Harry: I really appreciate you all joining me for lunch. I’ve really been struggling with this material. I mean, I thought I’d get run out of the church when we started on Genesis 1! There just wasn’t a safe position, but I think it went pretty well. I’m still on the church roll (I think).
But now we’re at the Flood, and I just can’t make heads or tails of the story. I’ve got 20 pages of notes I’ve downloaded from the internet on whether the Flood was local or global. If I argue “local,” I’ll get crucified for questioning inerrancy. If I argue “global,” we’ll have some folks point out the absence of any geological or archaeological evidence at all of a global flood.
Some will want to insist that we accept it on faith — which is fine. But others will want to get into the evidence and all. And I just don’t see the point in spending that much class time on the question. Maybe we should skip it — and the Tower of Babel — and move straight to Abraham. What do you think?
Dan: You’re forgetting something. You’ll have some people want to do the math on how many animals could fit in the ark, and whether the ark could have held enough food. And I grew up on a farm — I’ve always wanted to know about the sanitation issues!
Ed: And there’s the “gopher wood” thing. Aren’t you going to find to find the class wanting to talk about instrumental music because this is the classic proof passage on the Regulative Principle?
Harry: Oh, wow! I’ve got to write an outline that picks up the global vs. local flood issue, the number of animals in the ark, the ability of the ark to store food for that many animals (and would the Flood waters have been drinkable? Or did Noah have to store enough water for all the animals?), and the gopher wood argument. I don’t think I’m up to that! I’m not an engineer or a veternarian! Does anyone know where I can find a good book? Can we please just skip this part?
Dan: You know … there’s something not right about this. I just don’t think God gave us the story of the Flood so we could calculate the number of species and bales of hay. I don’t see an application. Don’t we always tell our teachers to draw an application? What’s kind of application do we get from this??
Ed: Do you guys remember the lesson we had on hermeneutics a few months ago? Aren’t we supposed to ask how the Flood fits into the Story of the Bible? How do we do that?
Dan: How about this? Let’s ask: what did the Israelites get from this story when Moses wrote it for them? They weren’t interested in a single one of the questions we just discussed. What would a bronze-age Israelite get from the Flood?
Harry: Okay. I’ll bite. Let’s see … that God not only made the heavens and earth, but he’s still in charge. He’s in control of the elements.
Ed: [nodding head vigorously] It’s like what my old man used to tell me: “Boy! I brought you into the world and I can take you out of it!!”
Dan: [laughing] I’ve never really thought about it that way, but it’s there, isn’t it?
Harry: Guys, this is good stuff. Let’s look at the text.
(Gen 6:6) The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.
You know, I’d never noticed this before, but mankind’s disobedience hurt God. God has feelings. It wasn’t so much that he was angry as he was hurt.
Ed: Look at this —
(Gen 6:11) Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.
God hates violence. One result of the Curse was violence by man against man, and it grieved God. And then when Jesus came he taught us to “turn the other cheek.” There’s a lesson there!
Harry: [rolls eyes] So you want me to add pacificism to the other questions? Oh, please … let’s just skip it.
Dan: Take at look at these verses —
(Gen 8:21-22) The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
22 “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”
(Gen 9:11) “I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
What would this mean to an Israelite?
Harry: How about this? Even though God has the power to destroy the earth in a moment, we can count on the constancy of the seasons and of God. For a farmer, it’s life-or-death to know that spring will come after winter. These people didn’t know about Copernicus and Newton. They had no idea why spring came every so many days.
In fact, they were surrounded by nations that engaged in infant sacrifice and ritual prostitution to make sure spring came again. God is saying that spring will come because he promised it — we can count on God.
Ed: Look at this passage —
(Gen 9:20-27) Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father’s nakedness.
24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” 26 He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. 27 May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave.”
What’s the lesson?
Harry: Don’t get drunk?
Dan: Don’t walk into your father’s tent without knocking?
Harry: How about: don’t blame your kids for your own sins?
Ed: Hmm … how about this: God purged the sinners from the world to purify the world from sin. And when he was done, what he had left was a bunch of sinners. I mean, As soon as Noah has a chance, he gets drunk and he curses his own children, wishing that Canaan be a slave! That’s not exactly great parenting.
And then we get the Tower of Babel and then Sodom and Gomorrah aren’t too far behind. And pretty soon God is calling for the destruction of the Canaanites because their idolatry and other sins.
God tried to purify mankind through a purge of evil men, and the good men pretty soon brought forth their own evil. It’s really kind of depressing.
Dan: Did God try to purge evil again. What are some other examples?
Harry: Well, Josiah purged idolatry from Judah in 2 Kings 23. God was pleased.
Ed: Yes, but how well did that go? Josiah’s son was just as evil as the kings that went before. Josiah’s purge had no lasting impact. He couldn’t even convert his own son.
