“As Elohim commanded him, and YHVH shut him in.” (Genesis 7:16)
Much commentary exists on the fact that it was actually the LORD – Not Noach (Noah) – that closed the door of the Ark. This is certainly a powerful thought and represents the Rubicon/”times up” moment; if we take a precursory glance at the top Google results, the dominant interpretation of “the LORD shut him in” is along the lines of ‘It was God who physically closed the door behind Noah!’
I don’t necessarily think that interpretation is wrong; I just think there’s more to it than that.
First, one minor aside point to comment – did you notice the Hebrew elohim and YHVH appear here together? Does that seem like Elohim was always there, giving Noach the commandments, but YHVH ended up being the execution arm? I’ll come back to this point… kinda.
The word “close” can mean many things in English – we close bathroom doors, bedroom doors, checking accounts, court cases, investigations – even windows on our computer screen. It’s surely an ambiguous English term, as is the word “shut”. It’s also a little ambiguous in Hebrew. That word for “close” is sagar, and it’s the same word used to describe “surrendering” an item (i.e. surrendering your weapons at the door), or “delivering” (i.e. Pilate delivering over Yeshua to be crucified). In this context, we might better understand sagar by the English phrase of “handing something over”. However, sagar can also mean to “stop up” or “obfuscate” (i.e. to put an obstacle in the way/road, as David wrote in Psalm 35:3). Rashi’s commentary on the Talmud suggests that “every sagar in Scripture is an expression of “in front of.”” Now we’re getting somewhere, because even though it’s ambiguous, the common link to sagar is the presence of an authority, or barrier, to an action. We surrender weapons usually in light of an authority or law requiring us to “hand it over, Oscar.” We may close a door for privacy, but that door is in front of both ourselves and anyone who might peep on our business. In the same way, David wanted the Lord to put an obstacle in front of his adversaries. In yet another biblical example, when priests would sagar a leper, they were in fact putting the community in front of the leprosy. If a man was delivered over to execution, the action of sagar was like a door between the trial phase and the execution phase.
The question then becomes, when YHVH shut Noach in, He closed the door built into the side of the Ark (vs. 6:16), but in front of what? It’s obvious the sealing of that door kept out the breaking out of the waters from the “windows of heaven” and “fountains of the Deep” (vs. 7:11) – but the verbs used to describe the “breaking out” of those waters are used elsewhere with violent, militant-like occurrences, such as the “tearing asunder” or “breeching” of an enemy’s walls during a siege.
So if the verb choice was deliberately supposed to represent something violent, I would ask you, what do you suppose these “violent events” would do to everyone outside the Ark? I imagine it would create much panic, and considering that world seemingly understood violence as a common method of resolving matters (see vs. 6:13), would that world not have made a V-line to the Ark, killing Noach and his family without even blinking? So, when we read about the waters violently breaking forth, we must understand the first “wave” would’ve actually been a wave of violent men. Such a situation would’ve needed Divine protection. This is akin to how YHVH protected the Israelites from the Egyptians in the parted Sea. As the Egyptians said, “YHVH fights for them!” (Exodus 14:25), It is actually YHVH who fights in front of his people.
In short, I agree with the interpretations that the shutting of the Ark door represents the Rubicon “times up” moment, and while I also see YHVH physically closing the door, I see YHVH (the execution Arm) shutting that door in so He could place Himself in front of the Ark between Noah’s family and any outside mob looking to break down that door. We’re better off thinking about YHVH like a security detail protecting VIPs than merely sealing the door like its a just some symbol of finality.
Have you ever noticed that there are actually four accounts of the Great Flood, each sharing different versions of the same basic elements?
If we read Genesis 6:17 – 7:16, we are reading the events from God’s establishment of a covenant with Noah to the time YHVH closed the door of the Ark (a spiritual thought in itself, and there are many commentaries to the point that God called to Noah from inside the ark, as well as YHVH shutting him in. No need to belabor a point well established). The four stories can be found in Genesis 6:17-22; 7:1-6; 7:7-10; and 7:11-17. Though their contents do not appear in the same chronological order, all four share details of the following events:
The entrance of Noah’s household into the Ark (6:18; 7:1; 7:7; and 7:13).
Specifications of the animals which entered the Ark (6:19-20; 7:2; 7:8; and 7:14-16a).
Arrival of the flood by water or rain (6:17; 7:4; 7:10; and 7:12).
