The story of Noah is one of the most famous stories in all of the Bible which teach us about obedience and setting a godly example in the midst of a godless society. The Torah tells us how over the course of history, as the children of Adam populated the earth, man continued to overstep the limits Lord God Almighty had placed on them. We are told the Lord God saw how much wickedness had spread in the world and decided to wipe mankind off the face of the earth. In this week’s Torah portion, we read that there was one righteous man among all the people of that time, Noah, and that he had found favor in God’s eyes. The descriptions that we read of the culture in Noah’s time tends to parallel what is happening in our time as well. Because of this, these Scriptures and the lessons we learn become very relevant for us today. While thinking on the differences between righteousness and unrighteousness, sometimes we ask ourselves, “Why do good things happen to bad people? Why do bad things happen to good people?” The technical term for the study of these questions is theodicy, which is the reconciliation of divine justice and providence in view of the existence of evil. These questions are significant as we try to reconcile an all powerful and loving God in times of great sadness and joy.
The culture of Noah is described in the following way, at the end of Parashat Bereshit and the beginning of Parashat Noach.
Bereshit / Genesis 6:1-13
א וַיְהִי כִּי-הֵחֵל הָאָדָם לָרֹב עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה וּבָנוֹת יֻלְּדוּ לָהֶם: ב וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי-הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת-בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם כִּי טֹבֹת הֵנָּה וַיִּקְחוּ לָהֶם נָשִׁים מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר בָּחָרוּ: ג וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה לֹא-יָדוֹן רוּחִי בָאָדָם לְעֹלָם בְּשַׁגָּם הוּא בָשָֹר וְהָיוּ יָמָיו מֵאָה וְעֶשְֹרִים שָׁנָה: ד הַנְּפִלִים הָיוּ בָאָרֶץ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם וְגַם אַחֲרֵי-כֵן אֲשֶׁר יָבֹאוּ בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים אֶל-בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם וְיָלְדוּ לָהֶם הֵמָּה הַגִּבֹּרִים אֲשֶׁר מֵעוֹלָם אַנְשֵׁי הַשֵּׁם: פ [מפטיר] ה וַיַּרְא יְהֹוָה כִּי רַבָּה רָעַת הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ וְכָל-יֵצֶר מַחְשְׁבֹת לִבּוֹ רַק רַע כָּל-הַיּוֹם: ו וַיִּנָּחֶם יְהֹוָה כִּי-עָשָֹה אֶת-הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ וַיִּתְעַצֵּב אֶל-לִבּוֹ: ז וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶמְחֶה אֶת-הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר-בָּרָאתִי מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה מֵאָדָם עַד-בְּהֵמָה עַד-רֶמֶשֹ וְעַד-עוֹף הַשָּׁמָיִם כִּי נִחַמְתִּי כִּי עֲשִֹיתִם: ח וְנֹחַ מָצָא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָֹה: פ פ פ [פרשת נח] ט אֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת נֹחַ נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה בְּדֹרֹתָיו ֱאֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים הִתְהַלֶּךְ-נֹחַ: י וַיּוֹלֶד נֹחַ שְׁלֹשָׁה בָנִים אֶת-שֵׁם אֶת-חָם וְאֶת-יָפֶת: יא וַתִּשָּׁחֵת הָאָרֶץ לִפְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ חָמָס: יב וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָרֶץ וְהִנֵּה נִשְׁחָתָה כִּי-הִשְׁחִית כָּל-בָּשָֹר אֶת-דַּרְכּוֹ עַל-הָאָרֶץ: ס יג וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים לְנֹחַ קֵץ כָּל-בָּשָֹר בָּא לְפָנַי כִּי-מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ חָמָס מִפְּנֵיהֶם וְהִנְנִי מַשְׁחִיתָם אֶת-הָאָרֶץ:
6:1 Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, 6:2 that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. 6:3 Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’ 6:4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. 6:5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6:6 The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 6:7 The Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.’ 6:8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. 6:9 These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. 6:10 Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 6:11 Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. 6:12 God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. 6:13 Then God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth. (NASB)
