Abraham’s great adventure

Genesis 11:27 begins a new division in the book of Genesis. The book of Genesis can be structured by tracing four great events and four great people. The four great events are laid out in chapters 1-11: Creation, Fall, Flood, and Nations. The four great people complete the book in chapters 12-50: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The point being: God’s first concern is all the people of the world (Gen 1-11), but the focus of Genesis (and the rest of the Pentateuch) is on God’s choice and care of His chosen people, Israel (Gen 12-50). This sovereign choice begins with the call of Abram. The book of Genesis covers more than 2,000 years and more than 20 generations; yet, it spends almost a third of its text on the life of this one man (11:27-25:18). What a reminder that God truly cares about people and considers individuals valuable. This passage is going to challenge us to live a life of faith.

  1. Faith grows gradually(11:27-32): In these six verses, the genealogy of chapter 11 becomes quite specific and focused. Moses begins with the familiar phrase, “Now these are the records of the generations of…” (11:27a). This “formula” serves as an outline throughout Genesis. The last major occurrence of this phrase was in 6:8, in reference to Noah, where God began a new thing in Noah and his sons. This is one hint that what is coming in 11:27-32 concerning the life of Abram will be something new on a grand scale. Moses goes on to say that “Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran” (11:27b).Again, this doesn’t seem to be terribly significant until we realize that the mention of Terah having three named sons alerts us to a previous pattern. Adam and Noah both had three named sons and both of them obviously point out high water marks in God’s dealings with people. So we should not be totally surprised when God calls Abram and embarks on a new path in the fulfillment of His promises and plan of redemption. God is preparing His way for His man.

 

In 11:27c, Moses also informs us, “Haran became the father of Lot.” Lot is introduced quickly because he is a major character who serves as a contrast to Abram. In 11:28, Moses records that “Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans.” This is an important comment because it tells us that Abram, the son of Terah, was born in Ur of the Chaldeans (11:28). This will become important in just a moment. Verse 29 states that Abram and his brother Nahor “took wives for themselves” (cf. 6:2). Abram married his half-sister, Sarai (see 20:12), which was not contrary to God’s will at this early date in history. The marriage of Abram’s brother Nahor is mentioned because he became the grandfather of Laban and Rebekah, both of whom would figure largely in the history of Abram’s grandson Jacob. Many of the names in 11:29 come right out of the cult of moon worship. Joshua 24:2, 14-15, make it clear that Terah (and quite possibly his family) worshipped many gods. In 11:30, Moses makes an emphatic remark that Abram’s wife, Sarai, “was barren; she had no child.” Sarai’s infertility tests Abram’s faith and drives the whole story. Verses 31-32 then inform us that Terah took Abram and his family from Ur of the Chaldeans “in order to enter the land of Canaan.” The family, though, only went “as far as Haran, and settled there.” Sometime after settling in Haran, Terah died at the age of 205.

 

At the core of this story is the principle of God’s sovereign choice of an individual. God’s call to Abram was pure grace. There is no evidence in the text that God chose Abram because he merited favor. On the contrary, God chose Abram from a family steeped in idolatry. He did this so that He might receive all the glory for what became of Abram. The great thing about God is that when He is forming His family and choosing servants, He selects the most unlikely people! After all, He chose you and me. He did so not because of whom we would become; He did so because He chose to love us and He then made us into whom He wanted us to be (Rom 8:29). Today, may we express gratitude to God for choosing us to have a relationship with Him. May we also thank Him for calling us into service. It is a privilege to both know and serve God.

 

Before we move into chapter 12, it is important to observe some interesting clues in this section and the rest of Scripture. An important point of interest is that God first called Abram to leave his home when he still lived in Ur of the Chaldeans (12:1-3; cf. 15:7; Neh 9:7; Acts 7:2-4). Evidently, God’s initial revelation of Himself to Abram was of such a powerful and convincing nature that his father Terah was not only persuaded to join the pilgrimage but actually took the lead.17 (Abram, Sarai, and Lot followed Terah to Haran.) Unfortunately, the caravan stopped in Haran instead of going all the way into Canaan. There the pilgrimage bogged down and, it would seem, remained inert and inactive for many years until the death of Terah. Likewise, there are many people today who respond to God’s call to be followers of Christ, but only partially obey. Yes, they have left the gross idolatry and rebellion of “Ur”, but instead of pursuing the abundant life in the Promised Land of Canaan, they settle for something in between. They settle down in Haran, which means “barren.” And like Abram, they have wasted many years of their lives living in the comfortable and familiar land of “Haran,” a land of spiritual compromise.

 

When Abram received his first call from God, he was only partially obedient. Fortunately, God is patient. Abram was very young in the faith. He had much to learn, and God could afford to wait. So the wasted years slipped by and then upon Terah’s death, Abram began to make the progress God desired. This should encourage us. Abram, the great father of our faith, started his Christian pilgrimage slowly. He also wasted some years along the way. If that’s true of Abram, and God used him powerfully, how much more can that be true of you? If you started your Christian faith slowly or if you have found yourself squandering precious time, you can get back into the race. Don’t wait another minute.

[While faith grows gradually, we learn in 12:1 that…]

  1. Faith steps out(12:1). Moses writes, “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.’” The famous call of Abram in 12:1 was a command to go away from three things and unto one thing. The three things that God called Abram to forsake were natural sources of security for any ancient, Near Eastern nomad. God lists the three in rapid succession, each succeeding item narrowing the base of personal support and security:

(1) His country (or “land”) was his nationality and was the largest group in which Abram moved.

(2) His people (or “clan”) was smaller than his tribe, but larger than his immediate family. Such groups in ancient tribal societies provide personal identity and security.

(3) His father’s household referred probably to a call to give up his right of inheritance in his extended family. To abandon his father’s house would certainly involve giving up his economic security.

 

In a sense, God was calling Abram to go backpacking. God removed anything that might weigh him down or prove to be unnecessary for a trek through the woods. This illustrates Christian discipleship in several ways. God’s claim on our lives always beckons us to leave certain things behind at the same time we are taking up a new journey and following Him (Mark 1:18).

 

The term “go” is literally “go by yourself” and can emphasize loneliness, isolation; ideas of parting and seclusion are often implied. Abram needs to find his own place and his own identity by disassociating himself from the familiar and the group. Put yourself in Abram’s sandals. I’m sure there was a good part of Abraham that would have just liked to stay in Haran or perhaps move back to the home he knew in Ur, where he married his wife and where all the family could be together. Why would he leave his home, a progressive metropolis equivalent to Dallas or New York, to journey to a new land, following the command of a God who was not even locally acknowledged? After all, there was no AAA “Waze” or MapQuest directions. The only promise from God was that He would reveal the path to Abram. There was no visible certainty of his future. Abram was to follow the command of the Lord to leave Haran and go to a land he had never seen before. He is to step out in blind faith…a land God would show him.

 

Would you have gone? Are you willing to obey the voice of the Lord when He goes against all that makes sense and feels? When everything screams in you against it, are you willing to leave your job for the uncertainties of a higher calling? Faith steps out in obedience. Abraham made the choice to trust God and God blessed him exceedingly.

In these three verses, we see the inauguration of God’s covenant with Abraham. This covenant is

everlasting (13:15; 17:7-8, 13, 19),

unconditional (15:9-12; 17-18), and

literal.

It involves a

land (12:7; 13:14-15, 17; 17:8), a

seed (12:2; 13:16; 15:4-5; 15:18; 17:4-6), and a

blessing(12:3; 17:2, 6; 18:18).

In these verses, God gave Abram a seven-fold promise. The call had two imperatives, each with subsequent promises. The first imperative was to go (“Go forth from your country…to the land which I will show you”), and the second imperative was to be (“and so you shall be a blessing”). Abraham’s obedience would bring great blessing. Also notice that five times in these verses you will see the phrase,

“I will…” Everything is from God Himself.

 

  1. “I will make you a great nation”(12:2). This promise is connected to the “seed” promise of 3:15. Since the fall of man, God chose certain lines of human descent to carry forward the promise that He would send a deliverer to crush Satan. That line now flowed through Abram to the Hebrew people (13:16; John 8:37), to the descendants of Ishmael (17:18-20), and eventually to all believers (John 8:39; Rom 4:16; Gal 3:6-7, 29). When God called Abram to separate from his family and his country, He did so with the purpose of producing from Abram a great nation. As the founder of the Jewish nation, Abram was appointed by God to be a witness to the rest of mankind concerning God (Isa 44:8). Further, that race was to be a storehouse of divine revelation (Rom 3:2) and a channel of blessing to the world (15:8-12). The ultimate objective in God’s choice of Abram was to prepare the world for the coming Messiah and Savior of that world (Isa 53). Do you see how God carefully unfolds His program through individuals? Have you asked Him to reveal His plan for your life?

 

  1. “I will bless you”(12:2). The word “bless,” which occurred five times in chapters 1-11, now occurs five times in 12:1-3. God wants to bless his people. In fact, if you remember, this goes right back to creation where God blessed Adam and Eve (1:28) and then, later, that original blessing was repeated in 5:2. God also blessed Noah and restated the mandate in creation, namely, that man rule (9:1-2). God’s plan is to bless the world. Indeed, the term “blessing” (barak) includes God’s gracious provisions of personal well-being, long life, wealth, peace, abundance of food and crops, children, and personal knowledge of Himself and His ways. Yes, God’s plan is to bless the world. When God blesses someone, He intervenes in their life to do good things. God’s blessing to Abram caused him to prosper in all that he did. He was blessed both temporally (13:14-18; 15:18) and spiritually (15:6; John 8:56). Are you seeing God’s blessings in your life?
  2. “I will make your name great”(12:2). To be given a great name is to have a good reputation and a secure identity. The builders of the Tower of Babel tried to make a name for themselves (11:4) and thereby gain power and prestige before the world and in the face of God. On the other hand, Abram’s power and prestige was to come directly from God. In time, God did make Abram’s name great when he became known as the “friend of God” (2 Chron 20:7; Isa 41:8; Jas 2:23). Do you rely upon God to make your name great, or are you making a name for yourself? How can you submit more of your plans and goals to Him? Today, God wants you to believe that He has designed mankind to desire and pursue greatness.

 

But rather than finding that greatness the world’s way, Christ taught that true greatness is found in: being the least and the servant of all (Matt 20:26), losing your life for the sake of Christ and others (Luke 9:24), and being last now so that you might be first in His kingdom (Mark 9:35).

 

  1. “You shall be a blessing”(12:2). The Hebrew text says, “Be a blessing,” not “you shall be a blessing.” This was a command rather than a prediction. However as Abram blessed others he would become a blessing. God chose the family of Abram through which He would channel His blessings to the nations of the world, thereby drawing all nations to Himself (cf. Gen 10). We never experience God’s best for us until we are used to touch the life of someone else. Who can you bless today? Remember the words of 1 Peter 3:9: “Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but instead bless others because you were called to inherit a blessing” (NET).

 

  1. “I will bless those who bless you” (12:3). Now God moves from personal blessing to global blessings. Those who honor Abram and his God will be blessed.

 

  1. “The one who curses you I will curse”(12:3). Unfortunately, not everyone in the world wants God’s blessing, or the way He has chosen to carry it out. There will be people who will curse or level insults and accusations against Abram and in so doing bring a curse from God on their heads. They will be cut off from the hope of blessing.

 

  1. “And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed”(12:3). This is the great messianic promise fulfilled in Abram’s descendant, Christ (John 8:56-58; Gal 3:16).

 

  1. Faith experiences obstacles(12:4-6). Abram demonstrated phenomenal faith in light of God’s call and was thoroughly blessed for it. So it is with us as well when we trust in Christ. But that does not mean everything in our lives will run smoothly. Quite the opposite actually. Moses writes, “So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him” (12:4a). This time around, Abram immediately and completely obeyed God. Did Abram know he was headed to Canaan (12:5)? Apparently not. Hebrews 11:8 states that “he went out, not knowing where he was going.” Verse 4 even says, “Lot went with him.” Since Lot voluntarily chose to accompany Abram, he probably believed the promises as well.

 

Abram’s call had been to separate from his pagan relatives, so he was not disobedient by allowing Lot to accompany him. Moses goes on to inform us that “Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.” Though he lived to 175 years old, Abram was no spring chicken when he decided to follow the Lord to Canaan. Age is no hindrance to faith and taking bold steps for the Lord. It’s never too late. Despite Abram’s age, responsibilities, and various commitments, he stepped forward in a venture of faith, in obedience to God. Fortunately, this principle remains true today. If you are getting up there in age, God still wants to use you. He wants you to finish your race well (2 Tim 4:7-8).

 

Verse 5 says that “Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan.” The text says that Abram took his wife Sarai with him. Now the struggle comes to the forefront. In 11:30, the text goes out of its way to point out that Sarai was barren, that she didn’t even have a single child. Then, in 12:2, God says He’s going to make a great nation out of Abram. Well, it’s obvious that it won’t be through Sarai—she’s barren. So it must be through someone else. But here in 12:5 we learn that there isn’t a “someone else.” We are told that Abram took his wife Sarai. In spite of the obvious tensions, Abram must have believed God’s promise.

