The Urgency of the Task
Noach נֹ֫חַ ("Rest") Genesis 6:9 - 11:32
This week’s Torah portion is entitled Noach, covering Genesis 6:9 to 11:32. It tells us about the catastrophic world-wide Flood which destroyed all life on Earth except Noah, his family and ancestral pairs of all animals. But the Flood isn’t the main theme. The theme is what it means to be the remnant. It’s what faith looks like in real-time: a righteous man living in the midst of a godless society, having a unique relationship with the Creator, and he’s willing to look the fool for the sake of obedience. His trust in God, leading to obedience, shielded Noah and his family from judgment. Three key words appear at the beginning of this parasha:
Noach Ish Tzaddik- Noah was a righteous man.
Here is a man singled out by God as blameless in the midst of a thoroughly depraved generation. Moses tells us that Noah walked with God. The word used to describe him, tameem means complete, having integrity. Contrast that with God’s verdict about the rest of mankind: God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. The murder of Abel by Cain seems to have been just the beginning. Sin spread rapidly through mankind like an aggressive virus, and the whole world was filled with bloodshed. You know the story. God instructs Noah to build an ark of gopher wood, 450' x 75' x 45', three decks high, lined with pitch, in which he and his family and representative pairs of animals would be sheltered from the coming Deluge. From these ancestral pairs the earth would eventually be repopulated.
There are numerous ancient stories of a great world-wide Flood that have come down to us from people groups on every continent of the earth. The Chaldeans told of Xisuthrus, the Sumerians of Ziusudra, the Assyrians of Utnapishtim, the Babylonians of Atrahasis, the Masai in East Africa of Tumbainot, and there are others. Most of these Flood stories have common elements: pervasive wickedness in mankind, one man of good and godly qualities, instructions to build an ark or ship, the amassing of animals to go with him on the ship, and a flood which wipes out the rest of mankind. Some argue that all these common flood stories prove that the early chapters of Genesis are mythology. On the contrary, I believe it is because there was a very real, catastrophic, world-wide flood in the days of Noah; and that the variations in the stories arose over time after the nations were separated by language. I also believe where they differ from the divinely-inspired account in Genesis, they are in error.
From these four families, Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives, the earth was repopulated. God told them upon exiting the ark, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” just as He had commanded Adam and his wife. Now, however, things would be different. Animals would now be in fear of man, and mankind would have dominion over them. Sadly, some things would remain the same. In chapter 11 we find that mankind is bent on rebellion against God, intent on making a name for themselves, and so they decide to build a ziggurat - a great tower - to show their disdain for authority. God took notice and turned our common tongue into babbling, and scattered mankind over the face of the earth, eventually to build separate nations.
The parasha ends with a genealogy - Shem’s. We see the beginnings here of a chosen lineage. It was not through Cham (Ham) or through Yafet (Japheth) that Israel would emerge, it was through Shem. And Shem’s genealogy leads us, at the end of chapter 11, to Terah and his sons, and we are introduced in particular to one of Terah’s sons, Avram - Abram. This Abram would have a unique relationship to God, much as Noah did, and the history which is of particular interest to us will begin here, with this man.
But here’s what I’m thinking: This isn’t that long after Adam and Eve. Methuselah had died just a short time earlier. And his life overlapped with Adam’s for well over 200 years! These people knew about God. And as thoroughly evil as humanity had become, what do you want to bet they were religious? We are religious creatures. It’s in our DNA. Even rebels are religious. Thing is, we want to do religion on our own terms. That’s one of the reasons I reject the use of the term ‘unchurched’ to describe people who don’t know the Lord. Do we really think the problem is that they don’t attend religious services (as though that’s the cure), and one is as good as another? Why don’t we say what we mean: they are unsaved, they are on a trajectory toward eternal judgment. ‘Unsaved’ sounds more urgent than ‘unchurched’ doesn’t it? We haven’t been honest with ourselves about the urgency of evangelism, and rather than repent of complacency, we’ve adjusted our vocabulary.
There is a sobering message for us in the account of Noah, for there is a great Final Judgment coming upon the earth, and human beings have just two options: get in the boat or perish. “Getting in the boat” may mean you have to endure ridicule. Noah may well have been the laughingstock of the community. Faith is truly in evidence when, out of obedience to God, a person willingly endures ridicule or outright hostility. And one usually gives way to the other. First they laugh at you; then they hurl insults; then they threaten and attempt to intimidate you; then they attempt physical or financial harm.
Yeshua warned us that His return would be comparable to the days of Noah. People went on about their business, little time to be bothered about God or about judgment. They were eating and drinking and marrying, and Yeshua tells us they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away. May we be people of understanding. May we recognize that His return is near, and we need to be ready, and we need to warn others. Yeshua will be our Ark of Salvation in the coming judgment. But as in the days of Noah, when the door closes on that ark, you’re either safely inside or in peril outside.
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture.
This portion is called Noach נֹ֫חַ. Other transliterations: Noach, Noiach, Nauach, Nauah, or Noah