The obedience of Noah (6:22; 7:5; 7:9c; and 7:16b).
Some accounts provide details which remain unmentioned in the others – i.e. Genesis 6:21, which records Noah gathering food provisions, and 7:2-3, the only verses explaining that clean animals and birds were to come aboard in seven pairs apiece (the other accounts only mention the animals came in pairs).
If we compare the verses side by side, reading each idea from left to right, we gain some interesting, nerdy analysis:
Did you notice how, as you read from left to right, you gained a little something extra by time you reached the fourth account (7:11-7:16)?
In the fourth and final account, Noah’s sons are mentioned by name, and this runs parallel to birds becoming overemphasized as well – with the Scriptures saying “every bird of every sort” – and this is no coincidence. I believe it’s another one of those mysterious biblical codes – one which might prime us to understand some of the Bible passages that don’t quite make sense at first.
For example, when Yeshua taught about faith, He said, “It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and put in his own garden. It grew, and became a large tree, and the birds of the sky lodged in its branches.” (Luke 13:19) When we read verses such as these, we understand that birds are symbolic of people, for it is souls coming home to God – not birds in nests – that Yeshua was referring.
Returning to the Ark, let’s recall the previous illustrations to birds we’ve already uncovered, such as the use of the Hebrew qiniym to denote the “nests” of the Ark (this is commonly translated as “rooms”). God also told Noah to bring seven pairs of each bird, which also shares a distinction with clean animals. (vv. 7:2-3). So, everywhere we look in the symbolism and illustrations of the Ark, we find birds, which includes being emphasized just as much as the sons of Noah, as we see in the above analysis.
Therefore, I suggest using this code to understand other passages of Scripture, to uncover the deeper meaning. We already mentioned the parable of the mustard seed (in Luke 13:19), but this rule may also apply to the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3), and even in mysterious passages like Deuteronomy 22:6.
This subject will also play out in the next chapter of Genesis 8, where we have two interesting prophecies of the fate of nations. In the meantime, however, I hope laying out the four accounts has uncovered another mystery for us and will bring you closer to understanding God’s will.
We have one such scenario when it comes to days before the Flood. God only knows how the Bible was ultimately assembled, but my concern is to glean revelations that get us closer to the Almighty. So, from Genesis 6:15 to about 7:4 (and slightly beyond these verses, in actuality), we have an ‘Elohim’ source (in Chapter 6) that illuminates the building of the Ark, and a ‘YHWH’ source (in Chapter 7) which describes the final week before the Flood. These sources may be disjointed chronologically, but their narratives are united through several similarities. Both describe the animals, the members of Noah’s family, and God’s judgment upon mankind. There are, however, distinct differences which I would argue are nothing short of prophetic. Both are stamped with certain numbers, which seemingly fit biblical patterns to guide our interpretations. If I’m right, they are blueprints to God’s “operations”, in some ways like the way military planners divide operations into phases. Note the following example from the Iraq War effort:
In the U.S. military, each operational phase corresponds to a doctrinal explanation of events so that planners can share a common frame of reference. For example, if military leaders announce ‘the operation has reached phase II’ officers understand the infantry is nearing Baghdad, while ‘Phase III’ might mean that Baghdad is captured.
The accounts of Noah’s life also portray the phases of an operation – or as it is phrased in the Bible, a “covenant”. The following illustrations help illuminate the phases of God’s covenant with Noah.
When we read the first account of Noah in Genesis 6:15-22, what number(s) are associated to Noah’s building of the ark?
15 This is how you shall make it. The length of the ship shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. 16 You shall make a roof in the ship, and you shall finish it to a cubit upward. You shall set the door of the ship in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third levels. 17 I, even I, will bring the flood of waters on this earth, to destroy all flesh having the breath of life from under the sky. Everything that is in the earth will die. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you. You shall come into the ship, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19 Of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ship, to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds after their kind, of the livestock after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every sort will come to you, to keep them alive. 21 Take with you some of all food that is eaten, and gather it to yourself; and it will be for food for you, and for them.” 22 Thus Noah did. He did all that God commanded him.
I would suggest it’s the numbers 2 and 3. Besides the “two of every sort” of animals, Noah gathers food for both humans and animals (denoting two classes of living beings), the ark has three dimensions, with three levels, and there are three that partake of God’s covenant with Noah (his sons, his wife, and his son’s wives). The types of animals are also classified into three basic kinds (birds, livestock, and creeping things). Furthermore, each concept is repeated (i.e. ‘take food / it will be food for you’) – 2 or 3 times.