Sometimes we forget what childlessness meant in the ancient Near East. It involved shame, social ridicule, and implied that the woman/couple were not in the favor of the gods. Why then should they trust the Lord when He makes “high-flutin’” promises about a nation; they don’t even have a single child. Sometimes, some of our greatest struggles believing God and His good promises center in one way or another around our kids. So it was with Abram and Sarai. Certainly they made mistakes along the way, but overall they trusted the God who loves to do the impossible. What are you trusting God for that only He can do? In order for faith to grow it must see beyond the obstacles and pain to the God of our circumstances.

Verse 5 also informs us that Abram’s entourage included “the persons which they had acquired in Haran.” While this could be a reference to slaves, it is more likely referring to converts that Abram won during his sojourn in Haran. So while Abram was in a challenging and irreligious land (Haran), he shared his faith with many people. Consequently, he won converts. By God’s grace, you and I can do the same here. The city we live in is certainly no worse than Haran. If God can use Abram to win converts in Haran, He can use you to do the same. (John 14:12).

 

In 12:6, Moses records that “Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land.” Abram’s first settlement was in Shechem. This was God’s second major revelation to Abram. Shechem was near the geographic center of Canaan (cf. Josh 20:7). It lay in the heart of the land God now promised to Abram. The Hebrew term “Moreh” means “teacher” and may indicate an ancient shrine or a place where Canaanite priests declared oracles. Thus, living among idolatrous people—people steeped in genuine unbelief—was going to test Abram’s faith. He himself was steeped in idolatry, and the tendency to lapse into pagan religion would remain a very real and present danger to him and his family.

 

To further complicate matters, Abram could not take possession of the Promised Land immediately because the Canaanites occupied it. Some five centuries would pass before the descendants of Abram would, under Joshua, conquer the Canaanites and take the land God had given them. The presence of the Canaanites was yet another test of Abram’s faith. God had promised to give his descendants an already-possessed land. The presence of the Canaanites indicated opposition that was going to be a reality as Abram continued his life of faith. A godly life must always be lived out in the middle of misunderstanding and even persecution.

Faith is not just believing God for great things and responding to His promises, it also involves a commitment to live as He desires in light of the circumstances He permits in our lives. Faith builds character; so also Abram. He knew that God had called him to go to this new land, even though he didn’t know where he was going. His faith gave him the courage and determination to live for God in a pagan land. By faith he overcame the struggles and trials of leaving family, the barrenness of his wife, and the hostilities of living in a foreign land. By faith he gained an exemplary character and did not succumb to the unbelievers around him…His life matched his words, so to speak (cf. Heb 11:8-12). Does ours?

 

  1. Faith leads to reassurance(12:7a). In 12:7, the Lord speaks to Abram. This is none other than the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. The key to growing a strong faith in the midst of trials is hearing and heeding the voice of the Lord, experiencing the presence of the One who made the promises. So God, knowing we are but dust, and are among those who consistently need encouragement, appears to Abram—the one who is a stranger in a foreign land, with a foreign language, customs, faith, and way of life—and reaffirms to him the promise of offspring and ownership of the land. While God speaks to us primarily through the Scripture, as the indwelling Spirit marries the very words thereof to our hearts, God appeared to Abram and spoke to him. In the midst of trials, nothing is more assuring and nothing is clearer, than the voice, yes, the very presence, of our heavenly Father.

 

As we make our way through life, strangers in a foreign country, as it were (1 Pet 2:11), we need to know the presence of the One who will carry us safely to our appointed destination. We need to hear the voice of God in His Word and in prayer. So God appeared to Abram and restated the essential promise to him: “to your offspring I will give this land.” This, we know from Genesis 15:1ff was the besetting question uppermost in Abram’s mind. God comes to us in our time of need and encourages us with His voice: “So do not fear for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa 41:10). What a breath of fresh air!

[A faith like Abram’s steps out in obedience, hopes in the fulfillment of God’s promises of blessings, and grows through trials. But also…]

  1. Faith proclaims God(12:7b-9). Abram’s response, in 12:7b to God’s appearing and to His reassuring word in 12:7a, was to worship. The text says that God appeared to Abram and said…“So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him.” First God speaks (12:1-3), then Abram journeys (12:4-6). Next God appears (12:7a), then Abram worships (12:7). Though the passage does not explicitly say that he sacrificed, we can be sure from Noah’s example in chapter 9—as well as Abraham’s in 22:13—that Abram offered sacrifice to the Lord. Worship is the first and foremost response to the voice of God. Obedience and the proclamation of God’s grace and greatness inexorably follow like the rainbow after spring showers.

 

Thus, worship has consequences. Verse 8 says that Abraham pitched his tent between Bethel and Ai, which probably indicates that he stayed there for some time. Abram “pitched his tent.” In 1 Peter 2:11 we are exhorted to live “as aliens and strangers in the world.” We are to live as people who have their permanent dwelling place in heaven, not on earth. Unfortunately, too many Christians want to build mansions on earth and are happy with tents in heaven!

 

During his time on the mountain, Abram continued to worship by building an altar. But then notice that the text also says that Abram called on the name of the Lord. This phrase “called on the name of the Lord” (cf. 4:26; 13:4; 21:33; 26:25, etc.) means much more than simple worship. It carries the idea of proclaiming the name of the Lord (cf. Zeph 3:9). Isn’t it interesting that God promised Abram to make his name great and here Abram is making the Lord’s name great in Canaan? In the midst of a foreign and thoroughly pagan land Abram erected an altar and there proclaimed the name of the Lord. What amazing faith! He truly shone like a star in the universe by holding out the Word of Life in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (cf. Phil 2:16).

 

My prayer for you today is that you become a man or woman of faith that transforms your culture. As you step out in obedience, overcome obstacles, and proclaim God, you will accomplish His will for your life and for the generations to come.

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How the nations came about – Genesis 10 and 11

An airline flight attendant shared the story of a passenger from Bombay, India, on the way to his first visit to the United States. As the man was served, he nodded his head and replied, “From the heart of my bottom, I am thanking you.” The flight attendant learned that this was one of the only English expressions he knew, and was quite proud to say it with every gesture: “From the heart of my bottom, I am thanking you.” The attendant said, “Now, if I were to thank people from the heart of my bottom, I am sure they would be offended. I think what he was trying to say was, ‘from the bottom of my heart,’ but there was no way we could convey to this man that this sentence was wrong. Although we had a fun time trying, I am sure he spent his American tour thanking people from the heart of his bottom.”

 

I love this story…probably because I can relate. In my foreign travels, I’m sure I have said some strange things as well. In Genesis 10:1-11:26, God is going to explain how different languages and nations came into existence. In these 58 verses, we will see our tendency to sin and God’s propensity to provide for His people. Since we have a lot to cover we will be doing an overview of most of this section without focusing on the specific details. As you look at some of these verses, you will thank me for not getting bogged down in the mire of names and details. For example, in 10:17, the descendants of Canaan sound like an entomologist’s list of something for the pest controller—“the Hivite and the Arkite and the Sinite,” and the termite. Seriously, since all Scripture is inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16), I believe that these verses will be of great help to us.

[The first truth that we need to see in this passage is…]

1. God made the world one big family (10:1-32). For many, this chapter may seem like a bore that should be skipped. But this chapter provides us much important information:

o   It provides us authoritative evidence that the post-flood world descended from one pair of human beings (i.e., Noah and his wife).

o   It provides us with a historical accounting of the origins of the nations of the world and how they spread over the face of the earth.

o   It provides us with an understanding of the relationship between the people of Israel and all other nations and peoples of the world.

o   It provides us with the knowledge of who we are and where we came from.

o   It provides us the primitive branches of the genealogical tree of mankind that will eventually culminate in the objective of every biblical genealogy—the person of Jesus Christ.

 

This chapter is not technically a genealogy (so and so, begat so and so). It has been called a table of nations because it traces the connected origins of various nations. What is striking is that the nations of the world all came from the same place…from one of the three sons of Noah (10:1, 32). In other words, God made us one big family. Though we are of different languages, cultures, and geographical locations, we are still imprinted with the image of God and share in the dignity of human existence. An emphasis on our racial and cultural differences undermines this unity and runs counter to God’s will for us. He basks in our rich cultural diversity and variety, which He has created. We need to learn to do the same.

 

The descendants of Japheth (10:2-5). This division of the chapter, centering on Japheth, is the shortest and highlights 14 of Japheth’s descendants. The Japhethites split into two groups: one group settled in India and the other group in Europe. Together they form what is known as the “Indo-European” family of nations. They became the coastline peoples, the peoples of the Gentiles (10:5). It was primarily into this area of the world that the New Testament church spread, under the apostle Paul. Verse 5 also teaches that the occupation of the lands followed the confusion of tongues at Babel.

 

The descendants of Ham (10:6-20). Here we have the account of the descants of Ham. The nations connected to Ham inhabited northwestern Africa, the western coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and the Fertile Crescent from Egypt to Mesopotamia. Some of these nations figured prominently in the biblical story as enemies of Israel, particularly “Babel” (Babylon, 10:10), “Mizraim” (Egypt, 10:13), and “Canaan” (10:15). But, once again, all these scattered nations were the descendants of Ham, who was one of three brothers, descendants of the one Noah. There is no escaping it: God made the world one big family!

The descendants of Shem (10:21-32). The descendants of Shem (lit. “name”) are the Semitic peoples who inhabited the eastern lands: modern-day Iraq, Iran, and eastern Saudi Arabia. The genealogy of Shem split at the sons of  =“Eber” (10:25). From Eber we get the word “Hebrew.” The descendants of Eber’s son “Joktan” are given in 10:26-32, while the descendants of his other son, “Peleg” are found in Genesis 11. It was Peleg’s line which led to Abraham and eventually to the Israelites (11:18-26). This is the family that God will be dealing with throughout the entire Old Testament. These are the Hebrews, the nation Israel. This section reveals that it was God’s plan to bless the human race by dividing the family of man by languages, locations, and leaders. Remember that God formerly blessed the earth by dividing the light from the darkness, the earth from the heavens, and the land from the seas (Genesis 1).

 

So why is this important? What difference does this unity of the human race make? Well, we do not have the luxury of caring nothing about the rest of the world. They are all our cousins! Their needs, their hopes, their dreams, their problems, their family struggles, their successes, and their failures are really not that much different than ours! All human people, even of different national and cultural identities are of the same origin, have the same dignity, and belong in the same world. This is one of the reasons we are committed to praying for the persecuted church. The church abroad is made up of our distant cousins, our spiritual brothers and sisters. This principle is also why we must continue to pray that the 10/40 window is opened up. Since God has a heart for the world, so must we. This biblical mentality undercuts all human divisiveness based on nationality, culture, and race. However good, however rich national and cultural diversity can be, it should never be allowed to cloud the more fundamental fact that all human people share the same nature, breathe the same air, live on the same earth, and owe their life to the same God (cf. Acts 17:26).

[Although God made the world one big family…]

2. The world will never enjoy unity apart from Christ (11:1-26). If chapter 10 paints a picture of such a unified world—all the nations descended from a single family—what happened? How did the world become so divided? That’s the point of Genesis 11:1-9. It explains what caused the nations to scatter. This section describes the disunity among Noah’s offspring that resulted from the tower event but did not prevent the blessing God had envisioned for humanity. The actual outworking of the genealogies of Genesis 10 occurs after the events at the Tower of Babel (cf. 11:1 with 10:5, 20, 31). This interspersed narrative (11:1-9) separates the two genealogies of Shem (10:21-31; 11:10-26), paving the way for the particular linkage between the Terah (Abraham) clan and the Shemite lineage (11:27). The story of the tower also looks ahead by anticipating the role that Abram (12:1-3) will play in restoring the blessing to the dispersed nations. By placing the Tower of Babel incident just prior to the stories of Abram and his descendants, the biblical writer is suggesting, in the first place, that post-flood humanity is as wicked as pre-flood humanity. Rather than sending something as devastating as a flood to annihilate mankind, however, God now places His hope in a covenant with Abraham as a powerful solution to humanity’s sinfulness. This problem (Gen 11) and solution (Gen 12) are brought into immediate juxtaposition, and the forcefulness of this structural move would have been lost had Genesis 10 intervened between the two.

 

This leads right into the Tower of Babel account in 11:1-9. In 11:1, Moses writes, “Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.” After the flood, the whole earth spoke the same language. But man’s habitual sin brought about the language barrier.

 

In 11:2, we read these fateful words: “It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.” The word “east” is intentionally alluded to in the Scriptures, to let us know that a person or group is moving contrary to God’s will. In the Genesis narratives, when man goes “east,” he leaves the land of blessing (Eden and the Promised Land) and goes to a land where the greatest of his hopes will turn to ruin (Babylon and Sodom). Please also notice that they “settled” in Shinar. In 9:1, God clearly commanded Noah and his sons to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (cf. 8:17). There is no reason to suspect that Noah’s descendants did not understand what God wanted. God wanted them to move throughout all the earth but they banded together in order to defy God’s command. They selected the best land that they could find; they staked their claim in the land of Shinar, a place that becomes associated with evil.

 

Now don’t you find it amazing that the people have such short memories? How soon they forget the most horrendous judgments of God (Genesis 6-8); they go back to their former ways. They try to defy God. They exert their own will. Now think about this, how must the world still have looked at this time? The worldwide flood had completely destroyed everything. Now it’s only a few generations later, with the ground still displaying the desolations of the deluge and these people want to test God’s hand again. Nothing but the grace of God and work of the Holy Spirit can remove the depravity of the human heart.

