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May 29 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 26, 2013 – Genesis Chapters 9-11

Of Covenants and Autonomy

Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you . . . Genesis 9:8-10

INTRO: We’re ready to move on in the Genesis story, but we need to tie up a few loose ends

God is re-starting creation with Noah and his family
– so he repeats his original blessing and instructions (cf. Ge. 1:28 & 9:1)
• only, at this point God adds something to their diet (9:3)
• eating meat raises an issue regarding blood and its sacredness (9:4-7)
○ we discern a flashback to Abel’s innocent blood
• they are to propagate human life, not take it
○ God’s stamp on the human person–his own image
○ this means that in all the universe nothing is of greater value than a human person

God then made a universal covenant (9:-17)
– “covenant” is one of the Bible’s central themes
• in fact, our whole Bible is divided according to the “Old” covenant (“testament”) and the “New”
• the purpose of a covenant is to strengthen trust and give assurance – it is a guarantee
○ it is tangible evidence of a promise
• a covenant creates a bond between the parties involved
– some sort of physical evidence is agreed on as “a sign” (like the wedding ring)
• bread and wine representing the body and blood of Jesus are the signs of the new covenant (Lk. 22:20)
• to form a rainbow, there must be a cloud, rain, and sunlight
○ this would a great place for Noah’s story to end, underneath the shimmering bow

Epilogue: Noah’s farming experiment (9:20-27)
– this lapse of character  occurred after the flood (previously he was “blameless”)
• the temptations most difficult to resist do not always come to us during the crisis
– but why does Noah’s story have to end on this unpleasant note?
• perhaps because it is God, not humans, who carries the story forward
• God uses broken people – it’s the only kind that are available

Now we can turn the page – and, of course, here’s another genealogy

Chapter 10 traces the descendants of Noah’s three sons
– vv. 5 & 32, “separated into their lands . . . families . . . nations”
• so this genealogy is not only a record of their extension through time but also their geographical expansion
• human kind is spreading out (and even being “scattered,” v. 18)

There is one name that stands out from all the rest, the way Enoch stood out in chapter 5
10:8-12, Nimrod is the prototype of a new sort of person
• someone for others to model themselves after
• “Enoch walked with God”; Nimrod made his own way in world

Nimrod is a caricature of the human male – an exaggerated version of the species
– not just a farmer or rancher, but a hunter – a “mighty hunter”
– it was not enough for him to be fruitful and multiply – he had to found great cities and nations
– he was not simply independent (as Adam became), he was autonomous
• “autonomy” is more than independence
○ it means not surrendering to anyone else’s control
• that he was a hunter, meant he could survive without depending on society
○ he didn’t have to follow the rules of commerce or culture
○ he didn’t have to cooperate with seasons, planting and harvest
– “before the LORD” indicates the greatness of his fame, not his devotion

Here we have the rise of the “mighty ones”
– these will be the champions, the heroes, and the leaders of the Hebrew Scriptures
• but they are also the tyrants, the oppressors, and the megalomaniacs
– these people are often celebrated in the Bible
• they accomplish great things and shed rivers of blood
– this is the aggressive, acquisitive male, grabbing up all he can for himself
• he has been the hero of western civilization ever since the Renaissance
• the corporate tycoon, successful politician, gluttonous lover (can never get enough)

But Nimrod was not as autonomous as he supposed
– everything he did was under a sky where the occasional rainbow hangs according to God’s covenant

We turn the page again

11:1-4, “Shinar” was in Nimrod’s territory
– here a city was built that was modeled according to his values

Their “Let us” mimics God’s speech when he created humans (1:26)
• “Let us do something for ourselves, make our own name. Let us re-create ourselves”
– what they set out to do:

  1. build a city and tower that reaches to the sky
  2. make a name for themselves – “brand” themselves
  3. create a synthetic solidarity (“otherwise we will be scattered”)

• they could feel their cohesion dissolving
○ they needed a project that would pull them together
– what happens to a society of autonomous humans? of individualists and pioneers?
• it gets scattered, and the more scattered, the weaker it gets

11:5, God had to come down to see what these humans were so busy building
– does the all-knowing God really have to step down from heaven to find out what’s happening on earth?

Helmut Thielicke, “Do we catch the laughter of God between the lines? . . . despite all this omniscience, he doesn’t ‘get wise’ to what men are up to in this giant building project, their idea of storming heaven. No, God doesn’t catch on, for this tower is too far away. From the real heaven it looks too small and God can’t see it with the naked eye. And certainly it must be terribly tiny, this tower, if even the all-knowing God cannot see it without glasses and a telescope. . . If this is not irony, I don’t know what is.”

11:6, God had to intervene and put a stop this project
– if he let them pull this off, they’d think they could do anything
• then worse problems would follow
– some inventors seem to think, “If we can do it, we must do it”
• something is missing from the equation – something not drawn into the blueprints of the tower
○ a moral calculation, an ethical consideration
○ “Shouldn’t we have a cancel button if this gets out of control?”
• at least someone should ask the question whether it was possible to go too far
– but people who use science (and scientist do not always have control over how their discoveries and inventions are used) don’t want their work critiqued or limited in any way
• especially not by religion
○ to them, it’s a bargain if they can gain world and all it costs them is their soul
– those building the city and its tower did not consult God first
• they didn’t even want him around their construction site
• they no doubt feared that he would do the very thing he did do

11:7, God’s strategy was simple

Their project’s success depended on their ability to communicate

There’s a reason we don’t understand each other
– we think we’re speaking the same language, but we’re not
• we have competing ideas of what’s important
○ we have different perspectives, orientations, goals, and ambitions
• we insist on our autonomy, we don’t want to give up control
○ we don’t understand each other, because we don’t listen to each other
– that’s what happens in a world where everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes (Judges 21:25)

– that’s why we collide and then bounce in different directions
• we lose the ability to dwell together in unity (Ps. 133:1)

What happened to the project?
– exactly what they feared, “the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth”
• instead of making a name for themselves, their failed project was given a name: Babel (a pun on the Hebrew word balal, confusion)

CONC: Another genealogy follows the story of Babel – because God isn’t finished

11:29-30, In genealogies, mighty ones like Nimrod rise, fall, and disappear like everyone else
– their enterprises also rise and fall, but time marches on
– meanwhile, God uses a different sort of person to transform the world
• Abram and Sarai are not among the mighty — they are a childless couple – “barren”
○ Sarai’s infertility is just a footnote, but it’s very important
• God doesn’t need any better material to work with than this elderly couple
○ he can plant a seed in them that will grow into his nation

I’m old enough to see a sapling I planted become a tall, impressive, stable tree
– I can’t take credit for what it is today
• it was simply of planting plus watering plus feeding plus time

God has planted a seed in you
• we think we need big projects
○ we know there’s got to be more to us than working for a paycheck
• on the other hand, we don’t need to be more than a seed
• we don’t need to have more going for us than our covenant with God
○ it pulls us to him and to each other

To eat the bread and drink from the cup that Jesus hands us,
is to surrender our autonomy
and enter an eternal covenant that is guaranteed by God himself

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