Now, what verbs are associated to these numbers and counts? These verbs denote building (the Ark), assembling (animals), establishing (a covenant), and gathering (food). If we think of these in terms of phases, they describe preparatory actions – the buildup to a final execution yet to come. In scripture, this pattern of 2s and 3s appears EVERYWHERE, alongside the same verbs and concepts that we just read:
“This is the third time I am coming to you – At the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (1 Corinthians 13:1, quoting Deuteronomy 19:15), and “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:19)
The patterns of 2s and 3s thus represents the “witness” phase, when facts are gathered and testimonies are received – not unlike Noah gathering food and materials for the Ark. We’re actually reading about two concurrent “operations”; one was a plan of salvation for Noah and the animals, the other an investigation of God’s initial accusation – that the world was evil and corrupt (vv. 6:5,11). In the “witness” phase, accusations proceed to trials, and ideas on blueprints are transformed into tangible objects (like boats).
The Scriptures also call Noah a witness through his building of the Ark (ref. 2 Peter 2:5), but when we say “Noah” we mean his entire household. They chose to stay and are the unsung heroes that deserves greater recognition for their faithfulness. Noah’s sons could’ve had harems of their own, while the wives could’ve opted for cushier lives with the Nephilim “celebrities” (see vv. 6:2-4). Indeed, Noah’s house built more than the Ark – they built a case against the human race.
Moving on to the second account ending with ‘Noah did all that was commanded him’, what number(s) or patterns stick out here?
1 The LORD said to Noah, “Come with all of your household into the ship, for I have seen your righteousness before me in this generation. 2 You shall take seven pairs of every clean animal with you, the male and his female. Of the animals that are not clean, take two, the male and his female. 3 Also of the birds of the sky, seven and seven, male and female, to keep seed alive on the surface of all the earth. 4 In seven days, I will cause it to rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights. I will destroy every living thing that I have made from the surface of the ground.”5 Noah did everything that the LORD commanded him.
So this account features a few twos (or pairs) as well, but I would suggest that 7 and 40 are highlighted, as is the distinction of clean vs. unclean animals.
As I portrayed, the former account was akin to phase “2 and 3”, demonstrating the “witness” phase of God’s planning cycle, Now, however, it’s time for Phase “7”, when plans are finished, and the verdict is laid. This phase is enacted when the Ark is finished – 7 days before the Flood. This is prophetically akin to saying ‘we had our witness phase; this is the verdict’. The power of sevens is the power of judgment!
The fact that “seven” is all over the page is not coincidence. It’s often associated to completed acts, i.e. ‘And on the seventh day God ended his work’ (Genesis 2:2). But it is also associated with great judgments, such as the march around Jericho’s walls and the “seventy weeks” prophecy of Daniel (Joshua 6 and Daniel 9:24-27, respectively). In short, “seven” appears in Genesis 7 because it is prophetic symbolism of both the completion of the covenant with Noah’s house, as well as the judgment of that old world. Witnesses had offered their testimony, the facts were gathered, but God’s investigation found only Noah to be righteous (vs. 1). The verdict was in.
As for 40, that number denotes a transition from one period to the next. It is associated with fasting, which is a way for men and women to progress to a new phase of life – “putting on a new wineskin” as taught by Yeshua (Matthew 9:16-17). This is why Moses was on Mount Sinai forty days, as God transitioned Israel from Egyptian captivity to a covenant of Law (Exodus 34:28). It’s why Elijah fasted forty days after Israel returned to the Almighty (1 Kings 9:18), and why Yeshua Himself fasted forty days to mark the beginning of the Messianic age (Matthew 4:2). The forty-day rains of Noah’s time mark a similar transition – from one age to the next.
As we read through the Bible, we should become more sensitive to the prophetic patterns appearing in plain sight. In the case of Noah, the appearance of 2s and 3s suggest that God gave a considerable amount of time for people to listen to the witness and building of the Ark. By the time ‘sevens’ appear, this is the Rubicon phase – the final verdict, the point of no return.
Try to think about where else these patterns appear. There’s a reason Yeshua was crucified with two other criminals, and rose on the third day. Patterns of 2s and 3s suggest we are still in the witness phase, when testimonies are received in heaven, with time left to repent. However, I would also suggest there’s a reason a pattern of sevens is woven into the book of Revelation. When those days are fulfilled (whenever that may be), it will mark THE end, and we don’t want to miss our chance like the ancients missed the Ark.