 

In 11:3-4, “They said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.’ And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’” The motivation for building a city was to make the builders a name (cf. Psalm 14:1). The object of this endeavor was to establish a center by which they might maintain their unity.\ Now God desired unity for humankind, but one that He created, not one founded on a social state. They wanted to “empower” themselves. Both motive and object were ungodly. God had instructed man to fill the earth (1:28), to spread over the whole planet. The builders of the “tower” seem to have intended that it serve as a memorial or landmark among other things.

 

Verse 4 makes what might be called the first public declaration of humanism: “They said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’” This verse reveals three problems. First, man wanted to build a tower that would reach up to the top of the heavens; they wanted to reach God, really to be God themselves. Every generation seems to builds towers. Whether they are actual skyscrapers (e.g., the Sears Tower and Tribune Tower in Chicago, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Trump Tower in New York City) or mega corporations that circle the globe, the idea is the same—to be strong and powerful! 

 

In the 21st century, people continue to do that. The university professor who dismisses God without a second thought has placed his intellect on the throne instead of God. But human intelligence is woefully inadequate to be our god. Paul asked, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (1 Cor 1:20) Over and over again the intelligence of man has been supplanted by later intelligence; later proof that other intelligence, more educated, more sophisticated people have destroyed the theories of intelligence of those before them. And if man’s intelligence can be supplanted by other men’s intelligence, how inadequate is it to try to displace God’s intelligence? You cannot build your own tower in your heart or in your head and replace God by doing it. God will not be subject to our folly. The people of the land of Shinar failed in achieving their first goal.

 

Secondly, they wanted to make a name for themselves. They wanted to be remembered. Isn’t that true of all of us? Don’t you want to be remembered for something good? Not long ago, Reader’s Digest carried an article on Dr. Henry Heimlich. It’s been more than 30 years since the famous “Heimlich Maneuver” has been instituted in saving lives and probably 50,000 choking victims have been saved through Henry Heimlich’s maneuver. Well, to this day Heimlich kind of gets a kick out of being a household word. He never anticipated that would be the case. In fact, he said that when his name went into the dictionary, it was quite a big deal for him. He remembers that he immediately looked at the entry for Abraham Lincoln; and Lincoln had only an inch of copy in the dictionary while Henry Heimlich had two inches, because there was a drawing depicting how to perform the maneuver. Interesting isn’t it, that with mankind we measure fame in inches in the dictionary? But God measures fame by obedience. What is it you want to be remembered for? What do you want people to remember about you when they think about you after you are gone? What kind of legacy will you leave?

 

Well the people of Shinar didn’t want to be forgotten so they made a tower that we would never forget their names, and by the way, can you name any of them? Do you know a single name of a person who joined this rebel group? Of course you don’t! Defiance of God is a quick route to obscurity. You remember Noah, but you don’t remember any of these guys. They failed in their second goal.

The third problem revealed in this verse was that they wanted to keep themselves from being scattered over the earth. Now you can read between the lines, obviously, and see that all three of these motivations are designed to defy the will of God. Building a tower, building a city—that’s no crime in itself. But the purpose of this tower was to replace the God of the heavens. They wanted to climb into heaven and dethrone God and enthrone themselves instead.

In 11:5-6, the Lord responded: “The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.’” The people of the land of Shinar tried to defy God. They did not want to be scattered all over the face of the earth. Of course, they failed. And when they failed, judgment had to come. Now notice, the Lord says, “I’m going to come down and see.” That’s an anthropomorphism. It simply means that God did not want to stay in heaven. He wanted to have a good look at what people were doing on earth. God doesn’t need to leave heaven to see us here on earth, but He chose to.

In 11:6, God seems worried. This verse, however, is not speaking of technology but of morality. The Lord concludes, “If I let them get away with this, they will stop at nothing.” And so, He initiates a judgment to counter their rebellion. The introduction of languages makes this rebellious unity of mankind a practical impossibility.  God is not threatened by what man might do. On the contrary, God is protecting man from himself! You see, it is in grace that God will not allow the world to enjoy unity on its own terms!

 

In 11:7, a Trinitarian meeting took place and the Lord said, “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So what was God’s plan?

His plan was to foil man’s sin. Language is a unique tool to communicate; God said, “I want to confuse their language so they have to obey me.” This verse is dripping with irony: The descendants of Noah were attempting to elevate themselves to God, but so pathetic are their attempts that God has to come down to see it (see Isa 40:22Ps 2:4). Had God allowed this project to continue the results would have been even worse than they were at this time. The sin of the builders was their refusal to live within God-given boundaries (Acts 17:24-26). All of the divisions of the whole world are a result of sin and the righteous judgment of God.

In 11:8-9, Moses writes, “So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.” The confusion led to a scattering of the people over the “whole earth.” God did not allow human rebellion to reach the level that it had before the flood. God forced people to do what they refused to do voluntarily, namely, scatter over the face of the earth. And as soon as God confused the language, the engineers could not speak to the laborers. The masons could not speak to the city planners. All the work had to stop. By the way, it’s only from the Scriptures that we learn the true origins of the different languages in different nations in the world. By one miracle of tongues man was dispersed and gradually fell from his true religion; and by another, the national barriers were broken down so that men might be brought back to the family of God. What a unique thing language is. But as a result of the confusion of the language, the city’s name became Babel. The city is none other than Babylon.

“Babel” means “confusion” in Hebrew, and “the gate of gods” in Babylonian. This was the original Babylon that forever after was the city most consistently rebellious against God’s government in human history. It stands as a symbol of organized rebellion against God elsewhere in Scripture (e.g., Revelation 17-18). Babylon has always been a city set in opposition to the true God, whether run by a committee of these rebels or a ruthless dictator like Saddam Hussein. Babel means confusion and the final result of the language being confused was that people were scattered over all the earth. These people forfeited the blessing of God because they decided they could make a better future for themselves than God could make for them.

 

What we do today is no less foolish than what these nameless rebels did. Somehow we have forgotten that every time we attempt to defy God, we not only see His judgment as a result, but we rob ourselves of God’s blessing. Hey, learn this today. Learn it from the people of Babel. Obedience means blessing. Disobedience means judgment and a loss of blessing. How much clearer can that truth be than is illustrated by these events at the Tower of Babel?

The story of Babel is important for several reasons:

o   It explains the beginning of and reason for the various languages of mankind.

o   It probably explains the origin of the “races” within humankind. The separate language groups no longer could intermarry freely with the rest of mankind. As inbreeding and lack of access to the larger pool of genes occurred, ethnic characteristics developed. Furthermore, each local environment tended to favor selection of certain traits, and eliminate others.

o   Ethnic characteristics, such as skin color, arose from loss of genetic variability, not from origin of new genes through mutation, as suggested by evolution. The concept of race is an evolutionary idea (Acts 17:26). All humans possess the same color, just different amounts of it. We all descended from Noah and Adam. The Bible doesn’t tell us what skin color our first parents had but from a design point of view, the “middle color” makes a great beginning. Starting with medium-skinned parents, it would take only one generation to produce all the variation we see in human skin color today. In fact, this is the normal situation in India at present. Some Indians are as dark as the darkest Africans, and some—perhaps a brother or sister in the same family—as light as the lightest Europeans. There are families from India that included members with every major skin color you could see anywhere in the world.

o   It demonstrates the inclination of fallen man to rebel against God and to try to provide for his needs in his own way rather than by trusting and obeying God. It illustrates that rebellion against God results in (a) broken fellowship between God and man, and (b) failure to realize God’s intention for man in His creation, namely, that man rule the earth effectively.

o   It provides the historical background for what follows in Genesis. Abraham came from this area.

o   God is jealous. He wants to be worshipped. Yet, all too often, we would rather build a name for ourselves.

o   God is wise. He is able to thwart man’s attempts to dethrone Him and worship false gods.

o   God is righteous. He judges man by separating him. Irony is seen in the beginning and the ending of this passage. The group at Babel began as the whole earth (11:1), but now they were spread over the whole earth (11:9). By this time the lesson is clarified: God’s purpose will be accomplished in spite of the arrogance and defiance of man’s own purposes. He brings down the proud, but exalts the faithful.

o   In the building of the tower we see man’s desire to reach God in his own way. Man’s desire was a return to Adam and Eve’s effort to become like God (3:5).

o   In the effort to build a city, we see our lust for the power that comes through corporate control.

We live in dangerous times. The lessons of Babel have been forgotten. Arrogant leaders dare to do anything in the world today. And people excitedly jump on the bandwagon. And it seems that nothing whips up enthusiasm as much as some grandiose plan to unify all mankind into some great, worldwide empire. Think of the organizations that work to such an end: The United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and NATO. And, there are so many others with similar agendas. But here, God makes very clear that the world will never enjoy real unity, except when they know it in Christ Jesus.

[Now, I know, you don’t see anything about Jesus here. But please consider the last section of the text.]

In 11:10-26, we find a more thorough genealogy of Shem. This list of names isn’t riveting reading, but it moves you from Noah’s son Shem through the events of Babel and the scattering of the nations to Abram (Abraham), the “father” of the chosen people. The great former pastor, Ray Stedman, calls this passage “God’s Funnel” because it leads us right to Abram.

 

Now we are told almost nothing along the way! But that is no accident! For the hope that we seek, the unity which man cannot find on his own, will only be revealed when we get to God’s covenant promises made to Abram. (“…all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you!”) So why waste any time on lesser things? The text just puts us on the genealogical escalator and takes us right to the top floor!

 

Moses promises ultimate unity—blessing on the whole world through Abram and his seed! It is a promise that is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus the Messiah! Jesus comes as the only Mediator between God and man and brings us peace with God, through His death and resurrection. He also breaks down the dividing walls between us, making us brothers and sisters in Christ! Through faith in Jesus we become the true sons and daughters of God, part of the new race that will populate the earth for all eternity!

One of America’s favorite pastimes is baseball. When a player takes his turn at bat, he steps up to home plate gripping his bat firmly in hand. The pitcher throws the ball toward him, and he swings at the ball. If he misses, that’s strike one. The pitcher then throws the ball again, and the batter takes another swing. If he misses a second time, that’s strike two. When the ball is thrown the third time and the batter swings and misses, that’s strike three, and he’s out. He has lost the opportunity to score for his team.

In some ways, the first eleven chapters of Genesis are like a baseball game. The world of humanity represented by Adam and Eve is the batter who stepped up to home plate for the first time in the garden of Eden. The ball—the opportunity to live forever in a right, loving relationship with the Creator and so possess the fullness of His blessing—was thrown. But through man’s choice to disobey God, the world of humanity missed, and that was strike one.

In Noah’s day, humanity was back up to bat. The same ball—the opportunity to live in a right relationship with the Creator and receive His full, personal blessing—was thrown. This time the world chose to disregard God, and that was strike two.

Chapter 11 of Genesis describes the third time the world of humanity came up to bat. The same ball was thrown at the world. Again, the world swung and missed. To use baseball terminology, we struck out. But this time, God responds differently…He sends Abram whose seed would eventually bring the Messiah. Truly, God is a God of grace. Instead of sending us to the dugout, He grants us grace. God is certainly a God of justice and judgment, but in His economy, grace always prevails. Will you trust in His grace today? Will you become a son or daughter of Abraham (Galatians 3:6-7)?

 

The “rest of the story”

Do you like to read biographies or autobiographies? Many people do. You can learn a lot about people this way. However, maybe you’ve had this experience: You’re reading a biography when all of a sudden you turn the page and discover a grinning skeleton lurking in the closet of someone you admire. American columnist Russell Baker said, “The biographer’s problem is that he never knows enough. The autobiographer’s problem is that he knows too much.” But when God writes a story, He knows everything about everybody and always tells the truth. He does this for our own good (Romans 15:4).

 

In Genesis 9:18-29, the history of Noah and his family moves from rainbows (9:12-17) to shadows. Paul Harvey would say, “Here, we learn ‘the rest of the story.’” Yet, one of many reasons I am convinced the Bible is God’s Word is because its authors never covers up the sins of the saints. They refuse to pull punches; instead, they flat-out tell it like it is! This reality should encourage you and me. If great men and women of God committed sin and God still used them, He can use you and me as well. We need to be honest and acknowledge that Christians are far from perfect but God always uses us in spite of ourselves. In the verses that follow, God gives us three warnings. If we heed these warnings, we will be grateful that we listened. But if we ignore these warnings, we will live to regret our negligence.

[The first warning is found in 9:18-21…]

1. Beware of failure after great victory (9:18-21). In 9:18a, Moses again (cf. 5:32; 6:10; 7:13) lists Noah’s three sons (“Shem and Ham and Japheth”) because the narrative is now especially concerned with them. Then we come to a parenthetical clause in 9:18b. Moses writes, “…and Ham was the father of Canaan.” This phrase was not haphazardly thrown in. On the contrary, it has great relevance because it anticipates the rest of the story. Verse 19 states that the whole earth was populated from Noah’s three sons. [They are carrying out God’s commission to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth,” 9:1.]

