Day 18: Let’s build ourselves a city

Read Genesis 11:1-9

“The Lord scattered them.”

And that was the whole idea.

Why did they want to build a city? So they wouldn’t be scattered. They wanted to stay together. There’s strength in numbers. They wanted fame, they wanted power; they wanted the safety of brick walls and the security of a great tower.

‘Let’s make a name for ourselves. Let’s make a tower that reaches the heavens.’

Can you hear the dragon? Doesn’t this sound a bit like, “You will be like God” (3:4)?

God sees what the humans can do. He sees that “Nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them,” and he doesn’t like it. Apparently, some things are supposed to be impossible. So he gets involved.

Back in the garden, he let the woman eat the fruit: not here.

It’s almost as though he’s not going to let their sin pile up like it did before the flood. He’s going to help them against the dragon despite themselves – as though their tendency to sin is a foregone conclusion, so now he’s doing damage control because he made that promise about the rainbow. He will bear with them; he won’t end the whole story if it gets out of hand.

No, he says, I won’t let you eat this fruit – the fruit of fame, strength, and god-likeness. So he destroys the dragon’s tool: their unity. He confuses their speech and scatters them abroad ‘over all the earth’.

Look at verse seven: “Come, let us go down and confuse their language.” Did you catch that? He calls himself ‘us’ again, like he did in the very first chapter when he said, “Let us make mankind in our image” (1:26).

God is an ‘us’.

Even while he separates the dragon-poisoned, fame-seeking, one-language-speaking, ‘us’; he is himself part of a genuine, truly-God, ‘us’.

The scattering is not because God is against community. He likes community – he is in one. He just doesn’t like what this community is trying to do.

He scatters them. Maybe so they will turn to him instead of to one another. Maybe so they will fill the whole earth instead of just one small part of it.

The story doesn’t tell us what he is thinking or planning; only what he does.

I believe that, as usual, he wants something better for them: better than what the dragon is trying to sell them, better than what they can imagine.

After all, he has never forgotten the dance.

Day 17: Noah…became drunk

Read Genesis 9:18-29

This is an icky story.

I don’t like it.

The idea of Noah getting sloppy drunk, undressing, and then falling unconscious: it just repulses me.

Ham ‘sees’ his dad’s nakedness, and tells his brothers about it. The brothers won’t even look at their dad, instead they work together to cover him without seeing him. Then Noah wakes up and learns what Ham did and curses Ham’s son – all very strange.

As with so many of the small stories here at the start of the big story, I have more questions than answers. What does it mean that Ham ‘saw’? Of course he saw. His dad was lying there naked. But there must be more to it based on the responses of his brothers and his dad. Then, Noah curses Ham’s son – Canaan – instead of cursing Ham directly. Why?

I don’t know.

But two things are clear, so let’s stick with them: Noah gets stupidly, embarrassingly, drunk; and Canaan gets cursed.

The curse on Canaan will be worth remembering as we go on, because it will have long and lasting effects; and that’s all I’m saying now.

The drunkenness of Noah – oh, that disappoints me!

I wanted him to be better than that.

I have pictures of him in my mind: walking with God while the whole world runs after the dragon; building a monstrosity of a boat; patiently waiting weeks and months to get off the boat; and burning a sacrifice to God in a clean new world. In all these pictures he is larger than life, broad-shouldered, big-hearted, far seeing, and wise: the perfect hero.

Now I have to add another picture: drunk, and passed out in his tent. It doesn’t fit.

But what did I want, sinlessness?

Yes.

I wanted one person to be totally untouched by the craving, or at least completely triumphant over it. It would have made the story so tidy: the dragon drowns in the flood and the world is repopulated with sinless people. That’s how I would write it.

But God is writing a different story. In His, the people have evil hearts – all of them. “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (8:21). In God’s story, there is still a dragon and no one is free from his poison, not even Noah.

My story wouldn’t have worked because Noah never was sinless. Eventually, I would discover this and be shocked, my story ruined. God is not shocked. I love that about him: he is never shocked by our ugly cravings and never caught off guard.  He knew all along what was in Noah.

Yet he loved him.

Yet he used him to save the world.

Day 16: I have set my rainbow

Read Genesis 8:21-9:17

God makes a promise: never again. “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans.”

But he knows that “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.” Humans haven’t changed. The dragon survived the flood, humans still crave his fruit, and God knows it.

