Mabbuwl - The Great Flood
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Many of us, if we are to be honest with ourselves, first came to God for selfish reasons. Some of us might still have mostly selfish reasons for coming to church and worshiping God. In a place where we come to God because we are struggling, and we want God to make it all better. Many come to God wanting Him to remove our obstacles, our struggles. We come to God, perhaps, seeking worldly prosperity.
It makes sense right? Think of Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, Daniel, Esther so many powerful and wealthy people are found throughout Scriptures. There are enough stories of success in the Bible for a prosperity gospel to be preached.
The problem is what happens when my personal experience ends up being different from what I expected it to be. What happens when I come to God expecting Him to take away all my trials, and I end up facing more trials than before? What happens when I am expecting an easy life and I don't get it?
What happens to my faith, when I obey God, and things seem only to become more challenging?
A more careful reading of the stories of all the heroes mentioned above teaches us that all of them faced extraordinary challenges. There are blessings that come with following God, no questions about it. But do not fool yourself into thinking there will be no challenges.
Let's see what lessons we can learn from taking a closer look at the life of a man God described as being just and perfect, a man who walked with God.
(Mabbuwl is the transliteration of the Hebrew word for flood)
Sounds familiar? Reminds you of the story of Noah's Ark and the Tower of Babel?
This story comes from the Aztecs of Mexico—one of many recorded flood stories, from geographically remote and widely divergent cultures.
Did you know there are some 270 flood stories recorded around the world according to The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia? (Vos. H. F. 1982. Flood (Genesis). In G. W. Bromiley (ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 319-321. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. mentioned on http://www.grisda.org/origins/17051.htm)
The existence of so many versions of the flood story is a significant challenge for those who want to deny a global flood ever took place, especially when so many of the stories have specific commonalities. There is much debate over the historicity of the biblical flood account, and that is not the focal point of this post. However, I would like to mention that a worldwide flood as described in the Bible helps explain many questions regarding the creation vs evolution debate.
I mention these points in passing for those who are interested to feel free to pursue them. On this post, I wish to focus on the biblical text and what God wants to teach us through this narrative. There are plenty of sites debating the science of the flood, I wish to discuss its theological implications, especially since I am not a scientist.
Before we get into the text I would just like to briefly explain a literary device known as Hebrew parallelism, in which a story is told in two complementary versions that proceed from the general to the specific. There are several examples of this found in the Bible such as the two creation accounts found in Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Genesis 2:4b-25 and Daniel's visions found in Daniel 2 and Daniel 7.
Here in Genesis 7 we have the broad narrative of Noah entering into the ark found in Genesis 7:6-9. Followed by a more detailed second narrative in verses 10-16a. Notice how each narrative ends the same way, saying "as God had commanded" (Genesis 7:9, 16).
I mention this ahead of time as to avoid confusion when we read the story.
Right away on verse 1 God is giving Noah a command.
Come into the ark, ...
The last time God gave Noah a command was when God told him to build the ark, (Genesis 6:14). Now God is commanding Noah to come into the ark, keeping His covenant with Noah (Genesis 6:18). We notice also that Noah is righteous before God, implying his righteousness is not his own but rather given according to God. (Doukhan, Jacques. Genesis. Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2016. Print. p146)
Clean and Unclean
Verse two is very interesting in that it differentiates between clean and unclean animals. Many will recognize this distinction from Leviticus 11:1-47 and Deuteronomy 14:3-21. This must make the reader wonder why God is differentiating between the clean and unclean animals before the building of the Tabernacle, before the giving of the 10 commandments, before the Exodus, before Moses, before Abraham, etc. Why would God differentiate between clean and unclean animals if there were no Jews, unless this differentiation was not meant just for the Jews.
Notice also that God does not have to explain to Noah how to differentiate between the clean and unclean animals. As the text reads, we get the idea that Noah is already familiar with the distinction. We see this more clearly in Genesis 8:20 where Noah offers sacrifices to God out of the clean animals. Apparently some of the instructions God gave Moses for the people of Israel were not limited to them, nor were they new instructions.
According to Leviticus 11, the differentiation between clean and unclean animals was not just connected to the tabernacle and sacrificial system but also to diet. Leviticus 11 says God spoke to Moses and Aaron and told them which animals they were allowed to eat. It is consistent, and it makes sense, for there to be a greater need for clean animals than unclean in the ark if the clean animals would be used for sacrifice as well as food. The unclean animals, are also important but are not meant for human consumption nor for sacrifices.