Everything seems to be going along just fine when all of a sudden in 9:20-21, we read these tragic words: “Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent.” Sometime after leaving the ark, Noah took up farming like his father Lamech (5:28-29). He then planted a vineyard and made some fine wine. Now as you may know, this process does not occur overnight. After planting his vineyard, Noah had to wait until the grapes were ready for fruit bearing, which usually takes three to five years. He then had to harvest a crop, gather it, and extract the juice from the grapes. Finally, he had to allow the grape juice time to ferment into wine. This reminds me of an unforgettable commercial I used to see when I was a little boy.

 

The legendary Orson Welles is endorsing Paul Masson’s Emerald Dry. On this particular commercial, he turns down a stereo, and then compares a good wine to a Beethoven symphony. At the end, he intones, “We shall sell no wine before its time.” Whenever I think of this episode, I imagine Noah as an Orson Welles like character knocking back his own fine wine. The point that I’m trying to make is this: There were quite a few steps that led to Noah’s drunken stupor.

 

Some scholars make a gracious but desperate attempt to excuse Noah’s behavior. It is argued that Noah did not really know what would happen to him by drinking all this wine. This is special pleading. Noah was a wise and discerning man. Undoubtedly, before the flood, plenty of people got drunk (cf. 6:5). Noah was far from naïve. On the contrary, this great man of God sinned with his eyes wide open.

This leads to an important excurse on the subject of alcohol. Before I begin to discuss this topic, it is important to acknowledge that most people have strong opinions on the use of alcohol. But the real issue is not what you think or what I think. The issue is what does God think? Ultimately, His opinion is the only one that matters. So I will limit our discussion to, what does the Bible have to say about alcohol?

Surprisingly, the Bible speaks a whole lot about alcohol. The word “wine” occurs over 200 times in our English translations. Even more surprisingly to some of you is the fact that the Bible holds alcohol in high regard. The following list provides the biblical basis for alcohol.

 

o   Wine is viewed as one of God’s gifts to humankind (Ps 104:15).

o   Every burnt offering and peace offering was accompanied by a libation of wine (Num 15:5-10).

o   Moses implies that it is a good thing to drink wine and strong drink to the Lord (Deut 14:26).

o   Joy in the Lord is compared to the abundance of wine (Ps 4:7).

o   Honoring the Lord with one’s wealth is rewarded with the blessings of abundant stores of wine (Prov 3:9-10).

o   Love is compared to wine repeatedly in the Song of Songs, as though good wine were similarly sweet (1:2, 4; 4:10; 7:9).

o   One of the symbols for Israel was the vine (Isa 5:1-7Mark 12:1-11).

o   Wine is symbolic of great blessing (Isa 25:6).

o   The lack of wine is viewed as a judgment from God (Jer 48:33Lam 2:12Hos 2:9Joel 1:10Hag 2:16); and, conversely, its provision is viewed as a blessing from the Lord (cf. Gen 27:28Deut 7:13; 11:14Joel 2:19, 24; 3:18Amos 9:13-14).

o   Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine (John 2:9-10).

o   Jesus drank wine (Matthew 11:18-19; 15:11Luke 7:33-35).

o   Jesus used wine in the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:29Mark 14:25Luke 22:18).

o   Paul tells Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake (1 Tim 5:23; cf. Prov 31:6).

But the Bible also warns about the dangers of wine. The following list demonstrates this.

o   Nazirites were to abstain from all alcohol and wine (Num 6:3-4).

o   Priests were forbidden to drink prior to officiating in the sanctuary, lest they die (Lev 10:9).

o   In Proverbs 20:1 we are told that “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.”

o   Drinking too much wine was dangerous to people and offensive to God (Prov 21:17; 23:20-21, 29-35; Isa 5:22).

o   Drunkenness was especially reprehensible when it led to self-exposure (Hab 2:15Lam 4:21). The exposure of one’s nakedness was not only publicly demeaning but also incompatible with the presence of the living God (Exod 20:26Deut 23:12-14).

o   The Bible does speak very harshly about becoming enslaved to alcohol or allowing it to control a person, especially to the point of drunkenness (Eph 5:18; cf. Deut 21:20Eccl 10:17Luke 12:45; 21:34Rom 13:131 Cor 5:111 Pet 4:3).

 

We must understand that alcohol is a problem in our culture but we must understand what the Bible teaches. The Christian faith is about tension. Most of us would like for the world to be black and white. Clear-cut. No gray. But gray is a biblical color. Let me ask you a few questions: Is money evil? Is food evil? Is travel evil? Is exercise evil? Of course, the answer to all of these questions is, “NO!” It’s all a matter of how these gifts from God are used. With alcohol and all of these other areas, the Bible calls for moderation. As many have said, “Moderation in all things.” If we do not use moderation, it is too easy for any good thing to gain control over us, which will be detrimental to our life, our family, and our ministry.

So what is the conclusion in this matter? Three important principles should suffice.

o   Everything is a gift of God (1 Tim 4:4).

o   Obey government (Rom 13:1-7).

o   Allow differing opinions (Rom 14:1-23).

 

Now back to our story. After Noah became drunk he “uncovered himself inside his tent.” The Hebrew word translated “uncovered” (galah) means “to be disgracefully exposed.” Now this certainly complicates matters. Noah evidently felt warm because of the effect of the alcohol, took off his clothes, and then passed out in his tent. Alcohol is a depressant. It “loosens” people up because it depresses their self-control, their wisdom, their balance, and judgment. Noah became drunk and careless. He did the normal pass-out routine for drunkenness and in the process discarded his robe. So he is lying in his own room sprawled out naked on the floor or possibly on his sleeping area.

 

Moses is drawing our attention back to the first few chapters of Genesis. In 2:8, God planted a garden for man to enjoy. Here, Noah plants a vineyard (9:20). Moses also establishes parallels between Noah’s disgrace (he took of the fruit of his orchard and became naked) and that of Adam and Eve (who took of the fruit of the garden and saw that they were naked). In pointing out the similarities of Noah and Adam, Moses wants to show us that even after being saved from the flood, man’s enjoyment of God’s good gifts could not be sustained. Noah, like Adam, sinned, and the effects of that sin were to be felt in the generations of sons and daughters to follow. As in Genesis 3, the effect of Noah’s sin is seen in his “nakedness” (9:22; cf. 2:25; 3:7).

 

When Noah and his family were introduced for the first time, Moses wrote, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Gen 6:9). In the New Testament, Noah was called a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5). He is also included in the hall of faith of Hebrews 11. Noah was a great man of God. If Noah can sin, anyone can sin. This includes you and me. But the point of this story and the whole of Genesis is not merely that anyone can fall but that everybody does (Rom 3:10-12).

 

The time when most Christians fall is on the heels of a great victory. Man’s tendency is to ease up when the conflict lessens. If it happened to Noah, it could happen to you. Whenever you feel like things are going especially well, beware. Stay humble. The apostle Paul says, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Cor 10:12). We are very vulnerable people. Every Christian is capable of committing even the most heinous of sins. This is why we so desperately require the accountability of a local church and a small group of believers.

 

This account also serves as a reminder that it is possible for seasoned saints to stumble in the sunset years of their lives. Moses sinned late in his life by striking a rock and taking some of God’s glory to Himself; as a result, he was not permitted to enter to Promised Land. David sinned with Bathsheeba when he was in his fifties. Solomon departed from the will of God when he was old. Past successes do not provide power for future victory. The Bible teaches again and again that godly people can be tripped up before the finish line. Someone once said, “The enemy will wait forty years, if necessary, to set a trap for you.” I confess this scares the daylights out of me!

 

This means we must recognize that the greatest of all believers have weaknesses. The Christian is not a super saint. He is an ordinary person saved by grace. The people of God are upheld by God’s grace. If we are different it is because of the powerful support of God. If we are not upheld we can fall away at any moment. The only thing that makes us different is that we are sustained by God’s mercy. If God should let us go we could slip badly. Who can say what we would do if God lets us go?

 

Noah’s sin reminds us that anyone can stumble into sin. But it also illustrates that when we fall, we usually take someone else with us. Remember those three-legged races at picnics? When you fall down, your partner does too—there’s no such thing as sinning alone. No man lives unto himself and no man dies unto himself—and no man sins unto himself.

[God warns us to beware of failure after great victory. Now he warns us to…]

2. Beware of gloating over the misfortune of others (9:22-23). In 9:22, we read that “Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.” Apparently Ham’s gaze was not a mere harmless notice or an accidental glance. The verb “saw” has such force that some say it means “he gazed with satisfaction.” After observing his father’s nakedness, Ham told his brothers outside. The word “told” means “to boldly announce with delight.” Ham gloated over his father’s shame. Ham’s heart was intent on mocking his father and undermining his authority as a man of God. He did nothing to preserve his father’s dignity. To the contrary, Ham probably encouraged Shem and Japheth to go into the tent to see this spectacle for themselves.

 

How do you respond to the sins and failings of others? With delight? With a sense of superiority? By spreading the story (see Prov 17:9Gal 6:1-2)? Sadly, most people are far-sighted when it comes to sin—they see others’, not their own! Many of us love to hear about the demise of others. Now we would never be so brazen to admit it, but it’s true. The flesh loves to hear about the latest scandal (e.g., a marriage on the rocks, an affair, a fallen Christian). Yet, the Lord wants us to grieve when other believers fall into sin. How people respond to the sin and embarrassment of others is an indication of their own character.

 

In 9:23, we read of a contrast: “But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.” Contrary to Ham, Shem and Japheth covered Noah’s nakedness. They laid “a garment” across their shoulders. They walked in backward and covered Noah. They turned their faces from his nakedness. They honored their father and won the approval and blessing of God. The significance of the contrast between the actions of the sons is seen from the author’s account of the fall in Genesis 3. In covering their father’s nakedness, Shem and Japheth were like Adam and Eve (3:7) and God (3:21) who did not look on man’s nakedness but covered it with coats of skin (cf. 2:25). They are a living illustration of 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (cf. Prov 10:12; 12:16; 17:9).

 

How did Noah feel when he awoke from his drunken stupor and realized what he had done? Did he sit on the edge of his bed, head in his hands, retching with nausea and guilt? As his mind raced back over the last few hours and how he could have gotten into such a condition, did the words of God’s covenant come back to his mind (9:9)? What else could he do but just trust in the compassion of a gracious and merciful God?

 

[We are warned by God to beware of failure after great victory and gloating over the misfortune of others. We are also warned to…]

 

3. Beware of the long-term consequences of sin (9:24-29). In 9:24, Moses writes: “When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him.” Noah was no doubt ashamed of what he had done. He was also likely surprised to find himself covered with a garment. Naturally, he must have wondered what happened in the tent while he was asleep. The logical thing would be to speak to Japheth, his firstborn; and he and Shem must have told him what Ham had done.

In response to what he learned, Noah said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants He shall be to his brothers.” Now this is bizarre. Who is “Canaan”? Canaan is the son of Ham, Noah’s grandson (9:18b). Why does the curse fall on Canaan? It seems that Noah is prophesying that Canaan is already cursed because he is Ham’s son. He is saying, Canaan, you are cursed because Ham is your dad. It is also a warning to Ham that his son is going to treat him like he treated his father. Ham dishonored Noah, and fatherhood in general, so Canaan is cursed by having Ham as his father. The story of history is pretty stunning: One day one son dishonored his dad; as a result, our society has been obliterated with rebellion.

 

Many are cursed because of their fathers and many men turn out like their fathers. Yet, a little boy wants more than anything to be just like his dad. In our day and age, that’s either a good thing or a bad thing. Men love your children and esteem fatherhood. Be a godly example they can look to.

As the youngest son wrongs his father, so the curse will fall on his youngest son, who presumably inherits his moral decadence (Lev 18:3Deut 9:3). In addition to the Canaanites, Ham’s descendants include some if Israel’s most bitter enemies: Egypt, Philistia, Assyria, and Babylon (see 10:6-13). Ham’s indiscretion towards his father may easily be seen as a type of the later behavior of the Egyptians and Canaanites. Noah’s curse on Canaan thus represents God’s sentence on the sins of the Canaanites, which their forefather Ham had exemplified.

 

When God says that He “visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me” (Exod 20:5b), He means it! For example, Abraham lied to Pharaoh about Sarah. Isaac ended up in the same circumstances and told a lie about his wife, Rebecca; Jacob ended up being a liar and had twelve sons, ten of whom deceived him with lies. There you have it: four generations are affected because of the sin of one of the parents.

 

In 9:26-27, Noah says, “He also said, ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.’” Noah is given a conviction that salvation and blessing will come through the line of Shem. In due course, Jesus would be a Jew, a Semite, and a descendant in the line of Shem through whom the entire human race will be blessed. Japheth is to have extended territory. His line will not lead to the Messiah but there is a blessing in store for him. He had protected Noah and will find protection himself. The language is picturesque. Japheth lives in the tents of Shem. One person is pictured as taking shelter with another. In the course of history salvation would come through a Semite—Jesus. Then an abundance of Gentiles would come to salvation through a Jewish Savior. The people of Japheth were enlarged in their population and in their territory, but there was more involved here than territorial expansion. The Gospel would come through a Semitic Savior, and when He came salvation would be for all people everywhere. Many of the people of Japheth around the Mediterranean area would “take shelter” in this Semitic Savior. The Semitic people will be the channel—the cradle, as it were—the conduit out of which the whole of mankind will have a blessing.

