Torah Portion In Real Time: Noah

We  continue discussing the current Torah Portion. The second Parashat Shavua of the year is Noah: Genesis 6:9-11:32.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Noah was born and named before our today Portion begins – in Genesis 5 – however, since he is the main character of this Parashah, we will take time to understand the prophetic meaning of his name. Noah is one of the most significant characters in the Bible—and even though everyone knows who he was, few would remember   Lamech, Noah’s father. Lamech is well worth remembering, however, not only because he fathered his 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. Why did Lamech  name his son Noah?  What did he expect from him?

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.” (Gen 5:29)  The name Noah in Hebrew means “rest”: His father regarded him as the one who should be the rest-giver, and as one who should provide deliverance and comfort from the Curse. Do you remember the events of Genesis 3?  God cursed the land and banished Adam and Eve from the Garden – but He also gave them the promise, that in Christianity is often called Protoevangelium and is perceived as the promise of the coming Savior. It is obvious from Lamech’s words that even these first generations were already extremely tired of this curse and waited for the fulfillment of this promise. Evidently Lamech felt the burden of toil upon an earth which God had cursed and hoped that his son would be this coming savior – and he looked upon Noah as one who should bring deliverance and rest – as the Messiah of the New Testament, Jesus Christ, did:  Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”[1].

THE SECRET OF FINDING GRACE

When we enter Genesis 6, we are 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. Remarkably, here we see the first occurrence of the word “grace” in the Bible. What is the secret of finding grace in the eyes of the Lord?

The Hebrew phraseמָצָא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי יהוה  (matza chen be-eyney Adonai) literally means: “He found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” It’s a term still in use in modern Hebrew today. When we ask someone: “Do you like (such and such)?” often we use this ancient biblical phrase: “Did he/she find grace in your eyes?” Let us ponder on this together.  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—in meeting God’s expectations.

What can we learn from this story? I believe the lesson for us is this: God doesn’t want us to simply hang around waiting for the punishment of our sinful generation – even if we feel surrounded by sin and corruption. According to the New Testament, Noah was very actively preaching faith and the salvation. 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]

 TO PITCH OR TO ATONE?

When God instructed Noah how to build the ark, He commanded him to pitch it within and without with pitch. In English, it sounds like a plain technical description. However, in Hebrew we find the rootכפר   (kafar: kaf- pei-reish) twice in this verse. You probably know that Yom Kippur means Day of Atonement, therefore you know the meaning of this root: “to atone” – but why is it used here?

This is a beautiful example of how deep and multifaceted the Hebrew language is.  Since it is a root language, most of the words are formed from a three-consonant root by changing vowels and by adding different prefixes and suffixes. The root “kaf- pei-reish”, depending on its stem, might mean either “to cover with pitch” (Qal) or “to cover over, atone for sin, make atonement for” (Piel)

Thus, this simple practical command sounds almost like a theological statement in Hebrew. We know, of course, that the Flood and the Ark are great symbols of punishment of the sinners, and salvation of those who put their trust in God. However, without knowledge of Hebrew, we completely lose what is so obvious in the original text: The story of Noah is the story of redemption and atonement, because the root of the word “to atone” is there from the very beginning of this story.

 

THE WATERS OF FLOOD AS SYMBOL OF BAPTISM

There is an additional aspect of the Flood that should not be overlooked. Unfortunately, most of the Christians are not aware of the Jewish roots of the water baptism in the New Testament. Water baptism has a long history and did not begin with John the Baptist: it has its beginning in the ancient process of spiritual purification and cleansing of the Jews—Mikveh. This Mikveh cleansing, the purification washing, has been as essential and important to the Jews as baptism is essential and important to Christians.

In this sense, the connection we find in the New Testament between the waters of the flood and baptism is very interesting and very profound. We have something similar in the Jewish tradition as well: the Chasidic writers describe the Flood as a cleansing process and the waters of the flood as the waters of a mikveh. Through the Flood, the world received a spiritual cleansing – and in the same way New Testament believers receive spiritual cleansing through baptism.

 

 

 

I would like to remind you, my dear readers, that we offer a course on the Weekly Torah Portion, and those interested to study in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insights, are welcome to sign up for this course or to contact me for more information and for the discount. Also, for those interested in  my book  about Hidden Messiah, As Though Hiding His Face , or my other books (which all have Hebrew insights) , here is the link to my page on this blog: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/.

 

[1] Mat.11:28

 

[2] 2 Pet. 2:5

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. Dot Healy

    We have so much to learn from the old Biblical stories – thank you Julia for this enlightening article.

  2. Nick

    Thanks Julia! I’ve also heard Noah described in much less glowing terms compared to Abraham, but context I’m sure is a factor.(not to mention 1,000 years between them) I’ve also heard a perspective that the “earth” was the primary object of punishment, not humans who were almost collateral damage in a sense. I am so thankful for teachers like you to help “make sense out of the Bible”. Pondering The Infinite feeds the soul.
    Thanks, Nick