Humanity Survives the Flood and Carries On
Genesis 7-10:5; I Chronicles 1:5-7; Genesis 10:6-20; I Chronicles 1:8-16; Genesis 10:21-30; I Chronicles 1:17-23; Genesis 10:31-32
Simplified Reading: Genesis 7-10; I Chronicles 1:5-23
*Well, we left Noah beginning work on the Ark that he will use to save himself, his family and a literal boatload of animals. In Chapter 7, God begins qualifying his instructions, telling Noah to take seven of some animals, two of others, seven of birds and etc. I’ve had bosses like this. You no sooner get started than they start changing things all around. I mean, dude, you just said two birds and now you say seven and I just want to know, what’s it going to be tomorrow? FIVE?!
*Oh, that’s right, you’re about to kill everyone on the planet but me. Heh heh, never mind, just . . . however many birds you want, you got, dude. You sure you don’t want like twelve? Those toucans are right pretty. Good job on those. Did I ever tell you that? Good job. But I mean, it’d be a shame to get off the ark with seven toucans and be like wishing you’d had me take ten, you know? So, I . . . seven? Seven toucans. Right you are, sir.
*Does God have a sense of humor? Obviously. He puts up with me. And I kid Him about as often as I kid anybody else. Is such mockery sacrilegious? Come on. Don’t you kid the people you love more than the people you don’t care about? I believe in God and I believe He is absolutely greater than I am. But, man, if you don’t joke about some things, you’d go crazy: death, sex, God. I mean, you have to joke; your mind can’t take it all in otherwise.
*I doubt God gets offended about His depiction in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in other words. I mean, some of those Psalms, as we’ll see, are pretty grim. I think He gets offended when some people talk about Him seriously; you know, when the Catholic Church argues that it’s God’s will to cover up institutionalized child molestation or the Westboro Baptist Church decides to say that God killed soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq because He’s pissed about gay civil unions. But I doubt He cares if we joke. We got our sense of humor somewhere; doubtless He has one too.
*So, it takes Noah a hundred years to build the Ark. We’re told in the New Testament that he also spent this hundred years preaching to his neighbors, trying to get them to repent and join him on the Ark. Noah is six hundred years old and, alone with his wife, sons and sons’ wives, he boards the S.S. Minnow (Original Version) and God shuts the door behind them. The Ark sits for seven days with Noah’s family and all the animals aboard. Then the rain begins.
*Those were probably the longest seven days of Noah’s life. I bet his sons were busting his chops like crazy. “So, dad, look like rain today? *snicker*” You know how kids can be. Those two hundred teens, it’s like they know everything.
*So, it rains for forty days and forty nights. This phrasing is also pretty important. You know, it’s come down through literature and poetry and Josh Hartnett sex comedies. God’s probably pleased about that last one.
*The chapter ends with utter bleakness: “All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died. And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowls of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days.”
*Man, can you imagine the stench on that boat? Two of every animal known to man all seasick at one time?
*Okay, I guess it falls to me to now discuss (and I’m not even going to say briefly) the prevalence of flood mythologies all over the world. This story of the entire world being flooded, or at least of their being a huge flood, recurs over and over again in cultures that have often not communicated with the outside world.
*The most famous example of this is, of course, in The Epic of Gilgamesh, which is, as far as we know, the oldest written narrative in human history, in which one of the characters tells Gilgamesh about the huge flood that he survived by building a huge boat. In this instance, it is indeed the entire world that is flooded. However, rather than the flood being justified because mankind is wicked, it is in this case justified because mankind is too loud! The Gods literally say that they can’t concentrate because of all the noise mankind is making. This gives a new meaning to the term “The Man Upstairs,” doesn’t it?
*So, Chapter 8 begins with the waning of the Flood. God stops the rain, stops up the fountains of the deep and sends a wind upon the earth. The waters “returned from off the earth continually: and after the end of the hundred and fifty days the waters were abated.”