 

Genesis 9 ends with a summary of Noah’s subsequent life. Like his forebears in chapter 5, Noah lived to an advanced age (950). Like Enoch, he had “walked with God” (5:21, 23; 6:9) earlier in his life. If Noah had not fallen away after the flood, perhaps God would have taken him away as he did Enoch (5:24). But in Noah’s case that was not to be. Like his other ancestors in Genesis 5, Noah died (9:29). And though the sin was never repeated, the memory must have cast a cloud to the end.

 

As I close I want to talk to those that may feel like Noah or Ham. If Satan has won a battle in your life, don’t let him win a second battle. Don’t buy into the lie that it’s too late for you to repent. Satan has three lies that he pawns off on gullible believers. The first is that sin doesn’t really matter. “Just do it once, and God will forgive you, and you can control the consequences.” Then, when we have fallen, he comes up with a second lie, “You’ve blown it so badly there’s no use standing up. In fact, if you receive forgiveness today you might commit the same sin tomorrow, so why bother?” And once he has you there, he has a third lie too: “Now look what you’ve done. You’ve gone too far. You’ve committed too many sins and hurt too many people. Just learn to cope with your sins because God doesn’t want to hear from you anymore; you’re too wretched to be forgiven.” And when the Devil has convinced you that there is no way back, you are stuck with the curse, and so are your children. But God wants to bring you back today so that He can minimize the consequences of sin you have already committed. He says to you, “I want to put My arms around you again. I will blot out your sin. You can walk before Me in purity and holiness.”


 Some of the commentators have interpreted the action of Ham (Gen 9:22-23) as a homosexual act for two reasons. In the first place, it is claimed that the expression “to see the nakedness” is a euphemistic term for a sexual act (cf. Lev 18:6-19). And, second, it is said in 9:24 that Noah knew what his youngest son “had done to him,” and the verb seems to refer to an act, not simply a look. However, 9:22 does not say Ham “uncovered” the nakedness of his father. According to the text, Noah “uncovered himself”; Ham merely “saw” his father naked. Furthermore, the Hebrew verb asah (“to do”) carries too general a sense to draw the conclusion that Ham had to have done more than look on his father’s nakedness and tell his brothers. The point of the text is that Ham had no respect for his father. Rather than covering his father up, he told his brothers. Noah then gave an oracle that Ham’s descendants, who would be characterized by the same moral abandonment, would be cursed.

 

A new beginning

In a Peanuts cartoon strip Lucy and Linus are staring out the window, watching it rain. The conversation goes like this: Lucy: “Boy! Look at it pour. What if it floods the whole world?” Linus: “It won’t. In Genesis 9, God promised Noah that would never happen again. The sign of that promise is the rainbow.” Lucy, turning back to the window with a big smile: “You’ve taken a great load off my mind.” Linus: “Sound theology has a way of doing that.”

 

We laugh at that cartoon but my man Linus was on to something. Sound theology not only takes a load off our minds; it also teaches us what God is like and what He expects of us. Theology is not dry, dull, and boring. Nor is it just for biblical scholars who sit in ivory tower libraries. Theology is meant to alter the way we live life. As we look at Genesis 9:1-17, we are going to learn how a strong theology guides us through this life.

[In the first seven verses, we learn that a strong theology helps us to…]

1. Appreciate the value of life (9:1-7). Moses begins with these words: “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’” (9:1). This verse is a renewal of God’s first blessing and commission to Adam (1:28). Like Adam, Noah and his sons were blessed and commanded to reproduce and fill the earth. The word “blessed” is the key word in Genesis. It is a reminder that the God of the Bible has always been a God that blesses His people (cf. James 1:17). This is such a good word for us to hear. It is so easy to be restless and discontent. We always want more. We are never satisfied. Yet, God’s will for us is to express gratitude for His every blessing. A strong theology appreciates God’s many blessings.

 

Additional blessings are found in 9:2-4: “The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given. Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” Why did God put this fear and terror of man in all creatures? For two reasons: (1) For the protection of animals who will no longer be at peace with man, and (2) for the protection of man who will no longer be at peace with animals. Moses writes that God gave the animals into Noah’s hands (Jeremiah 27:5). This means humans have been given authority over animals. The Lord then informs Noah and his boys that meat is to be a normal part of the human diet. The only restriction is that they must not eat meat with the blood in it. Humans are not to devour animals the way animals devour one another, while the blood is pulsating in the flesh. The reason for this is respect for life and the giver of life. In Leviticus 17:11, Moses teaches that life is in the blood and God is the giver of life Disregard for the gift of life is an affront to the giver of life.

 

Moses continues to record the Lord’s words in 9:5: “Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.” God will demand an accounting of any animal that sheds man’s blood (see Exodus 21:28). So valuable is human life that a compensation of life will even be exacted from animals. The last phrase of 9:5 is a bit confusing. The literal translation is “from the hand of a man, his brother.” The point is that God will require the blood of someone who kills, since the person killed is a relative (“brother”) of the killer. The language reflects Noah’s situation (after the flood everyone would be part of Noah’s extended family), but also supports the concept of the brotherhood of mankind. According to the Genesis account the entire human race descended from Noah.

 

In 9:6, the Lord puts His law in a compelling poetic stanza, which declares: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” As we look at this controversial verse, it is important to note two things.

 

First, it is clear that this verse is giving us a command and not just a suggestion or permission. Verse 5 states that God demands a punishment: “from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.” Three times in 9:5, the Lord Himself says, “I will require” blood for blood. This is what I would call putting emphasis on a command with an exclamation point! It is also important to note that God has never countermanded this command. Consequently, it is still in force.

 

Second, the reason given for this action is one that remains in force for as long as men and women are made in the image of God. In 1:26, when God created man, He created him in the image of God. Until human history ends, all men and women will be created in the image of God. Into the eternal realm, man will continue to bear the image of God.

 

These two observations help us to conclude that God instituted capital punishment. Of course, the natural question is: why? The Bible provides four very important reasons:

1. Human life is so precious and sacred to God that when murder is committed, the death penalty is in order (Lev 24:17-18). When a person murders another human being, he or she extinguishes a revelation of God. God takes this very seriously.

 

2. The person who murders another being made in God’s image shows contempt for God as well. To kill another person usurps God’s sovereign authority over life and death. When a man or woman murders another person he or she assumes the role of God.

3. Capital punishment provides appropriate justice. The Scriptures teach there is a divine validity to punishment for crime. Before the flood, the lack of capital punishment led to blood vendettas.

 

4. Capital punishment is intended to serve as a deterrent. Any society that loses its reverence for life cannot long endure. For this reason, God instituted capital punishment as a gracious restraint upon man’s sinful tendency toward violence. Some people raise the issue of Christian love and forgiveness. Undoubtedly, these expressions are very important but they do not necessarily negate the consequences of one’s actions.

 

Although the Bible teaches the death penalty for deliberate and premeditated murder, it is important to remember that this responsibility is the sole prerogative of human government; because government is a “minister” of God (Romans 13:1-4) Of course, the death penalty must be applied with such reluctance that where “reasonable doubt” exists, we err on the side of mercy and waive the death penalty. In an imperfect judicial system not all defendants will be treated equally or fairly because economic status, social standing, race, or political and legal connections will place some “above the law.” However, we will warn that such cheating does not escape God’s notice, nor does it change His laws. It only becomes another divine indictment on that society that dares to exercise unevenly the divinely ordained demand for justice. That nation is going to be judged for such a cavalier attitude toward God’s mission.

 

The Lord closes this section in 9:7 with a strong contrast by reiterating what he said in 9:1: “As for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.” Against the backdrop of the warnings about taking life, God now again reminds His people to produce life.

[Sound theology helps us to appreciate the value of life. It also enables us to…]

2. Celebrate God’s Covenant (9:8-17). In 9:8-17, God told Noah and his sons that He would preserve life by not flooding the entire earth ever again (see 9:11, 15). Moses writes, “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth. This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.’”

 

This passage reveals three important aspects to God’s covenant. This “covenant” is unconditional (9:9), universal (9:9-10, 17), and eternal (9:12, 16). Several clues bear this out:

1. The recurrence of “I,” “Myself,” and “My” demonstrates the unconditional nature of this covenant. God Himself will ensure that this covenant is carried out. It is not dependent upon man’s work or faithfulness. This is how God typically works. There is nothing man can do to earn His favor.

 

2. The replication of the phrase “every living creature” (9:10a, 10b; 12b) and its equivalents, “all flesh” (9:11b; 15b; 17b), and “every living creature of all flesh” (9:15a; 16b)—a total of eight times, affirms God’s passionate concern for, and certain commitment to, the preservation and care of all living species on the earth. Since God appreciates both animal and human life, so should we.

 

3. God clearly states that this is an “eternal covenant” (9:16), “for all successive generations” (9:12). Since God is the eternal God who dwells outside of space and time, He can maintain His covenants as long as He sovereignly chooses. The Bible teaches that God fulfills His covenants and promises. If He failed to fulfill even one covenant or promise, He would cease to be God. Furthermore, if He failed, or fails sometime in the future, how could we know with any degree of confidence that the Gospel is trustworthy? Those that suggest the Scripture has errors often overlook this point. Yet, God’s Word must be free of inaccuracies or God is not God and the rest of His Word is suspect, at best.

 

A biblical covenant usually involved three things: parties, terms, and promises. Suppose that you were a painter and I wanted my house painted. We could make a covenant together. You and I would be the two parties involved and the terms would include what areas were to be painted, what color, and when the job should be completed. The promise I made to you would be in the amount of money I was going to pay you when the job was finished. Your promise to me would be that the job would be completed as originally agreed. The agreement that we make concerning these elements: parties, terms, and promises, would be the covenant that we made with each other.

When God makes a covenant with us, it normally involves these three elements. The difference is that God alone determines the terms of the agreement, and that God always comes through on His end of the deal.

If God is willing to make a covenant with us, and He is willing to bind Himself to that covenant no matter what, what does that say about the relationship God wants to have with us? It says that we can be hopeful about the future, because we worship a God that not only desires our companionship, but who is willing to take the steps necessary to obligate Himself to that relationship.

In 9:12-17, God also attaches significance to the rainbow as a “sign” of His covenant. The Hebrew word for rainbow (qeset) is also the word for a battle bow. The point seems to be that the bow is now “put away,” hung in place by the clouds, suggesting that the “battle,” the storm, is over. Thus the rainbow speaks of peace. As a result, whenever clouds appear over the earth and a rainbow appears, God will “remember” His covenant with man. God said that the rainbow would cause Him to remember His unconditional covenant with man. God is a faithful God!

 

I hope you have seen that a sound theology helps us to appreciate the value of life and celebrate God’s covenant. My prayer for you today is that you are living with gratitude to God for His gift of life and that you are enjoying your relationship with God who is a covenant keeper.

When it rains, God pours

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel awoke one morning to read his own obituary in the local newspaper: “Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who died yesterday, devised a way for more people to be killed in a war than ever before, and he died a very rich man.” There was only one problem; Alfred Nobel had not died. Actually, it was his older brother who had died, but a newspaper reporter had somehow gotten it wrong. Regardless of how it happened, the account had a profound effect on Alfred Nobel. He decided he wanted to be known for something other than developing the means to kill people efficiently and for amassing a fortune in the process. So he initiated the Nobel Peace Prize, the award for scientists and writers who foster peace. Nobel said, “Every man ought to have the chance to correct his epitaph in midstream and write a new one.”

 

How will you be remembered when your time on earth is over? When you are gone, how will others describe your faith in God? Are you preparing for God’s judgment? The story of Noah will challenge us to answer these questions. Today, we will be looking at the better part of three chapters because the narrative treats these paragraphs as one long section. We will read through this section because we value learning God’s Word but some portions will be given more attention.

  1. Write your epitaph(6:9-12). Moses writes, “These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (6:9-10). In 6:8, Noah “found favor” or “grace” through faith. Then in 6:9-10, we learn four important things about Noah.

First, Noah was a “righteous man.” The word translated “righteous” (tsaddiq) connotes “conformity to the standard.” In the case of Noah, he conformed to the standard set by God. He was able to do so because God granted him grace. This reminds us that God’s grace always comes before anything. It’s easy to think that God loves us for what we are intrinsically, for what we have done, or can become. But God does not love us because of that, nor is He gracious to us because of that. On the contrary, He loves us solely because He loves us. He is gracious to us only because He is (cf. Deut 7:7-8). This is a crucial truth for us to understand. We do not earn God’s grace or favor (Eph 2:8-9); He bestows it upon us for His own good pleasure (Eph 1:4-6).

 

Not only was Noah a righteous man but 2 Peter 2:5 tells us that he was also a “preacher of righteousness.” Noah preached righteousness in the same way that his great-grandfather Enoch had done before him (Jude 1:14-15). The reason he could do this is that he himself was righteous. The reason that we do not have more preaching of righteousness in our day is that those who profess Christ are often not living righteous lives.  Are you living with “right-ness”? Does your life match your convictions?

