Sunday, March 3, 2013

Genesis 8:1-11:32


For me the first question that arises from this passage is whether God forgot the inhabitants of the ark. After all, Genesis 8:1 says that God remembered them.

A friend once told me that she had always been troubled by the story of Noah's ark until a friend of hers said, "It's just a story!"

"Do you believe it's just a story, Brant?" she asked me.

The answer, as is usually the case with me, was a little complicated. I don't think that the story of  Noah's ark is a factual record of historical events. There is no geological evidence of a worldwide flood. Details in the story are far-fetched. The occasional claim that someone has found the ark always proves to be little more than wishful thinking. In short, it just didn't happen.

But that doesn't mean it's "just a story."

Once again what we are dealing with is narrative theology. Some of the theological assertions of the story include:

1. God is displeased with human wickedness and violence.

2. God acts to preserve creation.

3. Despite human sinfulness, God has hung up his bow.

Again, we are faced with an account that portrays God as changing, even repenting. This is not the picture of God that most of us hold.

Oh, and once again it seems that God is a carnivore. Or at least, God enjoys the smell of a good barbecue.

Genesis 9 begins with another assertion of human dominion over all other creatures. We are, after all, at the top of the food chain. How to ethically exercise that dominion is a question of constant, and growing, importance.

The statement that "those who spill human blood shall have their blood spilled by humans" seems to give divine warrant to the practice of capital punishment. Is it significant that humans--not God--are given responsibility for punishing those who spill blood?

Chapter 9 also marks the first covenant that God makes with humans. Never again will God destroy the earth, at least not by a flood. An old Gospel song notes the loophole:

God gave Noah the rainbow sign.
Won't be a flood, be a fire next time.

Having learned the story of Noah's ark as a child, I always took a certain comfort in seeing a rainbow. I took it as a reminder that God is kindly disposed to his human creation. Reading the text closely reveals that the sign is not for us. It is there to remind God of the covenant.

Again I wonder, is God forgetful?

Chapter 9 ends with a strange episode. Noah gets drunk and passes out in his tent. His son Ham sees him naked. (There is a strong aversion to nakedness in the Hebrew scriptures). For this Ham receives a curse.

Noah's three sons are portrayed as the ancestors of nations. Shem is the father of the Semites, including the Hebrew people. Ham is the ancestor of some of Israel's enemy nations, including, and especially, the Canaanites. Japheth's offspring become the people of the coastlands.

Chapter 10 details this genealogical information. It's childish, I know, but the name Nimrod  (v. 8 ff.) makes me giggle.

In chapter 11 we find the well-known story of the Tower of Babel. There is sarcastic humor in this passage. First the people say, "Come, let us make bricks...." Then, using the same formula, they say, "Come, let us build a city and a tower...." In response God mockingly says "Come, let us go down and confuse their language...."

This story provides a mythic explanation for the diversity of human languages. It also serves as a warning, as did the Adam and Eve episode, against the hubristic human desire to take the place of God. Then again, we might ask whether God is jealous of, or threatened by, human achievement

This view of God as changeable, growing, capricious, and possibly forgetful is only one of the Bible's views of God. I don't think it is the picture of God that most of us carry in our heads. It might be troubling for some of us. Others might find it comforting.

If God can change his* mind, then we can relate to God in direct and personal ways, perhaps even swaying God's opinions and actions. In just a few chapters we will read about Abraham arguing with God over the fate of Sodom. Abraham may not quite win that argument, but God is, in some measure, persuaded by Abraham.

Speaking of Abraham, the passage at hand ends with another genealogy. This one's formulaic recital traces a line from Noah's son Shem (ancestor of the Semites) to Abram (whose name will be changed to Abraham). Abram is the major player in the next section of Genesis. We are also introduced to his wife Sarai (who will become Sarah) and to the problem of her infertility.

I hate the word barren.

For Day 4, we read Genesis 12-15.

*God is neither male nor female. I use the masculine pronoun to refer to God because that is the biblical convention. I suspect that most of the biblical writers actually pictured God as male.

No comments:

Post a Comment