Genesis 13

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Genesis 13

1 So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb. Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land. Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. 12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. 13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord. 14 The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. 17 Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 18 So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.

If somebody were to make an “Extreme Makeover: Genesis Edition” television show, Genesis 12 and 13 would be where they would turn. Genesis 12 would be the “Before” and then Genesis 13 would be the big “After” unveiling! In Genesis 12, Abraham does not have a good look. He is scared, he is weak, he is concerned with himself, he puts his wife in harm’s way, and he does not think about the consequences of his actions on others. But in Genesis 13, Abraham is faithful, he is secure, he does think about others, he is thoughtful, and his priorities all seem to be in the right order.

My question is, “What happened?” How does Abraham go from a bad look in Genesis 12 to a really good look in Genesis 13? The answer is found right in the beginning of our chapter.

1 So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb. Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord.

What stands between the ugliness of Abraham’s behavior in Genesis 12:10-20 and the beauty of Abraham’s faith and actions in Genesis 13 is simply this: an altar. When Abraham and Sarah came out of Egypt, Abraham returned to the vicinity of his first sojourn into Canaan, and, specifically, to the place where he had first built an altar in Genesis 12:

Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

In the land of promise, Abraham had built an altar. But, as Victor Hamilton has pointed out, “Not once while he was in Egypt did Abram either erect monuments to or invoke his deity.”[1]This altar, then, means, for Abraham, faith, trust in God, a relationship with God, and obedience to God’s call on his life. Coming back to this altar after his failure in Egypt therefore means returning to the Lord.Derek Kidner sums it up nicely when he writes:

The fact that Abram rose to the occasion in faith is traceable to verses 1-4, which present his journey to Bethel as a pilgrimage…: a renewal of his lapsed obedience, not an attempt to recapture the luxury of a vision…[2]

“Extreme Makeover: Genesis Edition” hinges therefore on returning to the altar, on returning to worship, on returning to God. And it is so with us today as well. Let me ask you, is there an altar at the center of your life? At the center of your life are things right with you and the God who made you? If they are, you will notice some of the characteristics that thankfully marked Abraham’s life in Genesis 13.

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Genesis 10:12-20

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Genesis 12

10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. 17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.

“Beauty is a curse here.”

On one of my first trips to Honduras I was visiting with a family in a village. There was a little girl in this family who was particularly pretty. I had the translator tell the little girl’s mother for me, “Your little girl sure is very pretty!” The mother spoke to the translator and he interpreted for me. “She says thank you. She also says that beauty is a curse here and that life can be dangerous for very pretty girls.” He went on to tell me that, as a result of this, many mothers take intentional steps to make their daughters look plain and less striking.

It was a jarring thing to hear. Life can be very hard, very dangerous for girls and women. Perhaps beauty, in a sense, can indeed be a curse. It certainly played its part in the sad story we will read about today, the story of Abraham and Sarah’s sojourn into Egypt.

In reality, Sarah’s beauty was not, at root, the main issue. The main issue was Abraham’s fear and the unfortunate choices that Abraham’s fear led him to consider and then make. The 3rd/4thcentury Christian Lactantius said, “Where fear is present, wisdom cannot be.” This is so. Perhaps more specifically apropos is this amazing statement from Jawaharlar Nehru said, “As fear is close companion to falsehood, so truth follows fearlessness.”

Yes, fear is a close companion to falsehood. We will see this today. To fear is to panic, to panic is to scheme, to scheme is to lie. Let us turn our attention to Genesis 12.