Harry: God wouldn’t let the Israelites enter the Promised Land until those who’d come from Egypt had died — except for Joshua and Caleb. That was fairly successful.
Ed: The Israelites raised in the desert were great warriors, but the story of Achan is right after the conquest of Jericho. And look how Judges begins —
(Judg 2:16-17) Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. 17 Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the Lord’s commands.
Dan: These purges don’t work that well, do they?
Harry: How about Babylon? God let Nebuchadnezzar destroy Jerusalem and take all of Judah captive. Later, under Ezra and Nehemiah, a remnant returned, and they were more faithful, right? They really did stay away from idols. They tried to obey the Law of Moses. So that purged worked, didn’t it?
Ed: The purge worked in the sense that it preserved the nation and the Law. But God couldn’t have been that pleased with it. The Shekinah didn’t return to Nehemiah’s temple. The gift of prophecy left Judah until John the Baptist came 450 years later.
And the vast majority of the Jews rejected Jesus. Some recognized him as Messiah, but most did not. I mean, that’s the whole point of Romans 9-11.
[a silence hung over the three men for a while as they tried to make sense of this information. Finally …]
I’ve got it! [He flips to the back of his Bible and reads.]
(Mat 13:24-30) Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'”
[Harry and Dan stare quizzically at Ed.]
Harry: We’re lost. What does this have to do with a purge? Oh!! I get it.
Harry: This is the opposite of a purge. Jesus said that we should let the weeds and wheat grow together. It’s more important to avoid pulling a stalk of wheat by mistake than to pull the weeds!
Ed: And I’ve got another one for you. It’s just a verse or two later —
(Mat 13:33) He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Do you see? The yeast is God’s people. God mixes them up with the evil and they change the evil to good — by being with the evil!
Dan: I kind of see what you’re saying, but don’t we need to get rid of bad examples and false prophets and false teachers?
Ed: Well, if we got rid of all the bad examples, there’d be nobody left! Look, Jesus is saying that the goodness of his disciples will overcome the evil of the rest. Now, he’s speaking in broad terms.
He also says to beware of false prophets — those who bear bad fruit by not obeying his teachings. But that’s just a few people — the leaders. It’s not the victims of the false teachings.
And look at this one —
(1 Cor 5:12-13) What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”
Rather than killing off all the worldly people not in the chuch, Paul says we aren’t even allowed to judge them! God has already judged them, but he’s left them here so that his disciples might be yeasty and make them yeasty. We aren’t to be isolated from the world, We’re supposed to transform the world. And that means things will a little messy and the lines might be a little too fuzzy for our taste.
I mean, if you make bread, after a fold or two, you can’t separate the yeasty part from the unyeasty part. You just have to keep folding and let the yeast do its work.
Harry: We’re still talking about the Flood?
Ed: Absolutely. The Flood didn’t work.
You can’t purify mankind by getting rid of the evil people. We’re all evil. God had to find another strategy.
And so God needed, not to purge the evil, but to transform evil into good.
God’s covenant with Abraham and the Law of Moses began this process, and he accomplished a lot of good, but man’s evil nature kept defeating the effort. We are all fallen. It just didn’t work. But it helped.
In Jesus, God attempted a radically new approach. He called disciples to be a transforming influence in the world. And knowing that we are all fallen, he first transformed us so we could do it.
(Heb 8:7-12) For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said :
“The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. 10 This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Harry: You quote that passage a lot, you know.
Ed: And I’ll quote it until you start using it in your lesson plans as often as you should!
Look. The writer quotes Jeremiah, who wrote before the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar. God had to change the people. He knew even then that the purge that was coming wouldn’t work well enough. Rather, the only cure would be for God himself to change hearts and minds.
Dan: That’s the Holy Spirit, right?
Ed: Right. God did all he could do through purges. He decided instead to equip his people with a piece of the Divine Presence to be salt, light, and yeast, mix them up in the world [he makes a motion like kneeding bread dough], and let them change the world.
Harry: That makes sense, I suppose, but it doesn’t seem to be working very well. I mean, just look as the mess we Christians have made of things. And we’re losing ground!
Dan: Well, that’s the plan, right? The next step is to purge the earth with fire and bring heaven down to earth. If we don’t make it happen, it’s not going to happen.
Harry: This has been great. I mean, this is so much better than global versus local. I’d far rather be talking about God’s plan for us.
I wonder why we’ve always read the Flood story in terms of defending its inspiration rather than just asking what the lesson is? Sometimes I think we study exactly the wrong questions and so we learn exactly the wrong lessons.
Ed: So do you want to skip the Flood?
Harry: Oh, no, I’ll think we’ll spend the rest of the quarter on it — unless someone asks me about how many bales of hay will fit in a cubic cubit!
[The waitress brought the check and meal ended. Sunday’s lesson was talked about for many weeks thereafter.]