Fear – Deuteronomy, Part 10

“Because you obeyed (shâmaʽ, שמעת; Septuagint: ἤκουσας, a form of ἀκούω) your wife, the Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה) God (ʼĕlôhı̂ym, אלהים) said to Adam, and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground thanks to you; in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.”[1]

The Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה) God (ʼĕlôhı̂ym, אלהים) had commanded Adam: “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.”[2]  Eve saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, so she took some of its fruit and ate it.[3]  When she brought some to Adam she brought not only her recommendation but empirical evidence that she had both touched it and eaten it and had not died.

Adam preferred the voice of his wife to the voice of yehôvâh.  When Jacob preferred the beautiful Rachel over Leah the Lord saw that Leah was unloved (śânêʼ).[4]  In other words Adam hated the voice of God relative to that of his wife, the voice of God was unloved.  For the sake of argument I’ll describe Adam’s iniquity as defiance: Adam was not deceived,[5] Paul assured Timothy.

Adam’s defiance visited upon Cain became a murderous rage: Cain became very angryCain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”  While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.[6]  Cain’s murderous rage combined with the memory of the mercy yehôvâh showed him became a defiant self-righteousness in his descendant Lamech, perhaps even incipient tribal law (Genesis 4:23, 24 NET):

Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah!  Listen (shâmaʽ, שמען; Septuagint: ἀκούσατέ, another form of ἀκούω) to me!  You wives of Lamech, hear my words!  I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for hurting me.  If Cain is to be avenged seven times as much, then Lamech seventy-seven times!”

The upshot of this relatively unhindered visiting of fathers’ iniquity upon the sons was: The earth was ruined in the sight of God; the earth was filled with violence.[7]  So God said to Noah, “I have decided that all living creatures must die, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.”[8]

I began this portion of my study of fear to understand how the translators of the NET “arrived at I punish as a translation of the Hebrew word pâqad (פקד)” in Deuteronomy 5:9.  If punishment could arrest this relatively unhindered visiting of fathers’ iniquity upon the sons before it culminated in a death sentence for all living creatures it would be a welcome relief.  This brings me to the third occurrence of ואפקד (pâqad) translated punish or punishment (and I have brought the punishment) in the NET (Leviticus 18:25 NET):

Therefore the land has become unclean and I have brought the punishment for its iniquity upon it, so that the land has vomited out its inhabitants.

This was not a reference to the violence of the antediluvian world but to the worship/sexual practices of the inhabitants of Canaan before Israel entered the promised land.  But first I need to consider whether the visiting of the fathers’ iniquity upon the sons was quite as unhindered as I have imagined it.

I was born and raised in the latter half of the twentieth century near the northern edge of the Bible belt in the United States of America.  I am a hardcore materialist with some Jesus jelly smeared on top.  I acknowledge this to confess the iniquity of my fathers, not to blame them or excuse myself, but to begin to claim my freedom from my own acceptance of that iniquity as my truth.

The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground (ʼădâmâh)![9] yehôvâh told Cain.  I hear this as a poetic reference to yehôvâh’s omniscience (Psalm 139:1-12).  These days I’m not unwilling to take it literally, that Abel’s blood had a voice that yehôvâh could hear crying out from the ground, but it’s not natural to me.  I am the dark side of, Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.[10]  Still, opening myself to its possibility gives me a different perspective.

So now, you are banished (ʼârar, ארור) from the ground (ʼădâmâh, האדמה: NET footnote 28): Heb “cursed are you from the ground”), yehôvâh continued, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  When you try to cultivate the ground (ʼădâmâh, האדמה) it will no longer yield its best for you.  You will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.[11]  To Adam He had already said, cursed (ʼârar, ארורה) is the ground (ʼădâmâh, האדמה) thanks to you; in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, but you will eat the grain of the field.  By the sweat of your brow you will eat food until you return to the ground (ʼădâmâh, האדמה), for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you will return.[12]

I can begin to accept these as revelation of the very nature of the ground created by a loving, gracious and holy God, how the earth itself responds to its sinful inhabitants, rather than as post hoc punishments invented in the moment.  And I can begin to see the nature of the earth, the ground we live on, as a deterrent to the unhindered visiting of the fathers’ iniquity upon the sons.