Moshe wrote that Noah was righteous and blameless, but he was not sinless (see Bereshit / Genesis 9:20-21). The Bible says וְנֹחַ מָצָא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָֹה Noah pleased God and found favor because he loved God and obeyed him with his whole heart. The Scriptures then say, אֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת נֹחַ נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה בְּדֹרֹתָיו ֱאֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים הִתְהַלֶּךְ-נֹחַ “These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.” The first sentence of Parashat Noach explains to us Noah set an example for his entire generation. At the end of Parashat Bereshit (Bereshit / Genesis 6:1-5) we are also told that everyone around him followed the evil in their hearts, while Noah had determined himself to follow/ walk with God. In light of what the Scriptures are saying, the question that is presented to us today is “does your life set an example, or are you negatively influenced by the people around you?” This is a very important question for us today! The biblical narrative does not provide us with any details on the difficulties that Naoh had trying to live a righteous life before God while living in the midst of a godless generation. We can only imagine. This connects us back to the questions of why good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. The Torah portion for this week describes how God brought divine justice to the earth after a certain point due to the extent of wickedness in this world. Some people may think this was profoundly unjust. We see many people today with different morals and values, people who’s actions hurt and kill others, and even people who worship other gods. It isn’t just that they do these things, but that those who do these things prosper both politically and financially. This can cause a problem with understanding the justice of God. We note something that is written according to Devarim / Deuteronomy 7:10.
Devarim / Deuteronomy 7:10
י וּמְשַׁלֵּם לְשֹנְאָיו אֶל-פָּנָיו לְהַאֲבִידוֹ לֹא יְאַחֵר לְשֹנְאוֹ אֶל-פָּנָיו יְשַׁלֶּם-לוֹ:
7:10 but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. (NASB)
Here the Torah states that the Lord will repay those who hate Him to their face. This scripture suggests that the wicked will be punished immediately. However, in light of what we see taking place in the world, is this always true? Are the wicked punished immediately for their wickedness? We have to realize that coupled with the attribute of God that we see according to Shemot / Exodus 34:6.
Shemot / Exodus 34:5-8
ה וַיֵּרֶד יְהוָֹה בֶּעָנָן וַיִּתְיַצֵּב עִמּוֹ שָׁם וַיִּקְרָא בְשֵׁם יְהוָֹה: ו וַיַּעֲבֹר יְהוָֹה | עַל-פָּנָיו וַיִּקְרָא יְהוָֹה | יְהֹוָה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב-חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת: ז נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים נֹשֵֹא עָוֹן וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה וְנַקֵּה לֹא יְנַקֶּה פֹּקֵד | עֲוֹן אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים וְעַל-בְּנֵי בָנִים עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים: ח וַיְמַהֵר מֹשֶׁה וַיִּקֹּד אַרְצָה וַיִּשְׁתָּחוּ:
34:5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the Lord. 34:6 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 34:7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.’ 34:8 Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. (NASB)
The Scripture in Devarim / Deuteronomy 7:10 is tempered according to Shemot / Exodus 34:5-8, the Lord God is long suffering, merciful and abounding in love and truth, and so delays the punishment of the wicked. The rabbis say the reason the text writes אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם (long suffering) is because He delays the payment of rewards of both the righteous and the wicked. He does not met out punishment immediately. The interpretation is that אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם is an interesting phrase, to be long faced or long suffering is to be engaged in feeling while also holding off action. This suggests for us that the Lord God is always engaged in righteousness with the righteous, and is also aware of the actions of the wicked. Even though the reward and punishment may be delayed, the Lord God’s awareness of our lives is always constant. This reveals to us that God’s divine justice is always at work even if we are unable to see its effects in the world around us. Look at Noah, he spent 120 years building the Ark preaching repentance. He was probably laughed at and scorned, but he lived and did what the Lord asked of him to do.
