OT History Part 1: Period of Beginnings

Table of Contents

Chapter 1.1: Creation Theology: Genesis

The record of God's revelation begins at the beginning. The English name "Genesis" carries the connotation of source, how it all began. Out of the vast collection of narratives available to ancient peoples, it was necessary to filter out what was untrue or simply unnecessary for Israel to serve God under the Covenant. Whatever Moses did for that month or so on Mount Sinai in communion with God must have included editorial selection of the material known to Moses, who had been raised and educated in the cosmopolitan court of Pharaoh. The result included the Book of Genesis.

The book is divided into sections that don't follow precisely the chapter and verse structure added long after the time of Christ. The Creation Account is actually two different accounts. The first one, Genesis 1:1-2:3, is the theological account of Creation. It follows the particular logic of Hebrew thinking, and provides an explanatory foundation for parts of Hebrew culture. This by no means denies the facts in this first account; rather, we place facts in the proper perspective of their meaning in terms of what they demand of us.

1:1-5 -- The dispute over words and phrases here is the result of importing Western logic, a whole raft of alien assumptions. The Hebrew mind sees the picture of God hovering over His unformed Creation like a mother hen over her brood. Don't chase details; get the overall image. The first thing God does is to separate Light (Truth) from Darkness (Deception). He established a standard -- there is a right and a wrong. Night gives way to dawn; falsehood gives way to Truth. Also note: the pattern of Hebrew reckoning is established for what constitutes "a day" -- evening and then morning. The new day begins at nightfall.

1:6-8 -- God created an open space between the dense collections of matter. Most presume this means an expanse of sky or air was inserted between the waters of earth and the waters of the sky, but that is only the obvious literal meaning. Primordial earth was wrapped in a cloud layer. Our Western mind notes that this would make the entire surface of the earth tropical or subtropical. The cloud layer would also serve to block out many of the cosmic particles that cause human aging and would obscure the sky. You would be able to detect the sun and moon, but little else. This becomes more important later in terms of context. More important is seeing the entire vastness of the universe was God's handiwork.

1:9-13 -- Next came dry land and plants. Land was pushed up and water ran off into the low places. There was now a place to introduce the first form of life visible to human eyes -- plants. Everything living is organized according to a pattern on earth, that everything would bear the seeds of its own reproduction. Those seeds would produce more of the same thing, not some other thing. Species of life could not readily cross by accident. We should note that God created DNA structures to enforce this plan.

1:14-19 -- While the sun is necessary before plants can grow, that misses the point. The reason given for celestial luminaries is that humans could mark seasons and mark the passing of time in cycles that were predictable. Such a thing was so critical to humanity that most pagan religions have some sort of celebration of seasons, luminaries and the cycle of life. Again, the order is not chronological, but theological. The plants were a large part of the reason for celestial lights.

1:20-23 -- Fish and fowl come next. The seas from the third day were filled with living, moving creatures. The sky of the second day was filled with creatures that were at home on the wind. A zoologist might note that the Hebrew word for "fish" includes a lot of things we don't include under the English word. In the Hebrew mind it is enough to note that each step brings ever-increasing complexity to fill out the setting for divine purpose. Fish and fowl are the simplest of animals humans notice.

1:24-30 -- Land animals were the last group. Again, notice the inter-species barrier, "after their kind." Notice how, so far, the logic has been from the simple to the complex. Finally, God makes a creature in His own image. Whatever else that means, it tells us this creature was inherently designed to commune with God. Further, this creature was the final step, the culmination and the whole purpose for the rest of His Creation. This resulted in the creature having dominion over the rest of Creation. There are other, unspoken purposes hinted at and they are the reason for the rest of Scripture.

1:31-2:3 -- Finally comes the Sabbath, the day of rest. The cycle of Creation was complete and God set apart the seventh as a day of rest. It was designed to bless the human race, by giving them a break from labor -- no employer or master could require anyone to work that day -- and provides an opportunity to turn and commune with God, one of the primary purposes for humans to exist.

We have established, then, the theological picture of Creation. Had we been there to witness it, would we have reported it this way? Would it have taken place in this exact sequence? That's a silly question. The right question is: What does this demand of humankind?

Chapter 1.2: Why Creation?

We have seen that the initial narrative presents the theology of God's Creation, emphasizing the logical order. We should take the six-day framework literally (Exodus 20:11; 31:17), but the Hebrew viewpoint is more about the way things relate than about how they were done. While we see that the entire universe was created as a tableau for human existence, we learn nothing of the purpose of mankind's existence. We know from the Genesis 1 that man is required to seek fellowship with God, that such is man's nature by design, but nothing is said of why God desired this. It is typical of Hebrew writing to aim for an application, not necessarily an explanation. The purpose was declaring the grounds for God's claim to sovereignty in the human awareness.

