Text: Genesis 6-8, 15,18
We are continuing our Rooted series: Rooted in the Promises in which we are going to walk briskly through the Old Testament so that we can understand how we, the church, fit into God’s plan that he established before the foundations of the world to unite all things in Jesus Christ. Part of the inspiration of this series comes from me as a twelve year-old boy. As you know, I wasn’t raised in a church-going household, but as a kid I was going through a “seeker” phase and I stole an dusty old Bible out of my mom’s bookshelf and started to read it, thinking that since so many people base their life on this book, maybe I should read it. I started reading it like any other book – starting at the beginning. Cool. God. Creation. Naked people. Talking snakes. At least it was interesting. Weird names. Ark (what’s an ark? I didn’t know). Plagues. I made it through Genesis and Exodus on the basis of it being an interesting story, but by the time I got to Leviticus and Numbers I had had it. People base their life on this nonsense? I put it back on the shelf and there it remained for years. It is my prayer that through this series, you won’t have the same experience and that you can start to see how great is God’s plan that he has revealed to us. Obviously we can’t hit every part of the story, but by focusing in on the key events that drive the story forward, you will be able to have a framework so that you can tackle the rest yourself.
Today we are going to be considering the story of Noah, that Sunday School favorite, with the cute little animals and pretty little rainbows and the near complete annihilation of every living being on earth. It’s funny how we package this story to children when it is most definitely not a children’s story. Today we are going to take three approaches to the account of Noah. First, I want to look at it from a literary/historical approach to see how this account moves the story of the Bible along in light of God’s plan for humanity. Second, I will take an apologetic approach. An apologetic approach seeks to find answers to difficult questions that are asked. The story of Noah (and other stories of God’s destructive judgment) raises difficult questions about God’s character that we must take seriously. Finally, I hope to take a theological/personal approach and ask, so what? What does this mean for me?
Last week we started our walk throught he promises of the Bible by looking at Genesis 3:15. In the Lord’s curse of the serpent (Satan), He promised that a deliverer would come who would restore God’s creation order once again. He said “I will put enmity between you and the woman” and between your offspring and hers – here are the children of the devil – those who are under his rule – and the children of the promise – those who look forward to deliverance. “And he will crush your (satan) head and you will strike his heel” So the serpent (the devil) will be destroyed by a son of the woman and the son will be wounded, but have victory over the devil. This is the first promise we are going to have in our pyramid of promise (we will be adding to this as we go). It is the promise of restoration. Adam (and Eve) is the character to whom we connect this promise to – basically, a Son of Eve will crush Satan. That’s what we’re looking for as we go through the Bible. Adam names his wife “Life” because he knows life – the deliverer - is going to come from through her.
As you go through the next few chapters of Genesis, you see this drama playing itself out. In chapter 4, Adam and Eve have a son, Cain, meaning “Gotten” as in, here he is! And another son Abel. Now we see in this first generation, enmity –strife between the child of Satan and the child of the promise. The problem is that instead of the child of the promise crushing Satan, he is murdered by his brother. Sorry Adam and Eve – deliverance is not going to come so quickly. So they try again and have Seth – He appointed – again hoping that this would be the one. The next two chapters then follow the line of Cain – often going from bad to worse – and the line of Seth. Here’s the problem though. As you read Genesis chapter 5, instead of one of these children coming around and crushing Satan, you see the same pattern – they lived, they had kids, and they died and they died and again until finally the genealogy stops abruptly at Noah. Genesis 6:5-8 says that the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth . . . But Noah found grace (favor) in the eyes of the Lord. Everyone else rejected God and was under Satan. The question then is: is Noah the Son, the deliverer? That’s the literary approach – we’ll get back to that question later.
The Apologetic Approach: Is God unjust?
