Barry Newman's Blog

September 16, 2012

Science and Genesis 5: 1 – 6: 8 (part IV)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 3:14 am

Noah (5: 28 – 32)

Unlike the other names in the list in chapter 5, why Noah is named “Noah” is explained. Lamech called his son, “Noach” (meaning “rest”) because he considered that he would “comfort (nacham) us in the labour and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord (Yahweh) has cursed” (5: 29).  The curse of 3: 17 had never been waived. Not uncommonly he was employing a play on words. Later in this blog series a suggestion will be made that “nacham” has the underlying meaning of “bringing a change to”.  “Comfort” is not an unreasonable expression for what results from a favourable change to the conditions under which one works to make the ground fruitful.

Walton comments, “This hope (of Lamech’s) has been thought to find its complement in 8: 21” (“I will never again curse the ground because of man”). Yet, as he points out, the Hebrew for curse in 5: 29 is “arar” (as it is in 3: 17) but in 8: 21 it is “qalal”. He is of the view that “arar”  “expresses removing something or someone from the protection and favour of God”, while “qalal”, when God is the subject, “involves taking punitive action against someone or something.” What actually did happen, consequent to the coming of Noah?

Walton suggests that Lamech’s hope for Noah may have been misguided.  Though Lamech referred to “arar”, “qalal” turned out to be the issue. A flood occurred, there was comfort for only very few and the ground remained removed from the protection and favour of God.  However when the flood abated, God did not take punitive action against the ground but provided “rest”, as is the meaning of the name, “Noah”. Walton refers to this rest as a type of equilibrium which he sees described in 8: 22 – “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” 

Rather than Lamech having a thoroughly correct understanding of Noah’s role in God’s purposes, does the existence of the two different Hebrew words for “curse” indicate that to the contrary he got it wrong concerning the nature of the curse that was his focus in 5: 29 and the nature of the curse that was God’s in 8: 21, though he got it right with respect to the rest that would follow the flood and at least the comfort that would also follow the flood?  It would seem strange to have Lamech speak prophetically and yet get it even partly wrong. So alternatively, perhaps Lamech got it right both with respect to the curse the notion of rest and the idea of comfort.

Using Walton’s understanding of the two types of curse, the situation can be understood as follows. Upon the man having eaten of the tree which God commanded that he should not eat, the ground is cursed, that is, it is removed from God’s protection and favour with the explanation that the man in sorrow shall eat of it all the days of his life, that it shall bring forth thorns and thistles and by the sweat of his face he shall eat bread until he returns to the ground.  Lamech’s understanding is that labour and painful toil exists because of the curse that God uttered, that is, the removal of his protection and favour. (In a previous blog the possibility that the ground outside the garden was already fit for disobedient man and that God’s curse of the ground, that is, the removal of his protection and favour from the ground, can be viewed, at least in part, as a statement about the nature of the ground being appropriate for disobedient man.)  However Lamech posits that associated with Noah’s existence there shall be some type of rest associated with the labouring and toil that exists as one works the ground. This comes about after the flood with the promise given by God that there shall be regularity to the times of sowing and harvesting, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night. Man will still have to obtain his bread with toil and sweat but there will be some comfort for him brought about by some softening of the curse, resulting from the regularity upon which he will be able to depend as he works the ground to gain his bread.  At the same time, though the flood itself with its devastating consequences upon the living world might indicate some type of punitive action against the ground, the promise of regularity points to the contrary.  Rather than there being punitive action, a type of blessing results. 

There is yet another possibility while not being a denial of the general scenario outlined above.  Perhaps Walton is making too much of the idea of a distinction existing between “arar” and “qalal”.  In 5: 29 the word is “arar” and the text there relates back to 3: 16, where “arar” is also used.  In 8: 21 the word is “qalal” but this also relates back to 3: 16.  “I will never again curse (qalal) the ground on account of man” (8:21) harks back to “the ground shall be cursed (arar) because of you” (3: 16).  A clear cut distinction between the words, at least in these contexts, simply does not seem to hold!

One last word on what Lamech says concerning Noah.  The way the record reads is that Lamech speaks prophetically. Under the providence of God his words came to pass.  Though quite unpalatable to some, it is possible that the writer makes Lamech speak prophetically, by putting words into his mouth.  Perhaps less open to objection is the idea that Lamech, who dies only five years before the flood, being aware of what God will do and the part that Noah will play sees associated with him a type of rest that will come to him and those with him who survive, in the world after the flood. Perhaps the idea from Lamech’s point of view is that after the “cleansing” character of the flood things must be somewhat somehow easier for those who still have to work the land to obtain their food.  It turns out that that this relative “rest” comes about via a regularity promised by God but Lamech knows nothing of that.

That God, previously referred to as “Elohim”, is referred to as “Yahweh” in v. 29 may simply be a reflection of the use of “Yahweh Elohim” in 3: 14, the name of the one who cursed the ground there (3: 17).  Yet even if that is the case, the reference to “Yahweh” probably speaks of the very personal element involved in God removing from the ground his protection and favour, if that is the way we should understand the curse.

To Noah are born the sons of Shem, Ham and Japheth.


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