We’ve been organizing our Old Testament closets in this Epic of Eden study with the five people we’ve memorized (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David). If we add Jesus, we have six “shelves” in our once-messy closet. Last week we talked about Eden and the New Jerusalem as bookends of redemptive history – look at this as our “clothes rod” on which we’ll hang facts, places, people, and stories as we learn them (with Eden on one end and the New Jerusalem on the opposite end).
Before we dive into Noah and Moses, let’s remember where we are in our story. God (aka: Yahweh) creates earth and humanity, humanity rejects God’s authority, the relationship between God and humanity is broken, the inheritance is lost, and all of creation is thrown into chaos.
Today, we take the first step in the rescue plan God puts forth so that the relationship between God and His creation, namely humanity, can be restored. “By means of Noah’s covenant, God redefines His relationship with humanity for the first time since Eden” (137).
Stage One – Noah
What do you know about Noah? An ark. Animals coming in “two by two.” Lots of rain and a flood. And a rainbow. Yup, that about covers it. Today, we’ll get into more details of this story and come away with a much deeper understanding of the man, the event, and the God who was at the center of it all.
All of Noah’s story happens in the real space of Mesopotamia (one of our three biblical places!) – specifically in the flood plains between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. There’s no way to actually date when Noah lived or the flood happened, but we know it is the dawn of human civilization.
Matthew 24:37-39 is the one passage that helps us “date” the Noah story.
37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
In this passage, Jesus compares Noah’s story to His Second Coming because both events are “epoch dividers.” Just as life was radically different after the flood, life after Jesus’ Second Coming will be radically different than before it.
You may be asking yourself, “What is an epoch divider?” In my best Dr. Richter summarization, I understand an epoch divider to be an event in history that separates two eras. In the Epic of Eden book, we read that “the flood marked a definitive shift in world history in which one era (and race) was replaced by another” (143).
I bet you have an epoch divider or two in your life. Maybe a death or a marriage or a birth – something that caused a great change or shift in your life. For me one of the biggies was a move – new state, new friends, new church, new baby. Life for the Johnsons was different after the move. The move is a marker in my life. I pack most things into “before move” and “after move.” That gets us close to understanding what an epoch divider in history is. Let’s take a closer look at today’s epoch divider – the flood.
Dr. Richter summarizes what life on earth came to look like post-fall, that era she labels as the Adamic Age:
As Genesis 6 opens, the first epoch of human history (the Adamic Age) is drawing to a close. And as we would anticipate from what we know of the Fall, the human race has managed to completely corrupt itself and the earth: ‘Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually…Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:5, 11 and Epic of Eden 137).
If you’ve ever struggled to understand why God would wipe out all of humanity in this flood, these verses give us some clarity. And if we step back to remember God’s heart and what He desires most (relationship with humanity), then we get added understanding.
These verses stress that EVERY intent of every person’s heart was ONLY EVIL CONTINUALLY. Try to picture what that would look like.
For me, I’ve found myself saying of our day and age how evil the world is getting, how corrupt the world seems. Then I read this passage, and I realize we aren’t even close to what Noah’s age looked like. Noah was the ONLY man who wasn’t ONLY EVIL CONTINUALLY.
I cannot fathom.
If the world I lived in was ONLY EVIL CONTINUALLY, I wonder …would I just be part of it because that’s the way it is? Or if not, then I wonder how hard it would be to be the only nice, good, God-fearing person on the planet.
Nope. Can’t imagine it.
But that’s Noah — the one good guy. And the Adamic Age — only evil continually.
And this is why God approached Noah and asked him to build the ark, to start humanity all over again. It is a first step in the redemption (or rescue) plan!
“Noah’s role in this cosmic drama will be to rescue enough of the created order that a new start is possible and to reintroduce Adam to their Creator” (138).
If it bugs you that we can’t date Noah and this flood, you’re not alone. Maybe it would help to consider that between the fall of humanity and Noah, there was enough time for humanity to “multiply, civilize, develop, deteriorate and decay. This sort of expansion and corruption takes time” (138). We’re talking thousands of years.
Dr. Richter brings many facts, dates, and interesting archaeological/historical data to her chapter on Noah to help us recognize that Noah was alive in a place and time that were very real, and that the flood was a real event. Here are a few in succinct form:
- In the 1920s Sir Leonard Wooley excavated the city of Ur (Abraham’s hometown) and discovered a twelve-foot-thick layer of flood deposit dating to the middle of the fourth millennium BC. (140)
- The cities of Kish and Shuruppak also have large flood layers from the third millennium.
- Out of this Mesopotamia area, several accounts of a great flood that wipes a race of people exist, such as:
- The Gilgamesh Epic
- The story of Atrahasis
- The Sumerian Flood Story
- A fourth Mesopotamian text, the “Sumerian King List,” also speaks of a great flood.
