demonstrated through His people.

Image result for noah's ark in kentucky

1. The Man-6:9-10

The introduction in verse 9 begins with what is called the Toledot (generations) of Noah’s family—“These are the records of the generations of Noah” (6:9). The space given to Noah and his family comprises the largest section of Genesis 1-11 for good reason—“Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth…” (6:9).

These three phrases “righteous,” “blameless,” and “walked with God,” indicate that Noah’s life was free from defect, complete, and dependent on the Lord. Collectively, they describe a man who, because of God’s favor in his life, lived in ways antithetical to those around him in his desperately wicked milieu.  In this passage, much attention is given to Noah as his name is repeated time and time again (three times in vv. 9-10, once in 13, and in v. 22). This highlights the central role he would play in God’s program of judgment because of the positive reaction he had to the grace of God in verse 8.

Noah, like many patriarchs in the Bible, had three sons—“Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” Through these three men, the human population would derive all of its characteristics following the flood. “Genesis looks to these three descendants as the fountainhead of all peoples” (Matthews 359) meaning that all of the genetic variety and moral potential witnessed today was present in these three sons.

2. The Mess-6:11-12

Next, Genesis reminds the reader of the stain in need of washing out—“Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth,…” (6:11-12). Earlier, it was revealed that “…the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (6:5). The proliferation of the human race, in spite of all that God had provided them for their benefit (marriage, the ability to reproduce, a time table, great potential, etc.), had  filled the planet with sin and death—so much so that God’s holiness could stand it no longer.

God has already said “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.” However, one family will escape this judgment and be given a mission unlike any other.

3. The Mission-6:13-22

God makes Noah aware of His intentions in a troubling forecast—“The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth” (6:13). Here, in addition to telling Noah what He going to do, God explains why he is going to do it.

Later, a restatement of God’s reason behind the mission indicates the totality of what is coming—“Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish” (6:17). Several important characteristics of this statement deserve special attention. First, “Behold I, even I am bringing the flood of water…” (6:17a), indicates that what is about to happen is personal. The same God who created the world and all of its inhabitants, marking them with beauty and incredible potential, would be the same One who would destroy it. The act of judgment that God desired to carry out was, in other words, a taxing decision personally. Second, “to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life” (6:17b) speaks directly to the destruction of mankind as they are described in Genesis 2 as receiving the breath of life (Gen. 2:7). Though destroying the world and the animals was tragic in and of itself (see the last part of verse 17), the most grievous loss for God was the loss of those who were made in His image—mankind. God had given special attention to the creation of humans so that He could share an intimate relationship with them. No doubt losing them was what troubled God most about the forecast He gave.

However, mankind would be saved from total extinction if Noah followed through on the mission at hand. Out of sheer grace, God appointed Noah to his task so that mankind could be saved. To this end, God provides Noah with specific instructions. The first of these involves his task: “make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch” (6:14).

Noah’s ark would be the vessel through which humanity would be saved, and this, no doubt, carried special meaning to the writer of this account—Moses. The only other time “ark” is used outside of Genesis 6-9 is in Exodus 2:3-5.

Exodus 2:3-5-“But when she could hide him no longer, she got him a wicker basket and covered it over with tar and pitch. Then she put the child into it and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to find out what would happen to him. The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the Nile, with her maidens walking alongside the Nile; and she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid, and she brought it to her.”

In both contexts, the ark was a vessel of salvation. For Noah, the ark was salvation from the wrath of God for his family and, subsequently the human race. For Moses, his ark was salvation from an oppressive Pharaoh for himself and, eventually for the Hebrew slaves. Both “Noah and Moses are delivered from the waters by the grace of God to introduce a new era in the Lord’s work among his people” (Matthews, 363).