*The ark, as you may know, comes to rest on Mount Ararat, which is in modern Turkey. There’s some great stories over the years of people launching expeditions to search for the Ark or, in some instances, have claimed to have found it or to have found “remains” of Noah’s Ark, by which the explorers generally mean that they found some wood, which is hardly conclusive. Of course, not a single one of these stories has been seriously authenticated. The debate over the great flood remains a debate, as it most certainly always will. There’s even an Indiana Jones novel about a search for the Ark. As with most of the Indiana Jones novels, it’s not particularly good; suffice it to say that, at the end of the book, Indy has a vision/travels through time and actually talks to Noah, who he mistakenly think is Merlin the Wizard (I mean, Jesus, Indy, you’re in the ******* Ark; why the hell would it be Merlin?). Then the Ark slides down the mountain like a giant sled during an avalanche. Like I said, not too hot.
*So, the story of how Noah discovers that the waters have significantly abated is kind of interesting. Noah sends out a dove from the Ark, but the dove, in a turn of phrase that I find strangely beautiful, “found no rest for the sole of her foot,” and so she flies back to the Ark. A few days later, he releases her again and she returns again, but this time, she has an “olive leaf” in her mouth. Noah therefore knows that the waters have definitely begun to recede. Seven days later, he sends her out again and this time she “returned not unto him any more.” I just love that story. It’s just kind of poetic somehow, this idea of the dove flying away and just not coming back.
*The Bible tells us here that it is the six hundred & first year of the earth’s existence that Noah and his family comes out of the Ark. I didn’t remember that the Scripture gave the exact date like that. *So, Noah comes out of the Ark, builds an altar and offers some animals and birds as a burnt offering to the Lord. Given how the animal population of the earth has been incredibly depleted, you’d think God would let him pass on the burnt offering thing, but apparently not.
*The Lord closes Chapter Eight by saying “in his heart” that He will never again visit such a huge judgment on the earth. I particularly like the final verse of the chapter: “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”
*Of course, this is probably one of those verses that the global warming doubters use to back up their theory that global warming can’t be real because God wouldn’t allow it. I should state that not every Christian doubts global warming; I certainly don’t.
*So, at the beginning of Chapter Nine, God lays down a brief selection of laws. Other than the previous command not to eat of the Tree of Life, this is the first time that God explicitly states rules of conduct. This is the first time we see God attempting to really collate a series of rules as a sort of book of law. As we proceed, especially through these first five books of the Old Testament, the Law will become something of a character unto itself. Well, not really something; it just is a character, something that the New Testament writings of Paul and Peter will particularly underline. So, it’s interesting to see the very beginnings of the law in the Old Testament.
*The dietary rules particularly come in for ridicule by modern critics of the Bible. I’ll save a lengthy discussion of all that for when we get to the more in-depth dietary restrictions. But there is a brief dietary restriction here: “Flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.” I take that to mean that your steak should be well done. Maybe not that extreme; maybe just not raw. Medium rare is surely no sin, am I right?
*Basically, the only other rule is about killing. It’s not even really a rule; it’s just God alerting us to the law of reciprocity: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” *In some sense, this seems like the establishment of the death penalty, at least for murder. (As we’ll see later, the death penalty ends up being expanded to a LOT of other offenses). In another way, it could be seen as a statement about the circular nature of violence. If you’re the kind of person who kills another person, it’s most likely that you’re the kind of person who is going to end up killed by another person. This is kind of the way that I take the famous statement that Jesus makes later: “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword.” Jesus isn’t exactly saying, “If you kill a bunch of people, God is going to kill you.” He’s just pointing out that if you’re a violent person, then that’s probably how you’re going to die. If you live a violent life, you’ll probably die a violent death.
*He also tells Noah and his family to be fruitful and multiply. That hardly qualifies as a law though, I don’t think. I mean, we hardly need to be ordered to have sex, right?
