Reading: Genesis 9
I always thought Genesis 9 was a strange time to address the potential carnivorousness of man and the expectation that the righteous would end the lives of murders. Why not as Adam and Eve were being banished from the garden? Why not right after Cain?
I think the answer to those questions is found in a surprising place. Yahweh does not explain his timing. He does not indulge us by defending his actions or justifying the wait. Instead, he does something humanity needs so much more, He makes a vow: “I will never again curse the ground because of the human race, even though everything they think or imagine is bent toward evil.” Genesis 8:21b
He marks this promise with a sign-a rainbow. This sets the precedent for all of human history. The expectation is that promises are marked with a physical representation and promises are made to be kept. In this case, there is nothing conditional about this promise. There is nothing mankind can do to make Yahweh change his mind. He is done cursing creation.
The earth had, at this point, suffered two huge calamities because of humans.1) the introduction of the effects of sin into nature. Consequences like illness and death were suddenly affecting more than people; animals and plant life now had disease, decay, and a general wrongness to contend with in their pursuit of multiplication and survival. 2) The flood. The introduction of sin twisted everything. Selfishness, death, and sickness were suddenly introduced into a system that was made to only contain perfect harmony. The flood was an act of God that wiped out several generations in one fell swoop and changed the very state of creation so that mankind would experience more limited lifetimes.
The next time the earth experiences a drastic, violent change like that it will be all about becoming a new creation. In Genesis 9, Yahweh makes it clear that there will be no more curses on the earth to balance the acts of man. The events described in Revelation are all about undoing the damage of man. This is leaping to the end a bit, but we know that the next sweeping change will be one of healing.
Yahweh sent the flood to wash the world of the ridiculously old men who reigned with violence. The flood took care of the overwhelming current circumstances. Once the world was wiped clean of violence, Yahweh put in place his expectation that the righteous take on the duty of ridding the earth of murderers so that the world would not be overrun again. It’s like that scene at the beginning of the Pixar movie the Incredibles where Mr. Incredible complains that the world always needs saving. “Didn’t I just clean this place up?” Yahweh is instigating a system where the world will be self-cleaning. Ensuring murder and evil would not flourish meant a system needed to be in place to protect the population from the sinful violence that was common-place before the flood. It’s not perfect, it’s no where near ideal, but that is the nature of Creation until the second coming of Jesus.
Once the environment was altered, so too was man’s relationship with the animals. The fact that fear had been added to the relationship between people and animals is not fun, it’s not convenient, it’s not pretty, but it was a necessary part of this post-flood world where humans would not have it nearly so easy to live overlong lifetimes.
In essence, the flood does not purify the world, just resets it enough that a relative cleanliness can be kept up. The world, creation, animals, plants and people have to wait for their happy ending.
Noah’s story also wraps up in Genesis chapter 9. Starting in verse 20, we learn that Noah ferments grapes and makes wine. He gets drunk enough to pass out naked in his tent. Noah’s son Ham finds him thus exposed and tries to lead others into ridicule rather than respect. When Noah discovers how his youngest child behaved, he curses Ham and his offspring which is how the author of Genesis decides to introduce us to the Canaanites.
This is a complex bit of the Bible because it sets up this animosity between the nations that become the main players in ancient history. This story introduces us to this idea that sin and curses and blessings all travel though family lines which is a highly significant theme throughout the Old Testament.
It also feels a bit unfair. Noah was the one who decided to get drunk. Noah was the one who made the first poor choice and yet his son Ham and his descendants are cursed because Ham chooses to mock instead of help. I think this story speaks more to human nature than Yahweh’s. All these men had seen God’s incredible power destroy almost all life on earth, and yet the respect quickly slipped away. Righteous behavior cannot be sustained by willpower alone.
So Noah, the hero of the the flood, the righteous man that saved humanity, is shown to be human. The earth has suffered awful calamities, creation has been twisted and the happiest thing that came from the flood was that Yahweh swore that though humans will be selfish and sinful and disappointing in every way, the earth would be forever safe from new curses. It’s not a happy ending, but it’s an honest one and I think the honest endings usually make for better beginnings for the next story.