The Charge: God likes killing people. Marcion was a second century heretic ho taught that the God of the Old Testament is a demiurge unworthy of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. The Creator God is judicial, harsh, and mighty in war. The creator God is inconsistent, fickle, ignorant, and fierce. The Supreme God is gentle and simply good and excellent. Sound very much like the New Atheists. Dawkins: the God Delusion: "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
Today we’ll look at the big three: Noah, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Canaanites - the inhabitants of the land who God told the Israelites to exterminate as they entered it.
In Genesis 18:17, as God is about to go and judge Sodom and Gomorrah, he speaks rhetorically, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him." God is concerned that Abraham understand what he is about to do, so that he can teach his children about God’s character and that his way’s are just, so that they themselves can keep the way of the Lord in righteousness and justice. When God does judge he does not do it in secret as if he has something to hide, but reveals his purposes in judgment. God does not act rashly, but rationally, appealing to our reason and sense of justice so that we can understand and trust that his ways are just. Remember as you read these accounts of God’s justice that they are included in our scriptures for a purpose and at the very least, no matter how violent or shocking they may seem at first glance, God has a message that he is trying to teach us through them. So let’s look at these big three and see if we can’t find patterns to see a theology of God’s Judgment. This is needed to day as much as ever, as certain Christians ignorantly spout off in the media about how things like Haiti and Katrina are on the level of these judgments.
God’s judgments are just: A common criticism of these judgment stories is that God is seemingly murdering innocent people. This is the question that Abraham asks God when informed of God’s plans: will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? (18:23) Do you like killing people God?
In the prologue to Noah’s story, we have this description of the wickedness of man at the time: The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually [“only evil all the time”]. Sometimes theologians, particularly of a Calvinistic bent, speak of total depravity – the idea being that human beings are so depraved, so marred by sin, that they can do nothing to merit salvation, even though they are not all equally wicked. This however is not a description of total depravity, but complete depravity. Later on the scripture says that the earth was “filled with violence” and that Noah’s family alone walked righteous before God. One family out of millions is keeping the promise alive. It seems that the seed of Satan is going to gain ultimate victory over the seed of the woman, so God steps in and judges before it is too late.
Moving on to Sodom and Gomorrah: quick quiz: what was the sin of Sodom?
1) Gen 13:13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.
2) Rebellion against authority; human or divine:
a. Genesis 14:4 For twelve years they had been subject to Kedolaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
b. Isaiah 3:9 Their partiality witnesses against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom, they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil upon themselves.
a. Deut 32:32 [context: idoloatry] For their vine comes from the vine of Sodom, and from the fields of Gomor'rah; their grapes are grapes of poison, their clusters are bitter;
4) Hypocritical Spiritual Leadership:
a. Jeremiah 23:14 But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his wickedness; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah."
5) Social Injustice:
a. Ezekiel 16:49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them, when I saw it.
6) Sexuality and Perversion
a. Jude 7: Filled with sexuality (gave themselves over to fornication) and every kind of perversion (went after strange flesh). Including homosexuality.
b. 2 Peter 2:7 Lot was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him (verse 8) the wickedness he saw and heard day after day.
Be careful not to throw the word “Sodomite” around to loosely or too tightly. Yes, Sodom has become a byword in our day for a particular kind of sin. Our language is not the first to make that connection to our fault. In Ezekiel 16:56 the prophet reveals that the Hebrews had made the same mistake to their hurt: “Was not your sister Sodom a byword in your mouth in the day of your pride, before your own wickedness was uncovered? Now you have become like her . . . you bear the penalty of your lewdness and your abominations, says the LORD. What’s my point? To say that God does not judge a society in this way for one particular expression of sin. God reserves this type of judgment for societies like that before the flood, when Genesis 6 tells us that “every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts were only evil all of the time.” This was a wicked, wicked society.
Finally, it’s easy to see the inhabitants of the land as the victims who God removed heartlessly to make room for his chosen people. But I want to direct you to an amazing statement made to Abraham by God when God was first giving Abraham the promise that he was going to give the land to his descendents. Its in Genesis 15:13:16: key part: And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete. We are going to look at this verse a little bit more closely in a bit, but not that again, God speaks of a complete depravity of the people of that land and that bringing Israel into that land was not only an act of blessing to Israel, but an act of judgment upon a people who were by no means innocent.
