You know the posts that lead off with “10 Ways to Make Your Body Look Good in Under 20 Minutes” or “See What that Puppy Did to Save a Life”? Well, someone just clicked on this just to scroll down and tell me “it’s Ark with a ‘K,’ dummy!”
Sorry. Yes, there’s an Ark of the Covenant that will show up under Moses’ oversight thanks to God’s direction. But right now, here in early Genesis, I want to talk about the arc (a move with a trajectory) from the covenant God establishes with Noah, and the way it’s ‘re-upped’ or fleshed out with Abraham. I think (gasp!) it’s the same thing, or rather the broadening of the covenant from one family to a whole community, race, and nation. [New Testament readers, hold tight, and let’s not get ahead of ourselves.]
Before the covenant, God saw that people were bad news, so he decided to destroy the world. Yikes! We were thisclose to not being here. Somehow, that’s part of the story that we leave out of the way we explain the story of Noah to the young people in our Sunday School classes. We skip past the way that there were folks that drowned in this story because only Noah’s family made it on the ark. [You can knock Aronofsky’s Noah but watching those folks drown should stir your heart. Seriously.] We put a fun, furry picture (see above) on the felt board and think we’ve made this ‘safe.
So, here’s Noah, described “as a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (Gen 6:9 NIV). So he’s so good that other people notice, and he’s the opposite of what God is seeing in the world. God is friendly enough with Noah that God tells him that destruction is coming and gives Noah the instructions for the ark that God will use to save Noah’s family and two of every animal.
Waters rise, water falls, and Noah’s obedience finds his family safe on dry land. He and God have a conversation that echoes what God said to Adam (Genesis 9:7) and the covenant isn’t just God with Abraham but with humans, too. God says that destruction won’t come from water again, and they live happily ever after…
Not so much. By halfway through Genesis 9, Noah is naked and drunk (probably not in that order), and his son Ham disgraces him. Even the first family of Covenant 2.0 is exhibiting sin. [*Sidebar: I’ve typed it enough times, it’s making me think I should say that I define covenant as an agreement between two parties: it’s like a contract but there’s more goodwill involved. In my understanding, historically, there was some expectation that one side would have more to give up than the other – in this case, God is surrendering a lot by ‘covenanting’ with humanity, who has less to offer.] Sin continues in the “Tower of Babel” scenario that finds God scattering people because of their hubris, the people’s belief that they could reach heaven with a human made artifice or building.
Fastforward again, and God is covenanting with Abram in Genesis 12 for the first time: if Abram will get up and go, God will make him a great nation (Gen. 12:1-3). With a minor deviation where Abram tries to pass his wife Sarai off as his sister (what in the world? Genesis 12:10-19), God makes Abram a second promise (Gen. 13:14-17), a third (Gen. 15:1-3), and a fourth (Gen. 17:1-2). In this final installment of the ongoing ‘negotiation,’ he gets a new name, fruitfulness imperative like Adam and Noah, and the strange introduction of circumcision. [Sidebar #2: I’ll let you look that one up…]
If you’re still with me, God has shown an incredible persistence in setting up Abram and his descendants as God’s people. Were other people offered the option and refused? We don’t know. Was Abram a good guy? We’re not inclined to think so [see, “meet Sarai, my sister”]. But God sees something in Abram that makes God ‘bank’ on this covenant, the arc from Noah to Abram, as being the right one. But Abram/Abraham is the torchbearer of ‘righteousness’ after Noah: God even bends toward him to discuss the strange case of Sodom and Gomorroh – and acquiesces to Abraham’s plea for mercy if God can find ten righteous men in the cities (Gen. 18:32). Ultimately, the men of Sodom prove to be inhospitable to strangers – angels unawares, so to speak – and Abraham’s pleas ultimately don’t matter.
God wipes out the sin of Sodom – and then Lot’s daughters get him drunk so they can sleep with him and have offspring (Gen. 19:30-33). For every annihilation attributed to God in the name of cleansing sin from society, there’s that element that immediately shows up in the next story. Speaking of the next story, I’ll wait until next time to tackle the (more legitimate) sons of Abram and the covenant redux. [There are thirty chapters to go that will basically break down into the story of Isaac/Jacob/Joseph.] Quite frankly, the rest of Genesis is about fathers and sons. Great stories an English teacher once said come from those kinds of dynamics… stay tuned.
[A footnote: Because Abraham and Sarah got ‘cold feet’ about waiting on the covenant God had promised, that their children would pass on a legacy of blessing, they set in motion something that literally (or figuratively) the parallel and collision of Judaism and Islam. Sarah gives her servant Hagar to Abraham to make a son [biology 101] when Sarah is perceived to be barren (Gen. 17); when Isaac is born to ole Abe (Gen. 21), the now jealous mother Sarah has him send Hagar and the first son, Ishmael, away. And Arab national foundations are laid…]
Questions, comments, concerns? What did I miss? [Short answer: a lot. But still…]