Covenant Through New Eyes: Part 4 – The World of Noah
At long last the rubber is hitting the road in this series. Part 1 served as our introduction and roadmap while parts 2 and 3 laid out a foundation for us to build on. Today’s post, and the following five, will each look at a particular covenantal world from the Bible.
At this point you might be wondering why I’m using the term “world.” But the semantics are important here and I hope that becomes increasingly clear as this series continues. When I wrote about covenantal framework in the last two posts I expounded on the five-fold pattern of God’s work and the six-fold pattern of man’s work as set forward in James Jordan’s book Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World. What we will first notice as we see the way that God interacts with the world is that he is always changing it and making the “world” new.
What this means is that each new turn in covenantal history brings about the end of an old world and the existence of a new one. The reason we get a little foggy with this rhetoric is because most American Christians have an idea about the end of the world that is entirely unbiblical. Thanks to Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth and Tim Lehay’s Left Behind books (/movies/seminars/Bible studies/comics/what-have-you) most American Christians tend to think about the end of the world with AMC’s The Walking Dead or the movie I Am Legend in mind.
But the Bible presents things in a much different way. The inspired authors of scripture saw history unfolding in such a way that the world is constantly being destroyed and remade. With each new world comes new ways that man is to relate to God and act in the world. This is played out over and over again in the pages of the Old Testament. Jordan states these things concisely in Through New Eyes so let’s turn there now:
After the fall of man, the world entered into a decline. This decline is always a prelude to God’s first step, which is His taking hold of the situation. God comes to a man, a prophet, and announces judgment on the old world, and His intention to form a new world. To use the language of the Bible, God announces the destruction of the old heavens and earth, and His intention to create a new heavens and earth. (pg. 167)
It is at this point that the idea of “exodus” is very important. In Part 3 we discussed the central role that man plays in God’s interaction with the world. This means that each time God takes hold of His creation he is usually taking hold of His people. God takes hold of His people and moves them to a new place and/or a new situation. This action, the exodus, happens each time that God is creating a new heavens and a new earth in the Covenantal history.
Once God’s exodus of His people is complete He establishes them in the new world and then evaluates His new creation (just like he did in the beginning). Because God’s people were continually unfaithful throughout the pages of the Old Testament, the subsequent history is always one of decline, and thus, a new judgment always followed God’s evaluation of his people. This judgment, according to Jordan, is a “Sabbath phenomenon” or Day or the Lord/Lord’s Day. Here’s what Jordan says:
The Sabbath was the seventh day of God’s week of creation, but the first full day of man’s week. Thus, the time of Sabbath, of judgment and evaluation, is simultaneously the last day of an old week and the first day of a new week. (pg. 169)
Thus, when God comes to evaluate His people throughout the pages of the Old Testament he sees the necessity to bring his people through another exodus for their own good. God sees that the creation of a new world is necessary for His people because they have polluted the old world with their sin.
The first example of this pattern we will follow Jordan through is the world of Noah:
After the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden a reader of Genesis is presented with the story of their offspring: Cain and Able. Cain kills Able and then starts his own line of wicked offspring. Counter to Cain comes Adam Eve’s next Godly offspring Seth who’s righteous line is epitomized in Enoch. It is during this period of time that God’s announcement of a new world comes to the fore. Seth’s righteous line of descendants seems to be all but extinct but for Noah and his family. God’s announcement of a new world is preceded by a 120 year long call to repentance before God ultimately brings about the “exodus” of Noah and his family in the flood (the destruction of the old world).
We see that the exodus of the flood is like a recreation of the world (as seen in the first chapters of Genesis) or rather, a creation of a new world. The similarities can be seen most clearly when one keeps their eyes open to the Biblical symbolism employed by the author of Genesis.
First, the ark is to contain all life (except for the fish) in it and will be separated from the waters of the sea just like the land and sea were separated in the creation account.
Secondly, the ark is a “triple-decker world.” In the same way that the original creation is broken up in to three sections, (heavens/land/sea; Garden/Eden/World; etc.) so too is the ark divided into three parts. Moreover, the text seems to imply that the birds are to live in the top level of the ark (the heavens), the beasts in the middle (the land) and the “creeping things” on the bottom (the sea) (Gen. 6:7, 20; 7:8, 14, 21, 23; 8:17, 19; 9:2).
Finally, Jordan points out (obviously) that the Ark was to be made of wood; a clear allusion back to the Garden and the prominent role trees played there. Jordan again offers good words in summary:
A detailed study of the Flood will reveal many re-creation motifs at work. The subsiding waters revealed the land, just as in the creation week. The dove hovering over the water recalls the Spirit’s hovering at creation, and the dove-Spirit hovering over our Lord at His baptismal inauguration of the New Covenant. (pg. 173)
Bringing His people through the exodus of the flood in the Ark (Garden, tabernacle/temple, church) God has destroyed the old heavens and earth and created a new one. That done, He now moves on to His work of establishing His people in His new creation. Jordan notes the following:
The arrival of the Ark is like the arrival of Israel in Canaan. God gave the world anew to Noah, telling him to be fruitful and multiply in the new creation (Gen. 8:16-17). God promised that this new world would be permanent, and that He would act to prevent man’s sinfulness from ever again maturing from youth to full age (Gen. 8:21). With this new heaven and earth came a change in God’s covenant arrangements. God allowed Noah and his descendants to eat meat, apparently for the first time, and forbade the drinking of blood. Parallel to the drinking of blood is the shedding of blood in murder; and God also bestowed on man, for the first time, the right and privilege to sit as judge and execute murderers (Gen. 9:2-7). Associated with this new privilege was a robe of authority, signifying man’s new estate as judge. (pg. 174)
God’s establishment of His people entailed a new/re commissioning, new duties and new laws of the covenant. Jordan elaborates on many more illuminating details in this section but for the sake of time I will keep things moving on to the next phase that the worlds of the Old Covenant underwent: history and decline.
As noted above, each new world God made in the Old Covenant brought about many changes, but consistent throughout these worlds was an inevitable decline after the initial establishment. While God’s covenantal changes brought His covenant people into a more robust relationship with Himself (think from tabernacle to temple) and with one another, the people could not stand up to the weight of it. Just like Adam in the Garden, Israel fell time and again when presented with new worlds and new duties.
In the particular world that we are discussing here, the world of Noah, we see the decline begin very quickly. Ham sins against Noah and fathers Nimrod who attempts to build the Tower of Babel. In attempting to build the Tower of Babel, Nimrod was attempting to return to the pre-flood world of Enoch, the city Cain built (Gen. 4:17) (pg. 178). In the decline of the world of Noah God again sets out to announce a new world, the world of the patriarchs. But we will have to wait till next week to get to that!
Food for thought.