After his failed experiment in the garden of Eden, God removed himself from the world for a while. Like a spurned lover, He waited – hopeful that humans would find their way back to him. He had seen the results of his displays of power and was trying the other extreme – patience and distance. This technique served no better.
Since there were no obvious benefits from believing in God, the world turned away from Him. Humanity rejoiced in being alive. They reveled in pleasure, licentiousness and freedom. They were having so much fun that even the angels started to sneak off down to earth – one reason being the easy women.
“When people began being numerous on earth, and daughters had been born to them, the sons of God, looking at the women, saw how beautiful they were and married as many of them as they chose.” (Gen. 6)
Of course, the phrase “sons of God” may only refer to the male humans. But we get another enigmatic passage: “The Nephilim were on earth in those days (and even afterwards) when the sons of God resorted to the women, and had children by them. These were the heroes of days gone by, men of renown.” (Gen. 6:4) Were the children of the sons of God the heroes? Or were the Nephilim the heroes? The sentence could be read either way. Nephilim means “fiery serpents,” and generally designate God’s highest rank of angels – although most people would mistakenly associate a burning snake with Hell rather than Heaven.
In any case, God became worried about overpopulation, so he imposed a new rule. Yahweh said, “My spirit cannot be indefinitely responsible for human beings, who are only flesh; let the time allowed each be a hundred and twenty years.” (Gen. 6:2)
But God grew heavy of heart. He “looked at the earth: it was corrupt, for the corrupt were the ways of all living things on earth.” He decided to pull the plug on the project on start over. Rather than start from scratch, he choose one model human that was still functioning very well: Noah. He told Noah to build an ark, for there would be a great flood.
Noah is an interesting character in the Bible – and unique. Noah seems to have had absolutely no personality. He rarely speaks, he is pious and superstitious. He obeys every divine command precisely and absolutely, no questions asked. Maybe he was not too bright. (As evidence of this, immediately after the flood, he offers God a great burnt offering from all the clean birds and animals he had just saved from extinction!) Perhaps this is why God choose him. In fact, God enjoys the sweet smell of the offering, becomes emotional, and promises never to wipe out humans again. (Well, technically he only promises never to curse the earth or wipe out every living thing – if he gets mad again he may still kill all the people.)
Noah himself is never a blasphemer, but maybe this is because God treats him exceptionally well. Indeed, God seems to be extremely confident and good-humored after the flood. He thinks he’s learned from his mistakes with Satan, Adam and Eve, and Cain. He gives humans some specific instructions to follow: they are to be hunters. They will use the joy of the hunt to purge their violent natures.
“Be the terror and the dread of all animals on the land and all the birds of heaven, of everything that moves on land and all the fish of the sea; they are placed in your hands.” (Genesis 9:2)
God also, for the first time, expressively prohibits murder. Cleverly, rather than enforcing this rule himself and making himself into “the bad guy”, God gives the responsibility and authority of the law to humans:
“He who sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God was man created. Be fruitful then and multiply, teem over the earth and subdue it!” (Genesis 9:6)
God is so confident in the success of this “New World Order” that he promises never to send another flood or wipe out all the creatures on earth, and calls this arrangement a covenant – a pact between him and humans – marked by a sign: the rainbow. This is the first instance of a covenant between God and his people. It is remarkable, first of all because it places very few limitations on mankind. They are forbidden almost nothing, except to govern themselves quietly, keep from murdering each other, and eat “meat with blood in it.” God however, accepts a limitation on himself. There is no need for him to make such a promise to his created beings, but out of an effort to treat them with dignity, perhaps with a growing sense of respect for them, he invents the rainbow as a reminder to himself of his responsibilities to humanity.
Noah the Drunk Bastard
But all good things come to an end. Noah, a tiller of the soil, discovered wine and got drunk. He lay in his tent uncovered and one of his three sons, Ham, saw him naked. The other two sons, Shem and Japheth, walked in backwards with their faces turned away, and covered their father with a cloak, without looking at his nakedness. When Noah woke up, they told him that Ham had seen him naked. In a fit of irrational rage and unjust punishments worthy of his creator, Noah cursed Ham’s son, Canaan (Genesis 9:20).
Maybe God didn’t foresee the effect alcohol would have on Noah’s passive personality. What was meant to be one-big-happy-family, turned instantly into division, discord, resentment and jealousy. The following passages describe the “Peopling of the Earth”. By dividing all the various races into descendants of either Shem, Japheth or Ham, the Bible is able to base all future racial hostility and violence on this episode between Noah and his sons.
We are not told why Noah became so upset when Ham saw him naked, but presumably Ham was more progressive in his sexual attitudes, and more comfortable with nudity in general. He is given credit with fathering those communities which will later become centers of sexual depravity like Sodom and Gomorrah.
Remember – although God had now made a law against murder, he had not yet implemented any prohibition on recreational sex. In fact, his call to “Breed, multiply and fill the earth” was an open invitation to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh.
Noah offers a perfect foil to the blasphemous characters. Noah is upright, perfect, obedient and full of moral righteousness. He will carry out God’s any command faithfully, without considering the consequences. He is the perfect soldier. To many Christians, he is the spitting image of faith. And yet this did not help him create a harmonious household. He got drunk and loafed around. He punished his grandson for the deeds of his father. Noah is personally responsible for racial segregation. The fact that he didn’t do anything wrong on purpose is meaningless: the difference between him and the blasphemers is that the blasphemers choose their actions willfully and take responsibility for them. Noah was just a drunk screw-up.