- It stands out because it lists its kings as “before the flood swept over the earth” and after. In other words, a flood served as a huge epoch divider for the Sumerian kings (142).
- The Sumerian King List has another parallel with Genesis – the length of life spans of the people. Before the flood in the “Sumerian King List,” kings lived extraordinarily long – like tens of thousands of years. And after the flood they only ruled about 1000 years. Similarly, life spans in Genesis go from hundreds of years (like Methuselah’s 969 years) to closer to what we’re accustomed to, around 100 years…the significant change in life spans coming after the flood.
All these facts help us see that Noah’s flood story is not just myth. With multiple races in the same area documenting a life-changing flood in the region AND seeing that flood as an epoch divider, we can stand firmly on the fact that a flood really happened and it changed the world.
The flood itself was a “de-creation” event, “not merely a natural disaster intended to bring about God’s judgment on humanity. …What had been done at creation is undone with the flood. The world is brought back to its pre-creation state – ‘formless and void’” (144).
But God doesn’t end it there. He’d set aside what was good, saved it, and used it to start anew. The world has been “’washed’ clean of the effects of the sin of Adam’s generation” (148). God makes a fresh start with a “re-creational covenant with Noah” (144), as seen in Genesis 9:1-4:
“Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. 4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.”
These covenant words are similar to those we read in Genesis 1 between God and Adam. This re-creational covenant differs, however, to the original Eden covenant because God is starting over in a fallen world. Do you notice differences between life in Eden versus after the flood?
- In Eden, the gift was dominion; with Noah, the gift is fear.
- In Eden, the gift was abundant food (in the form of fruits and veggies); with Noah, the gift of food includes the flesh of other living things.
- Post “fall,” God had to legislate murder, something unfathomable in Eden.
Like Eden, the Noahic covenant is cosmic – a covenant with all of creation. Then God seals his promise and covenant by putting a “bow” in the sky. We’d call that a rainbow.
Interestingly, God spoke in terms Noah would have understood. Historically, when a king extended peace to his conquered enemy, we would extend his BOW as an outward sign of the covenant. God did similarly, extending His bow across the sky…as a reminder of His promise and also of the fact that He is suzerain and sovereign.
We end this section on Noah looking at the curse of Ham, who saw his father naked after they had gotten back to dry land. No one is certain what exactly Ham did, but it was wrong, and it brought about a curse. Ham’s child, Canaan, and all who are Canaanites, would be subjugated to the people of God.
In other words, each of Noah’s three sons would become the “father” of entire people groups/races, and Ham’s would be subject to them.
- Ham fathers the son, Canaan, and, eventually the people of Canaan (which in Hebrew means subdued)
- Japheth fathers all European people groups (his name in Hebrew means “to increase”)
- Shem fathers the Shem’ites (Semites, or Jewish race), who are God’s people
In essence, we’ve been given an “etiological map,” where the author explains all of the people he knows of and how they trace back to Noah (150-151).
I hope you’re seeing Noah and the flood with new eyes! Maybe you are beginning to see it as “an act of God that rescued humanity from themselves and offered our corrupt race a second chance” (154).
So with the Noahic Covenant we have identified the people of God as the offspring of Shem. We’re given a hint that the presence of God will be with these children of Shem. But…the place has yet to be identified.
Never fear! Our next person, Abraham, gets us there!
The Second Stage, Abraham – the Father of the Jews
If we follow “the bloodline of the chosen,” we are led “from Shem, the one called to bear God’s name, to Abram” (154). We enter the era of the Abrahamic Covenant, and as we do we step into what is called “datable history,” which means we have ways to know that Abram would have lived around 2000 BC.
Abram starts his life in Ur. If you think back to the “Fertile Crescent” that shapes our three biblical places, Ur is at the bottom right of the crescent. It was a real city with real people, and right around 2000 BC, Ur experienced a huge collapse. It was in this time period God calls to Abram to pick up all he owns and move.
And he does.
Does he know where? Nope. But he gets his dad, wife, and nephew convinced enough to move everything without an actual destination. (That would make answering the “are we there yet?” questions really difficult, wouldn’t it?!)
With every person and possession, they move to Haran, the central meeting place of the Amorites, which is located at the top of our crescent.
After his father’s death, Abram packs up and moves again when God calls him to go to Canaan, which is on the opposite side of the crescent from Ur.
In real time, Abram was a very wealthy pastoral nomad, raising LOTS of sheep and goats…even along his route to Canaan. Dr. Richter states that while there is no evidence that Abram had a prior relationship with God before his call to Canaan, Abram is credited with great faith and righteousness for following God (ref. Genesis 15:6). For reasons unknown, God chose Abram to father his people and bless the world.