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Genesis 11:10-12:9

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Genesis 11

10 These are the generations of Shem. When Shem was 100 years old, he fathered Arpachshad two years after the flood. 11 And Shem lived after he fathered Arpachshad 500 years and had other sons and daughters. 12 When Arpachshad had lived 35 years, he fathered Shelah. 13 And Arpachshad lived after he fathered Shelah 403 years and had other sons and daughters. 14 When Shelah had lived 30 years, he fathered Eber. 15 And Shelah lived after he fathered Eber 403 years and had other sons and daughters. 16 When Eber had lived 34 years, he fathered Peleg. 17 And Eber lived after he fathered Peleg 430 years and had other sons and daughters. 18 When Peleg had lived 30 years, he fathered Reu. 19 And Peleg lived after he fathered Reu 209 years and had other sons and daughters. 20 When Reu had lived 32 years, he fathered Serug. 21 And Reu lived after he fathered Serug 207 years and had other sons and daughters. 22 When Serug had lived 30 years, he fathered Nahor. 23 And Serug lived after he fathered Nahor 200 years and had other sons and daughters. 24 When Nahor had lived 29 years, he fathered Terah. 25 And Nahor lived after he fathered Terah 119 years and had other sons and daughters. 26 When Terah had lived 70 years, he fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran. 27 Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. 28 Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. 31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.

Genesis 12

1Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.

The old line on Baptists is that Baptists think dancing is a sin. Now I personally do not think dancing is a sin, though I do think it is a sin when Idance…because I am such a terrible dancer! But, anyway, true or not, that is the old line: Baptists think dancing is a sin. There is one exception though, one time in which Baptists give a pass to dancing. I am speaking of the song, “Father Abraham.” Do you remember that song? Remember the motions that go with it? “Father Abraham” is one of those songs that gets in your head and stays there, like the “It’s A Small World” song at Disney World. If you have ever sung it, you remember it, and, to make it stick even more, somebody back in the day added little dance moves. Remember?

Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord.
Right arm!

Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord.
Right arm, left arm!

Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord.
Right arm, left arm, right foot!

Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord.
Right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot!

Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord.
Right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot,
Right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot, turn around!

On and on and on…and onit goes, until, by the end, we all look like Elaine off of that episode of Seinfeld (whose dancing George Costanza memorably referred to as “a full body dry heave”).

So there you have it: the one permissible Baptist dance, “Father Abraham.” I suppose it makes sense, though. The story of Abraham’s call should make us want to dance, for behind the genealogy and the names and strange locations there is good goodnews!

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Genesis 11:1-9

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Genesis 11

1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

Kent Hughes has passed along the fascinating and sad story of Gordon Hall. Listen:

A few years ago the Arizona Republiccarried this local profile by columnist E.J. Montini:

It is dusk. Gordon Hall stands at an overlook on his 55,000-square-foot mansion in Paradise Valley, a structure built by Pittsburgh industrialist Walker McCune and now owned and being renovated by Hall. He is 32 years old and a millionaire many times over. He stares at the range of lights stretching before him from horizon to horizon and breathes a deep, relaxed sigh.

            The lights of the city are like the campfires of a great army to Hall, who sees himself as its benevolent general. They are like the flashlights of the world’s fortune seekers, and Hall is their beacon to riches. They are, for Hall, like the stars of the firmament. And he is above them.

            He is worth more than $100 million, he says, because it was his goal to be worth more than $100 million before the age of 33…There are other goals. By the time he is 38, he will be a billionaire. By the time his earthly body expires—and he is convinced he can live to be 120 years old—he will assume what he believes to be his just heavenly aware: Gordon Hall will be a god.

            “We have always existed as intelligences, as spirits,” he says. “We are down here to gain a body. As man now is, God once was. And as God is now, man can become. If you believe it, then your genetic makeup is to be a god. And I believe it. That is why I believe I can do anything. My genetic makeup is to be a god. My God in heaven creates worlds and universes. I believe I can do anything, too.”

            He looks to the horizon, and then he looks behind him, where his great dark house seems to drift like a ship in the night sky.[1]

What an amazing picture: a huge structure, seeming to drift like a ship in the night sky, that stands as a symbol of the astonishing ego of its owner. A man believing that he can be a god, that he can grab and secure greatness and a lasting name by his own prowess and strength. If ever there was a modern illustration of the Tower of Babel, this is it! Yes, we have been here before. This is well-worn ground. And the results are always the same.