Cain couldn’t supply himself with food by his own cultivation of the ground; the ground would no longer yield its best for him.  Cain built a city, a place where people could live in community and trade with one another for things they all needed.  Did he honor those still righteous enough to cultivate the ground that would not yield its best to him?  Did he learn from them?

The text doesn’t say.  It says, The earth (ʼerets, הארץ) was ruined in the sight of God; the earth (ʼerets, הארץ) was filled with violence.  If I accept that the blood of victims has a voice that yehôvâh can hear crying out from the ground, crying out to Him to act, and multiply that by the increase of population over the many generations I can at least imagine the cacophony in his ears and begin to appreciate his choices (Genesis 6:6, 7 NET):

The Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה) regretted that he had made humankind on the earth (ʼerets, בארץ), and he was highly offended.  So the Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה) said, “I will wipe humankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth (ʼădâmâh, האדמה) – everything from humankind to animals, including creatures that move on the ground and birds of the air, for I regret that I have made them.”

The religious mind must sit quietly here to meditate that at this moment in history yehôvâh preferred to destroy all life (air and ground) but that which could be saved in a boat and to start over again rather than to establish a law or a religion (aside from the rudiments of animal sacrifice handed down from Adam, Cain and Abel).  One might say that yehôvâh hated law and religion, law and religion were unloved relative to starting over again with a remnant of the former world.  But after the flood (Genesis 8:20-22 NET):

Noah built an altar to the Lord (yehôvâh, ליהוה).  He then took some of every kind of clean animal and clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.  And the Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה) smelled the soothing aroma and (yehôvâh, יהוה) said to himself, “I will never again curse the ground (ʼădâmâh, האדמה) because of humankind, even though the inclination of their minds is evil from childhood on.  I will never again destroy everything that lives, as I have just done.  While the earth continues to exist, planting time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night will not cease.”

God (ʼĕlôhı̂ym, אלהים) spoke one law to address violence, “Whoever sheds human blood, by other humans must his blood be shed; for in God’s image God (ʼĕlôhı̂ym, אלהים) has made humankind”[13] and one revised dietary law: Everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea are under your authority.  You may eat any moving thing that lives.  As I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.[14]  I assume that the trees of life and of the knowledge of good and evil did not survive the flood and had become a nonissue (Genesis 3:22).  But in Leviticus yehôvâh was establishing both a law and a religion in clear contrast to those originated by men.  Now that will have to wait for another essay.

In my first draft of this essay I had hoped to avoid Noah’s curse: Cursed (ʼârar, ארור; Septuagint: ἐπικατάρατος) be Canaan![15]  But I couldn’t get away with it.  And I have to admit it is more germane than I want it to be.  If Noah’s story (Genesis 9:20-27) were about almost anyone else we would take it simply as James’ source text (James 3:7-12 NET):

For every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and sea creature is subdued and has been subdued by humankind.  But no human being can subdue the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse (καταρώμεθα, a form of καταράομαι) people made in God’s image.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing (κατάρα).  These things should not be so, my brothers and sisters.  A spring does not pour out fresh water and bitter water from the same opening, does it?  Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers and sisters, or a vine produce figs?  Neither can a salt water spring produce fresh water.

But it was Noah, the heir of the world, who spoke this curse and this blessing so we are taught: “God’s blessing is going to rest directly on Shem, indirectly on Japheth, and His cursing is going to rest upon Ham’s son Canaan.”[16]  “So Ham was cursed and Shem and Japheth were blessed in cooperative unity.  The problem which must arise from the cursing of Canaan is this: Why did God curse Canaan for the sin of Ham?  Beyond this, why did God curse the Canaanites, a nation, for the sin of one man?”[17]  The text is fairly clear that Noah not God spoke both the curse and the blessing.  To this point Moses had been very explicit when ʼĕlôhı̂ym or yehôvâh spoke.  Why do we want to believe that Noah spoke for Him here?