 

Second, Noah was “blameless.” The word “blameless” (tamim) involves the idea of completeness. Noah conformed to the standard set by God and his life was “complete,” with no essential quality missing. The modifying phrase “in his time” indicates all the more clearly that Noah’s righteousness and blamelessness stood out against his contemporaries’ sinfulness. Noah was not only righteous in the sight of God; he also had a credible reputation among the people of his day. They could not pin a single wrong action on him. He was blameless. Arthur Friedman once said, “Men of genius are admired. Men of wealth are envied. Men of power are feared. But only men of character are trusted.” Does your character demand the trust of those people in your life?

 

Third, Noah “walked with God.” This means he had daily, step-by-step fellowship with God. He had God as his companion as he walked through life. This type of imitate fellowship does not happen by osmosis; it must be cultivated. It takes work to be godly. Is your walk with God vibrant?

 

Lastly, Noah walked with God before his family. Noah’s godliness was the godliness of a man who was involved in ordinary life. He did not withdraw from society. Real godliness is not like that. Noah was out and about in God’s world. He provided for his family. The linking of the names of his sons with his faithful life surely indicates that Noah influenced his family in spiritual matters. Apparently, Noah instructed his family to believe in God…and they did! More often than not, when a husband and father exert spiritual leadership in the home, the entire family responds and follows his lead.

 

It is interesting to note, however, that Noah’s only converts were his wife, his sons, and their wives (6:18). Apparently, not a single person outside his family paid the slightest attention to what he had to say. He preached for the better part of 120 years and won no converts other than his own family. Nevertheless, by God’s grace, Noah won those that mattered most. Sadly, I have known men and women that have been so absorbed in winning their world for Christ that they have failed to win their own home. This is a travesty! Our top priority must always be to influence our family members for Christ. This is one of the top requirements of leadership; to have children that believe and to manage one’s own household well (1Tim 3:4-5, 12; Titus 1:6). Is this your conviction? Are you investing well in your family?

 

I need to go even further. I believe an important principle is illustrated here: Noah’s faith and obedience resulted in the salvation and obedience of his family. This principle can also bear fruit in our lives as parents and grandparents. Unfortunately, many of us wonder why our children and grandchildren aren’t turning out the way that we would like. Often, we don’t stop to immediately ask what role we have played in their lack of spiritual development. How can we expect our children to be obedient if we aren’t obedient? When Christian parents grieve over a lost child who has rebelled against God, His Word, His Son, and His church, they wonder where he learned to rebel. Quite often a child learns at home, from parents who have been rebellious is some area of life. Parents, we must live up to the standard that God has set for us if we hope our children will be fruitful disciples.

 

In 6:11-12, Moses goes on to write, “Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.” Three times in 6:11-12 we are told how “corrupt” the earth had become (contra 1:31). The word for “violence” is used of robbery, taking wives by force, and murder. The entire social fabric had disintegrated and human life was no longer sacred or respected (see Isa 59:6-8). The two words “corrupt” and “violence” (Ps 14:1-3) give us respectively the character and expression of the sin, the cause, and the effect. The corruption has led to violence, for badness always leads to cruelty in one form or another. A life that is wrong with God necessarily becomes wrong with its fellows.

 

It is critical to recognize that Noah lived in terrible days. The world around him was degraded and depraved; yet Noah lived an above reproach life. When all the people around him were immersing themselves in evil and earning the wrath and judgment of God, Noah set his heart to follow the path found in the person and character of God. He stood his ground and remained uninfluenced by all that was happening around him. If Noah was, so can you. God has given us everything “pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3).

 

  1. Obey God’s Word(6:13-22). In 6:13, Moses writes, “Then God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.’” For the second time in three verses, the Lord mentions the “violence” of mankind (see 6:11; cf. 49:5). He then tells Noah that He is about to “destroy” these violent people “with the earth.” This section demonstrates that the earth and nature suffer because of human sin (cf. 3:17-19; 4:12; Rom 8:20-21).

 

In 6:14-16, Noah received detailed instructions that he was to follow in building the ark. The ingredients were “gopher wood” (or “cypress wood”) and “pitch.” The dimensions are as follows:

 

Dimensions Noah’s Ark22 Contemporary Equivalent23
Length 450 feet 1½ American football fields
Width 75 feet 7 parking spaces
Height 45 feet 3 stories
Cubic Feet 1.5 million 800 railroad boxcars
Capacity 14,000 gross tons Princess of the Orient

 

As best we can tell, the ark was shaped like a shallow rectangular box topped with a roof, with an 18 inch space under the roof, interrupted only by roof supports, so light could get into the vessel from every side. This design uses space very efficiently. The ark would have been very stable in the water. What a monster this ark was! Noah had more than enough work to keep him occupied for a century.

Remember, there were no trucks, no chain saws, and no cranes.

 

A question that is asked is: How could Noah’s ark hold between one-half billion to over a billion species of animals?

First, the modern concept of “species” is not the same as a “kind” in the Bible. There are probably only several hundred different “kinds” of land animals that would have to be taken into the ark. The sea animals stayed in the sea, and many species could have survived in egg form.

Second, Noah could have taken younger varieties of some larger animals. Third, as I have already said, the ark was not small; it was a huge structure—the size of a modern ocean liner. Furthermore, it had three stories (6:16), which tripled its space to a total of over 1.5 million cubic feet! Given all these factors, there was plenty of room for all the animals, food for the trip, and the eight humans aboard.

 

After giving the dimensions, in 6:17, God authoritatively speaks: “Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.” This verse places significant emphasis on the personal role of God in the ensuing storm. The phrase “I, even I” reminds us that God is responsible for natural disasters. Ultimately, He is the sovereign Controller of the universe. Therefore, we can trust in Him and what He brings into our lives and the lives of others.

Yet, in the midst of the flood’s promise, there is good news. In 6:18, God says to Noah, “But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” This is the first occurrence of the word “covenant” (berith) in the Old Testament. Here, in the midst of judgment, the Lord stooped down to meet the needs of His servant (Ps 40:1; 113:6).

 

In the wake of our tragedies and trials, God wants to do the same for us. He longs to speak to us through His Word. He wants to draw us close to Him. Are you running to Him or away from Him? This verse also illustrates another important biblical principle. While God bestows His saving grace and love on individuals, He is concerned about their families as well. Acts 16:31 summarizes this principle: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” God loves to save families.

 

Chapter 6 concludes with these words: ‘“And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. As for you, take for yourself some of all food which is edible, and gather it to yourself; and it shall be for food for you and for them.’ Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did” (6:19-22).

Apparently, all of the animals would “come to” Noah voluntarily (6:20). It would seem that he would not have to hunt them down or look for them in remote places. Their natural instinct for self-preservation, energized by a special act of God, would bring them unerringly to Noah’s ark.

 

The key to understanding biblical narratives is what is repeated in the context. In 6:22, Moses records this very important statement: “Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.” In chapter 7, he then repeats this phrase three more times (7:5, 9, 16). This informs us that God must be obeyed in all His instructions if His people expect to enjoy the fruit of life and blessing (e.g., Deut 26:16-19; 28:1-14).

Before we move into chapter 7, we must quickly put ourselves in Noah’s sandals. Though he was thrust onto the front pages of his day’s newspaper as a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5), he did not flinch when the criticism came. No doubt he was called a fool and worse. Just imagine how many Noah jokes people came up with over a century! But he went on believing and working. Noah remained obedient, doing exactly what God said for 25, 50, 75, 100 years…until the ark lay like a huge coffin on the land. What a powerful reminder that God sometimes calls His servants to obey Him even when it seems nonsensical. In these situations, all that we can do is trust in the promises of God’s Word.

 

This section also reminds us that it is possible to be right with God, even amidst surrounding iniquity. God is the same today as He was to Noah, and if only we are willing to fulfill the conditions we too shall walk with God and please Him.

 

  1. Trust in God’s Provision(7:1-16). Moses writes, “Then the LORD said to Noah, ‘Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time. You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female; also of the birds of the sky, by sevens, male and female, to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth. For after seven more days, I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights; and I will blot out from the face of the land every living thing that I have made.’ Noah did according to all that the LORD had commanded him.” How many animals went into the ark? The truth is that there is no inherent incompatibility between the two texts as they presently stand.

 

Genesis 7:2-3 is just more precise than 6:19-20 on the question of the types and numbers of animals and birds that would board the ark. Noah’s first instruction was to admit pairs of all kinds of creatures on the ark to preserve their lives (6:19-20). That was the basic formula. Then he was given more specific instructions about admitting seven pairs of each of the clean animals and seven pairs of each kind of bird. The purpose of this measure was to become clear only after the flood. Birds would be needed to scout out the earth (8:7-12), and the clean animals and birds would be offered in sacrifice to the Lord (8:20). If Noah had taken only one pair of each and then offered each of these pairs in sacrifice, these species would have become completely extinct.

God is still a holy God. He still hates sin. He still is slow to judge. He watches the sin of man and warns that it will not be allowed to go on and on forever. God tells that world what He will do. Our world will also come to an end (2 Pet 3:1-13). We have prior notice that the judgment of God is on its way. In His grace, God warns His people. He tells us in advance that sinful men do not deserve to live on God’s earth. This is the basic message of the Genesis flood.

 

In 7:6-16, Moses writes, “Now Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of water came upon the earth. Then Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him entered the ark because of the water of the flood. Of clean animals and animals that are not clean and birds and everything that creeps on the ground, there went into the ark to Noah by twos, male and female, as God had commanded Noah. It came about after the seven days, that the water of the flood came upon the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened. The rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah and Shem and Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark, they and every beast after its kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, all sorts of birds. So they went into the ark to Noah, by twos of all flesh in which was the breath of life. Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him; and the LORD closed it behind him.” The account of the floodwater inundating the earth is both majestic and terrible. Moses was careful to describe the flood in terms reminiscent of the creation. Like Genesis 1, the account of the flood is structured by a careful counting of the days (371 total days).

 

o   7 days of waiting for the waters to come (7:4, 10),

o   40 days of water rising (7:12, 17),

o   150 days of waters prevailing (7:24; 8:3),

o   40 days of water receding (8:6),

o   7 days of waiting for the waters to recede (8:10), and

o   7 more days of waiting for the waters to recede completely (8:12).

  1. Remember God’s power(7:17-24). Moses writes, “Then the flood came upon the earth for forty days, and the water increased and lifted up the ark, so that it rose above the earth. The water prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. The water prevailed more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered. The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered. All flesh that moved on the earth perished, birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind; of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died. Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark. The water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days.” The flood is to be a reminder to us of the reality of final judgment (Matt 24:38-39Luke 17:272 Pet 2:5; 3:5-6).

 

God holds the world accountable for its behavior. It tells us that God is grieved over our sin and the harm it does to others. He will not put up with it forever. We live in a moral universe, and to go against the moral laws which God has built into the world invites disaster. Sin affects our personal lives, our families, our church, our community, our nation, and ultimately, our world. The Bible says that every mouth will be silenced and that the whole world will be held accountable to God (Rom 3:19). We cannot escape the fact that we are responsible to God for our behavior and that a future judgment is coming when we will answer for the way in which we have lived. That simple fact should dramatically affect our perspective in life and make us desire to be faithful to the God who has been faithful to us.

There is a great debate on whether the flood was universal or local. It seems to be universal. In the first place, the universalist language favors it, with such terms being used numerous times. With forty days of rain over the land, how could it be otherwise? In addition, if one wanted to describe a universal flood, how would such a description differ from the one given in these chapters? In the second place, the depth of water favors a universal flood. Mt. Ararat, on which the ark came to rest, is over 17,000 feet in altitude, and the waters were over twenty feet higher than all the mountains (notice the language of 7:19 with its “all’s”).

In the third place, God’s promises of never allowing another such flood favor a universal one, for there have been many devastating local floods since then (cf. 8:21; 9:11, 15; 2 Pet 3:6). The New Testament authors seem to favor this view also.

 

  1. Rejoice in God’s grace(8:1-22). In 8:1-5, Moses writes, “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided. Also the fountains of the deep and the floodgates of the sky were closed, and the rain from the sky was restrained; and the water receded steadily from the earth, and at the end of one hundred and fifty days the water decreased. In the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat. The water decreased steadily until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains became visible.” The word “remember” (8:1) is the high point of this story. It refers to God acting toward someone because of a previous commitment. God remembers His children.

 

During the eleventh to twelfth centuries A.D., Mt. Ararat became the traditional site known as the place of Noah’s landing. Verse 4, however, does not specify a peak and refers generally to its location as the “mountains of Ararat.” The search for the ark’s artifacts has been both a medieval and a modern occupation; but to the skeptic, such evidence is not convincing, and to the believer, while not irrelevant, it is not necessary to faith. Modern Mt. Ararat lies on the border between Turkey and Armenia and encompasses Turkey, Russia, and Iran—the center of the ancient world. Sadly, the Armenian people worship Mt. Ararat today. The creature worships the creation instead of the Creator (Rom 1:21-23). From this region Noah’s descendants spread out over the earth.

 

In 8:6-17, Moses writes, “Then it came about at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made; and he sent out a raven, and it flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove from him, to see if the water was abated from the face of the land; but the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot, so she returned to him into the ark, for the water was on the surface of all the earth. Then he put out his hand and took her, and brought her into the ark to himself. So he waited yet another seven days; and again he sent out the dove from the ark. The dove came to him toward evening, and behold, in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the water was abated from the earth. Then he waited yet another seven days, and sent out the dove; but she did not return to him again. Now it came about in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first of the month, the water was dried up from the earth. Then Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the surface of the ground was dried up. In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. Then God spoke to Noah, saying, ‘Go out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you, birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.’” We can almost hear the “Hallelujah Chorus” playing in the background! What a day of rejoicing that must have been! God had been faithful to see Noah through.