15 This is how you shall make it. The length of the ship shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. 16 You shall make a roof in the ship, and you shall finish it to a cubit upward. You shall set the door of the ship in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third levels. (Genesis 6:15-16)
It’s not always advisable to dissert why God does or does not do something, but alas, this is a blog about investigating tough or overlooked questions. Sometimes, however, the best explanation is the simplest – even when simplicity is overlooked. With respect to my key text of Genesis 6:15-16, the two-part question I ask is: why does God issue such specific instructions and why does He archive such blueprints in Scripture?
As with most biblical texts, the most simple interpretation is often accompanied by a more profound spiritual, or even prophetic, implication. A perfect example is ‘Is it oxen God is concerned about?’ (1 Cor. 9:9) to teach that ministers should benefit from the Lord’s work even more so than the simple rendering that oxen can eat a little grain here and there while it treads out grain. With this in mind, here’s how the construction of the ark fits into a larger story arc.
Before we get in depth, however, comes the practical reason for allowing specific measurements to be archived for all eternity…
Specifications show proof-of-concept. A blueprint allows later generations to analyze or even replicate it, and this has proven invaluable in reproving Scripture against misinformation. With respect to the ark, physicists and scientists come to the same conclusion: the ark could float. Granted, apologists have long touted this point and cite landmark studies like the Hong study of 1993, which concluded “the Ark had a superior level of safety in high winds and waves compared with the other hull forms studied… it could have navigated through waves higher than 30 metres.” And lest we fall into the trap of circular reasoning, secular studies (even though they go out of their way to disagree with the non-scientific aspects of the Noah account) reach similar conclusions, such as this one from Smithsonian Magazine. The ark floats! So, while specifications can demonstrate the omniscience of the Divine, they can also disprove obvious forgeries like the ‘cube of Gilgamesh’ – a cube measuring 200 x 200 x 200 cubits. Such a vessel would not be able to withstand the buoyancy of massive storm surge.
… but spiritual explanations are more fun.
It Fulfills the Divine Demand. Could it be that God issues words with specificity because He demands specificity? One of my favorite scriptures anywhere is this one:
“For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen strokeshall in any way pass away from the Torah, until all things are accomplished.Therefore, whoever shall break one of these least commandments and teach others to do so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt. 5:18-19)
God is a God of specific returns, so specific obedience will reap huge dividends. Note the above quote of Yeshua – a specific zeal for mitzvot (good works) will lead to greatness. So it was for Noah. Cheating ahead a little in Genesis 6 we know “Thus Noah did. He did all that was commanded him” (vs. 22). Noah’s specific response saved his and his family’s lives. What would have happened if Noah used “Kentucky windage” and was off by a few cubits? Would the Ark have survived the crashing waves?
God is specific with us because He wants specificity.
Like I said, sometimes the best explanation is the simplest, even when simplicity is overlooked. For us, this is a simple equation frontloaded in the Bible that archives just enough to teach us a valuable lesson, setting the tone for a lesson which will be oft-repeated: if God is specific with us, we ought to respond specifically. In doing so is great reward. So, may we live specifically! Ω
Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. (Genesis 6:14, KJV)
The meaning of the Hebrew gopher is unclear, but that doesn’t stop the speculation. As the Christian apologetic ministry GotQuestions.org identifies, besides the majority opinion of “cypress”, other options are “cedar, pine, ebony, fir, wicker, juniper, acacia, bulrushes, and boxwood.” All of these appear in today’s Bible translations, in one form or another.
One compelling solution suggests gopher describes a pitching or preparation process common to ship-building. If that theory holds true, gopher would form a type of parallelism with the other words used for pitch in this verse – the verb kaphar and noun kopher.
To their credit, GotQuestions cautions against correlating gopher to either the known tree species and/or modern ship-building processes of today. This is due to several reasons, not the least of which is that the pre-Flood world was likely much different than today’s. Indeed, this warning is supported when we read the biblical verses which describe that ancient land.
Let’s not forget what Lamech said of his son Noach (Noah): “This one will comfort us in our work and in the toil of our hands, caused by the ground which the LORD has cursed.” (Genesis 5:29). The pre-Flood world was cursed. Any assumption that that ground could bear mighty cypress or cedar trees large enough for ship-building should be avoided.
