Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
The next seven chapters of Genesis set forth the early history of "fallen" man as they saw it. The descendants of Adam and Eve are told of and some early legends and myths set in the narrative build a sense of God's frustration with how his creation has turned out. Man's heart "fashioned nothing but wickedness all day long" (5). So God decides to basically start over again, to wipe everything out, saving only Noah and his family to start the "human being project" over again. Noah's name means "may this one comfort our sorrow" and I do think it is God who is sorrowing. It's kind of interesting but God's work too - like man's - is burdened with a sense of frustration and futility.
God tells Noah to build an ark and give him very specific instructions for constructing it. He will be equally specific later when He instructs His people to build an ark for the covenant and even later to build a Temple under Solomon. Whenever God punishes us in the narrative - in Eden - and now here, He also helps. Throughout the story we see the same paradox - God punishing man and simultaneously offering the hand of salvation.
What is also interesting is that the story shows us a God who punishes the innocent along with the guilty. The innocent animals God created to be with man in the creation. There is a sense in these early stories that the one given dominion by God - here generic "man" but later the kings and priests set over "man" - stands for everyone over whom they wield authority. So here, when man does evil, all the innocent creation must endure the punishment imposed on those in position of responsibility. Later, when there is a monarchy, or a priestly leadership class, the innocent, poor and dependent people they are responsible for also bear the chastisements brought on by the "shepherds" who fail. There is a tension in the story between this kind of "collective" vision and an equally strong vision of individual responsibility and existence before God. Later we will be told in no uncertain terms that children will not be held responsible for the sins of their fathers, that each person will be judged on his or her own "merits" whether those merits be earned or won through faith in Christ. But the "collective" dimension has a continuing reality too. We do bring the innocent down with us when we sin.
So Noah and his family build the ark , gather a remnant of the creation onto it, and endure forty days of God's wrath. Forty is a magical number in Scripture. Later there will be forty years in the desert for Moses and the people with him. And Christ will spend forty days and nights in the desert as well. When Noah and his family leave, they offer up a sacrifice of those "clean animals" on board [there are two accounts woven into the story - one giving two of each animal and one that provides a few others so that this offering can be made]. God makes a "covenant" with Noah, expanding his "dominion" over the creation by giving him meat to eat as well as plants, but man is to refrain from eating the blood of the animals, and God places a rainbow in the sky as a "sign" of his covenant with man.
So God tries to start the project over, but it doesn't take long for us to see that things are not going to change much. Noah, being a descendant of Cain, is a tiller of the soil and he plants a vineyard. He gets drunk on its grapes and his son Ham disgraces himself by looking on his father's nakedness while he is drunk. In punishment for this, Ham is consigned to a destiny of servitude. 19th c. pro-slavery apologists used this to justify the perpetual slavery of the black race, which was believed to be included as descendants of Ham.
And chapter 11 describes the splintering of man's language into many tongues as a result of man's pride in building a tower of Babel to "make a name" (11:4) for themselves. So the overall narrative leaves us with a creation still far from what it is God intended. In His next attempt, he will take another tack, starting instead with one faithful man.