(Here is another episode in my continuing exploration of the Bible. You can read my series introduction here. All scripture quotes are NIV and may not be copied for commercial purposes. Read copyright information here.)
Before I get to the commentary, here are a few facts from Genesis 7 & 8:
Before I leave the subject of the Great Flood, there are a few points regarding this epic tale I need to cover. First is the subject of “clean” versus “unclean” animals. This is clearly from Jewish tradition. However, nowhere in Genesis before the flood does it define “clean” and “unclean”, it’s just assumed. God uses the terms to classify the animals, but other than sacrificial uses, there is no reason given why the animals are divided such. Therefore, the term is likely provided by the person writing down the tale (Moses?) many centuries later. The author obviously assumes the reader is familiar with the terms and customs.
This is the second time the Bible mentions an animal sacrifice to God, the first of which led to the falling out between Cain and Abel and the first murder. Why does God demand sacrifices, and why must those be of flesh? I covered this topic in a previous episode. It is to atone for sins, and as a symbol of bringing one’s most precious treasures before God as an offering of service, gratitude and love. However, it’s important to mention it again because 1) now we have a trend, and 2) God is visibly pleased with the sacrifice. I find it odd in this case because the vast majority of land-based animal life on earth has been wiped out, and the first act upon leaving the Ark is to kill a few more. As a 21st Century man looking back to the Bronze Age, I understand the perspective in those days was vastly different then it is today. An animal sacrifice would have been downright tame compared to some bloodthirsty cults of antiquity, but it is still blood and begs the question as to why an entity as powerful as God demands death as a rite of worship? At the end of the sacrifice God promises never to wipe out all life again.
I promised when I started this journey into the Bible I would take the scripture as it was, not as I wanted it to be. In Episode 10, I discussed God’s statement of regret in Genesis 6 regarding the creation of mankind. After reading Genesis 8:21-22, it sounds like God regretted the Deluge. Comparing God’s words at the end of the flood to his words before the flood, it appears God undergoes a change of heart regarding his relationship with humanity.
Yes, you heard me right…God seems to change, or at least changes his approach, to humanity. I can hear many of you screaming at the computer now…“God is eternal and unchanging!” Please, hear me out before you start lighting the heretical bonfire.
Did the Deluge make a single difference in the hearts of men for the generations following Noah? If history or the rest of the Bible are our guide, then humanity hasn’t changed an iota. Yet, Genesis 6:5 clearly states God’s reason for sending the Flood was mankind’s wickedness. But the Flood didn’t change that. If God knew the Flood wouldn’t result in a more righteous human race, why did he send it? What was the purpose of humanity’s cataclysmic suffering if God knew mankind would soon slip right back into its wicked state?
Maybe the answer lies in Genesis 8:21
The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” (NIV)
In the scripture it says “The Lord…said in his heart…” That is the ONLY time in the entire Bible the Lord is quoted using that term. When God says something is from his heart, it doesn't get more real or genuine. How do I take this passage? I take it that the horrors of the Flood, wrought by his own hand, deeply affected God. It changed him.
The next clue is in this statement. “…even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.”
“As I have done.” The implications of this passage are staggering. Once again God takes full responsibility for the Flood and then promises to never do it again. From his heart he declares he KNOWS mankind is wicked, but he won’t do that again. Ever. We know from Genesis 6 God can feel regret. Genesis 8:21 sounds a lot like regret, though the term is not explicitly used. Why would God feel regret over the Flood?
If he is an omnipresent god, then he had to have heard the screams of the drowning as the waters covered the highest hills. God had to feel every bit of their suffering as the last survivors huddled together against the pelting unrelenting sheets of rain. God must have seen the children ripped from their mother’s arms by the tsunami’s power. How does a loving, merciful God feel about such destruction knowing he will be unable to forget any of it for all eternity?
Here, my imagination departs from scripture. Please indulge me just a little speculation. If Noah was a truly righteous man, then I think he must have prayed for those outside the Ark. Perhaps he prayed for God to turn his wrath, and, when those prayers met silence, he then resigned himself to pray for God’s swift mercy on behalf of those beyond the Ark.
Perhaps Noah’s prayers turned God’s heart. Perhaps God’s love for Noah brought him to a place of reflection. Here, I think God finally comes to terms with his feelings for humanity, both the disappointment and the hope. Like a true parent, God’s anger passes with the storm, and he finally accepts that we are flawed, and will always be flawed. I will go even farther and say in the aftermath of the Flood, God’s love evolved from a covenant (and therefore conditional)-based to an unconditional love. Don’t misunderstand, God doesn’t accept (or tolerate) our sin, but he loves us regardless. That doesn’t mean a free pass, it only means that in the history that follows God takes a different approach.
When taken in entirety, I can almost hear a whisper, if not an apology then perhaps an acknowledgment of suffering, hidden in the poetic beauty of Genesis 8:21-22.
21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
22 “As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.” (NIV)
Brian Braden is the author of THE ILLUSION EXOTIC, the historical fantasy novel BLACK SEA GODS and several other exciting books. Please support this blog with your patronage.