Genesis 6:1-9:17 starts with one of those odd bits we get throughout Genesis that it’s hard to know what to make of – the bit about the ‘Nephilim’. One theory is that they’re borrowed from other ancient cultures’ myths of pre-historic time, but it seems everyone’s guessing really.
Anyway, it soon settles down to one of the few Bible stories most people still know about – Noah and the Ark.
This is another of those bits of the first 11 chapters of the Bible that I think we tend to miss the point of. Either we read it as a children’s story of God and Noah rescuing the animals (without concentrating too much on the point that it’s God who sends the flood in the first place) or we get sidetracked into how much space you’d need for the giraffes, and how you keep the wolves away from the sheep on the Ark. Or even onto why Noah had to let the mosquitoes on in the first place…
When we accept that we’re reading myth here, I think we can see much more truth that when we try to read these chapters as history or a bedtime Bible story. Having thought about it through the day (between four services and other stuff) it seems to me that the key points are,
- God cares. He cares for the world he has made enough to give it a second go at life, even when it’s messed up as far as the eye can see. We’re in the realm of myth here, so we don’t need to speculate about whether Noah was really the only righteous person around. For the purposes of the story, that’s just how it is.
- We matter. Back in Genesis 3, we read of how the sin of the first humans messed up life not just for them but for the whole natural order – plants and animals alike. Now we see how the natural world suffers because of human evil – but also of how it’s through a human being that God saves the animals. When we think of how we have the capability to destroy our environment and ecosystem or to be the way God rescues it, this ancient myth starts to feel quite modern.
- God has mercy. Even in the mythic, apocalyptic scale of the flood, there is hope as God’s gift. It’s not given as a magic trick – God draws the plans, but Noah still has to build the boat – but it is still from God.
- God can change. After the flood, God makes a covenant – a promise to the world. ‘Never again’. He puts the rainbow in the sky as a reminder to himself not to flood the world again, even when people really deserve it. I know it’s debatable, but I can’t help seeing here a God who is choosing to be changed by his difficult, frustrating experience of loving the world. Perhaps I’m jumping ahead too soon to see the same God who ends up coming into the world in Jesus, but I think it’s fair enough.