*Oh, shoot, do I need to get into birth control and the moral issues surrounding it? I guess I do. So, yes, as stated here, the purpose of sex is to reproduce. This is, I think, in many ways the basis for the objection to birth control from, most obviously, the Catholic Church. I, however, as I think many Christians, and even many Catholics do, find this to be a misunderstanding on the part of those who say that birth control is a mortal sin.
*Now, it should be said that the Catholic Church’s position on this is not entirely consistent, even with itself. I mean, a Catholic bishop stated last year that the rhythm method of birth control is actually a God given method of birth control and that using it is fine. Now if the purpose of sex is to reproduce, there shouldn’t be any difference at all, no matter what method of birth control you’re using. He literally said that the difference between using the rhythm method of birth control and using a medical method of birth control is of “vast moral import.” I mean, not to offend any Catholics here, but to me this just signals how utterly out of touch with reality the Catholic Church has become. I mean, they’ve become totally lost in the doctrinal weeds, as it were, and they’re not making anything even approximating good sense anymore, particularly when it comes to matters of human sexuality. Leave that where it is. It’s an opinion I happen to hold.
*So, back to the central issue. If God lays down here that the purpose of sex is reproduction, what about birth control? Is it, in fact, subverting God’s will for sex? I think not and here’s my case for that.
*First of all, let’s remember that there are exactly eight human beings on the planet at the moment when God gives this command. As the Scriptures say, the earth needs to be “replenished.” So, yes, of course, the emphasis on sex now is going to be on building up a new population on the earth. Currently, in the modern era, when the earth’s population is ballooning at a rate that is frankly quite alarming, to a degree in fact that things that we have always taken for granted, like food and water, are in danger, in the next few decades certainly, of becoming incredibly scarce, I think that it would not be God’s will that we continue to “replenish” the earth via expanding the human population. In order to “replenish” the earth at this point, it probably requires that we start taking measures, involving birth control, to begin to curtail the earth’s ever skyrocketing population. It isn’t the human population that needs to be replenished at the moment; it’s the natural world itself: plants, food, water, natural elements, etc.
*Secondly, there are lengthy passages later in Scripture (and this is something that may surprise you, given the fact that Christians rarely, if ever, focus on these passages) entirely dedicated to using sex for pleasure and as a way to create intimacy between lovers. These passages, of course, fall within a moral framework of not being incredibly promiscuous, but they are, in some cases, fairly explicit, in a poetic fashion, about the fact that sex is supposed to function as an instrument for pleasure and intimacy. So, that’s a legitimate, Scripturally sound purpose of sex: pleasure & intimacy. Yes, that’s in the Bible. Go figure.
*There are those who argue that some of these passages, like the most famous one, Song of Solomon, are in fact intended as metaphors to explore the love of God and the relationship between God and those who serve Him.
*Now, this isn’t entirely off the beam; in the New Testament, this metaphor is used, ie: the Church as the Bride of Christ.
*But the reason I think it doesn’t really apply here is simple. Song of Solomon is simply too sexual to be applied in this way. When the metaphor is used in the New Testament, it’s in a non-sexual way, couched in very romantic terms of love and compatibility. Song of Solomon, on the other hand, as well as some passages in Proverbs, are very definitely sexual. And I don’t think that we’re supposed to be using it as a metaphor for that reason; you know, the image of God groping my breasts is not one that I find particularly inspiring.
*Yes, the Bible does indeed advocate groping breasts. The Bible. In the Bible. Groping breasts. Can I get a **** yeah from the congregation?
*Okay, so now that we’ve just totally derailed, let’s get back to the actual reading for today.
*So, next up God makes his promise to Noah, his family and, interestingly enough, also to all the animals (that are presumably still standing around or something) that He will never again destroy the earth with a flood. As part of this promise, God places the rainbow in the clouds; now, whenever the storm clouds pass over, God will be reminded, and so will humanity, that this storm will end without the destruction of the entire world via flood waters.