I raise this point here, but will pursue it no further in this post, if you would like to explore this topic further feel free to contact me. (I might pursue this topic further in a future post.)
Global Destruction of Life
Verse 4 reminds the reader that God is going to destroy all life from the face of the earth which He had created. Here I would like to make a quick mention of the multiple flood accounts found in diverse cultures around the world. Though many of them have several similarities with the biblical account of the flood, the Bible is unique in its account, and part of what makes the Bible unique is the way it portrays God. God is intentional and deliberate. God has a moral code, God saves Noah, his family, and a representation of the animals. God is intentional, God is moral, God guides and preserves Noah and the animals, and God has a clear purpose and reason for doing so. The flood is not an accident, neither is it a fit of rage, but rather an act of judgment from a moral and almighty God.
God is not careless, God is searching for someone to save and is careful not to destroy the righteous along with the wicked (Genesis 18:23). Noah is spared because of his character. Noah has a loving and personal relationship with God which involves obedience to God's commands.
Why mention that Noah was 600 years old? (Genesis 7:6, 11) I believe this establishes the historical value of this account. Noah's life bridges the antediluvian world and our postdiluvian world, the world of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the other biblical characters. Jesus (Matthew 24:37-39) as well as Peter (2 Peter 3:5-7) both refer to the flood narrative and use it as a warning for our generation regarding God's final judgment. In other words, the Bible treats the flood account as being a real historical event and not a metaphorical illustration.
Moving away from the detailed analysis of the biblical text for a moment. Imagine what it must have been like for Noah to go through this experience.
First, imagine living in a neighborhood where every intent of the thoughts of the hearts of your neighbors is only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)
Now imagine that its not just that you're in a bad neighborhood, but rather it is the whole world. you can't just move to a nicer neighborhood, it is not a temporary problem that you can solve by relocating. There are no exceptions. You have no good friends. You are the only just person living on the planet and you can't move out. I know you might feel like you can't trust anyone nowadays, but imagine that being the case globally. (Genesis 6:12)
Things get so bad God is going to destroy everyone. Only you and your family will be spared. It is very likely that you had been praying for God to do something for a while. You just never expected for God to do this. God will destroy all life on the planet. Except you and your family, and a sample from all the animals on the planet, and seven pairs of the clean animals. (Genesis 6:17-20, 7:2-3, 14-16)
And by the way, God will not save you in a magical bubble, He will not simply take you to heaven for a few days while He cleans things up here on earth.
God calls you to build a massive boat. He gives you all the directions and details concerning the project (6:14-16). Imagine spending the following 120 (6:3) years building and preaching (2 Peter:2:5) to people about the coming flood. By the way, Noah will also have to gather food himself, for the animals, and his family (Genesis 6:21).
God could have easily taken care of all this. Noah did find grace in the eyes of the LORD (6:8), yet the LORD did not take away the challenges. For many years, things seem to just become even more challenging.
It is too easy for us to read the story of the flood and not take a moment to consider what it must have been like for Noah. Can you imagine the taunts he must have suffered? Can you imagine the work of building a massive boat. The challenges of believing and acting on it without having any tangible proof for completely changing your life and taking on a major project that will cost you a great amount of time and resources?
Imagine changing your life completely because God revealed to you that the whole world will be destroyed. Imagine living differently because Jesus is coming again. Imagine going through some discomfort to obey God's will according to what He has revealed to you.
Imagine God speaking to you and letting you know that judgment is coming. This time not by water but by fire. Imagine believing the words found in texts like Malachi 4:1
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.
I imagine the ark was not very comfortable. I can imagine the noise and the smell and the mess all those animals made. Sometimes the church can feel like the ark. You may feel like you're dealing with wild animals at times. Maybe your toes get stepped on, perhaps your experience is not always a pleasant one.
You think about leaving.
This is not what you signed up for when you decided to follow Jesus. You wanted things to get easier not harder. You wanted relief from your trials, not brand new ones. And many will abandon God because they consider it too troublesome to follow Him. Many will walk away from a loving relationship with Jesus because having Jesus as their Lord can be "uncomfortable" at times.
It is easy for me to get so excited about the details of the text and all the fascinating theological points and questions to be pondered, and end up missing what the human experience might have been like, and how that relates to my current experience.
How do you react when God calls you to build a boat, and you have never even built a raft? Maybe God is not calling you to build a literal boat, but He is calling you out of your comfort zone, and strictly for the benefit of others.