Three promises of Yahweh are repeated to Abram at three different points of Abram’s journey, and each time, when Abram struggles with doubt, God shows up to reassure him:
When God called Abram to move, He made a promise to Abram: to make Abram the father of “a great nation” (ref. Genesis 12:2). “In covenantal language, Yahweh would become Abram’s patron” (159).
This sort of covenant is not one of suzerain and vassal so much as a covenant made between individuals, where one person offers a gift, or grant, to another because of distinguished loyal service. This type of berit is called a “covenant of grant” or a “royal grant” (159). And in covenant language:
- The stipulation from God to Abram was, “Go forth from your land and your father’s house.”
- The promises or blessings from God was to make Abram a great nation; that his descendants would be numerous; that he’d have great wealth, fame, and protection; and that Abram would be a blessing to all families of the earth
Abram and Sarai (his wife) have settled into their new home in Canaan, but Sarah is not only still barren but is now well-past child-bearing age, which means Abram has no heir (remember how important that is in this patriarchal, tribal world).
In Abram’s crisis of faith (no child means no heir, and if he has no heir, Abram did not see how God’s promises would become a reality), God steps in and reassures Abram in a most amazing way!
First, God reminds Abram…once again in covenantal language:
- Stipulation: Abram needs to “believe God.”
- Abram would have an heir from his own body.
- Abram’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars.
- The land of Canaan would be his and his descendants’.
- God says to Abram: “I am a shield to you; I am your very great reward.”
When Abram continues to struggle in believing God, God calls him to bring animals for a sacrifice (see verse 9) to help him with his unbelief. This is when it gets amazing. J
For the sacrifice, God asks Abram to split the animals in two, which was a common practice of Abram’s day. When a suzerain and vassal made a berit, the VASSAL would walk between the cut pieces of meat, in essence swearing, “May what happened to these animals happen to me if I fail to keep my promise.”
Now that’s a visual we’d remember!
But, later in Abram’s vision, the “smoking oven and flaming torch,” which are symbolic of God, pass through the cut pieces of the sacrifice. Once again, God uses practices of Abram’s day in order to communicate a significant truth…but with a twist. In the vision God gives Abram, it is GOD (the suzerain) who walks between the cut pieces of meat, indicating that God is both suzerain and vassal. He seals the covenant with a promise of his own blood (162).
Quite the foreshadowing, yes?!
In this covenant, the vassals, Abram and his descendants, are “merely” called to serve and obey God and God alone, but if you move ahead in redemptive history, who breaks the covenant over and over? Yup, God’s people, Abram’s descendants. Not God.
Eventually, JESUS becomes the sacrificial “lamb” who absorbs the consequences of OUR covenant breaking! (ref: the video lesson)
If we thought Sarai and Abram were old before, they are REALLY old by this time…and still no baby.
As Abram struggles to have faith in God’s promises, God comes to reaffirm his covenant. He promises them a son, Isaac.
It’s at this juncture when God gives our faithful couple new names. Abram, meaning “exalted father,” is changed to Abraham, “father of a multitude.” And Sarai is changed to Sarah, both meaning “princess” but in different dialects (from Amoritic to Western Semitic). “With their name change, God repeats and expands his promises of fertility and territory” (163). Their name changes also signify their new roles “as parents of a new line of chosen people. Basically, what we have here is the designation of a new Adam and Eve” (163).
In addition, God institutes the “covenant sign” of circumcision. This biological covenant is an outward mark on males to indicate they are the people of God. With the mark of circumcision, a child was marked as a child of Abraham, a child of promise.
When I take a step back to see these stories in a bigger picture, a larger redemptive story, I can see how God is escalating his interactions among his people. With Noah, the covenant was for all of creation, but He seemed to have minimal interaction with the one man, Noah.
With Abraham, we see more of God in the story, and we see his interactions as very intentional, meeting Abraham in ways he would identify and understand, taking time to reassure him and remind him of the promises that would surely come.
How often do we get impatient waiting on God, wondering if we heard Him right or if we heard Him at all? Abraham and Noah remind me that God is always present, always at work…even when we don’t see it. And that God always has a plan, and that His timing is always perfect.
To finish out today, let us remember that “with Abraham, the re-identification of people and place begins” (137). We’ve taken a huge step in the rescue plan. God’s covenant and promise of redemption now extends beyond one man (Noah) to a large family (Abraham and his descendants)!
The Abrahamic Covenant leaves us with Isaac’s children as God’s people, Canaan as the place of God’s people, and with an implied presence of God (“I am your very great reward”). We’ll meet again next week to look at the next two men used by God in redemptive history, Moses and David.
Getting lost in the story…in the best sense of the word,