Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bible In a Year - Genesis 8 to 11 (#3)


*Based on ESV.com's Chronological Bible In a Year schedule. If anyone would like to join in, this blog's comments sections would be a good forum in which to share insights from the text.

Grace: The Year of Fur and Water
Genesis 8. The last chapter of the book was a cap on the most depressing run of all of Genesis. After the first man and woman's fall from grace, their banishment from Eden, the entrance of death into the human story, the first murder, the descent of families into corruption, the possible impregnation of women by demonic spirits, and the spread of evil on the earth, we were left with this statement of God's (righteous) wrath and judgment:
"All flesh died that moved upon the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm upon the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth."
But in Genesis chapter 8, God's anger lets up: "God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided." It is after the most destructive act of God's judgments that this entire chapter of grace plays out, one which played out over the course of almost a year, from day 40 of the flood to about 335 days later (compare 7.11 to 8.13-14). Most of that time was spent by Noah in an Ark without windows, trusting in God, floating blindly on the vast ocean of the earth. But God was always there somehow, providentially caring for the impossibly large population of that boat, and slowly rescinding the waters from the earth. Almost a year later, that lesson of dependence upon the Lord learned, Noah gets the awaited message from Him - "Go out from the Ark, you and your wife, and your sons' wives with you."

Covenant: Sacrificing the Survivors, Getting a Rainbow

David Plotz observes, "All the animals on earth except those on the ark have died. So, what's the first thing Noah does after landfall? He makes an animal sacrifice." Which I guess makes it lucky that Noah brought along extra pairs of clean animals - see 7.2 for a reference. Although God knows that humans are intrinsically evil -Christians call this the doctrine of total depravity- he recognizes Noah's sacrifice by making a sort of binding contract with all life on earth not to destroy it with another Flood. From that point on the rainbow becomes a sign of God's promise. Other aspects of the agreement? The legalizing of meat eating and the invention of capital punishment (and possibly of Government, because some governing institution would presumably be needed to carry out the sentence). "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image."

Context: The Mother of Family Feuds
Ever read the family trees of Genesis and get really bored? Not me. The genealogies are where the action is. They provide historical context, teach theological truths, connect one event to another, bring important history to mind, and so on. In this case, Ham (the evil brother) has four sons whose descendants go on to terrorize Israel, the descendants of Shem (the good brother): Egypt becomes the nation in which Israel was kept captive for 400 years, and which would eventually bring the greatest king of Judah down to the grave before conquering the land - see 2 Kings 23.29-35. Cush would father Nimrod, who went on to found Babylon (the nation that conquered and deported Judah) and Assyria (the nation that conquered and deported Israel). Put would father the nation, of the same name, whose people helped Assyria conquer Israel and Egypt conquer Judah. Canaan became the group of nations that Israel would conquer and displace for prime real estate. All of Israel's victories and defeats go back to this list of Noah's descendants and the account that comes just before it.

Humanism: The Tower of Babel and the City Monument
The sounding gong of human potential comes up in chapter 11, where humankind says "let us make a name for ourselves," and attempt to build a tower that goes up into the sky. The problem with this is that humankind is supposed to get its dignity from being made in God's image, and living in such a way that we are His representatives upon the earth - not by pointing to our own collective genius, potential, abilities, and self-reliant pride. So God cuts out this humanistic streak by frustrating their building plans, confusing the languages, and dispersing everyone over the face of the whole earth. Interesting thing? If you go to a very large city today you'll usually find a very large tower. Not a skyscraper, but an obcenely tall building whose purpose it is to have "its top in the heavens," just like the humanism-inspired Tower of Babel.


  1. The tower of babel strikes a chord in me especially being a TESOL student. Sometimes I wonder if we have to be careful about who we teach English to. I mean if God confused the language because of the huge potential for evil humans have with all the same language, what could happen if all the big business executives politicians, every 'important' person in the world all spoke the same language. I'm aware that that's pretty much the case anyways especially with translators and so far it's been mostly beneficial, but what if it turns sour and we have an even greater tower of babel issue on our hands? Just something I've been thinking about a bit since joining the TESOL program.

  2. There is a reason why, aside from Christianity, Secular Humanism is the other big viewpoint behind a lot of the thoughts & thinkers in TESOL. (Credit for that observation? David Catterick.) As long as the work is being done anyway, though, there's no harm in using it to bring the Gospel to countries that wouldn't otherwise have it. Besides, language teaching is not exactly a bad thing: Globalization has helped the Church to join together and promote the Gospel internationally. I'd chalk that up on the side of good.

    Not exactly related, but here's what David Plotz -the secular Jew who blogged through the Bible- had to say about Genesis 11:

    "Men build the Tower of Babel, not to honor God, but 'to make a name' for themselves. This alarms the Lord, who says that if they can cooperate to do this, there is nothing they can't do. So, He dispersed them across the world, and 'confounded' their speech so they can't understand each other. Among some fundamentalist Christians and Jews, there persists a deep loathing for the United Nations and other international institutions. Is Babel the biblical source for this suspicion of global cooperation—the fear that it elevates man over God?"


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