Nevertheless, the story continues. And it's worth noting that after God took the world from tohu va'vohu (chaos) and brought it into order in Genesis one, the characters of the story have been slowly bringing the order back into chaos. First with a person, then to a family, then to a whole family lineage, and then to a whole humanity. The story of Noah begins with God declaring that mankind has become too corrupt and it is time to start over -- He's going to wipe the slate clean.
Now, before I get accused of running past one of the glaring points we ignore — the massacre of all humanity — let me make an observation that we'll expound on in later posts. This story, for the ancient reader, is an obvious juxtaposition against their own well-known folklore. The recipients of Genesis are from the ancient land of Mesopotamia. One of the most famous ancient works of literature is the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh (EoG), which significantly predates Genesis. The whole story of Noah is supposed to be held against the EoG.
At one point in the EoG, the main character becomes aware time and time again of the gods' plan to destroy the earth. As Gilgamesh faces the prospects of death, he begins a search for immortality which leads him to another character, Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim builds a large boat, loads it with his relatives and all species of animals and survives the Great Deluge. At the end of the story, Utnapishtim even sends out birds to find dry land.
Now, the differences within the juxtaposition are striking. Instead of the main characters running from, outsmarting, and defeating angry gods, the Biblical story has God partnering with man and having man assist Him in saving creation. And that one point alone is worth putting in your cap. God is not angry, He's looking for partners. It's not a story of massacre. It's a story of salvation.
But I digress. Back to the story.
So God decides to start over in a sense and the sixth chapter of Genesis is where God returns creation back to its state of watery chaos. The deluge reminds us of where the story began. In fact, there are numerous parallels between the story of the flood and of the creation story of Genesis one. After God brings creation back to tohu va'vohu, we find the Spirit of God once again blowing over the waters (compare 1:2 with 8:1, keeping in mind that "wind" is the same exact word for "spirit" [ruach; spirit, wind, breath]). We find that the waters are being separated, the dry land appearing, birds being released and beasts being turned loose (many rabbis go to great length to show the seven days of creation paralleled in Genesis eight). We also hear the same refrain to "be fruitful and multiply" (9:1) and even the command "you must not eat" being repeated (9:4). This is the story of creation — or maybe of REcreation.
But what is the point of this creation story? The first creation story was a chiasm. This creation story happens to be a chiasm as well. There are a few ways I could go about pointing it out, but I'll pick on of the easiest ways for a western reader to see it. If one pays attention to the numbers of the story, particularly the numbers related to "days", they begin to immediately see the mirroring effect.
Seven days (7:4)
Seven days (7:10)
Forty days (7:17)
Hundred and fifty days (7:24)
Hundred and fifty days (8:3)
Forty days (8:6)
Seven days (8:10)
Seven days (8:12)
What this means is that the "treasure" buried in Noah's story is 8:1-3a.
"But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The waters receded steadily from the earth."
Now the story is bookended with talk about covenant (see 6:18 and 9:9). So the Jews teach that when God remembers Noah, He is remembering the covenant He promised to make with Noah. They also notice that the end of the story is a diatribe about this Noahic covenant. Just read 9:9 through 9:17 and listen to how much repetition there is concerning covenant.
No, really. You should stop reading this and read Genesis 9:9-17.
Now, if you just did that, you may have noticed something else. Did Genesis 9:9-17 seem chiastic to you? That's because it is! the center of that chiasm ends up being 9:13-14 (I know that I'm starting to lose the typical reader who has been taught to analyze the propositions of the Text, but hang with me!). God says He'll put his bow in the clouds; that when the clouds come He will remember — sounds like the center of the Noah story!
What is all of this about remembering?
And why is this story paralleling creation?
Because we are learning the same lesson about God (from Genesis one) all over again. God is reaffirming the goodness of creation. God said that He would put his bow (not a "rainbow" in the Hebrew, but a bow) in the clouds. What is a bow? It is a weapon of destruction. You see, God is demonstrating His ability to know when to say enough.
The first time, God knew when to stop creating.
This time, God knows when to stop destroying.
God knows when to say enough. God is FOR creation, not against it. We're being invited to trust the story — again. Do we view God as an angry deity that needs to be escaped (grab your Epics of Gilgamesh!)? Or is He a god that thinks creation is good and keeps promising that we can find rest for our souls?
I wonder how Noah will respond to God's invitation to trust the story…