The first thing that came to my mind looking at this week’s parasha was the prophesy of Yahushua where he stated that ‘as it was in the days of Noach, so shall it be at the coming of the Son of Man’ (Matt 24:37). This is probably one of the most misunderstood passages of prophesy in the Scriptures. So as we look at the story of Noach we can learn quite a lot about what we may experience if we are around to see the Day of the Lord.
There are several reasons given in Genesis 6 for G-d’s judgement. There was inappropriate interaction between the spiritual world and this one. They had become exceedingly wicked, their hearts were continually focused on evil and the earth was filled with violence. Yahushua added that there would be wars and natural disasters and persecution of the righteous preceding the judgement. I don’t think we need to look very far to see that we are building up to the time of His return. I am not one to set dates and I will not speculate that such things will even happen in my lifetime but we were told to look at the signs and be ready. The Day of the Lord only comes as a thief in the night to those who don’t know how to read the signs.
So by comparing the passages, we know how the judgement comes, and we have a pretty good idea why it comes, so now we have to figure out what we need to do to avoid it. Noach found grace in G-d eyes, he was perfect in his generation, he was a righteous man. He stood against the tide, he remained righteous when everyone else was wicked. Often we find ourselves in similar positions and it is not easy, that is why community is so important. We may endure ridicule or even real persecution but if we support and love one another, it becomes much more bearable and the likelihood we will falter becomes much less when there are others who are with you. And it is so important not to falter because ‘he who endures to the end will be saved’. It is those whose love does not grow cold, who work out their salvation with fear and trembling, that will experience the miraculous salvation of G-d, they will be the ones who are ‘left’.
What do you mean ‘left’, you may be asking, I want to be taken! No you don’t. Look at the text. “And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” Who is the ‘them’? The wicked who were taken away in the flood and it was Noach who was miraculously preserved. Did you ever wonder why the Scriptures tell us that it is difficult for the righteous to be saved (I Pet 4:18)? Because when the ‘flood’ of judgement that is the Day of the Lord comes, it will take the miraculous intervention of YHVH to spare anyone. “A thousand will fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand but it will not come near to you” (Ps 91:7).
The judgement of G-d is an awesome thing. One of the basic truths we believe in is the justice of G-d, that his patience does have a limit and this age will come to an end with a great and terrible judgement. The sin and the violence will not continue unchecked forever, G-d will not contend with mortal man forever. I have heard many say hat they see the timetable accelerating, that the signs are becoming more obvious by the day. But they believed that in the first century as well. That does not however, excuse us from vigilance, there are enough parables about that (the parable of the 10 virgins and the servants left when their master goes on a journey come to mind) to prohibit any complacency. We must seek the perfection of Noach and the perseverance through the Messiah to experience the salvation of G-d. And as G-d has placed us within this community, let us encourage one another to that kind of persistent righteousness that will merit us the miraculous deliverance on that day.
This weeks parasha includes the story of the Tower of Babel. Bereshit introduced us to the idea that all people are descended from one man. As we look around throughout the the world and see all the variety, as did the ancients, we may wonder if that was true. And every now and then some one or some group comes along and attempts to convince people that not all people are of the same stock. The blacks in America, the Jews in Germany are two recent examples of groups considerd by others to be sub-human. In the ancient world, rulers often claimed to be descended from gods, separated and elevated above the rest of the populace. The variety of cultures and languages in the world may lend weight to the idea that we are not all of the same stock. This week’s parasha presents us with the explanation of our diversity.
The time of the Tower of Babel is placed around 340 years after the flood. Noach and his children were still around. Avraham was approaching middle age. The light of truth was shining for everyone to see if they so desired. The people all spoke one language, the holy tongue, the language of creation. They were united in purpose, there was nothing they could not accomplish. If any group had everything going for it, it was this people. They could have become the most godly, righteous people and the world as we know it could be a lot different had they chosen that path. So much potential.
So much potential squandered. Instead of seeking the truth, seeking righteousness, seeking to serve their Creator, they puffed themselves up with pride and wanted to interact with G-d on their terms instead of His. Although the Torah does not detail their specific sin, we can infer a prideful, rebellious and idolatrous spirit. They wanted to make a name for themselves instead of seeking to have G-d’s Name on them. They were trying to create a culture, a civilization that would have their mark, rather than G-d’s. And they assumed that either G-d would not do anything about it for a long time or that they would be able to overcome Him had He sought to judge them.
