1 October 2020Genesis 7:1-7
And Noah did all that God had commanded him. (v. 5)
God now gives Noah instructions for loading the ark. Contrary to what is popularly said and thought, verse 2 tells us that it is not two of each animal but two of some kinds (‘not clean’) and 14 (‘seven pairs’) of others (‘clean’, ie kosher or sacrificial animals). The fact that Noah is observing the dietary distinctions given to Moses at Sinai (eg Leviticus chapter 11) should be a cause for reflection by all readers that this is a story told by a community which is looking back at its origins.
The numbers themselves are interesting too. Seven is seen as the perfect or complete number in the Bible. Jesus tells us, in response to Peter's question about how many times the disciple should forgive, to forgive ‘seventy times seven’ (Matthew 18:21, 22). Seven was seen as perfectly fulfilling what was required, whereas seven times ten times seven, is an extravagant, off-the-scale target of divine perfection. Of course filling the ark with 14 cows and sheep, etc also steers us away from wrestling with the capacity of the ark and how impossible quantities of animals were fitted in. God also gives Noah seven days warning (verse 4).
The other number that jumps out at us is ‘forty’ (v. 6), another significant number, reminding us of Jesus and his forty days which were the opposite of a flood in the dry wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). It is a precise number giving reality to a rather out-of-the-ordinary situation. It has a kind of poetic quality. So it reminds us that this is a story.
We tend not to focus on a God who blots out, but believe in a God who identified with human suffering so much that it was Jesus who died at human hands. The point of the story of Noah is to remind us of the survival of Noah, the representative of the whole of humankind. Noah's great age of 600 (verse 6) is undoubtedly another indicator that this story is more parable than history.
- How does the idea of Noah's story as parable strike you? What other biblical stories might be parables?
- How should we read the story of Noah after reading the story of Jesus?