Beginnings: Noah

As we  read  the beginning of Genesis 6, we were shocked by the description of the total evil and corruption of mankind. Then, in the midst of all this corruption, we find a man who clearly pleased God: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD”. Everybody knows the name of Noah.  The story of Noah and Flood is one of the first stories from the Bible that parents tell their children. Who was Noah, though? Who was this man who was chosen to give a new beginning to the whole of humanity? What do we know about him?

What’s in a Name?

Remarkably, Noah was born and named before Genesis 6: his name was given to him in Genesis 5. It’s interesting that even though everyone knows who Noah was, few would remember Lamech, Noah’s father. However, Lamech is well worth remembering – not only because he fathered the son who would save the dying world through faith and obedience, but also because he recognized this son’s special calling and mission by giving him this special name. We read in Genesis 5:29 that Noah’s father Lamech “named him Noah, saying, “This one will provide us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands, out of the very soil which the LORD placed under a curse.” This means there was some reason why Lamech named his son Noah. Why?  What did Lamech expect from him? What does this name mean?

Noah’s name has a very prophetic meaning indeed. Some of you probably know that this root in Hebrew means  ‘rest’ – and from Lamech’s prophetic words we understand that he saw in his son the one who would be the “rest-giver”, the one who would provide deliverance and comfort from the curse. When God cursed the land and banished Adam and Eve from the Garden, He also gave them the promise of a coming savior. Naming his son Noah, Lamech hoped that he would be this promised savior. Evidently, Lamech felt the burden of toil upon an earth which God had cursed, and he looked for “relief from our work and from the toil of our hands”.[1] We already know that even these first generations were extremely tired of this curse and waited for the fulfillment of the promise – we remember Eve hoping that her son Cain would be “the man from the Lord”. It is clear from Lamech’s words that Lamech also regarded his son as the one who should bring deliverance from the curse, as one who should provide comfort and rest – as Jesus Christ did in  the New Testament:  “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”.

Pure Heart or Pure Bloodline? 

Why did God choose Noah?  After discussing the “sons of God” and their descendants “Nephilim” here at length, the very first and the most obvious, suggestion would concern Noah’s bloodline. Some commentators assume that the biblical expression “perfect in his generations” might be read, and even should be read, in the sense of his perfect bloodline: Noah was perfect in his genealogy—His bloodline was pure, in that it was totally human, and that was the first and most obvious reason why God chose him.

We have to remember though, that God of the Bible is first of all God of the hearts. That is why I have no doubt that Noah’s heart was also pure and that he indeed, was righteous before God. Scripture tells us very clearly that Noah ‘walked with God’ (and may I remind you that there are only two people in the whole Bible that are described in this way: Enoch and Noah). Yes, Noah had a pure bloodline, but he was also righteous before God; in fact, these two things are connected and go together: Noah’s bloodline remained uncorrupted because he was righteous. He was completely separated from the sinful world and sinful people (and half-people) around him – and that’s why he was perfect in his generations. Do you know that in Hebrew the word kadosh, קדוש  holy, also means “separated”: the words “at mekudeshet lee”, את מקודשת לי, pronounced by a groom to a  bride in a  Jewish wedding ceremony under the chuppah, mean both “you are separated to me” and “you are holy to me.”  This is exactly what God would later expect and require from His people: to be holy, and to be separated from the sin of this world.  Noah, with his pure heart, was separated from the corrupted world and therefore had a purely human bloodline, uncorrupted by demonic seed. Thus, Noah was a perfect candidate for God’s plan.

Did God Choose Noah?

However, did God even choose Noah?  The Scripture tells us that “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (by the way, this is the first occurrence of the word “grace” in the Bible). “Found” is an active verb, not a passive one; the Torah doesn’t say, “Noah was chosen by God” —the Hebrew wording makes it very clear that the first step was Noah’s. It seems that Noah found grace in God’s eyes because he was actively looking for it in the way he walked with God. Why? What is the secret of him finding grace in the eyes of the Lord? And what does it mean – for him and for us?

The Hebrew phraseמָצָא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי יהוה  (matza chen be-eyney Adonai) literally means: “He found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” This expression is still in use in Modern Hebrew today – we often use these biblical words: “Did he/she find grace in your eyes?” when we ask a simple question: “Did you like him/her?” Let us ponder this together: what does it take for us to like somebody? Maybe, the person did something that met our expectations?

An interesting discussion can be found in some Jewish commentaries: does the verse “righteous in his generations” mean that Noah  was just better than everyone else in that wicked generation, and at any other time he might not be considered righteous? Some Jewish sages compare Noah with Abraham saying that while Abraham interceded for the sinners of Sodom, Noah didn’t intercede for his generation – and that means, for a Jewish mind, that he was not righteous enough. However, this was not the case according to the New Testament. The New Testament writers believed that during the years of preparation, Noah had been preaching righteousness to his contemporaries, warning of judgment to come, and still continuing to build an ark in complete obedience to God.  Maybe that is why he found grace in the eyes of the Lord and God who “did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness….”[2]

Obviously, our ‘liking’ is a very poor shadow of “finding grace in God’s eyes”. Nevertheless, this phrase gives us insight into Noah’s character  — and also, teaches us a lesson. I believe the lesson for us is this: God doesn’t want us to simply hang around waiting for the punishment of sinners and the salvation of the righteous – even if we do feel surrounded by sin and corruption. God loves us, but He also wants to like us, and therefore He wants us to actively look for and find grace in His eyes by the way we live.

[1] Gen. 5:29

[2] 2 Pet.2:5

 

If you like the  articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you can get them here.  Also, if these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, studying in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insights, or learning more about the Jewish background of Jesus’ teachingI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding our amazing courses (juliab@eteachergroup.com). 

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Nick

    I like that, “God wants to like us”. I think that affection for G-d is necessary to feel affection from G-d.
    Thanks Julia,
    Nick

    1. Julia Blum

      Yes, Nick, I believe it’s exactly what this story and this entire Book teach us.

  2. Marge Schwartz

    If all the nephalim were destroyed in the flood then why does scripture say ” and also afterwards” (the flood), there were giants (nephalim) in the land?

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Marge, thank you for your question. The answer is very simple: the Torah says “and also afterwards” because there were indeed nephilim after the flood as well. The Torah mentions Nephilim after the flood in Numbers 13, when Moses sent twelve spies to scout out the land. All the spies, except Caleb and Joshua, brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched. They were absolutely terrified by what (or whom) they had seen: ” We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim)”. The original text says here: בני ענק מן-הנפלים -bnei Anak min-haNephilim. The Hebrew word “Anak” ( ענק ) – simply transliterated as “Anak” in the English text – means “giant”. So, our Hebrew text literally says: “We saw giants from the Nephilim”. And it is quite remarkable that, even though several parts of the ”bad report” were challenged by Joshua and Caleb, they did not challenge the information about giants. They didn’t say: ‘what are you talking about? There were no giants there, we haven’t seen any giants!’ It seems that these “giants from the Nephilim” were indeed in the Land, if Joshua and Caleb didn’t dispute the fact.