Saturday, August 14, 2010

Why The Incarnation Matters: The Flood, The Tower, and Pride

When God barred man from the tree of life, some may find it ironic I view this ultimately an act of kindness. Why would denying man immortality be a good thing? As we will establish later, this is not the whole story. Yet it certainly is true that by his power, man’s life is limited. As we continue our examination of the Incarnation through Genesis, I believe we shall see why this cutting off was a good thing. Genesis 6 begins as follows:

And after that men began to be multiplied upon the earth, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God seeing the daughters of men, that they were fair, took to themselves wives of all which they chose. And God said: My spirit shall not remain in man for ever, because he is flesh, and his days shall be a hundred and twenty years. Now giants were upon the earth in those days. For after the sons of God went in to the daughters of men, and they brought forth children, these are the mighty men of old, men of renown. And God seeing that the wickedness of men was great on the earth, and that all the thought of their heart was bent upon evil at all times, it repented him that he had made man on the earth.

Here we come to the introduction of the Nephilim, men of inestimable cruelty and evil. There is some scholarly discussion over the origins. Some say they are the children of fallen angels who mated with earthly women. Others say the “sons of God” are the children of Seth and Enoch, who married the children of Cain, the wicked. Whatever the truth, we know that these offspring lived several centuries, nearly an entire millennium.

We tend to speak of the elderly as those possessing great knowledge and wisdom. In sports, a veteran near the end of his career passes along his seemingly boundless knowledge of the nooks and crannies of the game to the newer players. These men had 900 years to foster evil, and they became very good at it. One can only wonder: What if Hitler, Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun had lived 900 years? We tend to view these as men in history with a boundless capacity for evil. Yet, we must confess, they were probably nothing compared to these men. So dangerous were they, God shortened the lifespan of humans because of it! Their evil had become so depraved; God was prepared to destroy the entire world and His most prized creation.

Yet even during all these times, God still attempts to call people to Himself. During this context is when a man named Enoch walked the earth. (If we follow the Genesis narrative, he would have been taken to heaven not long, in biblical terms, before the flood.) We are also told that during this time “Men began to call on the Lord.” What this means is not clear. Some state that a mass conversion to God began during Enoch’s time. Others view Enoch as the father of a structured liturgy, the solemnity of it all drawing people to God. Whatever the case, through Enoch, God calls people back to His original plan for them.

As we can see, they paid little attention. Yet apparently one man and his family did. The Scriptures tell us “But Noah found favor in the Lord.” Noah was the great-grandson of Enoch. He certainly would have followed in the ways of his famous ancestor. Through Noah God finds one who is answering the call He made. It could truly be said that for the sake of one man, God spared the world. Yet the great evil had to be dealt with. Knowing this (and that they would inevitably seek to once again rebel against heaven), God decides to send the deluge upon the earth, that Great Flood. For 40 days and 40 nights, there would be a torrential downpour upon the earth like had not been seen, nor would ever be seen again. We receive 5 inches of rain, and everyone panics because of potential flooding. This flood was enough to cover the entire earth, destroying almost all life on it, so grave was man’s sin.

Yet to make sure that the world could continue after the flood, God ordered Noah to build an ark for his family, and two of every living creature. This ark would sail upon the waters during the time of the flood, and from them, the entire world would be repopulated. Notice once again the assistance of God. Even when we were at the height of our wickedness, God does not give us what we fully deserve. He still seeks to help us. The washing of the world with water is seen then as a great blessing towards His people. Indeed, once the flood ends, God creates a covenant with Noah, and beings to re-establish that plan. Just as the first covenant had regulations, so does this one. We are not to eat at this time the blood of beasts with their flesh. If we are to eat, the blood must be drained first.

Once again, all seemed well on the earth. It could even be said, for that one moment, paradise in a sense was re-created. However, just like our first parents, there were those amongst the children of Noah who would try to ruin that which God has created.

As time went on, the sons of Noah began to repopulate the Earth following the flood. Eventually, they became a great multitude. Despite this great number, the Bible tells us “the Earth was of one tongue.” There seemed to be that unity which we were called for. With that unity and understanding, they began to make buildings, indeed to grow civilization. However, they did not remember the lessons of previous eras.

We now come to the story of Nimrod, whom most legends and traditions attribute to be the builder of the tower of Babel. As his power grew, the building continued. Eventually, the decision was made to build a tower (most likely a Babylonian ziggurat) higher than anything before that was built. So high, it would reach the heavens itself. What could have possessed our ancestors to do this? Once again, I would say fear mixed with pride.

They saw the terrible destructive power of the flood, and were greatly afraid. Yet just like Adam and Eve, their pride prevented them from repentance. In response, they began building for themselves, to protect themselves from the elements, despite God stating he would never destroy the Earth with a Great Flood again. They were unwilling to trust in him.

That the build was most likely a ziggurat could also shed some light. Many times priests of various religions used the top of the ziggurat to offer sacrifice, so that the flood waters would not reach them. In a certain sense, this could also be viewed as a prideful defiance towards God. It is almost as if the sinful man is telling God “your flood accomplishes nothing, you will not stop our sacrifices!” From this, the building becomes higher and higher. With this in mind, the Bible says:

And they said: Come, let us make a city and a tower, the top whereof may reach to heaven; and let us make our name famous before we be scattered abroad into all lands.

In what many ancient Jews interpreted as an ultimate sign of rebellion against God, Nimrod (or whoever built the tower) was going to extend a shrine of pagan sacrifice to the heavens itself! We know that nothing impure can enter heaven, God would never allow it. Yet if the people of the world reached heaven with their abomination, they would die, and once again, creation would be wiped out. We must remember this context as God says:

Behold, it is one people, and all have one tongue: and they have begun to do this, neither will they leave off from their designs, till they accomplish them in deed. Come, therefore, let us go down, and there confound their tongue, that they may not understand one another's speech.

Rather than destroy creation, God instead decided to confuse those languages. The alternative would have been our death. Even in our confusion, ideologies still spread throughout the world today attempting to do the same thing. We attempt to make ourselves as gods, and indeed rebel against the one true God. Yet there are things which inhibit the wicked designs of man. Since those designs are slowed down, we are once again given a chance to reflect on the fact that we need God.

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