That’s what makes this promise so shocking. He is saying that he will no longer punish the earth and all living creatures because of the sin of humankind. Humans will follow the dragon, and God will tolerate it. Humans will dirty and damage his beautiful creation, and he will let them.

It’s scary.

It’s outrageous.

It’s grace.

It’s not a careless promise. He makes a ‘covenant’ – a legal contract. God is binding himself to it. He says to us: despite all the evil you do, I will not curse the earth or destroy all life with a flood ever again.

That’s the contract.

It’s not two-sided because there is nothing creation can promise to God in return. It’s one-sided, pure grace, signed with a rainbow.

And all of this – the promise, the grace, the rainbow – come from God’s pleasure.

He smells the roasting meat and he likes it. I think he likes more than just the smell of the meat. He likes that Noah’s first act is to worship him. He likes Noah. He likes the world: the people, the animals, and the earth itself. I get the sense from verses 21-22 that he is deeply glad the whole story is not over and in his great pleasure he recommits himself to it. Then he makes a rainbow: how perfect.

The rainbow is a perfect reminder of this promise because of what it is. It’s light passing through water. The water, a reminder of sin and destruction, acts as a prism bending the light and untangling its colors so each one shows separately.

He says the rainbow is to remind him of his covenant but I ask you: would he forget? I think he made it for those anxious refugees from the ark and for everyone since – sick with sin and desperate for grace.

I think it’s for you and me, for all of us who know that God has every right to un-make us. We can look to the rainbow and remember his ancient covenant.

Light passes through rain, and his grace passes through our sin, and all the beautiful colors pour out.

Day 15: Noah built an altar

Read Genesis 8:1-20

One year and ten days: I think it would feel like forever.

It would have started out feeling safe and familiar while the whole world roared away; but after weeks and months of cramped spaces, body heat, and ripe smells; with no-where to go – I think it would feel like a floating dungeon.

Imagine: the door groans open; a sweet, flower scented breeze whooshes in; and then you’re walking down the ramp and finally standing on firm ground. Imagine the vivid greens and soft, rustling, leaves.

What would you think?

I’ve wondered if they were afraid. Did they anxiously search the blue sky for some sign of a cloud? Or were they simply like children at Christmas, enjoying the gift of a world all washed clean – renewed?

What to do now? Go for a walk in the bright, open spaces? Build a house? Plant a field?

Noah builds an altar and worships God. Yes, that makes sense: like a grateful child at Christmas who runs to her parents to hug and thank them for the gifts.

“Taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings” – oh. Not like kids at Christmas at all. Noah kills animals – the same ones he’s been taking care of all this time. That’s his thank you to God.

It’s not the first time animals are killed this way. God gave Adam and Eve animal skin for clothing. Abel’s offering was an animal and God liked it. Tomorrow, we will see that God likes this offering too.

God likes animal sacrifice, or He does here at the start of the story. This makes me a little uncomfortable. It feels barbaric, bloody, and cruel. But there I am judging God again, when really I should be grateful that he takes animal sacrifice instead of human – because it is instead of. Noah knows it.

The flood is a massive word picture of God’s power and his hatred of sin.

Noah gets it.

In the aftermath of the terrible destruction, breathing in the earth’s perfume and feeling the sun’s heat on his skin, he realizes the truth: his very life is a generous and gracious gift of God.

It’s all clear.

He is no more worthy to live than any of those who died.

Offering the animals is a way of saying, ‘It should have been me. Thank you that it wasn’t. Here is a life, for my life.’

Day 14: The waters rose and increased

Read Genesis: 7:6-24

“Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth.”

“The waters rose and covered the mountains…”

This image haunts me.

I picture dark grey skies; endless, heavy, rain; and then muddy water swirling upwards, clogged with debris that eventually settles to the bottom. Where once were towns, roads, animals and farms; now is just an endless, churning sea: killing waters.

God un-made his creation.

If the actors in a plan only always fight the director, making up their own lines and creating confusion, eventually the director has to give up. The play loses all resemblance to what it was supposed to have been, and falls into chaos.

Or, to put it another way: if I love you, but you only, ever, run away – eventually I have to give up.

God loves humankind. Remember how he hung out with Adam, naming the animals together? And how he came to the garden, just to be with Adam and Eve? He spent time with Cain, urging him not to sin – inviting him to greater closeness. Noah found favor with God simply because he walked with him.