Had they succeeded so early on in completely ridding the world of G-d and His influence, had they succeeded in silencing the voices of Noach and Avraham, the world would have spiraled out of control again, repeating the situation existing before the flood. There is no evidence that they had come that far, that violence had filled the earth again. But that is always the result eventually. So G-d divided them up so that all would not follow the same path. Some would continue the downward spiral, maybe even the majority would, but the consequences would not be universal. There would be pockets of truth and righteousness and with the call of Avraham G-d sought to establish a permanent bastion of truth and hope. There would always be some place for people to go whether it be Israel or some other nation. History has born this out. Persia and later Parthia during Roman persecution, Moorish Spain during Christian persecution and recently the freedom America offered to people of all kinds.
G-d created the nations for this purpose, to maintain an equilibrium of good and evil. That evil would never be able to overcome the world and the good would always have a place to find refuge, regroup and make a new assault. That is why we must take our civic responsibilities seriously in the country in which we reside. We can no longer spend our days huddled in the physival or theological ghettos we have created. We must actively pursue victory for righteousness with all means at our disposal.
This week, we have the curious story of Noach, Ham and Canaan. On the surface, we have Noach planting a vineyard, getting drunk, his son finding him in a ‘compromised’ state and then telling his bothers. When Noach awakes from his drunken stupor, he curses Ham’s son Canaan. There is a very important lesson in this story, regardless of how we might want to speculate about the specifics.
The first thing we must recognize is that Noach fell from his ‘blameless’ state here. Most translations say, ‘Noah began to be a husbandman and planted a vineyard..’ (9:20) The word for ‘begin’, however, can also be rendered ‘defiled’ or ‘profaned’ and Stone’s follows this rendering. Literally, it may read, ‘Noach, a man of the ground, was profaned and planted a vineyard...’ While the Scriptures often equate wine with joy, and even medicine, drunkenness is consistently frowned upon, Purim traditions not withstanding. Drunkenness causes a loss of self control, which much of Torah exists to assist us in developing. Noach put himself in a shameful state, certainly not a state which a man of God should be in.
Now we introduce Ham. Ham discovers his father uncovered in the tent. I am not going to speculate on what that means because what happens afterward is more important for this discussion. He goes and tells his brothers outside. Ham’s sin is one of the mouth, he goes and spreads a slanderous report about his father, he gloats over his father’s fall.
“Do not go about spreading slander among your people” (Lev 19:16) This is right before the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. We don’t want people uncovering and broadcasting our hidden faults, so we shouldn’t do it to others. “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret” (Prov 11:13) “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father and with it we curse men who have been made in God’s likeness” (Ya’akov 3:9) What we are talking about here is not spreading lies about people but telling the truth in a way that puts them in a negative light. We find things out about people that are true and we have trouble restraining ourselves from sharing that negative information with others. We almost make a hobby out of gossip, giving it and getting it and using it to knock people down. It destroys the shalom that is to be part of groups and congregations and even families. It is such a part of our nature and our culture that it is hard to resist which is why Ya’akov (James) says the things he does about it.
Noach did something wrong. He lost control and defiled himself. He should not have done something that gave the opportunity for a sladerous report. It was not something, however, that caused injury to anyone else. Yet Ham came in and broadcast his father’s fall to all who would listen. He showed disrespect to his father and a prideful spirit of his own. Really is comes down to that. We want to knock others down so we can rise up. We want others to think more of us than the people who we are gossiping about. Pride, discord, confusion and exaggeration and misunderstanding, hurt and pain, these are the results of ‘loose lips’. We are to be encouraging one another and we do that by lifting our brothers and sisters up, not tearing them down. When we start practicing such restraint, it is my belief that the Ruach will be revealed within us is a whole new way.
Last week we read about the creation of this wonderful world and all that lives on it. This week all of that is totally destroyed in a massive flood. The parallels between these two accounts are many and they tell us something very important about the world and ourselves. First, the parallels. After the light and darkness are separated on the first day, the waters, or in our paradigm, the chaos, are separated and confined on the second day. The flood is a break in that confinement and a return to the state of the first day. There is a classification of animals (2:20, 7:2,3) and the provision of food (1:29,30, 6:21). The seasons (1:14) are reestablished after the flood (8:22). According to the chronology of Bereshit, Noach is the first person born after the death of Adam and becomes, in many ways, a second Adam. He is, obviously, the father of all humanity. He has three sons, one of whom is wicked. He lives in harmony with the animals just as Adam did. God walked with Noach just as he did Adam. Noach is blessed and told to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ just as Adam was.
