Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Genesis 8:20-9:17's post-Flood (part 1)

Now we turn to three of the four post-Flood activities for Noah: his sacrifice, God’s presentation of rudimentary law, and God’s covenantal promise. (The fourth activity—Noah’s drunkenness and what follows—is overlooked but immense, so we’ll treat that separately.)

First, the sacrifice (Gen 8:20-22). Kass describes it, aptly, as “a strange and unforeseen event…[apparently] w/o any divine instruction”—and also, because Noah has been both silent and only following orders. Here, he steps out on his own—but why and how?

Was the Law (on sacrifice) given before? How did Noah know what to do? Is this a post-Cain custom or his best guess along the lines of what Cain did? (That he follows in Cain’s footsteps is troubling!)

On the one hand, we know that Noah “walked with God” and experienced God’s direction in building the ark, His awesome power and His gracious care and provision—so maybe he’s in line with God’s will here too. But it’s odd in that this is the opposite of creation and re-creation; it runs counter (at least short-term) to God’s command that the animals be fruitful and multiply (8:17); and these animals had just been his companions. As Kass notes: “Noah’s self-defining first act in the new world is an act of violence against the living world. A simple harmonious world order, led by a human being, seem to be impossible.”

What are his motives? Thanksgiving and/or hoping to stave off more rain. In any case, Noah's voluntary response is worship and sacrifice—spontaneous gratitude after he experiences God’s gracious salvation and deliverance.

God’s response? Mostly good. He is "pleased by the aroma" (II Cor 2:14-16a, Eph 5:2, Phil 4:18b). This is a good sign, but not a slam dunk. One commentator asks whether He is pleased completely or pleased as when a kid picks a flower from your flower garden to present to you. Perhaps God is pleased not by the sacrifice per se, but what it represents in Noah’s heart.

God says he will never again curse the ground (a different Hebrew word is used here, but this seems to refer to 3:17; maybe no more add-on curses—as with Cain in 4:12) or destroy all living creatures. Then, a strange line, bringing up sin nature. It’s very similar to the brutal Gen 6:5. More important, this is a really strange time to say this if God is totally pleased with Noah’s effort. In any case, God makes clear that starting over (with Noah or anyone else) is not “going to work”—as we’ll soon see for ourselves.

Second, the law (Gen 9:1-7). The passage is bracketed by 1,7’s blessing and commission to multiply/dominion (as 1:28). Kass observes that 2-6’s law is thus wrapped in blessing and infers that “the law’s paramount interest is in promoting human life”. That said, it’s interesting that the 2nd time Noah hears the blessing in this passage, it must sound different. Kass (176): “The natural good of life is now bound up with the legal good of right and the legal obligation to defend it.”

9:2's fear and dread of the animals is sad. Matthew Henry: "man in innocence ruled by love, fallen man rules by fear". 9:3's provides a menu change and a new food chain with an intro to meat. Is this a new-and-improved diet or a “divine concession” to something (now/largely) inherent in man? In any case, Kass notes that the “hoped-for harmonious relation of man and animals—re-created aboard Noah’s ark—in which man, like a true ruler, rules in the interest of the ruled, is gone…the shepherd will now tend his flock with at least part of his mind on lamb chops. Yet the shepherd is not—and must not become—a wolf.”

There are some fascinating applications of this to (degrees of) “animal rights” and vegetarianism—from a Christian perspective. Key questions: How does one balance 1’s dominion with 3’s ability to eat? Richard John Neuhaus observes that there are “animal rights”—not because animals are equal, but because they are unequal, dependent and vulnerable. In other words, it’s better to think of this as human responsibilities rather than “animal rights”. (See: Christopher Killheffer [how’s that for an ironic name?!], “Our Food from God”, Touchstone, March 2002.)

9:4's blood is a limitation to 9:3’s liberty (Lev 17:11,14). As in the Garden, there is only one prohibition within the blessing. 9:5 says that man and animal have to “account” to God for human death. So, animal life is to be respected, but man's life is to be honored to an even greater degree (Ex 21:28-29). Kass: “Animal blood may not be eaten, but human blood must not even be shed.” For the Christian, God ultimately demands an account for all of our sin—dealt with by the atoning death of Jesus Christ and His blood shed on our behalf!

9:6a is beautifully constructed: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed”. In the Hebrew, it is poetry and symmetry—word repetition with an inverted order (ABCCBA). Jonathan Sacks: “This is a perfect picture of style reflecting substance: what is done to us is a mirror image of what we do.” And Kass: “a picture of society set within bounds {man by man}. Beyond these bounds, there is bloodshed on all sides.”

This restricts justice to direct retribution (eye/eye) vs. some subjective sense of what’s appropriate (e.g., killing the entire family)—in other words, strict but proportionate/reciprocal justice. For now, this is a (very) simple law—with no distinction between manslaughter, homicide, murder.

The rationale: 6b's “for in the image of God has God made man”. Where 6a provides a disincentive (fear), 6b provides a reason (speaking to the mind/heart). In a word, killing shows contempt for man and God. Kass (191): “By willfully denying the god-like nature of human life, the killer denies his own share of god-likeness…[and] forfeits his claim to remain as a member of the human community.”

9:5’s “demand an accounting” is now specified: man becomes 9:6’s avenging agent. This allows or even endorses capital punishment. In context, Kass connects this to Noah’s sacrifice: this “makes explicit and also regulates what is implicit in Noah’s sacrifice”. First, Noah sees himself as separate from the animals; law strengthens that, even allowing man to eat animals. Second, Noah shows willingness to shed animal blood; law prohibits eating the blood and demands retribution for shedding man’s blood. Third, Noah seeks relationship with God through sacrifice; God defines new relationship in terms of justice—love God/others!

Noah’s response? Silence (revisited—and more later). “God said” four times in ch. 9 without a response from Noah (9:1,8,12,17), indicating a significant silence from a failure to understand, a resistance to the speaker, etc. Kass (187): “We have no idea what Noah himself made of what he had just been told…silence, perhaps from incomprehension or puzzlement, perhaps from understanding all too well, perhaps from fear or reluctance to comply, perhaps from despair over the human prospect. God’s speech about bloodshed and retribution could hardly have been what Noah expected to hear in response to his sacrificial offering. To address the human silence, God has to say more. God makes Noah a crucial promise…”

Third, the covenant (Gen 9:8-17). This is also unexpected. We move from 9:1-7’s sobering constraint to 9:8-17’s hopeful vision—interestingly, the very combo we seek in personal righteousness and civil society; not just law, but covenant and blessing.

After God's flood, one might think that life was cheap/expendable. 9:5-6 lays out the idea that "life is sacred" with a negative sanction. Here, the same idea is bolstered by God’s (positive) covenant with Noah. I like Kass’ thought on the combo: “Just as human nature, in the absence of law, always threatens human life through violence, so external nature, in the absence of covenant, always threatens human life through cataclysm.” Both provide hope for the future.

Where the flood is a monument to God's justice, the rainbow points to God's mercy.

Finally, a fun little list:
All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Noah's Ark

1. Don't miss the boat.
2. Don't forget that we're all in the same boat.
3. Plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark.
4. Stay fit. When you're 600 years old, God might ask you to do something REALLY big.
5. Don't listen to critics, just get on with what has to be done.
6. Remember that the ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic was built by professionals.
7. Remember that woodpeckers inside are a larger threat than the storm outside.
8. No matter the storm, when you're one with God there's a rainbow waiting.


At June 10, 2010 at 6:32 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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