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Monday, July 18, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 24 - The Story of Noah, Part 1 (6:13 - 7:24)

In the first 12 verses of Genesis 6, we read about three things happening:

1.  The population increased
2.  The earth was filled with violence and corruption
3.  A hybrid race of beings called Nephilim emerge, corresponding with the other two items.

God is not happy about this violence and corruption at all, as it essentially is the full fruition of the Fall we read about in Genesis 3.  Therefore, He resolved that He is going to destroy all living beings on the earth, as they are tainted with the corruption which is indicated to be the result of the activities of fallen angels and their Nephilim offspring.  But, God doesn't want to totally ditch His original plan, so He separates Noah out.  Noah needs an escape plan, and in the remainder of Genesis 6 God gives him one.

Beginning in verse 14, God gives Noah detailed instructions to build a huge boat called an ark.  The primary material God wanted Noah to construct the ark from was something called "gopherwood," which has no connection with the burrowing ground squirrel of the same name, but rather is derived from the Hebrew word gofer, which is translated into Greek in the Septuagint as xilon tetrakonon, which is roughly translated as "squared wood."  Henry Morris III, in the second volume of our primary text The Book of Beginnings (Dallas:  ICR, 2013), notes on page 30 that this "gopher wood" would have had to have been something dense and strong, such as ironwood, but the actual tree is not revealed except to say it must have been an abundant supply.  In reading this as well, it has made me rethink my own hypothesis that it possibly was balsa wood too, because although balsa or cork have the buoyancy to float, they may not have been durable enough to maintain structural integrity in the midst of rough weather.  At any rate, the "gopher wood" was a tree of God's choosing, and He instructed Noah to use it because of its durability. 

The ironwood tree, a possible candidate for "gopher wood." 

Looking at the Greek translation of "squared wood," perhaps gofer was not the name of the tree at all, but perhaps the cut of the lumber, as the Greek term suggests a sort of 2-by-4 board.  There are some translations that render the Hebrew word kofer in this context, but that would be redundant as that word denotes "pitch," which would have been used as a sealant to waterproof the vessel, as we read later.  However, it is not out of the question to understand that the similarity between gofer and kofer may not be confusing at all, in that gofer constructed the vessel and it was sealed with kofer.   We will see this word kofer used again in reference to "slime" as a building material in Genesis 11 for the Tower of Babel, and in both cases it could have referred to a naturally-occurring petroleum-based asphalt which could be obtained from tar pits.  

A naturally-occurring asphalt pit located in Los Angeles at the site of the LaBrea Pits - this is similiar to the "pitch" Noah would have used in the construction of the ark.

In verse 16, we see the instruction God gives Noah to cover the vessel inside and out with this "pitch," and the waterproofing qualities of this stuff today still make it an ideal roofing material for houses. 

At this point we talk about the dimensions of the ark, which are given in these same verses.  As God was revealing much of this to Moses, it is very possible Moses used the Egyptian Royal Cubit as a reference to measurement with which he was familiar.  An Egyptian Royal Cubit is equivalent to 1 and three-quarters of a foot (21 inches) and it is this measurement we will use here to get the specs for the ark.  Its overall dimensions were 450,000 cubits cubed, or 1,973,700 cubic feet.  The length of the vessel was 300 cubits (450 feet), it was 50 cubits (86 feet) wide, and 30 cubits (51 feet) tall.  In other words, it was a big boat!   However, it would have to be, as Noah would be carrying aboard the whole stock of renewed life which would seed the planet after the Flood.  

The ark consisted of 3 decks, with rooms and a door on its side (vv. 14,16), and on the top level was a window (v. 16).  Again, the reason for this gigantic size would be the number of creatures Noah was instructed to take on with him by God, for the purpose of replenishing the earth.  In verses 19-21, Noah is instructed to take two of every kind (as opposed to species) of animal into the ark, and he is also to stock up on food supplies for both his family and these animals.  Note here that the Biblical term kind is roughly equivalent to the biological term genus, and therefore it can be concluded that God planned on diversifying species later.  Now, the logistics of this endeavor lead to a problem - how could Noah take on literally thousands of animals?  If we think in terms of adults, it makes no sense, but when we look at it from a different perspective - that the animals were juveniles - it begins to be more practical.  For one thing, baby animals eat less, and also the time on the ark would give them time to mature and be ready to procreate once the ark rested and the waters receded.  Therefore, it seems to be the logical position that the animals Noah had on the ark were young, and that they were also free of any corruption which caused the Flood in the first place to happen.   Additionally, there was a male and female of each kind, and these would be the breeding pairs from which all the fauna of the earth would repopulate themselves. 

Backtracking to verses 17-18, God decrees the Flood, but institutes the Noahic Covenant to preserve and spare his family.  The Noahic Covenant is the second major covenant we read about in Genesis, and its significance is that this time instead of primarily the marriage covenant, as it was with Adam earlier, Noah's covenant with God was directed to extend to a whole household, or family.  This "trustee aspect" of the Covenant, as Dr. Hahn calls it in his book First Comes Love (New York:  Doubleday, 2002) in which the individual is incorporated into something greater (Hahn, pp 35-36).   In other words, much as the other Covenants of the Old Testament would do so, the one God establishes with Noah had as its ultimate objective the redemption of humanity.   Noah's life was, in essence, the salvation of our lives today.  But, as we see throughout the Old Testament, God narrowed down the vehicle of the fulfilled Covenant eventually in the person of one man, Jesus Christ, and through Him all mankind would be given the opportunity to receive salvation.  So, when we read about Noah's family being spared in verses 17 and 18, it is an expression of God's mercy that transcends time and space, for in Noah's salvation from the destruction of the Flood would be our salvation in Christ.  