Why God went to all this trouble is only hinted at in the Bible and never clearly stated. That does not imply we must leave it alone, since Hebrew literature assumes some things are obvious without statement. Writers often mention something important in passing, a reference to that common understanding not needing exploration. What happened "before" Creation? What prompted God, Who needs nothing, to desire all this?

Genesis 2 sets a rather dramatic stage for several actors to play their parts. Genesis 3 begins quickly telling how it came to be that mankind should be born with a sinful nature. Abruptly, we are introduced to a character whose existence it is assumed the reader would already understand. He is called "the Serpent," a euphemism for Satan. How could such an evil creature, with obviously so very much power and authority, be in a position to soil the innocence of Eden? As the only clue to what is going on, the question of "why Creation?" quickly becomes "whence Satan?"

How much of Genesis is properly taken literally is subject to debate, but Paul's comment to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15 is a reference to just such an effort -- to accurately discern the natural intent of the Word. Don't envision a big snake or lizard, but an "Angel of Light" (2 Corinthians 7:14). From the context, we can assume that Eve saw no reason to be suspicious of him, that he appeared to her someone in authority. If we compare this scene with the opening paragraphs of Job, we begin to get a picture of someone who was allowed to come and go on the earth at will, had tremendous power and yet was somehow accountable to God. Further, he had some access the God's throne room in some sense and seemed familiar with the protocols for addressing God.

There are other passages; look at Isaiah 14. Again, there has been much ink spilled over this one. One school of thought reminds us that every condemnation against a human, guilty of great evil, is at least an indirect condemnation of the one who inspired their evil: Satan. The poetic lines of condemnation for Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 12-15) sound a great deal like the condemnation against the "King of Tyre" in Ezekiel 28:11-19. In the case of Tyre, we know for a fact that there was never any person bearing the title "King." There was a Prince (more accurately translated "leader from among the people"). We also know that the Prince was simultaneously the high priest of a very nasty religion. In the eyes of Hebrew prophets, the pagan god a people worshipped was their true ruler. For centuries, Bible scholars have said that these passages in Isaiah and Ezekiel must address the question Satan, at least indirectly. Keep in mind that, from the Hebrew point of view, every pagan god and goddess was merely a front for a demon (1 Corinthians 10:19-20). It's not too much of a stretch to see Tyre's demon as Satan himself.

If you chase down the passages in Scripture regarding Satan (aka Lucifer, the Enemy, the Accuser, etc.) and piece them together, you get a feel for this character. Seen as a whole, they describe one who, at first was the "Covering Cherub" of God. Try to imagine that no part of Creation can bear the Presence of God Himself, without dissolving its created form. Thus, someone had to be a cloak to shield Creation. No inanimate thing would do; God created a being to handle the task. This meant that all traffic or communication between God and Creation had to pass through this being conceptually described as a Living Cloak. No surprise that this being got a big head over his unique status and tried to skim off some of that glory and praise meant for God, keeping it for himself. It's all metaphor, because Hebrew is itself mostly symbolism.

We owe a tip of the hat to C.S. Lewis and his "Narnia" series of children's books, in which he offers the simplest explanation. He's not the only one who believes this, but offers the best description. Knowing what we do about God, His holiness, etc., and His other characteristics, we can make certain assumptions based on the belief that God is also self-consistent on His own terms as revealed. God can't let this trespass by His Living Cloak go unanswered. He condemns Lucifer, but may have felt magnanimous about the need for clarifying the rightness of His judgment. At the same time, the punishment will fit the crime. Given what God has stated rather plainly of Himself, we can guess He offers a proving ground between Lucifer's declarations about himself (declaration by behavior) versus what God had said was Lucifer's place. The proving ground would be a creature.

Of course, a place had to be made that would allow this creature to live and present this living proof of God's justice. So, we have the world and all that is in it. Man is in the image of God, who breathed life into Man. There is some inherent kinship. Man can choose to follow God, or he can listen to Lucifer's seductive lies about God and His purpose. All of humanity in history, until the Second Coming and Final Judgment, is one long courtroom testimony.

So much is plausible for us as we try to grasp the Hebrew context. We have pushed far enough at this point, already way out on a limb. This explanation forms a useful part of our faith life serving Him today. It seems to explain some things that happen beyond our control and it helps to explain even our own feelings at times. Is it "The Truth" as folks might see it today? That's the wrong question. The right question is whether it enhances our obedience to the larger image of what God demands of us. It seems to fit with all the other things that are much more clearly addressed in Scripture.