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Genesis 10

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Genesis 10

1 These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood. The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. The sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations. The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan.Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and 12 Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13 Egypt fathered Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, 14 Pathrusim, Casluhim (from whom the Philistines came), and Caphtorim. 15 Canaan fathered Sidon his firstborn and Heth, 16 and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, 17 the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, 18 the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the clans of the Canaanites dispersed. 19 And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon in the direction of Gerar as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. 20 These are the sons of Ham, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations. 21 To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born. 22 The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram. 23 The sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. 24 Arpachshad fathered Shelah; and Shelah fathered Eber. 25 To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided, and his brother’s name was Joktan. 26 Joktan fathered Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 27 Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, 28 Obal, Abimael, Sheba, 29 Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab; all these were the sons of Joktan. 30 The territory in which they lived extended from Mesha in the direction of Sephar to the hill country of the east. 31 These are the sons of Shem, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations. 32 These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.

Genesis 10, traditionally called the Table of Nations, is a long list of names representing different peoples and nations of the earth. What are we supposed to do with long lists like these? What on earth could an ancient list of names have to do with life today? Genesis 10 is one of those passages that we might be tempted to skim over in our personal devotions. In fact, preachers have been having to encourage their folks not to skip over these kinds of passages for quite some time.For instance, in the 16th century, David Chytraeus, a German Lutheran, addressed the issue like this:

Though the genealogy of the sons of Noah that is recited in this tenth chapter seems to contain a useless multitude of names, it actually contains weighty doctrine and is for many reasons necessary for the church…[T]hose with good hearts find these things extremely useful.[1]

Yes, I agree with Chytraeus. People with good hearts will indeed find this chapter useful. I would propose that you will find it useful for two primary reasons.

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Genesis 9:18-29

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Genesis 9

18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed. 20 Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. 21 He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. 23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” 26 He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. 27 May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.” 28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died.

A couple years ago I listened to an audio book called So You’ve Been Publicly Shamedby British journalist Jon Ronson. It was, hands down, one of the most interesting things I have ever heard. In it, Ronson explores the phenomenon of public shaming, especially as it relates to the internet and social media. His basic thesis is that the internet has become what the old town square and stocks used to be in early America: the place where people who have messed up are publicly shamed. For instance, he considers the case of Jonah Lehrer, a very successful popular science writer and thinker. Lehrer wrote a best-selling book in which he fabricated some quotes by Bob Dylan. Another journalist figured out that the quotes were fabricated and exposed Lehrer, leading to his spectacular fall. Eventually, Lehrer offered a public and very muddled apology in a live-streamed forum in which, behind him, and with his knowledge and agreement, real-time comments and reactions from listeners were projected on a screen on the platform as he talked. You can imagine how that played out! Lehrer’s public shaming lead to a botched apology that was itself undercut by more public shaming. Ronson’s book goes on to demonstrate case after case of (a) somebody messing up and (b) online community’s unleashing oceans of public shame on the person, oftentimes (but not always) grossly disproportionate to the offense itself.

I thought of Ronson’s book while working on our text. I believe that Genesis 9 recounts one of the first recorded instances of public shaming: Ham’s shaming of his father, Noah. And that shaming offers a strange and fascinating context to a later attemptedpublic shaming­—the crucifixion of Jesus—that was, in fact, very different from Noah’s in very important ways. But first, let us consider Noah’s shaming.

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Genesis 8:20–9:17

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Genesis 8

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

Genesis 9

1And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

I love that old joke, “What do you get if you play a country song backwards?” Answer: You get your truck back, you get your dog back, you get your wife back, etc. Here is a little secret about Roni and me: we really love old sad country songs. For instance, we have a deep love for Vern Gosdin and his heartbreak songs as well as for a number of classic heartbreak songs from various other artists. One of my particular joys in life is hearing my wife sing aloud, say, Patty Loveless’ “Nothing But the Wheel” while driving down the road. One of our favorite sad country songs is Randy Travis’ song “Promises.” In 1987 Randy Travis released the song on his “Forever and Ever, Amen” album. It is a quintessentially sad country song. It is called “Promises” but, in truth, it should be called “Broken Promises” because the song is all about a guy who cannot keep his promises to his wife. The song begins by painting a picture of a guy who keeps leaving his wife to go party. He goes to disreputable places with disreputable people and drinks and carouses while his wife is at home. Then, when we reach the chorus, we find him at home begging for her forgiveness and making promises that he will not keep.