How do you react when your obedience and faithfulness get rewarded with more work and responsibilities?
How do you feel when God reveals to you that your obedience allows others close to you to experience God's mercy? That your relationship with God contributes to the salvation of those closest to you?
Noah was not a young man when God called him. He obediently labored for years, apparently without hearing anything from God. The whole process took time! There was a lot of working, and silence, and challenges, and waiting, and working.
Genesis 7:4, 7, 10 informs us that Noah and his family and all the animals waited in the ark for seven days before the flood came.
"Did we hear right?"
"Did we interpret God's message accurately?"
"Did we do everything correctly?"
"Did we miss something?"
Those must have been the longest seven days of Noah's life. Seven days. Waiting. Wondering. When you're busy its not so bad. But when it seems like nothing is happening, what do you do? What do you do when you follow what God has revealed to you of His will, to the best of your abilities, and nothing happens?
Looking back at the biblical text you may wonder how to interpret Genesis 7:13 in light of verses 4, 7 and 10. Remember what I mentioned about Hebrew parallelism? The story repeats, the second time with more details. Genesis 7:13 explains in greater detail that Noah and his family and all the animals entered the ark on the same day. The day the rain began they had already entered the ark. I wrote the "already" to identify that the Hebrew verb "enter" used in verse 13 is in the perfect tense, describing an action that has been completed. As apposed tot he verb "enter" used in verse 7 is in the imperfect tense, indicating the action was taking place.
Notice that verse 16 points out that the LORD shut Noah in.
God shut the door to the ark, not Noah.
After that point, no one could enter the ark. The door was shut before the rain began. Whoever entered the ark, entered by faith. By the time the rain began to fall, it was already too late to enter into the ark.
He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.
(Revelation 22:11 King James Bible)
By now you must have begun to realize that the judgment stories in Genesis help us understand how God goes about this process. You probably already noticed that properly understanding judgment in Genesis helps you better interpret Matthew 24 and especially 25. Perhaps even more clear is the realization that this topic is expounded on throughout the book of Revelation. Same God, same modus oprandi, same theology.
Take a look at Genesis 7:17-24 and see what you think?
I am reminded of my high school English teacher who would write "RR" on parts of my essay. "RR" stood for repetitive and redundant.
As you read verses 17-20 you get the idea of the waters rising. With each verse there is more and more water, covering more and more things. The text leaves no room for anyone to doubt the universality of the flood. It was a global event, everything on earth was submerged.
In case you still have any doubt verse 21 begins another repetitious and redundant portion of the text. This time emphasizing who or what died. Everything, everyone, who was on the face of the earth died.
There was no salvation available outside of the ark. No other boats made it. No one outside the ark made it. God had provided a single means of salvation. (John 14:6) (side note: Some might want to argue that it would be unlike God to provide the whole world with a single means of salvation. To me it seems consistent with biblical text.)
Repetition is how the biblical writers highlighted something important. There is a lot of repetition in these verses in order to clearly convey, beyond a shadow of doubt, that God brought about thorough destruction of life. God used a global flood and spared only those who were in the ark.
We have looked closely at the text. We have imagined what it must have felt like to be Noah. We looked at some practical and theological implications, and now what?
What do I take away from all this?
What did I learn about
- God is the judge over all the earth.
- God clearly communicates to his servant/friend Noah what to do at each step of the process (build and ark, get in the ark, etc.)
- God cares about the animals too.
- God designated some animals for human consumption and others not.
- God wants to partner with humanity.
- We don't always see the big picture of what God is doing.
- We need to act by faith (believe God before we see any evidence).
- God can work through us to save others.
- Life has many challenges.
- Following God does not remove all challenges from life.
- Following God introduces new challenges to life.
- We can face any challenge (even a global flood), when we love God and follow what he calls us to do ("Come into the ark" Gen. 7:1).
In light of this story, life is not about avoiding challenges. Being a believer or follower of God is not about eliminating challenges. But rather about facing the right challenges according to God's revealed will. Life is about faithfulness to God and what He has called you to do.
Right now the door is open. We don't know how long it will be open. God will not force anyone to get into the ark, but He does call.
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts... (Heb. 3:15)
Life is hard. Following God is challenging. If I have to face challenges anyway, I would rather face the challenges God call me to face, because I know that He is faithful. (1 Thess. 5:24)