Chapter 1.3: The Garden of Eden

Genesis 1 presents the conceptual sequence of events. Reading it as factual chronology is a modern idea, not part of the author's intent. Beginning in Genesis 2:4, we have a distinct statement about a different sequence: The earth was formed, moisture was provided by a mist and plants had not yet grown. God formed the first man from the stuff of the ground, and then provided all manner of vegetation for food. There was also the one tree of Forbidden Fruit.

2:4-14 -- The location of Eden is really not answered in terms we recognize. If we take the flow in Eden to be a literal river; then we run into a problem, because rivers run together but rarely separate into two or more distinct streams, except in a delta where the flow is slow and shallow. At least two of these rivers are known by name -- Tigris and Euphrates -- and are quite substantial. If we allow the word to mean a simple "flow" then perhaps as a water-shed we are closer to something we can envision. The identity of the other two rivers remains a mystery. Indeed, the names of the territories mentioned as adjacent to their courses, in so far as they can be identified, are quite far from the Tigris-Euphrates Valley.

All of this is academic to begin with, as the topography of the earth has surely changed and probably quite radically, since ancient times. It may be that the modern Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are ancient names of other times and places given to more recent geographical features. Our author in Genesis 2 and 3 is much more interested in what took place than in geographical location. The terms used to describe the place may be little more than figures of speech, meant to prevent such questions. We don't need to place it geographically since Eden represents an existence we cannot approach from our fallen state.

2:15-17 -- We cannot imagine what sort of work is implied by "cultivating" Eden. The feeling is more of management, rather than hands-on labor. We know that a part of the curse was that man would be required to perform hard physical labor (ch. 3:19). This indicates a change from his previous situation. It's probably safe to assume he used the same thing to manage nature that made it: the Word of God, as the expression of His will. Adam spoke the purpose of God and nature obeyed. This accords well with Paul's statement in Romans 8:19-21. After the Fall, nature became unmanaged, as there was no one to apply God's guidance in His name.

Since the name "Eden" essentially means "paradise," and the word for "garden" is more like a "private park," we do well to avoid trying to fix a concrete image and settle for a general feel for opulence and comfort. Again, this is imagery, not a precise description.

2:18-25 -- It would appear that the animals were created from the same earthy stuff as Adam, but came after he was alive. As a mark of his position and authority, it was his to name these creatures. And being like God, being able to commune with Him, man also needed one with whom to fellowship on his own level. The role of this "helper comparable" for the man is less of subordination and more of an extension of himself. The emphasis is hard to miss, stated in some translations as "they shall become one flesh"

Thus, we see mankind as he ought to be.

Chapter 1.4: Temptation and Fall

Let me remind readers of the principle involved in understanding the entire Old Testament: It's all about application. What does the believer need to know in order to do what God wants done? Knowing what the writer intended requires some grasp of Hebrew thinking. Paul warns us in 2 Timothy 2:15 that we must diligently study the Word so that we can correctly divide between fact and figure of speech, among other things.

We know that the Six Days of Creation is rather literal, because of other passages that refer to it so -- Exodus 20:11, 31:17 -- but it would be best to see it as six days of revelation. It is the logical structure of Creation. The actual chronology, if there is one, is set forth in Genesis 2, with Man first, then plants and then animals. Last of all, Woman is built from the Man's rib.

They are depicted as actual people. Since all Hebrew names tend to be symbolic, noting the symbolism of "Adam" and "Eve" doesn't diminish the literalness of their individuality. Typical of Hebrew thinking, they are both symbol and reality. Using the term "The Serpent" for Satan was hardly meant to convey details of his appearance, but of his nature. The image of the serpent was something always dangerous, revolting and beautiful all at once. Taking that literally does violence to the author's intent. What Satan looked like is not mentioned, nor even hinted at, because that's not important in the Eastern mind. He was there and he had an evil plan, contrary to God's design; such is his nature.

Much has been made of the precise meaning behind the conversation between Satan and Eve. We can safely assume she properly understood the prohibition included not touching the fruit. However, Satan managed to deceive her as to the reason for the prohibition. The question itself is intellectual, almost anti-spiritual. It seeks not to understand, but an opportunity to evaluate, to pass judgment. Satan made a very libelous claim about God's nature, that He had some hidden agenda to withhold some good thing, while mockingly giving it center place in the Garden. It was hinted that God was denying Adam and Eve their rightful status as gods, something Satan no doubt believed God had done to him first.

It is important here to notice the content of this temptation (ch. 3:6). It can be broken down into three parts:

  1. It was good for food.
  2. It was pleasant to look at (and by extension, to touch).
  3. It was desirable to make one like God.

