For four weeks, I am preaching on Old Testament Bible stories. This week is the story of Noah recorded in Genesis 6-9. Preached on July 2, 2023 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas
In God’s sight, the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. God saw that the earth was corrupt, because all creatures behaved corruptly on the earth. Genesis 6:11-12
People wonder how the bible is relevant for today. Yeah, I do not see how these verses relate to our time at all. Violence, corruption and evil. For millennia people have been trying to figure out the problem of evil, the scourge of corruption, and the pain of violence. What is God’s relationship to all this and to us? Does it work to wipe the slate clean and start over? How do we live faithfully in such a harsh world?
It turns out a flood story with an ark saving the animals is actually about 4,000 years old—the first story like this appeared in ancient Sumeria (now modern-day Iraq) about 2100 BCE. It was written cuneiform—the oldest known writing on stone tablets—even before Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Abraham, the father of our faith, who came from Ur in that general region must have been familiar with these flood myths and over the centuries, this story was adopted and adapted to fit the monotheistic Israelite God who revealed himself to Abraham and Sarah. The Noah’s Ark story, as we read it, came to life in about 1,000 BCE.
So yes, one thing you may not have learned in Sunday School is that the story of Noah’s Ark is a myth or a parable. This is how Lutherans study the Bible because we take the Bible far too seriously to take everything literally—the bible is a library—some history, some parable, hymns, poetry, letters and so on. Calling the Noah story a myth or a parable does NOT mean it’s untrue—it has a lot of human Truth in it, which is the very reason myths and parables are told. We just do not look to them for scientific or historical fact.
Jesus, who was historical, told lots of parables and we never wonder, who was the woman with 10 silver coins historically, and can we do an archeological dig of her house? Rather, we listen for the human truth about ourselves, our relationship to God, and how God calls us to live. This is how we listen to the Noah story—for the human truth about ourselves, our relationship with God, and how God calls us to live faithfully.
Which is why this myth, this bible story starts out by telling us the Truth—the truth which has been the same as it was in 4,000 BCE, 1,000 BCE, the day Jesus was crucified, and the same as it is today, July 2, 2023:
…the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. (Anyone read the headlines today?)
Earlier in chapter 6 it says that The Lord saw that humanity had become thoroughly evil on the earth, regretted making humankind, and God was heartbroken.
We often think of the Noah story being about an angry, vengeful, God. Our image of the Old Testament God is one who comes in to punish with might, fire and brimstone, with a violence that surpasses humanity’s.
But Noah tells a different story. The early Israelites experienced from the very beginning, a God of relationship. The story of Noah begins with God suffering from a broken heart. A God who created something good and wonderful and experienced rejection of his love and goodness and relationship over and over and over again. Humans kept choosing rebellion and selfishness and greed and harm.
So, the Noah story begins with a sad God. A weeping God. Perhaps the creator of the universe, weeping from a broken heart, cries for 40 days and 40 nights—enough sadness to cover the whole earth. This opening of a heartbroken God, gives us the first clue that this myth is less about human evil and more about the character of God, less about the harshness of the world, and more about living in relationship with a broken-hearted God. So, what do we do then, with the destruction of all living things except those that are on the ark—Noah and his family and the animals saved two by two?
Here we need a little help from the original Hebrew text. Before the flood comes, human beings bring “corruption,” then the flood brings “destruction”—and both of these words, “corruption” and “destruction” come from the same root word in Hebrew.
This is true in other places in the Old Testament—in Jeremiah and Jonah for example, the same word is used both for the “evil” and for “punishment.”
The point is, that the punishment is the natural result of the crime. The teller of the story is trying to say that humans are punished not so much FOR our sins as BY our sins. God does not need to visit punishment for evil—it happens as the result of evil anyway.
In parenting, we call this “natural consequences.” In criminology we like to say, “don’t to the crime if you can’t do to the time.” Don’t make the choice if you are unwilling to live with the results. In folk wisdom we say, “what goes around comes around,” or “if you live by the sword, you die by the sword.”
Those with ears to hear let them hear our own Noah story happening today—melting glaciers, rising coastlines, warming temperatures, increased wildfires, more severe storms. These weather events are not God’s punishment, they are the natural consequence of our own collective behavior and uninhibited consumption, as God grieves.
We wonder why God allows evil in the world, and the God who made all creation good and continues to make love, good choices and a relationship with him available to us, might look at us and ask the same thing. Why do you allow violence and environmental destruction in the world? You keep making the same choices and expecting different results and blame me for the presence of evil and destruction?
In the Noah story, God discovers the answer after the flood: All human beings are fallible and fallen. In chapter 8:21 – God says, the ideas of the human mind are evil from their youth.
People will continue to bring corruption to the earth—the Israelites will make a golden calf, they will worship baal and other gods, they will turn away from the promises of God over and over and over again. Even the threat of war, and ecological destruction has not moved us to change our ways. But God is moved to change. It is God who changes in this story, not human beings. The story of Noah is about God’s character, not ours—ours has not changed in 4 millennia since the flood story first appeared.
God says, I will never again destroy every living thing as I have done. Genesis 9:12 …This is the symbol of the covenant that I am drawing up between me and you and every living thing with you, on behalf of every future generation. I have placed my bow in the clouds; it will be the symbol of the covenant between me and the earth.
God promises steadfast love, and relationship with us, no matter what. God will be faithful, not because of anything that human beings do, but because God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6).
Isaiah 54:9-10: Just as I swore that the waters of Noah would never again go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
God returns to us in faithful love over and over and over again.
God still takes evil seriously by calling individuals into faithful relationship and to be blessing to others and a light to the nations. None of them perfect—like Noah in this story—who gets drunk when the whole ordeal is over. But this underscores the point of the whole story and in fact the whole Bible going forward—the God of Israel is a God of relationship—not perfection.
Noah was found to be faithful because he had a relationship with God. How do we remain faithful in harsh world? Noah shows us three things in his relationship with God: I invite you to pick one of these three things to work on this week:
1. Talking and listening to God—this means everything. Noah must have brought his anger, resentments and judgments to God, because they did no get lived out in harm to others. He was not living in violence like those around him.
2. By worshiping God. This is the first Noah does when he leaves the ark. You are here today and that’s wonderful—how might you worship God throughout the week in prayer or praise?
3. By being a care-taker of creation, which the Noah story models for us. There are so may ways to reduce our carbon footprint and take action for our climate in urging global cooperation, government action, and coorporate policy.
No matter how we fail, God will call us back into relationship. Over and over and over again.
Because the God whose heart breaks for a relationship with us finally enters into the waters himself — into the waters of a Mary’s womb; into the waters of the Jordan, and God floods the world with healing and love and power in Jesus. Ultimately, Jesus enters the watery depths of death to show once and for all that God is more powerful than any violence or evil humanity can muster—revealing that a relationship with us is secure for eternity.
Jesus comes to redeem us, over and over and over again every Sunday at this table. So come to the table and be nourished in your relationship with God for your faithful service in a world in need. We can’t do it without God, and God won’t do it without us.