In the book of Revelation, we find similar parallels although they do not revolve around an individual. The various plagues are a reversal of the filling of creation. The greenery of the earth is destroyed (Rev 8:7), the sea creatures die (Rev 16:3), the sun and moon are struck (8:12) and in numerous places it describes the death of many people. The primordial darkness returns to the beast’s kingdom (Rev 16:10). There is a great earthquake (Rev 16:18) paralleling the breaking up of the springs of water in the flood. The earthquake is followed by hail, a form of precipitation. After this, there is a new heavens and new earth where God lives (walks with) man. There will be no more death, as it was with Adam. A river flows out of the new city which is like the garden. The before and after of creation, the flood and Revelation are too similar to be coincidence. Y’shua Himself stated that the days of His coming would be like the days of Noach. The phrase ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ could certainly apply here.
What is shows is a crucial element in biblical understanding that has been lost in our western worldview. This is our view of time. In the western worldview, time is linear. There was a beginning and there will be an end. The beginning is described in Gen 1:1 and before that there was nothing. Time marches forward to the conclusion of history. The eastern worldview of time, and the biblical one I might add, is circular. History does not have a beginning and end, the world is not described as having a beginning and end. To those of you turned off by this notion as Hindu or Buddhist, keep in mind that before the time of Alexander's conquests, Judaism was an eastern and not western religion and adhered to an Eastern/Semitic worldview. Moshe has much more in common with Hindu and Chinese philosophy and worldview than the worldview of Plato and Aristotle's western world.
For the individual who believes in the Bible and respects a scientific understanding of the world, this way of looking at time brings harmony, which is usually the result of moving away from a dualistic western mindset. For example, the age of the dinosaurs and the ice age all could have happened during previous cycles. This eliminates the conundrum that fundamentalists get themselves into. To a fundamentalist, western oriented bible scholar, the world cannot be very old. They find themselves arguing with the current scientific paradigm which says the world is billions of years old. Both are arguing from the same western worldview where time is concerned. Both, however, need to ignore some of the evidence in order to make their idea of the origins of the universe and the world work. The Biblical scholar needs to ignore the scientific support for a uniformitarian view of the world, a view that says the forces that shape the world today are basically the same as they were in the past. This leads to the formation of sedimentary rock, the erosion of mountains that make the Appalachians different from the Rockies. The scientist however, needs to ignore evidence like the presence of humans and dinosaurs together in the fossil record and the preposterous notion that random mutation is responsible for the creation of the great variety of life on the planet.
The Bible itself presents a circular view of time. The circular nature of the seasons and years, the sabbatical and jubilee cycles. The Book of Judges presents a microcosm of the circular view of the history of man both in an individual and a corporate sense. A circle of repentance, righteousness, backsliding, wickedness and judgement leading to repentance. We began by looking at the larger picture. The Bible presents at least three cycles of creation and destruction. One was from Genesis three to Noach, the second from Noach to the return of Messiah and the third from His return to the recreation of the ‘heavens and the earth’. Who can say that there were not an infinite number of these cycles before Genesis and who can say there will not be more after revelation. As stated in last weeks commentary, Genesis 1:1 does not speak of the creating of the sky and the land, but their being filled up. Also, the new sky and land the prophets speak of are the renewing of the sky and land. We also know that according to the cycles described in the Bible, there are things and people that survive from one cycle to the next. It could very well be that the salvation described in the Bible is the ability to move on to the next cycle just as Noah did and those who live through the wrath of God will. The largest cycle is universal, called the oscillation theory where the universe begins with the big bang (cataclysmic creation), expansion and contraction (history in the cycle) and implosion/big bang (cataclysm/creation). Within this universal cycle is the solar cycle in which stars and planets go through numerous cycles. Within the solar cycle are the planetary cycles including our planet where things are created and destroyed over thousands of years down to the yearly cycle of seedtime and harvest and the daily cycle of night and day.
This is important because it shows that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, he is consistent in his action, that the universe operates according to law and it does not change. We do not need to figure out what is going to happen or how we can make it through. We know that a destruction will come, whether nationally or globally, because man keeps bringing it on himself. Y’shua said we should watch and, with wisdom, we would know. We also know what needs to be done to make it through. Noach made the preparations needed for the cataclysm that enveloped his time. The parable of the virgins of Y’shua describe a similar situation, there were those that were prepared and those that weren’t. There will also be those like Lot who will long for the old life being destroyed and, like his wife, will not escape. The key ingredient found in all the stories is ‘walking with God’. All the people who emerged after a destruction walked with God. The Hebrew for walk is ‘halach’. If we look at the ancient pictographs, halach gives us a meaning of ‘revealing the yoke that subdues’. In Noach’s time, God said that the inclination of man’s heart was for evil, it was a nature that needed to be tamed or subdued. Y’shua said that he had a yoke that was light. Someone who walks with God reveals the yoke of Y’shua and shows that his evil inclination has been subdued, like the strong man of the house in Y’shua’s parable. It is such people who emerge from the destruction intact to begin again God’s recreation.