We note that the pattern remains unbroken across the ages. When the same Tempter confronted Jesus in the Wilderness (Luke 4:1-13), we see the he used the same pattern of temptations:

  1. To make bread from stones.
  2. To create a spectacle before a crowd.
  3. To become godlike in ruling all mankind.

The Apostle John lays it down for us in plain terms of human weakness (1 John 2:15-17):

  1. Lust of the Flesh
  2. Lust of the Eyes
  3. Boastful Pride

All temptations can be seen as arising from these three, singly or in combinations. There is the appeal to (1) the fleshly appetites. They are not in themselves evil, for without hunger pangs, we might not know to eat and keep our body supplied. What is sinful is seeking to fulfill them outside the provision of God: thirst, hunger, sex, etc.

The appeal to (2) curiosity, the desire to see some new wonder, is taking advantage of another benign trait. It is simple human curiosity that has led to every good discovery of mankind since the Beginning. It is the desire to see things that we should not see, visions that would engender a desire for sights that can only come from exercising human depravity. How many of us are both repulsed and fascinated by the sight of blood? To see it often enough, in sufficient quantity, can harden us to the instinct to lessen human misery.

There is also nothing wrong in well-earned pride of accomplishment. It is (3) pride in things we did not accomplish that leads us to sin. The demand that God ease our path at the expense of others, to claim a status above others He has not given, to demand others give way because we hold ourselves as superior -- these are the sin in pride. Those placed by God in positions of authority are to humbly acknowledge His hand in placing them there and to bear the rank as a burden of service, not the privilege of power. The sin is in claiming to be something one is not, contrary to God's declaration.

The central element tying all of this together is the choice to place human rational capacity on the throne of decision. The intellect was given by God as the means to organizing the body's response to revealed moral imperatives. Satan enticed Adam and Eve to explore their world from the basis of their own intellect, as if they could know enough about things from their own sensory data what was moral. This is a rejection of revelation, daring to question God in the same way Satan appears to have done.

Paul says that Eve by her nature was deceived by this enticement, whereas Adam was not (1 Timothy 2:13-14). It's only modern Western feminism that sees this as an insult. To the proper Eastern mind, it's simply a differentiation of abilities and roles.

Chapter 1.5: Hiding and Hides

Genesis 3:9-24 -- In the state of innocence, being nude was simply a fact of life. Every other creature was nude, as well. Once Adam and Eve had taken the Forbidden Fruit, they were suddenly aware of good and evil by a direct participation in evil. What Satan had promised was a half truth: While not like God, they did indeed know good and evil. They also knew they had done evil and couldn't hide it from God.

At some point in our human development, we all gain a sense of privacy and modesty. This reflects our fallen nature, but the principle here goes much deeper. For so long as they were obedient, Adam and Eve had no sense of exposure. When man sins, he must hide from the wrath of God. To survive that wrath requires a covering. The concept of covering is completely missing in our Western culture, but looms large in Eastern thinking. It is a picture of our desperate need of protection from God's judgment against sin. At the same time, literal nudity outside private sexual intimacy remains shameful and sinful because the world remains fallen. Reasoning away the fact or the symbolism is rejection of God's revelation.

While both cultures recognize that all behavior has consequences, that sin behavior often has bad consequences, there is much more to it than that. The primary truth of human existence is that we are designed to fellowship with God and with each other, by extension. Sin breaks that fellowship; it transgresses the covenant boundaries. Sinners violate a sacred trust, whether it is persons or property. In this case, the judgment of good and evil is God's private reserve. The implied Covenant of Creation requires humbling oneself before God as Lord and Creator; this was an injury to God Himself.

To make amends for transgressing a covenant requires healing the damage, of giving a part of oneself to restore what was lost. In this case, the damage was irrevocable; the change to human nature cannot be revoked on the human plane of existence. The knowledge, once gained, could not be returned or removed. The fruit could not be reattached to the tree. Innocence could not be restored; Adam and Eve knew this instinctively. They knew that they were wholly exposed before God and sought to avoid the pain of that exposure as transgressors, as those who had wounded God. There was no place to hide, of course. Their attempt to cover themselves with fig leaves was pointless, but typical of human behavior ever since then. It is our nature to attempt building layers between ourselves and our justified suffering. Today we call it "neurosis."

Hiding from the pain of their sin before the presence of God only emphasized the inadequacy of their abilities to deal with it. If there was to be a restoration of fellowship, it would have to come from God, the injured party. That is the nature of justice. Even between equal parties, to clean up the mess by meeting the demands of the injuried party may still fail to make him forget. Things can never be the same. So it was in this case. Both man and Satan had stepped into the curses of sin.

