Good morning and welcome to Day 3 of the Daily Bible! By now you’re starting to get a sense of Genesis and this group. While such a survey of ancient texts can be daunting, I hope the presence of one another is helping you stick with it. Don’t feel like you have to agree with, defend or understand every part of what you’re reading. Look for what catches your imagination, or what brings a glint of excitement or mystery, like a crystal in the window. This experience is about building our confidence that there is treasure worth finding in the Bible, even when the going is rough. And I love that we’re able to gain more insights together—we got this!
Today’s reading is Genesis 8-10, where we continue the story of Noah’s family and the creatures of earth on the ark through the great flood. The main feature of the flood story is God’s covenant with Noah’s descendants (which we are led to believe includes all of humanity). The idea of covenants is essential to understanding much of the Bible, especially the Hebrew Scriptures. Put simply, covenants are holy promises made between groups or individuals, including God. They usually involve commitments or expectations from all sides, and are manifested in some sort of visible sign. Sometimes they also mention blessings or curses that come from obedience or disobedience. The most common modern covenant (at least in the eyes of faith) is a wedding, wherein God bears witness to the vows that people make to each other, and these everlasting promises are symbolized with rings or other physical signs.
The covenant with Noah’s descendants is the first explicit one in the Bible. Note that God freely chooses to limits God’s own power, promising to never again destroy the earth with a flood. At the same time, God calls on Noah’s family several times in chapter 9 to “be fruitful and multiply” throughout the earth with just one condition, that they not eat flesh with the blood still in it. The sign of this covenant is the rainbow in the clouds. God needs the reminder of this covenant as much as humans, which suggests that God is growing also into this relationship with early humanity! God continues to find ways to make good out of bad, and to gain experience in what it is to be the divine caretaker of fallible humans.
Speaking of fallible humans, what’s up with Noah? We’ve seen him receive God’s endorsement for several chapters, and then he passes out drunk at the end of Chapter 9. I might be totally off base here, but I wonder if the main intent of this story is to slander Ham/Canaan, the middle son of Noah. Ham witnesses his naked father (a great shame in ancient society), and then embarrasses his father further by telling his brothers about it. Honorable Shem and Japheth walk backwards with a blanket to cover their father up, and when Noah awakes he curses Canaan fiercely. This matters because hundreds of years later at the time these stories started to be written down, the tribal descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth were fighting with one another. We’ll read more in later chapters about how bad “the Canaanites” were to the Hebrew people. It therefore appears that the Hebrew editors of the Bible considered themselves descended from Shem or Japheth. It’s an age-old art in a battle of allegiances to build up one’s own side by slandering the other side (or in this case their ancestors). This ancient story maybe should have started out, “Oh yeah? Well yo’ daddy so shameful he…”
Let me conclude then with a reminder that the Bible is not history in the modern sense. It’s the recorded writings of a people who struggled mightily with God and neighbor. I trust they didn’t always get it right, which is why I don’t take everything in the Bible as literal fact. I also trust that God sticks with these broken humans because God believes (against all the evidence to the contrary) that the world can be restored to its original goodness, and God enlists even flawed people to help make it so. That is the real story I look for in these pages, and in all those which are to come. Happy reading!
Please join in discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Tomorrow’s passage is Genesis 11-14. Thanks for reading!