Noah was a godly man; he was blameless (tâmı̂ym, תמים; Septuagint: τέλειος) among his contemporaries.  He walked with God.[18]  Perhaps we want tâmı̂ym to be an absolute term.  But this was not Paul writing, According to the righteousness stipulated in the law [as understood by first century Pharisees] I was blameless (ἄμεμπτος).[19]  Noah was blameless (KJV: perfect) among his contemporaries[20] (dôr, בדרתיו; Septuagint: γενεᾷ), those condemned to death for their violence: Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time.[21]  About all one can say for sure about Noah is that he wasn’t a murderer and perhaps not every inclination of the thoughts of [his mind] was only evil all the time.

God said to Noah, Make for yourself an ark of cypress wood.  Make rooms in the ark, and cover it with pitch inside and out.[22]  And Noah did all that God commanded him – he did indeed.[23]  Through his faithfulness Noah was declared a herald of righteousness: and if [God] did not spare the ancient world, but did protect Noah, a herald of righteousness, along with seven others, when God brought a flood on an ungodly worldthen the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials, and to reserve the unrighteous for punishment at the day of judgment[24]  By faith Noah, when he was warned about things not yet seen, with reverent regard constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family.  Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.[25]

But Noah found favor (chên, חן; Septuagint: χάριν) in the sight of the Lord.[26]  As followers of Jesus it is more prudent to believe that Noah’s faithfulness was on account of yehôvâh’s grace rather than due to some inherent quality of Noah’s: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.[27]  There is no one righteous, not even one[28] [i.e., in and of himself] there is no one who shows kindness, not even one,[29] Paul quoted the Psalm of David (Psalm 14:2, 3 Tanakh):

The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.  They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

Jesus’ assessment of Noah and of the entire Old Testament is very helpful here: Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must all be born from above.’[30]  Noah didn’t miraculously escape the corruption of the flesh of Adam.  Noah didn’t speak for God unless the text had said that Noah spoke the word of God.

Noah’s “words came to pass, so we believe he was inspired by God.”[31]  I know of no place in Scripture where it is written, “this took place to fulfill Noah’s prophecy.”  Generations of Bible expositors would surely have quoted it if they had found it, so the contention that Noah’s curse and blessing “came to pass” is in the eye of the beholder.

“The act of Ham could not go unpunished.  In the curse of Noah upon Canaan, he was not punishing him personally for something his father Ham had done.  The words of Noah refer not to Canaan himself, but to the nation that would come from him…Though we are not told the exact sin of Ham, we do know that it was reprehensible enough for God to curse the line of his son Canaan.  The judgment was not directed to Canaan personally but rather to his descendants.”[32]  As prophecies go, then—and the Scriptures do not record that Canaan himself was ever enslaved to his brothers—one need not fear Noah as a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:21, 22 NET):

“Now if you say to yourselves, ‘How can we tell that a message is not from the Lord?’ – whenever a prophet speaks in my name and the prediction is not fulfilled, then I have not spoken it; the prophet has presumed to speak it, so you need not fear him.”

“Noah’s words did come to pass in the future, as we read that many of Canaan’s descendants were either killed or put under tribute by Israel (descendants of Shem) during the times of Joshua and the Judges, and later by King Solomon.”  God’s words will come to pass but the simple fact that a man’s words come to pass doesn’t make them God’s words (Deuteronomy 13:1-4 NET):

Suppose a prophet or one who foretells by dreams should appear among you and show you a sign or wonder, and the sign or wonder should come to pass concerning what he said to you, namely, “Let us follow other gods” – gods whom you have not previously known – “and let us serve them.”  You must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer, for the Lord your God will be testing you to see if you love him with all your mind and being.  You must follow the Lord your God and revere only him; and you must observe his commandments, obey him, serve him, and remain loyal to him.