However, aside from the word used to describe these vessels and the pitch applied to make them seaworthy, these two ark were considerably different in their construction. “This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. You shall make a window for the ark, and finish it to a cubit from the top; and set the door of the ark in the side of it; you shall make it with lower, second, and third decks…” (6:15-16). Assuming a “cubit” is about eighteen inches, Noah’s ark was over 450ft long, 75ft wide, and 45ft high. To put this in perspective, this is 1.5 football fields in length, and as tall as a 6 story building. Imagine building something of this scale in Noah’s day! Though by today’s standards the ark is only half the length of a modern aircraft carrier, Ken Ham’s ark in Kentucky that recently opened (true to the biblical dimension found in these verses) is currently the largest wood frame structure in the world.
Of course, a wooden ship of this scale would not be complete without a window, door, and multiple levels. No doubt this ark would have been featured on an antediluvian version of “Modern Marvels.”

However, what is bigger even than the ark, is the covenant that will be cut after its use—“but I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you…” (6:18). “Despite the vast destruction announced, God has a plan for the deliverance of a remnant, which includes representative of all his creatures” (Matthews, 366). It is here that God gives Noah the assurance that both he and his family will survive this ordeal and be used mightily afterwards.

The coming covenant might be compared to a grant given by God to Noah who acts as the new representative of the human race. Just as Adam lead the human race in the Garden of Eden, so too would Noah act as humanity’s new representative in the postdiluvian world. 

Acting as the leader of God’s greatest creation, Noah is entrusted with the task of making sure a representative of each “kind” of creature is included on the ark—“And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive…” (6:19-20). Now Noah could understand why it had to be so big.

However, was the ark big enough to house all of these animals? The answer is “yes!” What is important to understand about the animals on the ark is that each “kind” of animal was present, not every animal en toto. In other words, one “kind” of horse with all of the genetic variation and potential necessary to yield all of the breeds we know of today was present on the ark. One “kind” of dog, monkey, cow, etc. had to be present on the ark—not every single variation on these animals that we often see in the zoos or in our homes. A male and female from each kind provided all of the genetic potential to yield the variety of animals we observe in our world today, rendering the number of animals present on the ark more manageable.

According to the Bible, the ark had three decks (floors). It is not difficult to show that there was plenty of room for 16,000 animals, assuming they required approximately the same floor space as animals in typical farm enclosures and laboratories today. The vast majority of the creatures (birds, reptiles, and mammals) are small. The largest animals were probably only a few hundred pounds of body weight. It is still necessary to take account of the floor spaces required by large animals, such as elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and some dinosaurs. But even these, collectively, do not require a large area. God would likely have sent to Noah young (and therefore small, but not newborn) representatives of these kinds so that they would have a full reproductive potential for life after the Flood to repopulate the earth. Even the largest dinosaurs were relatively small when only a few years old (Answers in Genesis).

Noah’s family and all of these creatures would also have to bring plenty of supplies to keep them all alive –“as for you, take for yourself some of all food which is edible and gather it to yourself; and it shall be for food for you and for them” (6:21). While the logistics are largely unknown, enough food and water made it onto to ark for the journey ahead of them.

Nothing like this had ever happened before. You are destroying the earth? What is a flood? What is an ark? How big? Fill it with what? These are questions I imagine Noah entertained in his mind. 

However, after being given the biggest mission imaginable and in spite of his ignorance concerning a lot of the particulars “Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did” (6:22). With lightning reflexes, Noah set out to do what God had instructed him. It didn’t matter how outrageous it was or how unprecedented it seemed; Noah was obedient. Thanks goodness he was obedient for, the fate of humanity depended on it.

So What?

Many might say that we are living in the days of Noah all over again. Pervasive wickedness, corruption, and immorality stain our world in much the same way that it did all those years ago. However, God’s method of dealing with it has changed. We are his chosen ones—the men and women of our generation—who have been called out for incredible purposes. We are the ones who have been asked to confront the mess around us and demonstrate our obedience to the Lord in the mission to which He has called us (that is to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ to others). More than gold, freeze dryers, bottled water and emergency foods, the people of this world need what we have to give—the message of salvation!