In each case, it is evident that this went way beyond the normal wickedness levels of a culture – they were saturated with sin and it God is called to judge these societies.
God’s judgments are resigned: Again, God never rushes into judgment, but is longsuffering with us until our rebellion leaves him no other course of action. The pattern through out scripture is that God takes notice of the wickedness, God sets a course of action to deal with the wickedness, God sets aside a proper time and opportunity for repentance, sending warnings through messengers to the people, and only after his warnings have been rebuffed he resigns himself to judge.
For 120 years as Noah prepared the ark, the ark served as a collosial billboard to the coming judgment. Noah was not simply a carpenter, 2 Peter 2:5 calls him a preacher of righteousness. For 120 years after noting that mankind was only evil all the time, God gave them opportunity to respond to his preached word. Anyone else could have heard the message repented and boarded the ark.
In my opinion, the enduring image of Sodom and Gomorrah is not the raining down of fire and brimstone, but of Abraham bargaining with God. Will you spare it for 50 God? Yes I would. 45? 40? 30? 20? 10?!?!? You’d spare it for 10? And Abraham stops questioning!!!!! Abraham is convinced that the God he serves is supremely patient and righteous, just and merciful. Much more than he ever hoped or expected. He has a picture of God to pass on to his kids.
Finally, Think back to that passage we read before, when God told Abraham that Israel would remain enslaved in Egypt for 400 years before entering the land, “because the sin of the Amorite is not yet complete yet.” Consider this, God was willing to let his own people suffer servitude, so that he could not be accused of judging anyone prematurely.
You see, their seems to be a line, a time when the cries against a people are too loud, a time when their sinful hearts have reached full expression, when God, for the sake of the righteous who have been killed and who remain, must judge. Until that time he reaches out, he waits, he sends prophets, he warns, he calls, he loves, he cries. In Ezekial 33:11 he confesses “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked!” But there comes a time when his longsuffering and patience toward sin are spent and he rises in judgment. God does not like killing people, but steps in when he must. Jonah knew that God was a “merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love; eager to turn back from destroying people.” But had the people of Nineveh not repented, they surely would’ve suffered his judgment in forty days.
God’s judgments are restrained: Our memory verse today: `“if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.” God is not a God of collateral damage. He knows how to so focus his judgment so that the righteous will escape. If we read the full passage in 2 Peter 2:4-10 we see that Peter hold up Noah and Lot as people who God spared in his judgment, refusing to sweep away the righteous with the wicked. It is very telling that in the account of the first city that fell in the occupation of the promised land – Jericho, Rahab is featured prominently. Why? Because just like Noah and Lot before her, she heard word of God’s judgment, and trusted him by faith, and this was spared his wrath. In wrath, as Jeremiah once prayed, God remembered mercy.
What does this have to do with us today?
1) I hope you can trust the God of the whole Bible. He is not a “a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser”, but “a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.” Jonah 4:2 NLT. I hope this helps you see the OT in a new light and that you can trust God’s justice.
2) Take lessons from God’s judgment
a. Justified: God is justified in judging sinners for we all have rebelled against him. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All are under Satan’s rule and in fact choose this rule ourselves rather than God. It is appointed to man once to die and after that the judgment, and we will all stand before a holy God and have to give an account of our lives. He is and always has been justified in judging sinners. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.
b. Resigned: 2 Peter: God is not slow in keeping his promise but is patient with us wishing all to come to repentance. God’s promise to Noah is that he would be restrained in his judgment – never again flooding the earth and remembering mercy – let his kindness draw you to repentance.
c. Targeted: Know that God is able to keep us from his judgment. Trust him to save you. Noah was not the ultimate deliverer. He got off the boat, and he died. But there is a man, Jesus Christ, the son of Eve who tasted all of God’s judgment for us, so that we could make our peace with God.