The two major themes that we find in the story of Noah and the flood deal with God’s judgment on sin and His good news of deliverance and salvation for those who trust in Him. The purpose of the flood was also not to just destroy people. The purpose was to remove sin and wickedness from this world. The first thing the Lord did was to make a covenant with Noah to save him and his family. We note also how the Lord God was אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם here in Noah’s time. Remember again it took Noah 120 years to build the Ark and so the Lord God gave the people of the earth plenty of time to repent and turn from their wicked ways. There was plenty of time for escape for those who would look to the Lord for help in faith. This wicked generation however ignored Naoh’s message. This week’s Torah portion serves as an example of righteous living and enduring in the faith in the face of a culture that is completely immoral and faithless.
Something to note when reading the end of the story in Bereshit / Genesis 9:18-23.
Bereshit / Genesis 9:18-23
9:18 Now the sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem and Ham and Japheth; and Ham was the father of Canaan. 9:19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated. 9:20 Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. 9:21 He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. 9:22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 9:23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness. (NASB)
Note how sin was not wiped out by the flood. This event following the flood draws us back to the events of the Garden of Eden. Following Adam and Even having disobeyed the command of God to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they had sinned. We read in Bereshit / Genesis 3:8 how they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden. What did Adam and Eve do? They hid themselves from the presence of the Lord because of the shame of their sin. This is what sin does in our lives. Note how the sons Shem and Japheth, they honored their father by placing a garment over their shoulders walking backwards to not see the nakedness of their father. We note that Noah was called righteous in his generation, this however did not exempt him from sinning himself. This is illustrated in this event of Noah growing a vineyard, making wine, and getting drunk. Though Noah did these things, he did not behave as other wicked people in his day but rather that he walked with God.
In the Talmud Bavli Eruvin 64, according to the rabbis, alcohol impedes the ability to properly flesh out a situation and decide Jewish law. This is a significant observation. In modern times, the issue of alcohol and religious practice comes up in various places. According to the Talmud, the issue of drinking alcohol is not the issue. The real issue is related to whether one can do so and also be involved in a religious practice. The point the rabbis make is that one should not drink alcohol while participating in religious discussions and actions, whereas alcohol is OK anywhere else. The issue at hand is in relation to what Noah had done. He was got drunk on his own time, however, the Torah describes his actions as sin illustrated in how his sons handled the situation. This again reveals to us the religious nature of our lives no matter what we are doing we should do so with dignity and a certain level of cognition and intention. Paul wrote about this saying according to Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 3:24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. (NASB) It comes down to our willingness to live a sanctified and holy life? Does alcohol allow for us to tangibly display the Lord God living in and through us? This week’s Torah portion tends to draw out all of these things.
There are several points that we can take away from this week’s study:
- The flood was the dividing line in History that was a world changing event. It could be said that the world was returned to its previous state, the surface of the waters as we read in Bereshit / Genesis 1:2, just before the Lord began speaking life into the world following Bereshit / Genesis 1:3.
- We see Noah and his sons become the father of the human race. This is illustrated in the Lord God blessing His creation in Bereshit / Genesis 1:28 (כח וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹהִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁהָ וּרְדוּ בִּדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּבְכָל-חַיָּה הָרֹמֶשֶֹת עַל-הָאָרֶץ:) and how the Lord God also told Noah and his family to also be fruitful and multiply. (Bereshit / Genesis 9:7 ז וְאַתֶּם פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ שִׁרְצוּ בָאָרֶץ וּרְבוּ-בָהּ:).
- We read in Bereshit / Genesis 7:16 טז וְהַבָּאִים זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה מִכָּל-בָּשָֹר בָּאוּ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה אֹתוֹ אֱלֹהִים וַיִּסְגֹּר יְהוָֹה בַּעֲדוֹ: 7:16 Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him; and the Lord closed it behind him. (NASB) This verse interestingly points out how the Lord God shut them in the ark, He “closed the door.” Do we see a parallel to Noah being sealed in the Ark and Yeshua being sealed in the ground following His death on the cross? We note how Noah became the hope of humanity preaching repentance to a generation of lost people. Similarly, Yeshua the Messiah is become the hope for humanity following His resurrection from the grave.
- If we study the dimensions of the Ark, we see how Noah built the Ark to be six times longer than it was wide. According to the Life Application Bible study reference, this is an important ratio and is the same ratio used by modern shipbuilders.