*So, anyway, I have to bring in a song that I really, really love right now, which is an old early twentieth century spiritual called “God Gave Noah the Rainbow Sign.” I suppose the most famous version would probably be the one by Flatt & Scruggs, that you can find on an album called Foggy Mountain Gospel, but it’s a classic piece of early twentieth century gospel repertoire.
*Anyway, there’s this amazing verse that just gives me a little chill every time I hear it. It has the plain simplicity and yet the evocative power of some of those early spirituals. It goes like this: “God gave Noah the rainbow sign/Be no water, but the fire next time.” This obviously references the fact that, as we press on through the Bible, we see that God will eventually destroy this world, only, as the song says, with fire, instead of with water.
*James Baldwin took the phrasing from this song, which he grew up singing, of course, for the title of his seminal and historically significant book of essays, The Fire Next Time. Anyway, there’s just something about that phrasing that I just love.
*Okay, let’s move on to the final recorded incident of Noah’s life and then say farewell to the iconic character. This last story about him never gets covered in Sunday School and you’ll soon see why.
*So, after the Flood, Noah becomes a gardener. He plants a vineyard, makes a little wine, does a little dance, gets down tonight. In short, yes, Noah becomes blind, stinking drunk. And then takes off all his clothes. Yes, really.
*Some Bible scholars, in an effort to keep Noah as a sort of iconic hero, point out that this is the first time in the Bible that someone gets drunk and that they therefore believe that Noah didn’t know about the power of fermented grapes to make people take off all their clothes. In short, they say this is the invention of intoxicating beverages.
*I dunno. The text doesn’t say that or anything like it. I mean, you’re reading in if you say that’s what happened. But, if you need to think that in order to make Noah less of a flawed character, go ahead. But part of what I love about the Bible is exactly the fact that so many of its characters are deeply flawed individuals. The Bible isn’t into hagiography; it presents its characters, in contrast to a lot of early religious texts, as real people, complete with, sometimes quite crippling and horrible, flaws and weaknesses. This is one of the reasons the stories are so compelling to me. The Bible is based on the principle that humanity is weak and prone to failure and that God loves us, uses us and speaks to us in spite of those weaknesses and failures. I mean, that’s quite profound and beautiful, really, much more beautiful than if the message was that God will love us and use us once we overcome all our weaknesses. So, it doesn’t particularly matter to me. I mean, maybe old Noah liked the wine a little too much; well, we all have a weakness or two, don’t we? Maybe that’s the point of the story.
*So, anyway, Ham discovers his father passed out naked. He goes and tells Shem and Japheth, thinking the whole thing is rather funny. Shem and Japheth take a blanket and, in order to show respect to their father, not only do they go and cover him up, they actually back into the tent so that even they themselves won’t see their father in such a shameful state.
*When Noah comes out of his drunken stupor, he finds out what happened. He therefore gives a blessing to Shem and Japheth that they’ll be prosperous and successful. He curses Ham and says that henceforth his name shall be used to refer to a food item.
*Well, no, actually, what he says is that Ham’s descendants will be “a servant of servants . . . unto his brethren.”
*What you’re probably wondering now is, “Gee, this sounds like another one of those Scriptures that nuts could use to try to justify slavery!” And you’re right!
*The previous justification for slavery being God’s will because of the curse on Cain needing a little back-up, proponents of slavery also used this scripture, saying that God had cursed Ham’s descendants with being servants to everyone else. Ergo, black people are probably Ham’s descendants (you know, because they just probably are) and so we are fulfilling God’s will by enslaving them.
*Something else interesting about this passage is that some Bible scholars feel that this is kind of extreme curse for Noah to lay on Ham and his descendants just because Ham thought it was funny that Noah got drunk and naked. These Bible scholars have pointed to verse 24, which says, “And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.” They say that this actually implies that Ham had committed some kind of sexual act on the drunken Noah.
*In case it’s not totally clear at this point, the term “Bible scholar” often basically means people that read the Bible and then make stuff up about it.
*Okay, anyway, Chapter Nine ends and we bid farewell to our latest main character. Noah lives three hundred and fifty years after the Flood and dies at the ripe old age of nine hundred & fifty.