The author used myth as an image of God's judgment. The term "The Serpent" should not be taken as literal; it should be taken as literary. We know that literal snakes appear to us as crawling whips with fangs and scales and were created that way from the start. We cannot hold the morally accountable for our natural repulsion. The myth that snakes were once upright is ancient, used here by the writer to declare that Satan would not be taken in trust so easily by mankind again, that sane people would avoid him at all costs. The only people who would embrace him voluntarily would be those who also embrace evil, for he would be known as evil personified. This was a change in status, as Eve had treated him respectfully before. Further, the seed of the woman would be his greatest enemy and would eventually strike a killing blow.

Scholars refer to this line as the "Proto-Evangelium" -- the first promise from God to deal decisively with sin, once and for all. As is well known, it was Jesus Christ who had an earthly mother, but no earthly sire. He was the seed of a woman who struck that fatal blow on the Cross. The best Satan could hope for was to hobble Christ's reign at times, not to stop it by any means.

Much has been made of the curse on woman from all angles. Most of it misses the point. First the obvious: One would look long and hard to identify any creature that risks so much in childbirth and suffers as much pain. More than that, nurturing is both, a woman's greatest strength and her greatest misery. How many normal women are eager for their progeny to leave home? The inevitable conflicts arising from this add to her misery. It is the source of great conflict in childrearing between husband and wife, yet she would have a built in desire for a man and he would take authority over her.

Whatever it is that changed for man, it is certain that getting food by the sweat of the brow, implying manual labor against a reluctant natural world, was not the original plan. Work would become the primary feature of a man's life and would end with his death. Afterward, he would be forgotten, just another pile of dust. All his labor would blow away with the next strong gust of wind. In ancient times, the greatest blessing was to be able to leave a legacy that kept your name alive in human memory.

Because of sin, life became ugly. Intended for intimate fellowship, husband and wife would struggle to be on the same sheet of music. Futility would take over as the dominant factor of human existence. But all was not lost, in that a measure of fellowship could be restored by God's provision. In the provision of animal hides to serve as a covering, we recognize the shedding of blood was necessary. Thus established is the principle of shed blood to answer for sin.

Yet all could not be fully restored. The immortality of innocence was gone forever; mankind was forbidden access to the Tree of Life. The path back was the Flaming Sword, a terrifying symbol of the Word of God, of God's revelation of His holiness to fallen mankind. Eternal life required death of self and this is clearly prefigured in the story. Mortality was also a new and permanent feature of human life.

Eden is not some place hidden in the sands of time, a literal location on earth. It is hidden as a parallel universe -- it's right there, everywhere, but not accessible. That is, it's inaccessible unless we pass the Flaming Sword. It must cut off from us death and sin. Without the change inherent in a revelation of God, there is no going back to Paradise, whence we came and for which we were designed.

Chapter 1.6: After the Fall -- Divergence

The focus leaves Adam and Eve as we see the result of sin on their children. In Genesis 4 we are introduced to their sons, Cain and Abel. It is instructive to note the meaning of their names. Cain sounds very much like the Hebrew word for "acquisitive," implying greed. Abel means a "vanity," or something transitory, implying disappointment.

The symbolism of their names does not negate the presentation of them as literal people. These two were engaged in the necessary tasks of food production; Cain in farming and Abel in sheep herding. In the natural course of events, both brought their appropriate offerings -- a specific type of free will offering, a bloodless donation-in-kind. We have no idea how this offering was tendered, or how it was actually used the on behalf of God. There is nothing inherently superior in either offering; both have been required since the beginning.

Being forbidden to approach God directly since expulsion from Eden, God was not forgotten, just harder to reach. The text assumes God had responded to the Fall with some sort of revelation that established a pattern of worship, including the sacrifice of a portion of the food production. The basic requirement for being accepted by God, as symbolized by having one's offering accepted, was honest commitment to getting to know Him and His ways. The human spirit was now dead by default, and the instinctive spiritual connection is absent, requiring man actively seek communion with God. Cain's offering was unacceptable because of his unacceptable attitude. He rejected God's direct attempt to correct his immature thinking. Cain demonstrated his immaturity by murdering his brother out of wounded pride and envy.

He further demonstrated it by excuses and whining when God called him to account for the murder. To let Cain stay in the household with such an incorrigible self-centered attitude would be a threat to everyone. He was sentenced to banishment, away from the relative safety and prosperity of communal life. This meant "living in Nod," a literary phrase for nomadic living, but symbolizing moral wandering. He had polluted the ground with human blood. Any attempt to return to his farming would be cursed with utter failure, forced instead to gather what he could find growing naturally.