God wants people to love him back. All creation was good when it danced to his song – his love song.

But then they all went to the dragon. “All the people on earth had corrupted their ways” (6:12). Obsessed with their dragonish cravings, they ran away from God’s love, and forgot that he held their lives in his hand. Finally, God gave up. He let them have what they wanted, which was none of him. He took back the love and life he had given them.

The muddy waters swirled upwards.

“As the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth.”

Noah loved God back. He showed his love through the long, crazy obedience of building a boat that could never be brought to water; and with that boat, God rescued him.

Through the love and obedience of Noah, God was able to save not just Noah, but his whole family, thousands of animals and – really – all of creation. The story doesn’t end here. God isn’t giving up.

He’s starting a whole new chapter.

“The ark floated on the surface of the water.”

Day 13: I will wipe from the face of the earth

Read Genesis 6:9-7:5

“I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

Wow.

Think about that.

Think about God killing every single thing that breathes: plants, animals and people.

Imagine the silence.

Imagine you are Noah, hearing this plan for the first time. What would you think? Would you be tempted to think that God was being too harsh? Maybe just a bit?

We keep doing this. We think we can judge God and we forget that it is the other way around. God made us. He lends life to us for reasons of his own and he can take it away any time he wants.

This is a strange, radical, thought to us. We have this idea that we are independent, that we can decide for ourselves how we should live and what we should become.

But we are just plain wrong.

We are made: handcrafted by God for God. He doesn’t have to keep us alive. He isn’t forced to. He owes us nothing.

He can un-make us.

Does this scare you? I hope it does because this kind of fear is exactly where we need to start with God. If Adam and Eve had been more afraid of him they wouldn’t have eaten the fruit. And who knows what could have happened then? God doesn’t show us what might have been, but remember the tree of life? I think God intended something far better for them than what they took.

Is Noah afraid? I think so. I think fear helps him build that boat. He believes what God tells him. He believes that if he doesn’t build the boat, he will die along with everyone else.

But I think his fear is mixed with something else. You see, once I accept the truth that God can un-make me, a kind of wonder begins to grow that he lets me live at all. So, here is Noah and God has spoken to him, shared his thoughts with him. God gives him a blueprint for life: build a boat. Build it this way.

As Noah obeys and the boat takes shape, he sees the plan of God more and more clearly; and with a growing sense of wonder, he realizes that God intends to save him.

Fear gives way to thankfulness, hope, and love.

Day 12: The Lord regretted…

Read Genesis 6:1-8

“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”

The dragonish hunger is everywhere. It turns out that Cain wasn’t the only one who failed to master it. In fact, it seems as though all humankind prefers sin to God. Adam and Eve were the first to eat the poisoned fruit and now all their children crave it.

Remember how God was so pleased with the humans at the start that he blessed us and called us very good? Now he’s sorry he made us. He’s ready to wipe us from the face of the earth.

Sin is everywhere and it has ruined everything.

“But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord.” One man seems to have mastered sin. One man has chosen God over the dragon. One man will save with world: a hero. But I’m getting ahead again.

I need to back up to the first four verses of today’s reading, and tell you something: I used to seriously dislike them.

For years I ignored these verses because they challenged my understanding of how the world works, and what God allows. I didn’t like to think about ‘Sons of God’ – angels? – marrying ‘daughters of men.’

It was preposterous.

It was scary.

I decided the verses probably didn’t mean what they seemed to mean. It was just another mystery.

But lately I’ve been noticing other verses (1 Cor. 11:9, 1 Peter 3:19-20, 2 Peter 2:4-5) which seem to refer to these verses, and seem to take them at face value: angels married humans and created children of mythical size and strength. The verses are far from clear, but they make me think my skepticism might be wrong.

It might have happened.

It could be where the ancient myths of gods and half-gods come from, and it seems to have been a bad thing: it led to widespread sin.

Still, the idea doesn’t scare me like it once did.

Now it excites me. The more I learn about God, the less I fear him.

And maybe I’m still wrong. Maybe those other verses don’t mean what I think. That’s okay too.

But now, I kind of hope they do. I’d like to take these verses today at face value because they open a window – for just a second – to more: angels mingling with humans.

They weren’t supposed to be marrying – but the fact that they could

Doesn’t it make Heaven that much more real?

And close!

Close enough to touch.