 

In 8:18-19, Moses writes, “So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by their families from the ark.” Verses 18 and 19 may seem like needless repetition to the modern reader, but they document Noah’s obedience to God’s words, which Moses stressed in the entire flood narrative.

 

Our section closes in 8:20-22 with these words: “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, ‘I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.’” What is the first thing that Noah does when he gets off the ark? Does he tend for food, find water, and create shelter? The first thing that Noah did when he left the ark was to build an altar and offer God a sacrifice (8:20). This demonstrates his dedication and gratitude to God. Noah’s “altar” is the first mentioned in the Bible. His “burnt offerings” were for worship. As the head of the new humanity, Noah’s sacrifice represented all mankind. God may judge the wicked catastrophically and begin a new era of existence with faithful believers.

Giants in the land

The message of the Bible runs contrary to our societal views. The Bible states that mankind is sinful. As a result, God must judge man’s sin. Yet, although God must judge sin, the Bible also teaches that He loves mankind and invites man to enter into a relationship with Him. Genesis 6:1-8 shares this tension.

 

  1. Prepare for God’s Judgment(6:1-4). In 6:1-2, Moses writes, “Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.” Theses two verses teach that there was a population explosion (cf. 1:28) and men were marrying women. For a brief moment we see a snapshot of everyday life. We would call it “business as usual.” Yet, we also will see that this is the calm before the storm (Matt 24:38-39; Luke 17:26-27).

 

Few texts in the history of biblical interpretation have aroused more curiosity and divergence of opinion than Genesis 6:1-4. It is at once tantalizing and deeply puzzling. The three most popular positions may be labeled “the cosmologically mixed races view” (angels and humans), “the religiously mixed races view” (godly Sethites and worldly Cainites), and “the sociologically mixed races view” (despotic male aristocrats and beautiful female commoners). Each of these views has its own unique problems. The key to discerning which interpretation is best is determining which has the fewest problems, and most accurately reflects the context of this passage and the whole of Scripture.

 

Genesis 6 begins by naming two opposing groups: “the sons of God” and “the daughters of men.”

Question: “Who were the sons of God and daughters of men in Genesis 6:1-4?”

 

Answer: Genesis 6:1-4 refers to the sons of God and the daughters of men. There have been several suggestions as to who the sons of God were and why the children they had with daughters of men grew into a race of giants (that is what the word Nephilim seems to indicate).

 

The three primary views on the identity of the sons of God are 1) they were fallen angels, 2) they were powerful human rulers, or 3) they were godly descendants of Seth intermarrying with wicked descendants of Cain. Giving weight to the first theory is the fact that in the Old Testament the phrase “sons of God” always refers to angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). A potential problem with this is in Matthew 22:30, which indicates that angels do not marry. The Bible gives us no reason to believe that angels have a gender or are able to reproduce. The other two views do not present this problem.

 

The weakness of views 2) and 3) is that ordinary human males marrying ordinary human females does not account for why the offspring were “giants” or “heroes of old, men of renown.” Further, why would God decide to bring the flood on the earth (Genesis 6:5-7) when God had never forbidden powerful human males or descendants of Seth to marry ordinary human females or descendants of Cain? The oncoming judgment of Genesis 6:5-7 is linked to what took place in Genesis 6:1-4. Only the obscene, perverse marriage of fallen angels with human females would seem to justify such a harsh judgment.

 

As previously noted, the weakness of the first view is that Matthew 22:30 declares, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” However, the text does not say “angels are not able to marry.” Rather, it indicates only that angels do not marry. Second, Matthew 22:30 is referring to the “angels in heaven.” It is not referring to fallen angels, who do not care about God’s created order and actively seek ways to disrupt God’s plan. The fact that God’s holy angels do not marry or engage in sexual relations does not mean the same is true of Satan and his demons.

 

View 1) is the most likely position. Yes, it is an interesting “contradiction” to say that angels are sexless and then to say that the “sons of God” were fallen angels who procreated with human females. However, while angels are spiritual beings (Hebrews 1:14), they can appear in human, physical form (Mark 16:5). The men of Sodom and Gomorrah wanted to have sex with the two angels who were with Lot (Genesis 19:1-5). It is plausible that angels are capable of taking on human form, even to the point of replicating human sexuality and possibly even reproduction. Why do the fallen angels not do this more often? It seems that God imprisoned the fallen angels who committed this evil sin, so that the other fallen angels would not do the same (as described in Jude 6). Earlier Hebrew interpreters and apocryphal and pseudopigraphal writings are unanimous in holding to the view that fallen angels are the “sons of God” mentioned in Genesis 6:1-4. This by no means closes the debate. However, the view that Genesis 6:1-4 involves fallen angels mating with human females has a strong contextual, grammatical, and historical basis.

 

 

Another interpretation – Who are the “Nephilim”? In 6:4, Moses writes, “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.” Before answering this question it is critical to understand that 6:4 is a parenthetical statement. This verse does not state the Nephilim are the offspring of the sons of God and daughters of men. Rather, they are merely contemporaries of the sons of God and daughters of men that were on earth when the sons of God sinned. Moses is careful to record that “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward.” With that said, the word Nephilim occurs only here and in Numbers 13:33, where it refers to the sons of Anak, who were people of great stature. However, in Genesis 6:4, a term is included that further defines who the Nephilim are. The Hebrew word is Gibborim. The word gibborim comes from gibbor, meaning “a mighty man of valor, strength, wealth, or power. In Genesis 10:8, Nimrod was such a gibbor. He also was clearly a king in the land of Shinar. Hence, the meaning of Nephilim-Gibborim is not “giants,” but something more like “princes,” “aristocrats,” or “great men” (i.e., fierce warriors, heroes, or mighty men). These characters are the famous men on the earth. In our society today, this would include all the hot musicians, actors, actresses, and athletes.

 

In 6:3, Moses continues this narrative with these words: “Then the LORD said, ‘My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’” There are two interpretations of the phrase “nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” One possibility is that the 120 years may signify the new age limit for people. It can be argued that 6:3 should be contrasted with 3:22 where eating of the Tree of Life would produce immortality. There seems to be ample evidence that after the flood the recorded ages steadily decline. While only Joseph lived less than 120 years in Genesis (50:26), by the end of the Pentateuch, Moses dies at 120 (Deut 34:7).

 

Another view is that the 120 years refers to the time remaining between this announcement of judgment and the coming of the flood. Reference to the Lord’s patience in 1 Pet 3:20 seems to confirm this option. This verse reminds us of the truth of Exodus 34:6: “The LORD God [is] compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.” Yet, eventually it is possible for man to reach the point of no return and judgment becomes inevitable.

 

[The main point of these verses and the ones to come is that mankind deteriorates morally and spiritually. This incurs God’s wrath, therefore, we must prepare for God’s judgment. We must also…]

 

  1. Perceive God’s ways(6:5-8). How does God respond to mankind’s sinfulness? In 6:5-8, Moses shares four ways. First, God notices sin. In 6:5, Moses writes, “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.” Genesis 6:5 may be the most strongly worded verse in the entire Bible! The first half of the verse reveals how extensively human evil had spread around the world: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth” (6:5a). The last half emphasizes that sin had permeated intensively, deep into the heart of every single human: “…and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5b). This passage states that sin pervades every pore of the human being. The key word in this verse is the word “intent” (yeser). The noun form of this word is used in 2:7 for the formation of man—God had made human beings by design (yasar), but they had taken their God-given capacities and devised evil continually. This word comes from the verb that describes a potter in the act of forming and molding his vessel (Isa 29:16). There is an emphasis on mankind’s wickedness. The words “every,” “only,” and “continually” point to the all-consuming depravity of man.

 

Later, in 8:21, Moses quotes a portion of 6:5 and observes that the phrase “only evil continually” or “all the time” (NIV) means “from childhood” on. Original sin among human beings began with Adam and Eve, but each of us participates in original sin in another sense as we begin to exhibit sinful traits after we are born. David confessed that fact after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps 51:5; see also 58:3).

 

Can you imagine a world where every member of a family would fight over the biggest piece of pie? Where no one would allow anyone else to merge into a line of traffic? Where abortion would be as accepted as a tooth extraction? Where the killing of the elderly and the infirm would be honored as an act of mercy? Where lawsuits would be as common as traffic tickets? Oh, of course, you can imagine such a world…you’re living in it! Our world has excluded God and is focused on self.

 

Second, God grieves over sin. In 6:6, Moses writes, “The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” Note the contrast between the heart of the wicked and the heart of God. This is no heartless regret, but the reaction of someone who loves deeply. This terminology is love language; it in no way suggests that God is not immutable (Mal 3:6).

 

The word translated “grieved” means “indignant rage.” The word is used to express the most intense form of human emotion, a mixture of rage and bitter anguish. Dinah’s brothers felt this way after she was raped; so did Jonathan when he heard Saul planned to kill David, and David reacted similarly when he heard of Absalom’s death (34:7; 1 Sam 20:34; 2 Sam 19:3). A deserted wife feels this way (Isa 54:6). The word is used of God’s feelings in two other passages (Ps 78:40; Isa 63:10). Only here is the verb supplemented by the phrase “in His heart,” underlying the strength of God’s reaction to human sinfulness. Fortunately, Christ’s sacrifice will pacify God’s bitter indignation against sin (see 8:21).

 

Many are legitimately startled when they read that the Lord “was grieved” or “repented” that He had ever made man and woman upon the earth. How can both the immutability and the changeableness of God be taught in the same canon of Scripture? Scriptures frequently use the phrase “God repented.” The Hebrew root (nacham) behind all the words variously translated as “relent,” “repent,” “be sorry,” and “grieve.” In its origins the root may well have reflected the idea of breathing or sighing deeply. It suggests a physical display of one’s feelings—sorrow, compassion, or comfort. When the Bible says that God repented, the idea is that His feelings toward some person or group of persons changed, in response to some change on the part of the objects of His action or some mediator who intervened (often by God’s own direction and plan). Often in the very same passages that announce God’s repentance there is a firm denial of any alteration in God’s plan, purpose, or character. From our human perspective, then, it appears that the use of this word indicates that God changed His purpose. But the expression “to repent,” when used of God, is anthropopathic (i.e., a description of our Lord in human terms).

 

All of this is to say: Ultimately, God’s sorrow means action must be taken, not that a great cosmic mistake has been made. God is a living person and, as such, He can and does change when the occasion demands it. He does not change in His character, person, or plan. But He can and does respond to our changes. Our heavenly Father’s heart breaks when we disobey Him. To cause Him such grief in light of all that He has done for us in Christ is the height of ingratitude (see Eph 4:30).

 

Third, God judges sin. In 6:7, Moses writes, “The LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.’” As the ground must endure the consequences of its ruler’s sin, so also must the animals (see 3:17). God’s judgment would involve a complete erasure of man and all accompanying creatures from existence. The destruction of everything from man to animals has to do with man’s given sovereignty over the earth, for the irrational creatures were created for Him and therefore were involved in the fall. There would be no half-measures in dealing with sin. Depravity requires God’s judgment. God’s pain over sin, especially idolatrous activities, prompts Him to blot out the wicked. The Bible tells us God watches our world with patience “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9b). But don’t mistake His patience for toleration; or His love for acceptance; or His grief for weakness. There is a limit to God’s patience with the world, but He never sneaks up and delivers His judgment by surprise.

 

If our world, like Noah’s, is provoking the judgment of God, how is He warning us today? In the Old Testament, when a nation slipped so far away from God that its people no longer read His Word or heeded the prophets, He warned them of impending judgment through national or natural disasters such as an invading army or a locust plague. Today, He warns us in the same ways. When we hear of a nation invading another nation or a country self-destructing into civil war or a volcano erupting or a tidal wave sweeping villages away or an earthquake leveling entire cities or a forest fire devouring hundreds of thousands of acres of woodlands or a drought shriveling millions of acres of farmland or an epidemic threatening to wipe out a nation’s entire population, are we hearing the warning of the Creator demand, “Repent! Judgment is coming! I am holding you accountable for your wicked, willful ways?”

 

Finally, God grants grace. The narrative concludes in 6:8 with this powerful statement: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” Often in biblical passages, the last word is one of hope. Such is the case here. The word translated “favor” (chen) is also the word translated “grace.”

It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word comes from a root meaning “to bend or stoop”; thus, the condescending or unmerited favor of a superior person to an inferior one is implied. So grace means, “God’s unmerited favor.” Grace gives us what we don’t deserve and sustains us through all of life.

 

This is the first mention of one of the most beautiful words in the Bible—grace, though we have seen many examples of God’s grace thus far. This word is likely first used here because Moses wants us to understand that Noah’s righteousness is not his own but a gift of God’s grace. It was God’s grace that saved him. In the same way, it is only by God’s grace that we can escape His judgment on the wicked.

 

Why are we saved? Paul tells us in Titus 3:5: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.”