Many, to be sure, are not busying themselves with this mission and instead are falling in line with everyone around them. Perhaps this is because they question God’s choice—surely I can’t be used of God in any meaningful way! He used Noah—an ordinary man made righteous by God’s grace just like you! He used Moses’ mother—a Hebrew slave in Egypt! Others are anxious in the face of the adversity around them saying—the mess is too big for me to make any real difference anyway! God used one family in the Old Testament was used to save an entire race and animal kingdom; He used one woman and a crudely made basket to save God’s people from oppression; surely He can use you in amazing ways as well!  Still others might find the mission too difficult to accomplish saying, I’m not sure how/what to do? God provided all of the know-how and supplies necessary for Noah to build the most impressive engineering feat of his day in spite of his lack of building/engineering expertise, surely he will provide in your lack as well.

Be encouraged church! The hero of this story is not Noah and the hero of your story will not be you. It is God—Holy, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, etc. When He calls us to a work, He is not trusting in our strength or ability. He is simply asking us to obey. Will you? Your world and the people in it, whether they realize it or not, need what you have to give—the message of salvation from the very real judgment that is coming.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Low Pressure System-Genesis 6:1-8

This past week I met a woman whose daughter is a missionary in Haiti. While doing missions in Haiti is always difficult, things were made even more precarious this past week as hurricane Matthew blew over this island nation leading to all kinds of devastation. Storms like these and other smaller depressions form in what are called low pressure systems. When we watch the weather report, the meteorologist often shows where high pressure zones and low pressure zones are lurking in order to help explain how they predict where any thunderstorms may form. High pressure systems produce clear skies, low pressure systems produce clouds and potential rain. This is because of the rotation that happens as a result of a two areas of wind divergence: one cold, and one hot. The circular motion this creates draws moisture into the system, making it ripe for precipitation and even, depending on how large the system is, the potential for huge storms.
Image result for Low Pressure System
As we re-enter the Genesis narrative, we see a huge low pressure system looming in the forecast that forms as a result of two areas of wind divergence present in the world. Ultimately, the elements involved in this system in both a literal and figurative way inevitably lead to a huge storm of God’s wrath that will help us appreciate God’s holiness and His amazing grace. Let us take a look at how this low pressure system forms in Genesis 6:1-8.

1. First Area of Wind Divergence-The Greatness of Human Potential-6:1-4

The first area of win divergence might be compared to the warm weather current necessary to create a low-pressure system. For our passage, these are the positive and/powerful characteristics found within mankind, giving them unprecedented potential.

The first indicator of mankind’s great potential is witnessed in its ability and tendency toward reproduction. at this point in history, mankind was doing his part in dominating the world with progeny (making good on the command given them by God in Genesis 1 to “be fruitful and multiply”). This tendency toward progeny is illustrated in chapter 5 with the genealogy of Adam. As a kind of summary note, 6:1 indicates that mankind’s presence in the world was widespread and growing-- Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them That the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful,….” (6:1-2a).

In concert with and ever prior to procreation, these “sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose” (6:2b). Though this might appear relatively easy to interpret, what follows next casts some shade on the characters implicated in this verse, leaving readers with many questions. First “who are the sons of God?” Three options have engendered a large following: (1) “Sons of God” are angelic or celestial beings who defied God by moving outside their appointed realm and married human women. However, there is no identification of an angelic host, at least in the sense of a heavenly court, in Genesis up to this point. Moreover, chapter 6 deals with humanity and its outcome, not angels and their punishment. The flood that ensues is God’s judgment on mankind, not his angelic host. (2) Alternatively, Jewish interprets have understood the “sons of God” as human judges or rulers. However, though individual kings were referred to as “sons of God,” no evidence can be marshaled for groups of kings in the ancient Near East bearing the name, “sons of gods.” (3) Church Fathers, such as Augustine, as well as the Reformers interpreted the “sons of God” as a reference to “godly men,” that is, the righteous lineage of Seth (Abel and Cain’s other brother). Chapters 4 and 5 contrast the two lines of descent from Adam—the Cainites and Sethites. Genesis 6:1-8 relates how the two lines intermarry, resulting in a community of unprecedented wickedness. This is the most attractive answer to the question: “who are the sons of God” (discussion provided by Matthews, 322-330).

Along with multiplication and marriage, God sees to it that mankind understands that his time on earth is limited—“then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years’” (6:3). The limitation set for mankind’s lifespan comes as a direct result of the Lord’s spirit being withheld, leaving human bodies to regress and age.