I like the explanation which was offered by Emil G. Hirsch and Henry Hyvernat in the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906). The gist of the article is that gopher resembles the Assyrian giparu (“reeds”)as proposed by the late linguist Fritz Hommel. As an anecdote, the theory beckons Arabian kufa boats, which are made entirely like a basket and float when covered with pitch.
Thus, the “reeds” explanation fits better, given that Noach was building in the context of a cursed ground. There is yet another clue in Scripture, and it’s actually in our key text of Genesis 6:14.
However, before continuing, let’s ask: why all this fuss about the material? Why go for broke and use “cypress” despite the uncertainty? If God wanted the material to be known, couldn’t He have inspired a much more understandable term to be preserved for all time?
Part of me thinks the desire for a strong, durable wood like “cypress” or “cedar” is vanity. I suspect some religious types desperately want the ark to be discovered one day to become evidence of God’s judgment and existence. I suggest, however, that as contradictory as it may seem, sometimes wrapping the truth with murkiness is in God’s plan. I think this is one of those times.
When read again, God’s chief concern for the ark’s structure isn’t the material but the DESIGN:
Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. (Genesis 6:14, KJV)
The intent was to construct an ark of qiniym – literally “nests” (though translated in the KJV as “rooms”). Qiniym is frequently associated with birds, but when used with mankind, it usually has a negative, temporary connotation in that the “nest” is about to be destroyed (i.e. Job 29:18, Obadiah 1:4, Habbakuk 2:9). I suggest a similar interpretation, that any creature in the nests would dwell in hope – that one day, the flood will recede, and more permanent dwellings will be fashioned. The ark is an ark of nests; whatever gopher they are made of is secondary.
It also makes much more sense for the ark to be woven with reeds if the overall intent was to build “nests” in the first place. So given the curse upon the land and the desire to build these temporary nests, I envision the Ark was a type of giant floating basket. I also like the semblance this interpretation has to the life of Moses, who was also hidden in a basket covered with pitch (see Exodus 2:3). In both the cases, I see salvation was achieved through this sort of temporary nest.
I’m serious with this hypothesis, which is why I have to disappoint some people. The Ark will never be found. An ark made of reed nests wouldn’t survive a hundred years, let alone millennia. To reiterate, the linguistics of qiniym begs a glimpse of temporary dwellings – dwellings which were designed to be destroyed. I believe God wanted to forget the Ark the way He “forgets” our sins. Case in point, read forward and behold how God spoke to Noach after the flood.
In closing, the importance of the Ark was not its composition, but the safe passage of life. Yes, I know that every depiction of the Ark is the animals going in “two-by-two”, but in coming posts I hope to show how there were enough hammocks in that Basket Ark to carry many souls to a better world. Ω
I never realized what a foreshadowing Genesis 6:13 bore until I read it a little more closely in the Hebrew. The regular text reads something like this:
God said to Noah, “I will bring an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them and the earth.” (WMB)
However as we can clearly see in the Hebrew due to neat resources such as qbible.com, the original text uses the word panay, which literally means “face”:
The scripture portrays the end of all flesh as coming (ba, in the perfect, just completed sense) to God’s “face” (p’ney, also fanay, depending on pronunciation). The first occurrence of p’ney uses the -l proclitic, which usually denotes a “to” preposition- which is appropriate here. However, the next p’ney uses a different -min preposition. Most translations opt for “through” but -min literally means a partition, meaning from or out of something. Thus, what we’re reading here is that something – in this case chamas – comes from the faces of men up to the face of God.
I recognize that p’ney can have metaphorical interpretations, and most translations go the metaphorical route, getting to the point and omitting “face” from versions. But this is a disservice because I think we miss the symbolism and poetic foreshadowing. As I’ve written since I began analyzing each verse in-depth, every word, even letter in the Bible is by design – and I’m only in the sixth chapter of the first book!
The way I imagine it, I see chamas – which by the way can denote injustice as much as violence – spewing from the faces of men like a fountain, which rises to the face of God like… a FLOOD! It raises the question – did God feel like He was drowning in mankind’s evils?
In the very next breath, when He says “behold, I will destroy their land“, that ended with a literal flood in the way He perhaps was Himself flooded with various evils and injustices. So be it.
