This week, we will be reading Genesis 8:15- 9:17
After the deluge which flooded the earth has come to an end, Noah and his family and all the animals he rescued leave the ark. It is a new world. The corruption that prompted God’s actions has been washed away and God and humanity begin again – a new creation.
But there are differences between this clean new world and the world that has been destroyed. When God created Adam, the action ends with the satisfied pronouncement:
Then God saw everything that was made, and behold it was very good. (Genesis 1:30)
Disobedience, a few murders and a bit of sexual deviation later and God declares:
The end of all flesh has come, for the earth is filled with violence through them. (6:13)
Has humanity changed in the interim? By eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened and all the possibilities of wickedness lay before them. But eating the fruit right at the beginning – that first act of disobedience – required that the first humans be already hardwired for evil. Had they no yetser ha-ra – no evil inclination - they could not possibly have disobeyed God in the first instance. The eating of the fruit might have expanded their imagination, but it did not change their proclivities. Thus God sees humanity at the beginning of the story of Noah and announces:
The heart’s inclination is evil continually. (6:5)
Once the flood is over and Noah has offered up a sacrifice, - a sacrifice with which God is extremely pleased, - God repeats the sentiment. In spite of this first spontaneous act of thanksgiving, nevertheless:
Humanity’s heart’s inclination is evil, from youth (9:21)
Nothing, then has changed through the flood. Nothing has changed from that first disobedience by the first Adam. Yet God punishes and destroys and repents and promises. It is not humanity that has changed, then, but God. It is God who has experienced a steep learning curve since the creation of the first man. Adam was given one commandment, he broke it and received a stiff punishment for it.
After the flood, God realises that though the world may be changed by the waters, ‘all flesh’ in the persons and animals housed in the ark are exactly the same flesh as before. Noah goes on to prove it almost right away by planting a vineyard, getting drunk and setting of a chain of events that some say affect us even today.
But God does not punish Noah. God has ‘repented’ the flood and promises never to destroy the world again. Instead he gives Noah a set of commandments, but with no illusions that they will be followed.
Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed. (9:6)
What do we make of a God who moves position, who changes mind, who repents? We are told God is all knowing, all powerful, all wise. Is not this shift in position a sign of weakness, or ignorance or impotence?
We should see God as presented here, as modelling a type of behaviour that we, made in God’s image should emulate. The first declaration in the creation story that everything is good could be seen as naïve, the punishment after the inevitable disobedience unfair. The action of bringing the flood is way over the top – all these are reactions of which we are often guilty. But God also promises never to bring another flood and now accepts that people are what they are – sinful. At the end of this story, God tries another tack – working with humanity rather than against them - and creates a set of laws which they can manage themselves.
So too we should not set unrealistic goals. We need to be aware of the weaknesses of others and forgive them. We need to work within our own and other peoples limitations and not expect too much. Then what ever is achieved is of real consequence. We will never save the whole world, but we can, in our on small way save a little bit of it.