Contrary to the speculation of modern secular scholarship, the nomadic lifestyle was not the original human condition, but a degradation from the original agrarian communal settlement style of living. It also meant Cain no longer had access to the worship and knowledge of God. We have no evidence of the original human settlements. In pursuit of their basic needs, it's unlikely that they would have needed much of a material culture, such as could be found by archaeological digging. The decentralized community structure and widely spaced settlement pattern precluded a highly organized society. Cain, on the other hand, was the predecessor of a very material and structured culture.

Pastoral mysticism is not necessarily uncivilized, but our modern prejudice shows in the academic assumption that Cain was the founder of civilized urban living. Civilization is defined as the set of cultural habits sufficient to enable living together in close quarters. A dense population allows material progress and development of advanced artistry. There had to be customs or rules of conduct also because the natural pacifying effect of worshipping God was absent. This was the birth of materialism. Indeed, Cain is responsible for the rise of all heathen worship, along with the stratification of society into various upper and lower classes. Some, by virtue of their willingness and skill at killing and otherwise oppressing their fellow human beings, rose to a special status, with separate rules of conduct. Human life became cheap, not to mention short, for the most part. This sort of society is the one that has been amply illustrated by the discoveries of archaeology. The Bible refers to this human-oriented society as the "Children of Men."

In the meantime, the original family group continued to exist in its simpler lifestyle centered on the worship of God, as we see in Genesis 4:26. Throughout the rest of this early time, there was a strong divergence between the two types of human society. Those who followed God, called "the Children of God," were known for their tremendous longevity. It is not so far-fetched when we realize that there was still a thick cloud layer over the whole planet, which among other things, would tend to block cosmic particles and other celestial emissions known to accelerate aging. The lifestyle of the Children of God was also presumably healthier, less stressful. We could further posit a direct result of sin -- the loss of immortality -- taking effect slowly, over numerous generations.

The long genealogy table follows customary Semitic form, in that it is not a list of direct lineal descent. Rather, it lists the more famous figures. This, together with the high longevity, makes it virtually impossible to estimate a time span. There is no way of knowing how much time had lapsed between the expulsion from Eden and the building of the first cities.

Chapter 1.7: The Flood

Our text is Genesis 6-9. We can give an educated guess for the date of Noah as around 6000 BC., if not earlier. By this time, the Children of Man had become horribly corrupt (ch. 6:1-8). They pursued every sort of hedonism imaginable. This included the birth of Black Magic as an attempt to regain Adam's legendary authority over nature. Probably late in the Stone Age, some of it would appear to modern eyes as attempts at primitive science, including early experiments with metals.

From the biblical point of view, of more concern were these pursuits of power, which gave rise to a long legacy of experimentation with the Spirit Realm. This opened the way to demonic presence, to include possession of human souls. It is not explained how, but this was connected to the appearance of a race of giants: the Nephilim. The ambiguity of the Hebrew word makes it uncertain, but it would appear that they were both physically large and exceptionally intelligent, not to mention outrageously ambitious and brutal. They were people who transgressed the limits in every way. This manifestation of evil power among the Children of Man was enhanced by seducing with the Children of God, likely seeking some magical advantage. To corrupt the godly became a major preoccupation of the Children of Man. They succeeded to the point where God decided it was time to wipe out humanity and start afresh.

The man Noah ("Serenity") must have been the last Child of God who hadn't surrendered to this madness. God told him he would have 120 years to prepare for a worldwide flood. He was to do two things: (1) build a boat large enough to carry a breeding pair of all fauna, along with the extended family of Noah, and (2) to prophesy of the coming doom to the corrupt society around them.

His instructions for building this boat included using cedar, a nearly indestructible wood that didn't weaken much from age or long exposure to water. Estimates for the size of this craft, based on interpretations of the term "cubit," generally run about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high (137 x 23 x 14 meters). These turn out to be very stable proportions for a boat, but huge, displacing over 40,000 tons (36,300 metric tons). It may well have required 120 years for four men to build something that large using Neolithic ("new stone age") tools. Large as it was, many contend that the Ark would not have been large enough to hold a whole zoo, even allowing no room for the animals to move around. Include food for them and it would seem preposterous. More than likely, though, many of the animals would have hibernated the whole time. The weeks of heavy rain and the following flood would have lowered the temperature for quite some time. God had planned this carefully. The animals on the Ark came to Noah at God's prompting; He would have chosen and prepared these animals completely. We have no way of knowing what mechanism God would have used to multiply species in the first place.