In addition to the above play on words, this verse also begins a pattern wherein iniquity or transgressions reaches a “boiling point” evoking God’s judgment, usually at an appointed time. This includes, but is not limited to:
The sin of the Amorites “reaching its full measure”, leading to the judgment of Canaan (cf. Gen 15:16)
The wrath of Hashem grew against Israel until there was no remedy (2 Chron. 36:16)
The time of the dead are judged in God’s wrath with similar language as used here in Genesis 6:13, “to destroy those who destroy the earth” (cf. Rev. 11:18)
When we realize that God reaches a point that feels like perhaps He’s drowning in the evils of mankind, perhaps we can better prepare for His wrath. The way this world is on course right now, I certainly do expect it. Ω
This is the history of Noah: Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time. Noah walked with God. (Genesis 6:9, in my own words)
The first eight verses of Genesis 6, as I’ve previously written, is meant to be an account of how Man left God. The Scriptures transition from referring to them as “sons of God” to meat bags (“flesh” being the exact wording), based on their mindset to find ways to work wickedness or violence (v. 5).
“This is the history of Noah” is likely an introduction from a separate scroll, and begins the same story, but this time, the account will read from Noah’s point of view. Noah is absent in the first history – but as I’ve written before, he does, at least mysteriously and mystically, show up in that first account.
When we compare the two accounts side-by-side we can see some obvious similarities. The meat-bags had children; Noah had children. God said he will not strive with Man in the first account, but in the second, he is certainly still striving (literally walking) alongside Noah. The comparison, which I color-coded to highlight similarities, looks like so:
There are some obvious takeaways, probably the most striking of which, at least for me, is that Noah found favor through work; specifically, he had to obey the commandment to build the ark. Sometimes, to accrue the Lord’s favor, we have to leave all behind and build. So be it.
Are there any similarities that stick out to you, or that maybe you haven’t noticed before? If so, by all means, please share!
But Noach found favor in the eye of YHVH. (Genesis 6:8)
This is the first appearance of the all-important Hebrew word chen (or alternatively, the Greek charis, common to the Septuagint and New Testament). This is an important word to properly interpret, because for better or worse, it is key to understanding salvation doctrines extant in the world today.
It appears as “favor” or “grace” in Genesis 6:8, and the reality of it is that it will be inconsistently translated throughout the rest of the Scriptures. In Christian circles “grace” seems to be the de facto translation; the hymn does not ring “Amazing favor, how sweet the sound” after all. There exists many songs, poems, books, soliloquies, odes and clichés about the “grace” of God, but credence to His “favor” is surprisingly lacking.
One such saying, “saved by grace” – which appears in translations of the New Testament such as Ephesians 2:8 – has almost become a Christian cliché of sorts. Ministries and even movies are named after it. Every Christian pastor I’ve ever met has preached it, but being honest with myself I have questions, and this is my way of challenging what I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time.
If “grace” is looked up in any and every concordance, it’s defined in some way by the word “favor” or even “unmerited favor.” One such example can be found in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (1996):
“An accurate, common definition describes grace as the unmerited favor of God toward man.”
However, when we look up Baker’s definition for favor, it reads this way:
“Finding favor means gaining approval, acceptance, or special benefits or blessings… The favor that human beings receive from God depends on his good pleasure and is often extended in response to prayer or righteous living.”
May I even ask, but if “grace” and “favor” come from the same word (chen or charis), how can one be unmerited, but the other be merit-based, “dependent on righteous living”?
I’m concerned that there is confusion as to what grace – and being saved by grace – actually means. For clarity’s sake, we must take an honest look at the context of Scripture.
In the context of Ephesians 2:8 for example being “saved by grace” means we attain God’s charis through trusting Him (vs. 8). No one disputes this. However, we sometimes neglect the context of what Paul means here, as we have also ceased walking as dead men in our transgressions (vs. 5), with a commitment to walk the rest of our destiny in good works (vs. 10). Therefore, this context suggests salvation is NOT unmerited if the saved lifestyle must in contrast to the “sons of disobedience” (vs. 2). In other words, I’m saved by God’s “favor” meritoriously: through trusting Him first, and continuing in righteousness forever and ever. Paul is not just talking about the beginning of my salvation, he talks what my salvation should always look like.
Noah’s life is actually a prophetic glimpse of the Judgment to come (cf. Matt. 24:37-39), so we should investigate if the first appearance of chen meshes with our current understanding of “saved by grace”. If it doesn’t, we might have a serious problem, because our hope of salvation is linked to the “days of Noah”, including how Noah was “saved by grace”. There is absolutely zero difference in being “saved by grace” and “finding chen in the eye of YHVH.”