I’m not accusing Noah of being a false prophet.  I’m not accusing Noah of being any kind of prophet at all.  If I’m accusing Noah of anything it is that he spoke angrily, self-righteously, with a hangover.  But what I must believe about God to believe that He cursed a nation of people for something a man did many generations before those people were even born is a very different god than the One I am knowing through the Scriptures.

I concede that one who believes this is God because “many of Canaan’s descendants were either killed or put under tribute by Israel (descendants of Shem) during the times of Joshua and the Judges, and later by King Solomon” may also believe that He will punish the sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons for the sin of the fathers who reject (śânêʼ, לשׁנאי) me[33]  Still, I hope that one may be willing to concede that Noah’s curse was not the love that does no wrong to a neighbor, not the love that is the fulfillment of the law.[34]

While I don’t believe that Noah’s curse, or his blessing, were the immutable Word of God I do think his curse is a terrifying example of God visiting Noah’s iniquity upon Canaan, terrifying precisely because the effect of Noah’s iniquity[35] has seemed so sure and certain that so many have assumed it was divine prophecy.  We’re not told how Canaan reacted to Noah’s curse.  I know how I would react to Noah’s “godliness,” “blamelessness,” and his “walk” with God unless I were willing to forgive him for his drunken rant.  And I know that Canaan’s descendants practiced a law and religion inimical to yehôvâh.

I’ll return to Leviticus 18 in another essay.

[1] Genesis 3:17 (NET)

[2] Genesis 2:16, 17 (NET)

[3] Genesis 3:6a (NET)

[4] Genesis 29:31a (NET)

[5] 1 Timothy 2:14a (NET)

[6] Genesis 4:5b, 8 (NET)

[7] Genesis 6:11 (NET)

[8] Genesis 6:13a (NET)

[9] Genesis 4:10b (NET)

[10] Proverbs 22:6 (NET)

[11] Genesis 4:11, 12 (NET)

[12] Genesis 3:17b-19 (NET)

[13] Genesis 9:6 (NET)

[14] Genesis 9:2b, 3 (NET)

[15] Genesis 9:25a (NET)

[16] J. Ligon Duncan, “The Cursing of Canaan,” Sermon on Genesis 9:18-29, November 22, 1998, First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi

[17] Bob Deffinbaugh, “10. The Nakedness of Noah and the Cursing of Canaan (Genesis 9:18-10:32),” Bible.org

[18] Genesis 6:9b (NET)

[19] Philippians 3:6b (NET)

[20] NET note 32: Heb “Noah was a godly man, blameless in his generations.” The singular “generation” can refer to one’s contemporaries, i.e., those living at a particular point in time. The plural “generations” can refer to successive generations in the past or the future. Here, where it is qualified by “his” (i.e., Noah’s), it refers to Noah’s contemporaries, comprised of the preceding generation (his father’s generation), those of Noah’s generation, and the next generation (those the same age as his children). In other words, “his generations” means the generations contemporary with him. See BDB 190 s.v. דוֹר.

[21] Genesis 6:5b (NET)

[22] Genesis 6:14 (NET)

[23] Genesis 6:22 (NET)

[24] 2 Peter 2:5, 9 (NET)

[25] Hebrews 11:7 (NET)

[26] Genesis 6:8 (NET)

[27] Genesis 6:9 (KJV)

[28] Romans 3:10b (NET)

[29] Romans 3:12b (NET)

[30] John 3:7 (NET)

[31] Troy Lacey, “The Curse of Canaan,” October 12, 2012, Answers In Genesis

[32] Don Stewart, “Why Was Canaan Cursed Instead of Ham?,” Blue Letter Bible

[33] Deuteronomy 5:9b (NET)

[34] Romans 13:10 (NET)

[35] To those who hold that the fourth generation is a limit to Noah’s iniquity, I concede the point.  It would not be accurate to blame Noah’s iniquity for the sins of Canaanites in the time of Israel’s conquest.  My point is that iniquity is like a snowball rolling downhill, gaining mass and momentum, as long as people continue to reject, hate, prefer something other than, yehôvâh.