*Of course, it was several chapters ago that God said he was going to make it so men only lived to be a hundred and twenty. I guess maybe Noah got grandfathered in or something.
*Chapter Ten won’t take long. It’s entirely taken up with the genealogies of Shem, Ham & Japheth, telling about their descendants.
*A couple of small details. One of Ham’s sons was named Cush and one of Cush’s sons was named Nimrod. I’m not at all sure why the term “nimrod” became an insult as everything the Bible has to say about this original Nimrod is positive: “He began to be a mighty one . . . he was a mighty hunter before the Lord.”
*It is also said that Nimrod ruled several areas of the land. One of these areas is Babel, which we’ll be hearing about again soon. Another is Erech, which many Bible scholars connect to ancient Uruk, which is an ancient city ruled by Gilgamesh in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Iraq, by the way, as a name is a derivative of Uruk and Uruk actually still exists in Iraq. I’m not sure how much of it still exists, but there is at least one massive building that still stands there.
*So, this guy named Asshur goes and founds Nineveh. This is a pretty important city in the Old Testament. I forgot it was founded this early though.
*So, a couple of interesting things in the genealogy cover Shem’s children.
*First one is that one of his grandchildren is named Eber. Why is this important? Well, because etymologically, it is from the name Eber that the designation Hebrew comes. Yup, interesting. I hope.
*Second, one of Eber’s son is named Peleg. Which I hate to get juvenile, but that’s a funny name. Peleg. Do you GET IT?
*But that’s not actually why I mention him. Because frankly if I bring up everyone with a hilarious name, I’d never get anything else done. Example: “Arphaxad.” Also: “Jobab.” It seems that Peleg means “divided” and the Bible says that he was named this because “in his days was the earth divided.” Now, we all know that science tells us that all the continents were originally just one continent that drifted apart. Pangea, I think, it’s called. Now, of course, science has estimated the time that this happened to be an extremely long time ago, much longer ago than the history of the Bible really claims to cover. But some Bible scholars have linked the two, saying that the Bible in fact covers history that goes much farther back in the history of the earth than most people think.
*So, let’s hop back to I Chronicles and continue marching through Chapter One. We’ll move through the next eighteen verses there.
*So, this is basically a repetition of the genealogies of Shem, Ham & Japheth, of course. Last time, I checked the two genealogies against each other. Remember?
*Well, if you think I’m doing that every time, you need to have your head examined. There are TEN chapters of genealogies in I Chronicles. Ten LONG chapters.
*One difference is that Nimrod gets much less of a history in the I Chronicles version.
*Also, Casluhim gets called out as the father of the race of the Philistines. Of course, they’ll be very important as we move forward. And their name has come down to the present day as a synonym for an uncultured & uneducated person.
*Okay, so there’s essentially nothing else of any interest here.
*There’s really only one choice for the Further Exploration pick for this post. We talked about the story of Noah and the Flood. I really have to recommend one of the worst movies I have ever seen, the television movie Noah’s Ark, starring Jon Voight as the great patriarch and F. Murray Abraham as an anachronistic Lot.
*It is one of those movies that is so awful that it flips all the way around the bell curve to become an essential watch. I really can’t even begin to get into it. Suffice it to say that Carol Kane (!) plays Lot’s wife and James Coburn shows up on a paddleboat after the Flood begins and sells Noah two tiny hats for the two penguins on the Ark. I’m dead serious; that really frigging happens. And I won’t even spoil the hilariously awful scene where Noah and his wife try to come up with ten righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah. Suffice it to say that you just need to watch this movie.
*So, this continues to be a ton of fun for me. I hope you guys are getting something out of it too.
*Join me next time as we continue through the next four chapters of Genesis and we’ll continue through the first chapter of I Chronicles as well! Next time, the invention of different languages and, now that we’ve lost Noah, we need a new main character. We’ll get him, next time, in a man by the name of Abram!