The Right Focus for Intolerable Times

 
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Parashat Noach, Genesis 6:9–11:32

Rabbi David Friedman, Jerusalem, Israel

As I read this week’s parasha, I am reminded that our great problems in the world today are not new. They are the same ones as in ancient times, recycled into our current generation. Our parasha opens with a view of human life from over 4,000 years ago:

The earth was corrupt in its relation to God and was full of wanton violence. Everything was perverted, because all mankind lived corrupt lifestyles on earth. (Gen 6:11–12)

There you go. It can’t get any worse than that. The word used to denote “wanton violence” is hamas, and it is almost humorous, if it weren’t so serious, that Hamas is the name of a Middle Eastern terrorist organization today. In fact, things got so bad way back then, that action had to be taken:

Then God told Noah, “All humanity is about to end, because all of earth is full of wanton violence. Men have perverted the entire earth. So make for yourself a boat of buoyant wood; make animal pens in the boat, and coat it inside and outside with pitch. Make the boat 300 amah in length, 50 amah in width, and 30 amah in height. Make a roof for the boat, and build the vessel upward to an amah short of the roof. Put a door on the side of the boat, and build three decks on the vessel. This is because I will definitely bring a catastrophic flood upon the earth, to destroy all animal and human life. Everything on earth is to be eradicated.” (Gen 6:13–17)

Add the presence of supernatural fallen beings on earth that were mixing with humans whom God created to be in his image, and the situation was intolerable to God. Intolerable.

What a sad point has been reached in our parasha! In our last parasha, B’reisheet, God created humankind, his crown of creation. He made humankind in his own image. But it didn’t take long before people as a whole turned their backs on wanting to “walk before God” (the phrase used to describe Enoch in Gen 5:24). We can sense that God was deeply grieved, distressed, and even angry. At this point he took action:

The floodwaters reached a height of fifteen amah above the mountain-tops, and covered them over. All known life was eradicated, reptiles that crawl, birds, wild animals, all species of insect life that swarm over the earth, and all of mankind. Every type of living being was destroyed and perished. All beings, including humans, animals, reptiles, and birds that lived on earth, were wiped out. Only Noah and everything that was present with him survived. The floodwaters were at their maximum height on the earth for 150 days. (Gen 7:20–24)

And so the flood took place. Not so long afterwards, humanity walked away from following God again, and rejected his ways. This seemed to affect even the physical earth itself: “Ever had two sons whom he fathered. The name of the one was Peleg, because during his time the earth was split apart” (Gen 10:25). Peleg in Hebrew means to “split off.” The geographic rupturing and splitting of earth’s continents may be referred to here, if the theory of the Pangaea supercontinent is indeed accurate. This reminds me of what Rav Shaul wrote: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom 8:22, NIV). It was as if God’s physical creation could no longer bear the turning-away from God that was occurring, a turning-away that led to the Tower of Babel incident:

All mankind spoke one language, and had the same vocabulary. In their travels from the east, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and lived there. People said to each other, “Let’s make bricks in a furnace,” so they used bricks instead of stone, and clay for mortar. They further said, “Let’s build a city for ourselves, with a tower whose top reaches up to the sky. By doing this, we can become great and independent, so that we won’t be spread across the earth.” Then God came down to see the city and the tower that men had built. And God said, “So, they are united and everyone has one common language. They have already begun to work together, and now they won’t hold themselves back from anything that they conceive of doing. Let’s go down there and scramble their speech, so that no one will understand another’s language.” Then God scattered them from there throughout the entire earth, and they abandoned their building of that city. (Gen 11:1–8)

Once again, God found the human situation intolerable and he took action to prevent further disaster, this time without destroying the very life that he had created. (On a humorous note, I have had to pay the price for what occurred here: I’ve invested a lot of my time, effort, energy, and even finances, in trying to learn six languages!)

Sometimes I look at the world around me from Jerusalem, and it looks intolerable to me, too. While it is easy to get down about the constant state of affairs in human history and in today’s world, I was reminded of a very, very important perspective this week.

The followers of the evil one may flourish, mature and grow into the most wicked, lustful, terrorizing, idolatrous, and selfish generation in the history of the world. But at the same time, the people of God’s Kingdom will mature, flourish, and ripen as we move into our destiny of becoming a powerful, godly, radiant body of believers.

Right now I sit in peace in lovely Jerusalem. But things may not always be this way. It is easy to fear the day when darkness covers earth. It is easy to want no part of days of bombs dropping, future wars, food shortages, economic collapse, increasing anti-Semitism, more terrorism, Russian and Iranian expansion to our very borders . . . there is so much to fear! But God wants us instead to focus on the promises he has given to us—not on the fear and terror that our enemies want to dish up to us. It is simple: either God protects us, or we have no protection (not that I don’t respect the IDF; I am one of its proud veterans). And I choose to believe in him and his goodness.

In the past, Psalm 91 was a daily comfort to me when I was in uniform in war. I carried it with me everywhere I went and read it often. Bombs exploded above me and around me, but never did one damage me. Bullets went over my head, and one day one came right at me, but never did one touch me. God was good, and I choose to believe he will be good in the future. Perhaps that is why our people conclude the parasha this week with the introduction of Avram (Gen 11:27–32). The very mention of Avram fills us with hope, because we know how the story will develop; we endure the frustration and pain of Genesis 10 because we know that Avraham and covenant are on the way in our next parasha. Similarly, today we can endure the problems in the world around us because we know what is coming in the future: Messiah’s return that will herald in a world of shalom and righteousness.

A prayer from the heart for all of us: God, give us your courage to face our futures. Give us victory in the day of warfare; victory that enables us to walk fully into your destiny for us. Let us be brave and obedient, as Noah was. And please protect the people of Israel. In Yeshua’s name, Amen.

Let’s pray that prayer for each other. God is listening.

Shabbat shalom!

Unless otherwise noted, all Bible translations are by the author.

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