And I’ll make promises…
promises to change.
I’ll make her promises,
swear I’ll rearrange,
and I’ll start giving all the
love she needs, if only she
will stay.

You can feel the weightlessness of these frantic promises even when you hear this chorus for the first time. You can tell that this is a cycle and that his promises simply are not really going to be kept! Then he speaks of his wife’s assurances to forgive and stay with him and of the temporal nature of those assurances.

Once again, she’ll reassure me.
And I believe her love will cure me,
and I’ll fall asleep with tears on my face.
And I know she’s just a woman,
and her love can’t last forever.
And someday soon, I know
she’ll leave without a trace.

For, broken promises will tear her dreams apart.
Just token promises will someday
break her heart,
and for the last time, she’ll hold me
when I cry, and while I’m sleeping…
she’ll quietly say goodbye…

Promises with no weight and a love that will not last: these are the makings of a great country song. In life, however, these are painful reminders of the fickle nature of human resolve and affection. Yes, all too often human beings prove themselves adept at hurting one another with broken promises. Broken promises do indeed tear our dreams apart!

There is One, however, whose promises will never be broken. There is One whose word is secure until the end of time. I am speaking of God and of His promises. At the end of Genesis 8 and then through Genesis 9, we read of God’s promise to the whole human race through Noah. This promise is called “the Noahic covenant.” A covenant is a binding promise or agreement between either God and all of humanity or God and His redeemed people.

Let us consider this point for just a moment. Some covenant promises apply to the whole world. Some apply only to God’s redeemed people in the world. I want to show you that the Noahic covenant is a covenant, a promise, that God makes with the world at large. We can tell that it is with the whole world, and not only with God’s people, by looking at the wording and the nature of it. David VanDrunen rightly points out four things about the Noahic covenant that let us know it applies to the whole world.

First, the common kingdom established by the Noahic covenant concerns ordinary cultural activities.

Second, the kingdom established by the Noahic covenant embraces the human race in common.

Third, the common kingdom established by the Noahic covenant ensures the preservation of the natural and social order.

Fourth, the common kingdom established by the Noahic covenant is put into place temporarily.[1]

This is true. The Noahic covenant is for the whole world, not merely for God’s own people. We should therefore see it as a divine covenant established with Noah after the flooding of the earth that was intended to set parameters around the human race, the animal kingdom, and the whole world. It is, then, a kind of “rebooting” covenant, a covenant that reestablishes the ground rules. It does not offer eternal salvation. Rather, it offers temporal marching orders to Noah and, by extension, to all of Noah’s descendants, that is, to the entire world. By “temporal” I simply mean that the Noahic covenant is in effect so long as the world exists.

Let us consider, then, this amazing promise, this amazing covenant. When God decided to give promises to the remnant of humanity that survived the flood and through whom the earth would be populated, what did He say? I would like to propose that the Noahic covenant is a covenant of restraint but also a covenant of fruitfulness and faithfulness.

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Genesis 8:1-20

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Genesis 8

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of 150 days the waters had abated, and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen. At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had madeand sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. But the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. 10 He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. 11 And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.12 Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore. 13 In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. 14 In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth had dried out. 15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. 17 Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” 18 So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. 19 Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the ark. 20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 

I want to propose that one of the most important words in all of scripture is found in Genesis 8. In many ways it is one of those summarizing words that captures numerous fundamental themes of the Bible and that touches on various crucially important aspects of divine truth. The word in Hebrew is זָכַר. Transliterated, it is zakar. We find it in the first phrase of our text: “But God remembered Noah…” Zakarmeans “remember.”

“How,” you might ask, “could such a very ordinary word be so fundamental and important as you claim?” To get at the answer to this question we need to understand two very important things about zakar:

  1. It is an action word and not merely a mental word.
  2. It is a covenant word having to do with covenant faithfulness.

Understanding these two aspects of zakar can help us see that we are not talking about remembrance in terms of “calling something to mind.” Rather, we are talking about God’s faithful remembrance of His covenant promises leading Him to save His people. From the human perspective we are talking about humanity’s faithful remembrance of God’s salvation of us leading us to worship. In other words:

God remembers and therefore saves.