As to the volume of water sufficient to flood the whole earth, recall the picture of very little land surface before the Flood. Geophysicists are quite certain that today's continental land masses were originally part of a single, smaller one. Even today, the continents bordering the Atlantic Ocean appear to be growing larger by virtue of uplift, while the circumference of the earth slowly increases. The crustal material of the earth is oozing up through a rift running the length of the Atlantic, hardening and pushing the continental plates apart, according to the commonly accepted Tectonic Plate Theory.

We have already described the primeval thick global cloud bank. It would have been quite easy to precipitate the whole thing by a few well placed eruptions from the vast subterranean pools ("fountains of the deep") spewing miles into the sky. God precisely planned the timing when the heat and pressure in this subterranean pool built to the point of bursting through the crust. The accompanying earthquakes would have caused vertical displacement of the earth's crust, sinking many parts. It took quite some time to bring the entire cloud bank down, along with all that had gushed from below the earth's crust ("forty days" was a common Hebrew expression, an approximation between one and two moon phases).

We have today evidence of flood strata at high altitudes all over the world; inexplicable, unless one takes this story seriously. The flood hid from Noah's view the relatively low pre-historic mountains by some 20 feet (6 meters). Under the cover of water, great upheavals of the earth's crust would have shifted some of the land upward again, as the plates shifted against each other. They would have crumpled and folded at the edges, creating today's mountain ranges. The single ocean of earth would begin to run off new land masses, carving deep new valleys in the process. It took birds to test the new situation. While a raven would be comfortable resting on floating carcasses, the dove was the key signal for Noah. She would only light in a tree or on exposed ground.

The boat came to rest somewhere in the Ararat Mountain Range. We believe this to be in modern day Armenia. The post-Flood world would have been drastically altered. The permanent cloud layer was gone, with blue skies and starry nights now. The structure of the earth's crust had also changed, but was just getting started. Even then, mountains would be much higher and valleys much steeper. With the cloud layer gone, only to reappear temporarily as mere shadows of its former self, the world would now see significant temperature fluctuations and highly variable weather patterns. It is doubtful the winds would have blown nearly as much, or nearly as hard before the Flood as they do today. For the first time, direct sunlight could be refracted through the mist in the air to form rainbows.

Promptly upon exiting the Ark, Noah reestablished the worship of God. He had carried on the boat an extra set of "clean animals" (the selection later enshrined in Mosaic Law as kosher) to sacrifice in worship. The appearance of the rainbow occasioned God's promise that He would never bring a global flood again. He also promised that the weather variations would stabilize into a pattern of predictable seasons. He removed a part of the curse pronounced at the Fall: Nature would become a little more cooperative in the effort to grow crops. No doubt this was partly due to global redistribution of fertile soil as silt carried by the Flood. God also promised that man would gain complete dominance over the creatures of the earth. However, there were conditions attached.

For his part, Noah was commanded to establish a firm shepherding tradition of men ruling their families more vigorously, reclaiming in part what Adam should have done with Eve when she was tempted. Social stability became paramount as a human duty and severe penalties for violations (9:1-7). We are given the germ of the Covenant of Noah, a mere hint without the full explication of legal requirements. Those were probably formalized later, though whether it was ever precisely what Jewish scholars assert ("Seven Noachide Laws") is subject to debate. This new social order was to begin with the community arising from Noah's three sons, Shem ("Authority"), Ham ("Hot"), and Japheth ("Expansion"). Let there be no mistake; this social order must of necessity be tribal in structure. This was the unwritten assumption of the whole covenant. Despite perceived flaws in this system and centuries of trying to design something better, no other social order is acceptable under the Covenant of Noah. The greatest sin of modern government is ignoring the sacred requirement that no one shall have significant rule in your life without first being related by blood or marriage.

Apparently Ham still carried with him something of the corrupt culture developed by the Children of Men. When Noah had taken advantage of the new soil fertility to grow grapes, he was able to extract some juice and ferment it as wine. Even if Noah had tasted wine before, it would have been a long time since doing so. At any rate, he imbibed enough to get drunk. It's not exactly clear what followed, because simply being naked in one's home isn't condemned anywhere in Scripture. It would seem that the story as told was a euphemism for some form of sexual contact (see Leviticus 18, obscure references to sex).

The curse on Ham's family is also difficult to understand, since it focuses on his third son, Canaan. Once again we see a case of Hebrew narrative where the story includes only those details pertinent to the objective of the tale. Thus, we have here an incomplete record of the curse due to the obvious emphasis a Hebrew writer would place on explaining why God would eventually command extermination for the Canaanites. Moses was instructed to record God's wish that they all be slaughtered. It is obvious that they carried Ham's propensities. Today, we are hard pressed to find a culture with more disturbing religious practices than were common among Canaanites. Even Greeks and Romans, with their immoral tastes, found the Canaanites despicable.