To be sure, many, including Noah himself, lived well beyond 120 years. However, in the same way that the penalty of death for Adam and Eve was not immediately executed (2:17; 3:16-19), so too did God’s grace linger for many after the flood to give them long life. Interestingly, Moses, who lived 120 years (Deut. 31:2; 34:7), may have become hailed as the ideal achievement—living as long as God suggest men ought to live. Later, in Psalm 90:10, seventy years was recognized as the realistic norm.

Though this is a direct result of the curse brought on by Adam and Eve’s sin (death), it is also a blessing to know that one’s days are numbered, for, it ought to motivate stewardship and urgency with one’s time.

The fourth element contributing to the first area of wind divergence is the power that characterized mankind’s environment and own constitution. First, the Bible says in verse 4, “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days,…”. The identity of the “Nephilim” and their relationship, if any, to the marriages of verse 2 is perplexing. This word occurs only one other time in all of the Scriptures (Num. 13:33) where it refers to an indigenous people inhabiting Canaan. For this context however, the question becomes, “Are these the offspring of the marriages in verse 2 or merely other contemporaries dwelling on the earth?” The word itself simply refers to a group or a class. Some play on the etymology of this word and associate Nephilim with Napal which means “to fall,” believing that this simply refers to “fallen ones.” Others understand this word to refer to giants, highlighting its use in Numbers 13 in which the spies were frightened by the presence of the Nephilim when they infiltrated the land of Canaan.  Still others believe that the Nephilim are products of the marital unions between the sons of God and women of verse 2. However, “in those days” suggests that these were present alongside the marriages already described.

While the jury is still out on who exactly the Nephilim are, it appears to be associated with a reputation of might (potentially for good or evil). This interpretation is supported by the children described in the next part of verse 4—“and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown” (6:4b).  These are a warrior class, men of ignoble reputation whose violent exploits are remembered and whose names strike fear in the hearts of their hearers. They are identified as “men of renown,” not divine.  This means that despite their notorious achievements they are no more than “men,” subject to the same judgment as any (Matthews, 338-39). 

Ultimately, it appears as though, whether in the Nephilim or the progeny of the sons of God, mankind’s presence in the world and the presence of others (the Nephilim) rendered planet earth an awesome place. It was teaming with potential as these powerful elements worked alongside the miracle of procreation, wonder of marriage, and urgency of limited time. It would seem as though mankind had all that it needed to leave an indelible mark for good or for bad on the earth. Unfortunately, as the second area of wind divergence reveals, these chose the latter.

2. The Second Area of Wind Divergence-The Acuity of Human Failure-6:5-8

6:5 reveals how bad things have become on the earth in spite of the potential portrayed in verses 1-4—“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth…”. The totality and pervasive quality of the evil is highlighted by the phrase “on the earth” (a phrase repeated several times in this passage). While the men saw beauty among the women and chose them for their wives, God saw wickedness resulting from these same men on a wide scale. Earlier in Genesis, God saw everything and “it was good.” Now as He looked upon the earth’s landscape, and it conveyed the opposite. Though God’s grace had allowed men to multiply, along with the multiplication of men and women came a harvest of sin. These outer manifestations of wickedness betrayed the dark condition of the human heart during this period.  

The Bible continues and says, “Every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5b). Early, the writer calls men born from these marriages “men of renown,” however, God sees a totally different picture. From the hearts of these men sprung evil tendencies. From his mind evil plans were executed. All of this occurred on a consistent basis. The good that God created in the beginning had been transformed by mankind into the very opposite of what was intended.

Pervasive wickedness acts as the second area of wind divergence—the cold air system that approaches from the opposite direction of the warm area system. When these two meet, low pressure is produced, making it easier for the production of storms. Here in Genesis—the warmth of mankind’s potential and the cold reality of mankind’s unyielding endorsement of sin, forms the conditions necessary to produce a storm of epic proportions.

