Like Genesis 1-3, the flood narrative of Genesis 6-9 is as much if not more about us today and what it means to be human than it is a story about the past and the history of ancient peoples. The story of the flood is fully empowered by symbolic thinking – symbols that God chose to use and men inspired by God recorded to teach, reprove, correct, and train us in righteousness and to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16). It isn’t meant to be read just as past history. The New Testament writers did not limit the flood story to being a record of the deeds of men of old. The story isn’t merely about the history of an ancient flood; it is the story about how God relates to a fallen and sinful world. It is the story about God’s judgment of humanity, as well as God’s impending judgment of humanity. It is a story of prophecy, preparedness, expectation and fulfillment. God has a particular relationship with the world. The story is also about the future, and a Creator God who has expectations for the world and will hold the humans on earth accountable for what they do with their stewardship of the earth. God doesn’t interfere with our free will. However He does hold us accountable for what we do. To limit the value of this Scripture to whether the story is literally true and to get bogged down in the literal details to the exclusion of its symbolism and higher meaning is to miss much of the importance of the story. It is to fall seriously short of how Jesus Christ and the New Testament writers understood and made use of the story. The story is a warning – whether it is history, a parable or a prophecy – the end result is the same: we are told by the Lord that He is a God of expectation and judgment and we must conform to His will and His standards. It is not our standards which count. It is not how we judge the story of the flood which matters, but how ultimately the story will be judgment on us if we fail to understand its deepest prophetic meaning.
How are we supposed to live as a result of the narrative and the lessons Genesis 6-9 contains? The point isn’t “what kind of science does it teach us?” Rather we are to ask, “What does it mean for our future and for our present?” We don’t read it mostly to learn about past history or to learn about science. The story intentionally points beyond itself to a future reality – to the reality of God’s purposes, for the story tells us about God even with grief in His heart accepting the role that the sinful humans must play in His plan. If the story’s main purpose is to teach ancient history, what difference does it make? God promises in the story never to flood the earth again, so why should we care about something that will never happen to us or the world again? The story is prophecy and revelation, it is a teaching story and it teaches pretty well. The lesson is about how we are to live today in this world and why. Why should we care about what God thinks? How am I to act knowing there is a God who is Lord, Creator, Judge and Savior of the universe? The believability of the story doesn’t lie in its literal accuracy of describing past events, but in its revelation that God is Creator, Savior and Judge, and that I am answerable to Him. Belief isn’t mostly about accepting the literalness of the text, but is about “how am I to live as a believer?” St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444AD) argued that Genesis does not tell us everything that can be known about the early history of humankind; rather it offers us only that which is “useful for orienting one’s life.” The story is essential to us because it speaks about how to live today not because it teaches us past history. Belief isn’t mostly about what I think about the ancient past, but what I think about the future and therefore how I am to live now. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old received divine approval” (Hebrews 11:1-2). Belief is the basis for our actions as we move into the future. Belief is not mostly our position in regard to the literalness of the Bible, for the Bible itself never makes a literal reading of scripture the test for whether or not we are believers. The test of our being believers is how we live – are we willing to love God and neighbor as ourselves? Are we willing to live in this world always bringing to bear the Kingdom of God which is to come into our every decision and by our decisions witnessing to our faith in that coming Kingdom? The story of the flood is important because of how belief shapes our daily lives. “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25).
The story of the flood invokes in us memory of the opening sentences of Genesis 1 in which God creates dry land from the chaotic abyss of waters. God imposed His order on creation and defied all the other powers of the universe- malevolent or simply chaotic. The order that exists in the universe according to Genesis is the result of God’s own intervention in the abyss when he tames the powers of chaos to produce an orderly universe which allows life to exist. Today some biblical fundamentalists, creation scientists and Intelligent Design adherents want to argue that the order in the universe is the ultimate proof of God’s existence. Interestingly, as historian Robert Wilken noted, the Christian apologists of the 2nd and 3rd Centuries took a different tact when considering the laws of nature which seem to govern the universe. “They did not argue that there is a God because there is order; rather they saw design in the universe because they knew the one God.” (TSOECT) Or as Hebrews 11:6 puts it: “For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” In other words, those who fear that science and evolution disprove the existence of God are demonstrating their own lack of faith; they are not proving or even defending the existence of God. The stories of Genesis are not as much an accounting of the exact history of our human ancestors as they are an exposition of what it means to be human, an explanation for the existence of evil, and a contextualizing of the human dilemma and story within the context of the larger narrative of the universe which is being told by God and still unfolding before us.
Genesis 10:1 These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth; sons were born to them after the flood. 2 The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. 3 The sons of Gomer: Ash’kenaz, Riphath, and Togar’mah. 4 The sons of Javan: Eli’shah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Do’danim. 5 From these the coastland peoples spread. These are the sons of Japheth in their lands, each with his own language, by their families, in their nations. 6 The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. 7 The sons of Cush: Seba, Hav’ilah, Sabtah, Ra’amah, and Sab’teca. The sons of Ra’amah: Sheba and Dedan. 8 Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9 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 Ba’bel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nin’eveh, Reho’both-Ir, Calah, and 12 Resen between Nin’eveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13 Egypt became the father of Ludim, An’amim, Leha’bim, Naph-tu’him, 14 Pathru’sim, Caslu’him (whence came the Philistines), and Caph’torim.
