Noah, Moses, Judgment, Mercy (Wenham)

 In Genesis 8:20ff we read of Noah’s sacrifice that he offered soon after he, his family, and the animals exited the ark.  Here’s how the story goes after Noah’s sacrifice: And the Lord smelled the soothing aroma and said to himself, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, even though the inclination of their minds is evil from childhood on. I will never again destroy everything that lives, as I have just done (NET).  Gordon Wenham has a helpful commentary on this part of the story.  Although Wenham doesn’t mention it here, this is another place in the Noah story that points us to Jesus:

There can be no doubt that man’s nature has not changed since before the flood. The milder language simply reflects his creator’s more lenient attitude after the flood. R. W. L. Moberly…has noted a similar example in Exod 33:3; 34:9 of a reason for divine judgment, “for you are a stiff-necked people,” being subsequently cited as a justification of his mercy.

“The striking similarity between the flood and Sinai, between Noah and Moses, is of great theological significance for the interpretation of each story.… The world, while still in its infancy, has sinned and brought upon itself Yahweh’s wrath and judgment. Israel has only just been constituted a people, God’s chosen people, yet directly it has sinned and incurred Yahweh’s wrath and judgment. Each time the same question is raised. How, before God, can a sinful world (in general) or a sinful people, even God’s chosen people (in particular), exist without being destroyed? Each time the answer is given that if the sin is answered solely by the judgment it deserves, then there is no hope. But in addition to the judgment there is also mercy, a mercy which depends entirely on the character of God and is given to an unchangingly sinful people” (Moberly).

Furthermore, in both narratives the role of the mediator is vital, whether it be Noah or Moses. “This mercy is shown through a man who is chosen by God and whose right response to God, whether through sacrifice or prayer, constitutes the necessary medium through which this mercy is shown” (Moberly, 92).

Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1987), 190–191.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Hebrew Term for “The Flood” (TWOT)

 In the famous story of Noah, his family, and the ark, the Hebrew term for flood is not a regular word or phrase for “a lot of water.”  There are other words in the OT that mean “a lot of water” (e.g. מַיִם – “waters”) and there are phrases that mean “a lot of water” (e.g. bursting flood in 1 Chr. 14:11 or mass of waters in Job 22:11).  But the word for “flood” in Genesis 6-11 is not a normal word for “a lot of water.”  The term is “mabbul” (מַבּוּל) and it isn’t overly easy to translate because it’s only used in the story of the flood and one other time in the OT.  Of course, the flood involved a lot of water, as Genesis 6-11 clearly notes. But this word sticks out a bit; it throws some mystery into the flood story.  Here’s the helpful entry in the Theological Workbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) for this word “mabbul” (flood/deluge):

A technical term reserved for the watery catastrophe which God brought on the earth during the days of Noah. That event was so well known that mabbûl usually occurs with the definite article (except in Gen 9:11, 15). mabbûl is used only once outside Gen 7–11. Psalm 29:10 says that “the Lord sits upon the flood, indeed, the Lord is enthroned king forever.” Instead of Baal, the god of storm and thunder who according to the Ugaritic myths defeated yam the sea god, the Lord’s voice is heard in the thunder, and it is he who reigns over the destructive forces of nature, in this case the storm so beautifully described in Ps 29.

All attempted etymologies for this word have failed because of linguistic difficulties. A few of the suggestions have been: the Akkadian root nbl “to destroy,” Akkadian abūbu from the alleged wabūbu “cyclone,” Akkadian bubbulu, biblu, bibbulu “inundation,” which is the best suggestion yet. But it also fails since the term is not used in any of the Akkadian flood stories. Hebrew ybl “to flow, stream” or nbl “waterskin” have also been suggested. But these suggestions are not linguistically supported and appear to be parents to the unwarranted thought that mabbûl refers to a “heavenly ocean” or a “heavenly store of water in jars.”

While God himself brought the waters of the flood on the earth because of man’s sin (Gen 6:17; 7:6), afterward he covenanted never again to destroy the earth with water (Gen 9:11, 15). Thus God’s own can be certain that the earth will endure until the desired eschaton comes.

TWOT, mabbul #1142.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

The Eschatological Background of the Genesis Flood

Eschatology of the Old Testament   -     By: Geerhardus Vos<br />
The flood in Genesis 7-8 was an historical event with many layers of meaning.  It was a time when Yahweh  judged the wicked justly – but it was more than that.  Geerhardus Vos explains (note: “deluge” is another term for “flood”).

“The cosmic extent of the deluge-event is both negative and positive.

First, negatively, the flood destroyed the world (cf. Gen. 6).  This is a catastrophic world-judgment.  This fact is confirmed by pagan mythology, where it is associated with the chaos-flood out of which the world arose.  The creation and the deluge both have cosmic significance.  It was not confined to man; but the purpose was that God repented that he had created the world.

Second, positively, it is the commencement of a new world-order.  The waters receded on the first day of the month and the first month of the year (cf. Gen. 8:13); therefore a new year.  It also possibly attaches itself to the periodicity [time periods] of history and the berit [covenant] principle.  Periodicity is generally shown by the covenants that appear at the beginnings of periods.

Now the deluge and the post-diluvian (post-flood) order of things prefigure eschatological crisis and the eschatological state.  In other words, the deluge and ‘new creation’ are typical [that is, a type] of the absolute end of the world and the final renewal of the world.

For more info, see 2 Peter 3:1-7 after reading flood account in Genesis.

The above quote was taken from Geerhardus Vos’ The Eschatology of the Old Testament, page 81.

shane lems
hammond wi

Mesopotamian Myths and the Genesis Flood

An Old Testament Theology: A Canonical and Thematic Approach Bruce Walke wrote a nice piece comparing and contrasting the Mesopotamian flood myths and the Biblical account of the flood.  Here it is (most of it, anyway):

“There are three Mesopotamian myths: 1) the Sumerian account with the hero Ziusdra, 2)the Old Akkadian account with the hero Atrahasis, and 3) the Old Babylonian account with the hero Utnapishtim.”

“As is well known, the Mesopotamian flood narratives closely approximate the biblical account: 1) a hero builds a boat to preserve the human race through a universal, devastating flood from which a new world emerges…. 2) The hero sends birds to survey the earth’s new terrain after the flood.  3) When the humans emerge from the boat, they offer sacrifices to their gods.”

“The biblical narrative, however, stands apart in significant ways, both in wisdom and in theology.  For example, the dimensions of Noah’s ark are those of modern ships, but the Babylonian ship…is an unstable cube.  Noah sensibly first releases the raven, which braves the storm, can feed on carrion, and can remain in flight much longer than the dove.  …The hero in the Babylonian parallel, however, sends in sequence a dove, a sparrow, and then a raven.”

“The most radical difference in the two accounts is the Bible’s investing the story with a covenant concept.  In the Mesopotamian accounts, overpopulation or humanity’s noise interrupts the sleep of the gods and provokes their wrath, and the hero’s wisdom and bravery saves him.  In the Bible, humanity’s wickedness arouses God’s anger, and Noah’s righteousness, not his wisdom and bravery, motivates God to save him.  The biblical narrative is calculated to place all wisdom on God and to promote human trust and obedience to him.  In the Mesopotamian account, the gods gather around the sacrifice like flies because they are hungry; in the biblical account, Noah’s sacrifice assuages God’s heart with regard to sin.”

Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, p. 291.

shane lems