In Genesis 7:1-3, God gives Noah provisions for stocking food on the ark in preparation for the duration of time he and his family would have to be on the ark until the Flood waters subsided.  This is one of the first instances in which God instructs Noah concerning "clean" and "unclean" animals, and this predates the Levitical and Deuteronomical criteria by millennia.  Although it is a bit of a stretch to say it, the possibility here is that for the first time God is going to allow man to eat meat, as the likely case is that the change in environment which was to come would alter man's dietary needs to incorporate animal protein into his diet, something that was not heard of before this point.  So, God instructs Noah to take seven additional of each "clean" animal with their mates, and two of every "unclean" animal with their mates.  God additionally commands Noah to take seven males and females each of birds, possibly for keeping the species alive (?).  The food supply therefore seems to require than just one mating pair, although it is also highly possible that God wanted to institute a sacrificial system with Noah, and some of these animals were for that purpose as well. 

We are told in verse 6 that Noah is about 600 years old when the Flood starts, and the first precipitation happens about seven days after God transmits the initial instructions to Noah.  However, there is something very interesting about this passage, as in verse 6 it says that the waters also came from the "fountains of the deep," meaning from under the earth as well as from the atmosphere.  This may be the first instance of seismic activity that God caused to release it too.  In his 2001 book Before the Flood (New York:  St. Martin's Press), author Ian Wilson discusses at length a phenomenon called the "Black Sea Burst-Through" which proposes that prior to this epic Deluge, the Black Sea was a low-lying freshwater lake.  However, with the "fountains of the deep" being opened, to use the Genesis wording, it caused a rapid surge of sea-water to flood the Black Sea, killing the freshwater life almost instantly (Wilson, p. 49).   Morris also concurs with this to a degree, but supplements by adding that the burst of the sub-surface reservoirs of water would have caused continental plates to rip apart and form, and the magma underneath the earth would have been a trigger to set off a mass seismic episode in the earth (Morris, p. 63).  With many of these events happening, this would explain the appearance later of mountain ranges as well as canyons and other natural phenomena, which I want to briefly discuss.

When I first presented the evidence for a young earth in our parish Sunday School class, I encountered some resistance from a couple of older parishioners.   Although an "old-earth" Creationist himself, one of these parishioners - a very astute and intelligent retired accounting professional and former West Point graduate - contended that the earth had to be "millions of years old" because of the Grand Canyon.  However, is that factual?   When I was a teenager growing up in West Virginia, our state underwent one of the worst disasters it ever experienced when a catastrophic flood devastated many communities in November of 1985.  When the flood water receded, there were places where the landscape was radically altered in such a way that it doesn't look the same even today.  Walt Brown, who holds a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, wrote a monumental book entitled In the Beginning - Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood (Phoenix, AZ:  Center for Scientific Creation, 2008).  In it, he notes that the evidence of parallel strata - meaning the earth's sedimentary layers are typically parallel to adjacent layers - indicates that the layers of strata measured in the Grand Canyon were rapidly deposited as long-term erosion would have washed them away long ago (Brown, p. 11).  Also, 150 million supposed years are missing in the Grand Canyon's imaginary "geologic column."  (p. 35).  Another fact is that the Colorado River would have been too small itself to initiate this canyon-carving, so a bigger impetus must have been at play.  That impetus, we find out, was called Lake Bonneville, a huge inland sea that was located in the area where the Great Basin is today.  With the great waters of the Deluge, the proposition here is that this great body of water - also called Grand Lake - overflowed its banks rapidly and carved out the Grand Canyon fairly rapidly as we know it today.   Another example too is the 1958 Lituya Bay megatsunami in Alaska, which stripped trees away up to an elevation of almost 1800 feet.  In short, it doesn't take millions of years of geologic evolution to produce alterations to landscapes.  

These "fountains of the deep" opening, along with a great amount of precipitation from the "windows of heaven being opened,"  made for a lot of water, and by no means was this just a localized event.  Also, the "windows of heaven" allude to the collapse of the protective firmament we spoke of back in Genesis 1, which would likewise alter the earth's environment.  

The Genesis account tells us that the duration of the rains was 40 days, and that was just the rain.  The waters became so rampant that they eventually eclipsed and submerged hills, and all life was killed as a result.  After the rains, the water prevailed on the earth, submerging it an additional 150 days.  The total time of the Flood then would last for almost one Gregorian year, according to verse 24 of Genesis 7.  The only life that was left on the earth as a result of this was what could be found on the ark - Noah and his family, as well as the animal life he took on board with them. 

In the next part of the story, we see the flood waters recede, and Noah emerges from the ark.  When he does, civilization starts anew, but as subsequent lessons teach us, the lesson was not learned by mankind.  

(the cubit measurement figures courtesy of