Since according to the Genesis story of the flood all humans except Noah, his wife, his sons, and his daughters-in-law drowned, it really is through Noah that all the nations of the world come to exist as was noted in Genesis 9:19. All other lines of humans – including Cain’s were destroyed by the flood. So whatever accomplishments they did, or skills they learned or cities they built, would have died with them. Here in Genesis 10 comes the story of the nations – of populating the world with different people all of the same stock. This chapter does offer a family tree for all of the known people of the ancient Jewish world.
Japheth’s descendents include those people who occupy Asia Minor and territories to the East.
“…each with his own language…” This text seems to suggest the occurrence of diverse languages and nations was simply a natural process of expansion. The text seems unaware of the tower of Ba’bel story (Genesis 11) which explains the confusion of tongues among humans as a result of human arrogance and sin. Here at the beginning of Genesis 10 the multiplication of language has nothing to do with punishment but with the diversification of humanity as it spread throughout the world. This again gives suggestion that Source Theory is correct – there was more than one author of the Genesis text that we have today, or at least the one author/editor of the text blended different stories into the final text.
The list is fathers and sons. Wives/mothers are not even mentioned let alone named. No sisters are mentioned either making one wonder where the women who gave birth to all of these sons were coming from.
Ham gives birth to the founders of many great nations and kingdoms which included Arabia, Egypt and Africa. Because Ham defiled Noah, is there some sense of prejudice indicated in the fact that Ham’s descendents include Arabs and Africans? The “Land of Ham” will become in the Old Testament another way for the Israelites to speak of Egypt. Canaan who is cursed into servitude to his uncles has plenty of brothers to witness his enslavement. Ham’s other sons are not cursed by Noah and show great promise and success in starting great nations.
“Nimrod a mighty hunter” This is the first mention in Genesis of a hunter and the first indication that humans are killing animals for food. Hunting would by implication also suggest the development of hunting tools to capture and kill animals, which would be the precursor to weapons of war. Nimrod the hunter begins the Kingdom of Ba’bel, which is the ancient Jewish reference for Babylon. Indeed one day the Babylonians will hunt down the Jews.
The genealogies. Scholars have noted that Americans (with their disinterest in history and their constant striving for what is new, ever looking hopefully to the future) have a hard time grasping the biblical sense of time. In the Old Testament one is always facing the past. The past is what is before us, it is the only thing that we can see for it already exists and is known. The future on the other hand does not exist yet, so it cannot be seen; the future in this thinking is thus always behind us, out of our vision, the unknown, waiting to catch us by surprise. The genealogies help keep the past right in front of us. The Old Testament keeps us looking to the past in order to help us see truth and to give us hope for the future. The genealogies put before us what we can see – that which already exists/existed. They connect us to all that is real and known, and we learn from history about ourselves and our mistakes. In this thinking what can be seen is what we can remember, and what we can remember is what we can truly see. Remembrance and seeing are thus the same thing.
The Divine Liturgy is the Christian remembrance (anamnesis). When we remember as Christians we see what we remember, we make Christ present before us – Christ crucified and Christ risen. The priest prays at the Liturgy: “Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the sitting at the right hand, and the second and glorious coming.” We remember in order to see the reality of God in the world. We remember what God has done so that we can have hope that God will act again as He has done in the past. The future does not yet exist for us ephemeral beings, so we cannot see what God will do, but we can see clearly what He has done and from this know where He is leading us. Remembering the past is thus the firm foundation for hope and faith. We call to remembrance salvation, which means we can see salvation – what God has done – for it is real, even if it is but the tip of the iceberg, the foretaste of the kingdom which is to come. The Christian Liturgy, especially that of St. Basil the Great, is a true calling to remembrance all that God has done for us so that we can see salvation, see God’s hand in the world, see the breaking into the world of the Kingdom of God. Knowing what God has done is the firm foundation for our hope in what God is going to do. Yet it is happening in time, and so we often experience it as happening way too slowly. But the reality of salvation is that we need to fit eternity and divinity into our world, into that which is “not God”, into our lives, into our hearts. That takes time – not because God needs time, but we do and we can only receive things in time. God enters the world through the incarnation – it took the history of humanity to bring about the Theotokos, the one who could receive God into her womb. Then it took nine more months for the Incarnate Word to be born and a lifetime for him to mature; it now additionally takes the time of the Holy Spirit to allow God’s Kingdom to be revealed in the world. Each Liturgy reminds us of what has happened, so that we can see it, and understand it is coming. We are to be thankful for what we know is coming even if it also requires infinite patience on our part. We remember the past not to recapture some Golden Age, but rather as Fr. John Behr says, to help us envision the future. What we can see of what God has done speaks to us about how much more glorious is what He is doing. “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). As St. Paul has it, “one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).