Man remembers and therefore worships.

In these two movements of zakar—God’s downward remembrance of salvation and mankind’s upward remembrance of worship—we see the whole of life! This is why the concept of zakar is so very important. This plays out beautifully in Genesis 8.

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Genesis 7

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Genesis 7

Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him. Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth.And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth. 11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights. 13 On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark, 14 they and every beast, according to its kind, and all the livestock according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, according to its kind, and every bird, according to its kind, every winged creature. 15 They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. 16 And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the Lord shut him in. 17 The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. 18 The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. 19 And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. 20 The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. 21 And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. 23 He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. 24 And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.

There is a naïve belief held by some that ancient people were more naturally religious whereas modern people are more skeptical. In truth, the whole spectrum of belief and disbelief has been around in every age. Consider, for instance, the following comment by Tertullian, the 2nd/3rdcentury Christian writer, who wrote, “We get ourselves laughed at for proclaiming that God will one day judge the world.”[1]Imagine that: people have been laughing at the concept of divine judgment since the beginning of the Christian movement. And, tragically, many churches have capitulated to a desire to not be laughed at by simply jettisoning beliefs, like the reality of divine judgment, that some find off-putting. Thus, you can now find ostensibly Christian churches and Christian individuals who would “laugh” at the idea “that God will one day judge the world.”

This is unfortunate, because the thread of divine judgment has its rightful place in the tapestry of divine truth and it is excised only to the detriment of other doctrines that detractors profess to love. Think, for instance, of what it does to the cross itself if you cast out the idea of divine wrath of judgment. Why on earth would Christ come to die if not to save us from coming judgment? What is more, jettisoning divine judgment undercuts Christology as well insofar as it makes Jesus, who clearly believed in and taught the reality of judgment, a liar.

Yes, Jesus taught the reality of divine judgment. In fact, in Matthew 24, He pointed to the flood as the case study we should consider when trying to understand what His final judgement will be like.

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

This is most telling! It means that we should pay special attention to the realities and details of the flood in order to craft our theology of divine judgment, for the second coming of Christ will be like “the days of Noah.” What, then, can we conclude about divine judgment by considering the flood?

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Genesis 6:9-22

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Genesis 6

These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 14 Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. 15 This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. 16 Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks. 17 For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19 And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. 21 Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them.” 22 Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.

I love the old preacher story about the little boy who was in the Sunday School class when his teacher asked, “What am I? I am small, brown, furry, and like to scamper up trees. What am I?” After a pause the little boy said, “I know the answer is ‘Jesus’ but I’ll be dadgum if that doesn’t sound like a squirrel.”

It is funny because it does indeed seem like “Jesus” always is the answer, no? That is because, well, He is! Christians believe that Jesus is the answer to all the questions that really matter. We also believe that all of scripture points to Jesus. For this reason, throughout the church’s history, Christians have interpreted many Old Testament passages as types or pictures of the coming Christ. Sometimes these efforts have been solid and helpful, sometimes less so.

Earlier in the church’s history, there was a method of interpreting scripture that was very popular. It was the allegorical method. In this method, the interpreter takes, say, a story from the Old Testament and allegorizes it, or spiritualizes the details of it. In so doing, these interpreters said they were mining the deeper meanings behind the surface events of the stories. Most modern Protestants are very wary of allegorizing the Bible, and understandably so. After all, some of these allegorical interpretations can be downright strange and, most importantly, it is hard to know what the rails are that keep subjective allegory from plummeting off of a cliff into pure anachronistic subjectivity. An example of this kind of odd handling of the text might be Jerome’s interpretation of the measurements of the ark:

We read in Genesis that the ark that Noah built was three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. Notice the mystical significance of the numbers. In the number fifty, penance is symbolized because the fiftieth psalm of King David is the prayer of his penance. The hundred contains the symbol of crucifixion. The letter T is the sign for three hundred…No one marked with the sign of the cross on his forehead can be struck by the devil…Let us comment on the number thirty because the ark was thirty cubits high and finished above in one cubit…As a matter of fact, when Jesus was baptized, according to Luke, “he was thirty years of age.”…Fifty, and three hundred, and thirty were finished above in one cubit, that is, in one faith of God.[1]

Well, that all seems to be a bit much and to be a bit forced! Even given such fantastic allegorizing of the text, many Protestants argue that while they reject allegory they embrace typology, by which they mean that many Old Testament stories and images are types of Christ, or were pictures of the coming of Christ. And these folks will argue that the New Testament writers themselves used typology in their handling of the Old Testament.