It’s occurred to me lately that the twenty-first century understanding of “grace” focuses on the bargain for the recipient, but rarely do we ask ‘what’s in it for God?’ Swapping the atonement of Yeshua’s life for otherwise unpardonable transgressions is indeed a great bargain for sinners – and that’s proclaimed far and wide. However, this is not to be confused with “grace”. That forgiveness is “mercy” or “atonement.” But God gains nothing by granting mercy; He offers mercy liberally. However, when God grants favor, He’s getting a return on His mercy He invested – and that’s the major difference. Indeed, asking for God’s mercy – by which He forgives sins – is the beginning of salvation, but it’s not the end of salvation. After hearing of God’s mercy, one may “look back after putting his hand to the plow” (Luke 9:62), be blot out of the Book of Life (Rev. 3:5), might return to his vomit (2 Pet. 2:22), or any kind of relapse occur to a man who once attained mercy.
Yeshua often said, “many are called, but few chosen.” Everyone finds His mercy to be a sweet sound, but few actually respond with a life of righteousness that God can use. If you are of the few to keep going, you walk in the realm of favor. And this endurance, this life of righteous living is the completion of salvation, exemplified in the life of Noah.
I once proposed that there was a message of God and Noah’s relationship hidden within a very deep, intimate look into the heart of God, but now, His favor is openly declared in black and white.
Noah’s “attainment” (the Heb. matsa means “attained” or “reached”) means that God saw something that made Noah worthy of favor while everyone else could only reach the point of destruction. And what God actually saw comes a bit later: “Come into the Ark, you and all your house, for you alone have I seen as righteous before Me in this generation” (Genesis 7:1, emphasis mine).
So what was in it for God? God had found righteousness that lasted an entire generation. The Scripture also says:
This is the history of the generations of Noah. “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time. Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9)
God saw Noah was still righteous after walking with Him those many years… he had “endured to the end, and was saved…”
I challenge you, dear reader, when you read or hear about “grace” or “favor” – and you will, because it’s everywhere – try to find the implied response of righteousness that is embedded in its context. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading about Noah, Yeshua’s teachings about righteousness, or Paul’s – they all agree on this point. We are offered mercy in exchange for a life of righteousness, and if we walk righteously, we shall forever be favored.
But Noach found favor in the eye of YHVH. (Genesis 6:8)
This is an interesting transitional verse that ties together two similar accounts of the antediluvian world. The first history (vv. 1-7) is the Falling Away from the perspective of God, while vs. 9 begins the same history through the perspective of Noah. In fact, the specific language of verse 9 (“this is the history of Noah”) indicates this was the introductory language of an ancient scroll (See Genesis 2:4 for another example with similar language; it was also likely the introduction of another scroll preserved in the Bible).
If we read the first 13 verses of Genesis 6 straight through, it is admittedly redundant though consistent in theme. The words of God’s judgments on mankind are different (a topic for a later time), as is the description of man’s relations with one another. This was so compiled quite like the Creation, the Torah, the Chronicles of Israel, the Gospels or even some epistles – we often get different versions of the same themes.
What’s interesting here is this “link” connecting these two similar accounts of the horrific time before the Flood. Verse 8 isn’t necessary; the Scriptures could have progressed from verse 7’s “I will destroy man whom I have created from the surface of the ground—man, along with animals, creeping things, and birds of the sky—for I am sorry that I have made them” to verse 9’s “This is the history of Noah…” without a hitch in the flow.
The reason for this unnecessary verse is of course, beautiful: God wants the focus of the Flood story to be how Noah escaped, not on everyone else’s destruction! His divine hand guided the scripture to make this salvation of Noah leap from the page. Thus God is diverting our attention to what it should be – i.e. how do I find what Noah found? or even the emphatic ‘Perhaps I can find favor myself!’
Yes, the story of the Flood is a violent one – there can be no denying that, but it is also a story of salvation, and with this unnecessary verse, I suggest our intended focus is leaping off the pages of Scripture: God is inviting us to also find favor in Him. ◊
The LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him in his heart. The LORD said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the surface of the ground—man, along with animals, creeping things, and birds of the sky—for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:6-7)
I understand that this is uncomfortable reading about God’s wrath extending to the animal kingdom, so let’s address that elephant in the room (see what I did there?). I might not alleviate that discomfort, but I will offer an explanation.