With this curse is also a prophecy of Shem's descendants becoming the channel of God's revelation, that through them, Japheth's descendants would find God. Today, the Gentiles (Japhethites) owe much to the Hebrews (Semites) as the source of Christianity.

Chapter 1.8: The Tower of Babel

The list of Noah's descendants in Genesis 10 has been fully identified with known nations of Ancient times. Unlike pagan myths, the Bible describes both the name and location of each nation accurately. This Table of Nations includes Japheth's son Madai as father of the Medes. His other sons went mostly north of the Ark's resting place. Shem's sons settled closer, to the south and east. Ham's descendants went south and west, to include populating Africa. Mizraim ("Two Rivers") is both Upper and Lower Egypt, while Put is eastern Libya (old Cyrenaica).

Yet, we know that the sons of Noah did not at first scatter so far and wide as God had commanded Noah (Genesis 11:1-9). One of Ham's tribes, Cush, gravitated to the lower half of Mesopotamia, followed by the rest of the descendants of Noah. They all spoke the same language still and they fell under the sway of the Cushite tribe. At the same time, they carefully maintained their tribal identities. This does not mean that there was little or no inter-marriage, only that it did not affect the identity of the tribes. One of the sons of Cush -- Nimrod -- gathered a kingdom around himself. He was reputed to have been a great hunter, but his name was later synonymous with rebellion against God. In the Hebrew mind, the proper model for a king was the shepherd, not the predator.

Nimrod's kingdom would have been rather small, but he wasted no time in building a city in the fertile lands of Shinar (Lower Mesopotamia). The people found mud that could be baked into bricks for building and petroleum deposits that leaked onto the surface of the ground, from which they made mortar. The sticky substance soaked into the dried bricks, making the structure as stable as solid stone. Under the leadership of the Cushites, the kingdom began to defy God.

With the appearance of stars for the first time in human history, the people began to worship them as gods. The high fertility of the Shinar Plain allowed them to use less of their labor resources to grow food and more for their astrology religion. As kings and high priests of this religion, the Cushites directed a great building project, the first ziggurat. A ziggurat is basically an astrological observatory with a shrine on top. We can safely date this kingdom before the earliest ziggurats discovered so far, prior to 4800 BC. This is about the same time pottery appears in archaeological excavations. The Cushites were literally kings of the world and had no intention of losing their place. They convinced their subjects that it was the will of the star gods to keep every human on earth together in the Kingdom of Babel.

The name the Hebrew writers gave this kingdom, "Babel" (baw-bel), was a play on words, a common feature of Hebrew literature. The Babylonian word for ziggurat was bâb-ili (whence our English Babylon), meaning "Gate of the Gods." The closest word in Hebrew was baw-lal, "to confuse." God could not allow the situation there to continue, or things would have become hardly different than they were before the Flood. He caused their mouths, and by implication their ears, to vary from their single language to the point where the clans were mutually incomprehensible. It is not stated how this was done, nor how long it took. It was obviously quick enough to stop the project. Without a common tongue, their unity was doomed. Recall the intent of Noah's Covenant was to create widely dispersed, yet tightly knit communities. The tiny Cushite kingdom scattered across the world, as God had commanded and the disappointed Cushites themselves migrated to the coastal area of modern day Ethiopia.

The focus of the Hebrew text moves next to the descendants of Shem (Genesis 11:10-32). They stayed closest to old Babylon. Again, the genealogical table is not to be taken necessarily as a lineal succession. It covers a period no less than 2000 years. During that time, there was a radical shift in the tectonic plates of the earth, sliding on the remnants of the subterranean pools before things settled into their current relative stability. One of the names in the table -- Peleg -- means "Earthquake," or "Fissure" (1 Chronicles 1:19), a name commemorating a change in the earth's topography. The implication here is that the continental separation occurred over a short period of time, as opposed to the common assumption today that it took millions or billions of years. The crustal plates would have slid rather quickly on a cushion of water. (The Hydroplate Theory is not widely accepted in academic circles yet, but provides one of the best explanations for all the current facts.)

At any rate, by the time we come to Terah, we note that the ancient longevity had been significantly reduced to 200 years, down from Noah's 600 years. During that time, the knowledge of the One True God was nearly drowned out by a mishmash of mythology. Somewhere in the history of the Mesopotamian Valley, there arose one or more schools primarily studying religions, with several religions overlapping there at various times. The God of Creation became in their minds one of many other gods. Yet it seems there was always at least a few scholars who knew the basic requirements for worshiping Him. He would not allow the knowledge of revelation die out.


Ed Hurst
25 October 2003, revised 01 February 2016

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