The line between allegory and typology can get a bit blurry at times, but, in general, allegory is seen as less open to legitimate controls whereas typological readings are always pointing to Christ Himself.

I get the caution and the concern and to a certain extent I agree. However, it has been interesting to see how a number of modern readers of the Bible are saying that we have been too hard on the allegorical method and have noted that it was the predominant method of interpretation for many of the early church fathers. And, frankly, they have a point. While allegory can indeed be dangerous, we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

What is behind all of this, allegory and typology? Why not just interpret the Bible in a wooden literal sense at all times. Well, all responsible interpreters of the Bible agree that the immediate historical meaning, what is called “authorial intent,” the intent of the author in writing, is of primary importance. But here is the problem: we honestly believe that Jesus is the point of the whole story, from Genesis to Revelation. Furthermore, the person and work of Jesus are the apex and unsurpassable high point of God’s plan to save His people. So that means that everything having to do with salvation before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem must in some way be preparatory for the Christ and His cross.

In other words, there are passages of scripture that simply beg for us to see Jesus in them! Noah’s ark is certainly one of those passages. And, since the church’s beginning, interpreters of the Bible have seen Jesus and the cross of Christ in Noah’s ark.

A beautiful example can be seen in the 2ndcentury church father, Justin Martyr, who was born in the year 100 AD. In the 138thpart of his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin wrote this about the ark:

“You know, then, sirs,” I said, “that God has said in Isaiah to Jerusalem: ‘I saved thee in the deluge of Noah.’ By this which God said was meant that the mystery of saved men appeared in the deluge. For righteous Noah, along with the other mortals at the deluge, i.e., with his own wife, his three sons and their wives, being eight in number, were a symbol of the eighth day, wherein Christ appeared when He rose from the dead, forever the first in power. For Christ, being the first-born of every creature, became again the chief of another race regenerated by Himself through water, and faith, and wood, containing the mystery of the cross; even as Noah was saved by wood when he rode over the waters with his household. Accordingly, when the prophet says, ‘I saved thee in the times of Noah,’ as I have already remarked, he addresses the people who are equally faithful to God, and possess the same signs. For when Moses had the rod in his hands, he led your nation through the sea. And you believe that this was spoken to your nation only, or to the land. But the whole earth, as the Scripture says, was inundated, and the water rose in height fifteen cubits above all the mountains: so that it is evident this was not spoken to the land, but to the people who obeyed Him: for whom also He had before prepared a resting-place in Jerusalem, as was previously demonstrated by all the symbols of the deluge; I mean, that by water, faith, and wood, those who are afore-prepared, and who repent of the sins which they have committed, shall escape from the impending judgment of God.[2]

Justin argued that Noah’s ark pointed to Jesus in these ways:

  • Noah’s family represents all who are saved by God throughout time.
  • The eight members of Noah’s family who were saved represent the resurrection in that they represent the eighth day, or a Sunday, which is the day Jesus rose from the dead.
  • The repopulating of the earth after the flood represents the new race of people who are believers in Jesus Christ.
  • The water of the flood represents baptism.
  • The wood of the ark represents the cross.

To be honest, I love this! Question that interpretation as you will—and it is not beyond critique in some of its particulars—let us admit this: if Jesus is the point of the whole story and the apex of God’s plan to save lost humanity, all references to God’s saving work in the Old Testament will point to Jesus. Yes, we must be careful that we not over-spiritualize every…single…detail…but let us at least appreciate that even those church fathers and others did so from an admirable starting point: Jesus as the point of all scripture!

Whatever you want to call it—and I suspect typology would be best here—I believe that Noah’s ark does indeed point to Jesus and is, in many ways, like Jesus. Consider…

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