30 September 2020Genesis 6:5-22
And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on earth, and it grieved him to his heart. (v. 6)
The writer of Genesis offers, on behalf of God, a dim and depressing view of humanity, as the background to the story of Noah, who is introduced in the genealogy at the end of the previous chapter (Genesis 5:32). It is particularly striking how sorry God is, so much so that God is ‘grieved’. The writer ascribes deep human feelings to God. Yet out of this dystopia will come salvation and a hero – Noah. The darker the picture that is painted now, the brighter the eventual resolution – spoiler alert – when the sun shines on (yet more!) rain and the rainbow is revealed (Genesis 9:13).
God is also presented as keen to intervene in human affairs, here, and throughout Genesis. The sharing, inexplicably, of all other creatures in humankind's fate is an indication of the scale of the divine distress. This follows the pattern of the creation story that treats the animal kingdom as subordinate (Genesis 1:28) to human beings.
Everything is ‘doom and gloom’ until we come to one of those short, high-powered Scripture verses which are delivered straight – “But Noah found favour in the sight of the Lord” (v. 8). Noah is one of the pre-eminent righteous men (sadly women are often left unnamed and uncelebrated) in Scripture, a once-in-a-generation figure and uniquely, in the Old Testament at least, the saviour of humanity. He is highlighted, twice, with Daniel and Job in a list of three paragons of righteousness by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 14:14, 20).
In its own way the story of Noah is another creation story, complete with scenes of watery chaos. This new beginning is also marked by the Bible's first ‘covenant’ (contractual agreement that binds two parties) which is mentioned in verse 18 but not put into place until after the flood has subsided (see chapter 9). Noah, of course, responds to God's choosing of him and detailed instructions as the reader expects – “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him” (v. 22). It's worth noting that this, another short verse, is the entire description of Noah's massive building project.
- What does it mean to you that God is ‘grieved’ (v. 6)? How do you share in this concern for others?
- How do the dystopian parts of Scripture affect you?