Reacting to this low-pressure system, the writer of Genesis has to anthropomorphize God’s discontent in order to demonstrate its acuity—“The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (6:6). Though the theological implications of verses like this are subjects of debate (How could God possibly be sorry for something He did? Etc.), the major point of this passage is simple—God was ablaze with great wrath, anger, disappointment, and sorrow. Though some might argue that an unchanging God is unable to feel these kinds of emotions, this is certainly not the case. If we concede that God is all-loving and holy, it is a forever quality of His that every time evil is confronted or betrayal is witnessed, He responds with grief and sorrow respectively.

Look how far man had fallen in such a short time. Adam and Eve ate fruit against God’s command (in an attempt to be God), Cain killed his brother (after burning with hatred), and now, even at this early time in history “every intent of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually.” Just imagine how disappointed you would be if you gave your greatest creation every opportunity for success and every vehicle to reach full potential just to see this squandered in wickedness.

Perhaps this helps us understand why God decides to judge the world in the way that He does—“The Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them’…” (6:7). Rather than return glory back to his creator, Mankind and his sin had left the world horribly stained, thereby ruining the paradise God had created. The multiplication of mankind only multiplied his wretchedness. Rendering the conditions especially ripe for a wrathful storm.

Notice too that mankind’s sin suffered global implications. Just as Adam’s sin cursed the ground, animal life suffers as a result of human iniquity---“”from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky,…”(6:7). This demonstrates that sin affects not only one’s person, but one’s world. The consequences of sin are always more egregious than meets the eye.

The stain of sin in the world was so bad that God throws the whole thing in the wash (The Tide To-go pin would not suffice). The low pressure system is already in place, next would come the greatest storm to ever hit the earth—a storm so great that it cannot be categorized or measured against any hurricane or tornado—a storm that would effectively destroy the entire planet and all its inhabitants, including the animals. Truly, the coming catastrophe used to “blot out” humans and animals in Genesis does not even compare to what is depicted in the book of Revelation in scale or scope. However, can we blame a holy God for doing this? If every inclination of every man was always wicked all the time and mankind stood over all of God’s created things (see Genesis 1), does it not stand to reason that God is totally justified in punishing the world with certain death? Absolutely!

But wait! What is this? A glimpse of…wait for it….grace? Though all were guilty and deserving of a watery demise the Bible continues by saying “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (6:8). Talk about big ”buts” in the Bible! In spite of all the wickedness, in spite of all the heartache, and in spite of His holiness and justified wrath, God shows grace to a man named Noah and, as we will soon learn, will use him mightily to save the human race from deserved extinction.

So What?

The low pressure system witnessed in this passage is not unlike what we are currently witnessing in our culture today. Mankind is teaming with potential, especially in America, as great wealth and institutions continue to gain influence. Human beings, unlike any other time in history have capabilities and capacities never before dreamed of. For instance, there is more technology in a smart phone than in the Saturn five rocket. Telecommunications and digital information is growing at an exponential rate. Our connectedness to this information and to each other is lightning fast. Whether in the field of philosophy, finance, art, or anthropology, human beings have all kinds of tools at their disposal to do good and, by proxy glorify God. However, the warm wind divergence this potential has created perpetually mixes with the cold winds of depravity. The greatness of human potential is all too often used for selfish, greedy, and nefarious purposes. As a result, people are more oppressed, more depressed, and more confused than they have ever been before. Just ask yourself the following question: “What has all of this advancement and acumen in the human race provided?” the answer is a generation in which humor has been exchanged for political correctness, truth has been relativized into oblivion, God has been erased from the social commentary, and people do not even know if they are male or female.

Given what we have learned from this passage, two things are certain. God is not pleased with a wicked world and will judge it accordingly. His holiness demands it. However, it is also clear from this passage that God’s grace allows for salvation in spite of great sin. These principles ought to inspire reverence for God’s holiness and praise for God’s love. Take heart church, God will deal soundly with this wicked world. He has done it before and the Bible promises that, albeit in different ways, He will do it again. Though this forecast may seem grim, we also have reason to celebrate. God has saved us from the storm in spite of ourselves! We have found favor in God’s eyes and will be given all that we need to weather the storm that the elements have created.