Man still deteriorates. Society still runs down unless God intervenes. There will be an end to our world as there was to Noah’s world. A savior was chosen then; a Savior is available now: Jesus Christ. Jesus has provided a way of salvation, as Noah provided an ark. Men and women are invited to go in. Jesus died on the cross, and paid a price for our sins. They had to trust Noah’s ark. We have to trust in Jesus’ cross. They had to get inside the ark. We have to get inside Jesus’ cross. Jesus will be to us what Noah was to those in the ancient world. When we go in to Jesus He will keep us safe (1 Pet 3:18-22). If you’re looking for safety from the consequences of your sins, ask Jesus to rescue you today. When you trust Jesus as your Deliverer, you will be saved from the penalty of your sin.

 

 

Our family tree

In Genesis 5, we come to the first of many genealogies of Scripture. These have proved to be a stumbling block to many who seek to read the Bible through. They start well, but they soon get to the desert of genealogies and give up their reading. Admittedly, these genealogies are somewhat difficult. So why don’t I just skip over them? For the simple reason that, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).

 

Think about this: Have you ever poured over fine-print stock quotations or lists of baseball players and their batting averages? Have you ever studied recipe books or interior design magazines? If so, you must confess that details can be interesting and important. This is equally true in the Scriptures. Believe it or not, genealogies make significant theological points.

First, genealogies show the world that God is at work through human history. Second, genealogies show that God has preserved His faithful promises to create and bless through the family of Adam to Abraham to David and ultimately, through His Messiah, Jesus Christ. Obviously, these are not trivial or boring matters. Our faith rests on these types of issues.

[So let’s launch into this chapter of genealogy and see what the Lord has for us to learn.]

  1. We were created and blessed by God(5:1-2). Moses writes, “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created.” These first two verses tell us that Moses is starting a new section (“book”) that will define a significant portion of Adam’s family tree. Again, Moses shares the story of God’s creation of Adam and Eve. These verses reiterate that Adam and Eve were made “in the likeness of God.” This is what gives us value, worth, and dignity. I’ve been thinking a lot about how being created in the likeness of God relates to expressions of God-given creativity. If you are artistic, musical, or creative, God wants you to use your gifts and abilities for Him. We must recognize that we have been created in the image of an Artist! So we should continually look for expressions of artistry, and be sensitive to beauty, responsive to what has been created for our appreciation.

 

In 5:2, Moses returns to the theme of God’s “blessing” man (cf. 1:27). This point needed to be reemphasized after their sin and subsequent loss of Paradise. Much has been forfeited. But much is still possible because Adam and Eve still bear the privilege of relating to God. This is equally true for us: Even though we live in the wake of the curse, we can live a blessed life. We ought to exude joy and pleasure as we go through life. This is also a part of his overall scheme, to cast God’s purposes for man in terms that will recall a father’s care for his children.

 

Throughout the remainder of the book of Genesis, a recurring theme is that of the father’s blessing his children (9:26-27; 27:27; 48:15; 49:1-28). In keeping with such a theme, the author shows at each crucial turning point in the narrative that God Himself renewed His blessing to the next generation of sons (1:28; 5:2; 9:1; 12:3; 24:11). Seen as a whole, the picture that emerges is that of a loving Father insuring the future well-being of His children through the provision of an inherited blessing. In this way, the author has laid a theological foundation for the rest of Scripture. God’s original plan of blessing for all humanity, though thwarted by human folly, will nevertheless be restored through the seed of the woman (3:15), the seed of Abraham (12:3), and the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” (49:8- 12; cf. Rev 5:5-13). [While we are created and blessed by God, the Bible also teaches…]

 

  1. We will die because of Adam’s sin(5:3-20, 25-32). This fifth chapter is a list of the ten descendants of Adam down to Noah (5:1-5, 6-8, 9-11, 12-14, 15-17, 18-20, 21-24, 25-27, 28-31, and 32). In the description of each generation, the same literary structure is followed:

(1) the age of the father at the birth of the firstborn;

(2) the name of the firstborn;

(3) how many years the father lived after the birth of this son;

(4) a reference to the fathering of other children;

(5) the father’s total lifespan.

 

This genealogy covers at least 1,600 years. Within the time-scale of the Bible, this chapter covers the longest period in world history. Like a VCR fast-forwards a tape, genealogies move the narrative ahead rapidly. This begs the question: Why does God include this genealogy? God is more interested in people than we are. If we were writing Genesis, we would have left all of these names out. But God genuinely cares about people. The world may not pay much attention to you; in fact, the more like Christ you are, the less the world will be interested in you. This can be lonely. But know this: God knows you and He cares about you.

 

One of the remarkable facts that leaps out of this genealogy is that the average age of the 10 people listed in this genealogy is about 900. This longevity, plus the fact that each man “had sons and daughters,” argues for a vast population by the time of Noah and the flood (cf. 6:9ff). If we assume that the sons and daughters of these men also had children and that these ten men were able to have additional children throughout their lifetime, there would have been millions of people by the time of the flood.

The Bible does not tell us why or how men lived so long before the flood. There have been a number of suggestions. Some have argued that the long life spans may be a reflection of God’s blessing upon the Sethites. Longevity, in Old Testament thought, is a sign of divine blessing upon the godly (see Deut 4:25; 5:33; 30:20). Others have suggested that the earth’s atmosphere was different before the flood. Therefore, it is possible that the earth had never had any rainfall, and the effect of cosmic rays and environmental factors may have been drastically different from our current surroundings. Another view is that, theologically, it is possible God granted these long life spans in order for humans to “be fruitful and multiply” according to His instructions (1:28). The view I hold is that the effects of decay and disease, due to sin, took time to do their damage on the physical part of humanity. Sin’s deadening power was gradual. Adam and Eve were “genetically pure and less affected by the deteriorating results of sin.”

 

One of the most important elements of this genealogy is the phrase “and he died,” which occurs eight times in this chapter (5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, and 31) and serves as a reminder of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s fall. It reveals that God’s plan also includes the death of humanity. Death is the consequence of Adam’s sin (2:17; 3:19; Rom 6:23). Despite technology (4:17-24) and spirituality (4:25-26), man cannot rise above the curse of deathRomans 5:12tells us, “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

 

A couple of times a week I exercise on an elliptical. It is as boring an exercise as I know. I hop on and step to nowhere. But this exercise allows me to stay awake and spend time in prayer. Human life is like a stationary exercise machine. You work out and get off, work out and get off, work out and get off. Live and die. Live and die. Live and die. The truth is the day is coming when the earth will not know us. We will be gone. This constant awareness is so important. At death, life is short for all. This is why Solomon says it’s better to go to a funeral than a party (Eccl 7:1-4). This chapter teaches the great truth that no matter how long you live you are going to die. This chapter also teaches the truth that no matter how long you live you will be in eternity a lot longer than you were here in time. Only one life will soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last. This ought to stir us to put first things first. Genesis 5 can be a reminder to live with the awareness of the end, and to take the calling of God seriously.

If you fear death and are not sure where you will spend eternity, it is imperative that you hear these words from Jesus.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26a).

If you believe in Christ, when you close your eyes in death, your new life will begin.

[We were originally created and blessed by God. Unfortunately, as a result of Adam’s sin we will die. But there is good news in 5:21-24.]

As I have already stated, the genealogy in these verses, generally speaking, follows a fairly rigid pattern. Therefore, when you encounter a structured genealogy, you need first to identify the structure, then, and perhaps more importantly, you need to observe what does not adhere to the pattern. That which does not follow the pattern of the rest of the genealogy is probably being emphasized by the author of the text for some specific reason. Determining that reason (if possible), therefore, is vitally important in order to understand, in part, what the author of the genealogy considers particularly significant.

 

  1. We can walk with God(5:21-24). In 5:21-24, we find a unique man named Enoch who is the one significant exception in this genealogy. With the exception of Enoch, each man’s death is recorded. The phrase “and he died” is utilized to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that Enoch did not die. With this in mind, we would do well to take some time to study the life of Enoch. Moses writes, “Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah. Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” Enoch is the bright hope in an otherwise fairly depressing account. The placement of Enoch’s name could not be more intentionally dramatic. Evil Lamech, the man who worshipped his sword, was number seven in the Cainite genealogy, while here, Enoch, the man who walked with God, is number seven in the Sethite genealogy.

 

The phrase “walked with God” is only used of Enoch and Noah (cf. 6:9). “Walk” is a biblical figure for fellowship and obedience that results in divine blessing. The sense of “walk” (halak) in its verbal stem indicates a communion or intimacy with God. The Minor Prophets use this phrase to describe the intimate walk of priests who entered the Holy of Holies to speak directly with the Lord. It describes the closest communion with God—as if walking at His side. Enoch went through life, step by step, in fellowship with God.

 

I don’t like walks because they’re not efficient. If you’re trying to get something done quickly, you don’t take a walk. That is why the metaphor of a walk with God is so helpful. When you’re walking with someone, you’re not moving so fast that conversation is difficult. You can enjoy your companion. And then everything else becomes enjoyable. You can look together at the cloud formations, the turning of the leaves in the fall, the sound of the stream that you’re walking by, or whatever else is going on. And so taking long walks with someone is a great picture of intimacy.

The phrase “walked with God” also speaks of unswerving obedience and faithfulness. Hebrews 11:5-6 is a divinely inspired commentary on Genesis 5:22-24. The writer of Hebrews bolstered the hearts of his readers by communicating the concept that faith is the key to perseverance in the furnace of suffering (Heb 10:32-39). After giving a brief definition of faith (11:1), he cited an impressive list of people who gained God’s approval (11:2) and won spiritual victories by means of faith. Faith enables believers to understand creation (11:3, referring to Gen 1-2). Abel gained a righteous standing with God by means of faith (11:4, referring to Gen 4). And next is Enoch who, by faith, “was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God” (11:5). The next verse (tucked between references to Enoch and Noah, both of whom are said in Genesis to have walked with God) is critically placed and theologically significant: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (11:6).

 

A profound lesson in regard to legalism and faith can be mined from the account of Enoch. It is important to see that for the author of the Pentateuch “walking with God” could not have meant a mere “keeping” of a set of laws. Rather, it is just with those men who could not have had a set of “laws” that the author associates the theme of “walking with God.” By choosing such men to exemplify “walking with God,” the author shows his desire to teach a better way to live than merely a legalistic adherence to the law….For him the way to life was exemplified best in men like Enoch (“Enoch walked with God,” 5:22), Noah (“he walked with God,” 6:9), and Abraham (“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness,” 15:6). It is to these patriarchs, who lived long before the giving of the law at Sinai that the author of Genesis turns for a model of faith and trust in God.

 

Another interesting element of Enoch’s faith was that he served God (Jude 14-15). Enoch did not walk with God in a secluded environment; he was a spokesman for God in the ungodly marketplace of his day. The Bible doesn’t tell us how long Enoch did this, but from the Genesis and Hebrews passages we can safely infer that Enoch served God right up to the day God took him.

 

Enoch lived this intimate and obedient life of progressive maturity for 300 years—three centuries! And so at the age of 365, while still a young man, “he was not, for God took him.” We don’t know how this happened. He may have been picked up in a chariot like Elijah (2 Kgs 2:11-12) or he may have been beamed up directly by God. Somewhere in the days of his fellowship with God, God revealed to him He did not wish Enoch to die. Amidst the endless dying that had gone on for thousands of years, God planned to give a demonstration of His power over death. And Enoch believed God! By faith Enoch was taken up (Heb 11:5).

But notice that Enoch did not always walk with God. The first 65 years of his life were quite another story. Evidently, he reflected for 65 years the same godless attitude as those around him. You ask, “Well, what started him walking with God then?” And the answer is given to us here. It was not receiving his Social Security payments when he reached 65, but it was the birth of a son, a boy whom he named Methuselah. The Bible says so. “Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methuselah three hundred years.” So it was the birth of this baby that started him walking with God. Surely there is more to this than simply the fact that he became a father. I have noticed that becoming a father has a profound effect upon a young man. It makes him more thoughtful, makes him more serious, more sober in his outlook on life. It does have a very beneficial effect but there is more to it than that, and it is revealed by the name that Enoch gave to his son. Methuselah is a very interesting name. It means, literally, “His death shall bring it,” or loosely translated, “When he dies, it will come.” What will come? The flood!

 

Enoch, we are told in another passage of Scripture, was given a revelation from God. He saw the direction of the divine movement, looked on to the end of the culture, the comforts, and the mechanical marvels of his own day, to the fact there must come an inevitable judgment on the principle of evil in human life. He saw the certainty of destruction of a world living only to please itself. When he saw it his baby was born, so, in obedience, evidently to God’s Word, he named the baby, “When he dies, it will come.”

 

Even though the death motif is strong in this chapter there is even more emphasis on God’s grace. We see this in the references to life, fertility (sons and daughters), Enoch’s translation, and other blessings. The finality of death caused by sin, and so powerfully demonstrated in the genealogy of Genesis, is in fact not so final. Man was not born to die; he was born to live, and that life comes by walking with God. Walking with God is the key to the chains of the curse.

A helpful exercise that has encouraged me to think through this issue is to ask the question, “What will they write or say in my eulogy?” When you are gone from this planet, what will your friends and family say about your contribution to them? Writing your own eulogy is a sobering exercise. It certainly brings focus to life! Because the reality is, you will not escape death! One day you will be no more, for God will take you to Himself.