In your discomfort you may have noticed the several animal groupings (beasts, birds of the sky, creeping things) which are vertabim quotes from the creation account of Genesis 1. I interpret this as an allegory to ‘erasing’ history, which is precisely how the verb em’cheh (“I will destroy”) is employed elsewhere in Scripture – denoting the blotting out of words from paper.
The allegories to Genesis 1 also invite us to review what went wrong. After all, this is sort of like God “rewinding” the creation script, is it not? When we do, we read that we were charged to “bear fruit and increase. Fill the earth and conquer it, and subjugate the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and every living thing that moves over the whole earth.” (Gen. 1:28)
May I suggest that we didn’t do ANY of this? While it’s true we did start increasing in number (Gen. 6:1), we didn’t tame the animal kingdom – we instead subjugated each other. We murdered, we ruled by force, we built harems and enslaved fellow men. We did not expand outward, but inward, and this enabled animals to lose their instinct in fearing us (cf. Gen. 9:2). The takeaway here is that the animal kingdom is at its best when man is at his best, but that’s not what occurred. We let the earth become unable to be tamed, which stemmed from an abundance of wickedness.
The Heart of God
This bears repeating: no other scripture offers such a deep glimpse into the Almighty. No other verse dares to look into the heart of the One True God, and I take this as an invitation to investigate.
First, I’d reiterate something I found earlier in Genesis 6:6, that the Divine Name (YHVH) and the verb yinachem (having the same root as the name of Noah/Noach) are together side-by-side, surrounded by depictions of chaotic hearts. Whether it be the evil imaginations of men’s hearts (vs. 5), or the grief inside the Almighty’s heart, I believe this is a deep, prophetic revelation showing that Noah wanted to flee wickedness as much as God craved fellowship among righteous men. According to the rest of the story, this is exactly what happened. God and Noah found each other, as demonstrated by the very next verse:
But Noah found favor in the eye of YHVH. (Genesis 6:8)
And the impetus for this covenant stemmed from a simpatico distaste for the evils of mankind and a mutual search for righteous, holy fellowship: “The LORD said to Noah, “Come with all of your household into the ship, for I have seen your righteousness before me in this generation.” (Genesis 7:1) We were created to live righteously that we might fellowship with the Holy One. As a matter of fact, this is the meaning of life!
Frankly, I don’t believe God discloses secrets to just any scrub who decides to casually read the Bible. It’s more His nature to reveal intimacies to those who are intimate with Him. That’s why the grief inside God’s heart was fully disclosed as a WARNING. When the grief was great enough, YHVH reached a tipping point and began to erase His creation. This is provided as a prophecy. Other Scriptures show that there will again be a time when lawlessness will abound in the earth (Matt. 24:12), and that YHVH will not preserve Mankind after they forsake the point of life: to live righteously before the One True God and have fellowship with Him.
Finally, the last revelation from this – and another tie to the Creation story – is how men “grieved” YHVH in his heart. The word for “grief” is et’sev, which is from the same root word used after Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden. In both judgments of woman and man (in Gen. 3:16-17), God used “itzavon” to explain what life would be in a post-Paradise world. I suggested then that itzavon should not be understood as physical pain (i.e. the pain of childbirth), but rather emotional stress or grief that comes with raising children all-day-every-day, or the sweat-of-your-face labor that just might feed your family and pay all the bills.
So we have stressful situations that qualify as itzavon, but most men will work jobs that suck before letting his family starve. To compare this with God’s grief, we’d have to imagine a man tolerating so much abuse from his family that he’d say “they’re on their own, I’m out.” Or, to a greater extent, we have to imagine a mother turning in her derelict sons to the police. The anguish that these men and women experience isn’t accrued overnight. It’s a grief symptomatic of long-term mental abuse and disappointment. In other words, the Scriptures show that this et’sev – experienced by a long-suffering God – was likewise grief built over time, as men continually ran away from Him.
If we do not live righteously and fellowship with the One True God, we are not doing as we were created to do, like petulant children who curse, disobey and otherwise abuse their parents. Every man has a breaking point, and apparently so does God! Let us not grieve Him; let’s bring ourselves into righteous order and fellowship with Him. In this way we shall be confident we’ll be on the right side of God’s next breaking point, and not have our creation erased. ◊