January 2013 - Heroes of Faith

Heroes of Faith.  Week 1.  Noah.
Reading the Old Testament
Right at the very beginning of this series it’s important to think about how we read the Old Testament, and especially how we read Old Testament history. 
We often talk about the bible as being a ‘timeless’ book.  The bible is a ‘timeless’ book in so far that it has an impact on each and every generation, but we must also remember that the bible is a collection of books written in time which are culture bound.  They were written for and by people in antiquity in a language and culture and with literary conventions that they understood. 
As modern readers we are distanced from the events that motivated the writings of the books.  So, even though the authority of the bible is focused on the text and not on the events that it narrates, it is still very important to read the Old Testament, and indeed the whole bible, in the light of the time period from which it comes. 
Ignoring the historical context of the Old Testament leads to an incorrect interpretation of the books and themes and messages of which it is made up.  Likewise, imposing contemporary western values and methods on these historical writings does the same. 
Many books of the Old Testament are ‘historical’ in that they describe events that actually happened.  But what we have in front of us is not history but rather historiography – that is the writing about historical events. 
The events in question are described by an author who must first interpret the events, and then attempt to bring a degree of coherence to the events and their meanings.  All historical writing is of necessity perspectival and even subjective, in the sense that it owes its shape to its author’s activity in selecting and communicating certain material. 
This is not to say that the historical intention is invalidated, but rather that the interpreter of the biblical historian must take into account the historians perspective on the past as he or she attempts to uncover the historians meaning.  Often the aim of the Old Testament authors is not first and foremost to prove historical events, but rather to impress on the reader the theological significance of the events. 
Introducing the book of Genesis:
Genesis is the first part of a collection of 5 books called the Torah.  These first five books of the bible share a unity of history, plot, and theme that draws them together.  Genesis covers an incredibly long time period, beginning in the distant past of creation and drawing to a close with the death of Joseph. 
In terms of the genre of the book it is perhaps most easily described as ‘theological history’ containing a great deal of narrative, episodes of saga, myth and legend.  Once again it is important to remember that the author’s primary intention is not to narrate detailed history but rather to provide a prologue  for the founding of the nation of Israel and the giving of the law which comes in the book of Exodus.   
Introducing Noah
We first meet Noah in Genesis ch5:28.  We read that Noah was born when his father Lamech was 182 years old.  Named ‘Nuah’by Lamech, his name is a play on words with an implied meaning of ‘Comfort’ or ‘Rest’.  In Gn5:29 we read Lamech saying about his son “He will comfort us in the labour and painful toil of our hands…”
Noah was the tenth and final pre-flood Patriarch, and it was in his 600th year that God sent the flood that swept the earth and which occupies the central event in the life and story of Noah. 
 Looking back to the end of Genesis chapter 4 we see a sad tale beginning to emerge. 
We read, at the very end of Ch4 that “at this time men began to call on the name of the Lord”, but by the time we come to the early part of Ch6 the picture has changed dramatically:
“The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness no the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of mans heart was only evil all of the time…”
Having seen the depths to which mankind had slipped the Lord responds with the devastating words “I will wipe mankind, who I have created, from the face of the earth…for I am grieved that I have made them.”
It is into this terrible state of affairs that the author of Genesis picks up the story of Noah’s role in the flood with the simple line “But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord”. 
In the face of the corruption and evil of humanity Noah stands as one who was different, one who found favour with God.  When compared to his generation Noah was a righteous and good man…although if we’re being honest it probably didn’t take too much to be comparatively good when all those around him were so terrible!
But joking aside, to read Noah’s righteousness as comparative is to slightly miss the point.  We’re told that Noah had found favour with God which is translated from a Hebrew phrase implying that God had shown grace to Noah, rather than working his was to acceptance. 
Something to talk about:
Noah was surrounded by corruption and evil.  The culture of which he was a part and in which he lived was rotten to the core according to the Genesis narrative. 
Most of us know how easy it is to be influenced by the culture around us.  Maybe it’s the office culture where backstabbing and self promotion are prevalent, perhaps it’s the school gate culture in which gossip about others is common place…whatever it may be, the culture in which we live can have a profound effect in shaping us. 
In the midst of this corruption and evil Noah was able to remain a righteous and good man.  Not perfect by any means, but he continued to walk with God, that is he negotiated his way through life in partnership with God and in obedience to him. 
What are the challenges that you face from the culture(s) that surround you? 
How will/can/do you continue to ‘walk with God’ in the midst of this? 
The strong silent type
One of the interesting things in the story of Noah is that he’s never recorded as speaking.  Time and time again God speaks to Noah, but no response is made, Noah simply obeys.  Genesis 6:22 “Noah did everything just as God commanded him to.”
Just in case we miss the full force of this comment let’s put it in context. 

God has just told Noah that he intends to wipe out the life that he has created on earth.  But, that Noah and his family will be spared, and in order to be spared he must build a large boat, able to hold an awful lot of animals. 

It’s not as though God asked Noah to quietly and privately offer a sacrifice, or build an altar, or the like.  God asks Noah to do the most extraordinarily strange thing in full public view. 
And…”Noah did everything just as God commanded him to.”
In the midst of a corrupt and Godless generation, who presumably had no inkling of what the Lord was planning, Noah is to do something patently odd and seemingly stupid.
And…”Noah did everything just as God commanded him to.”
Don’t you dread moments like this.  When the still small voice of God calls you to do something that you think is mad, and that others will think is enough to have you committed?! 
Do you know that awkward feeling when God calls you to step up, step way outside what you’re happy and comfortable with, and follow him? 
When we face this sort of call one of two storylines will be written about our response:
1)    And [Insert your name here] was far too embarrassed to do what God commanded him/her to do, so didn’t do it.
2)    And [Insert your name here] did everything just as God commanded him/her to.
Who do you live for?
The opinions of others exert a powerful influence over us.  We may not be obsessive people pleasers (although we might be) but we still care what others think and allow these views to shape our actions and behaviour. 
For most part of course this is all very good and healthy and an important part of being a fully functioning member of society, but there are occasions when fear of the views of others may cause us to stumble in faith and disobey the call of God on our lives. 
It’s not easy, but there are times in life when all of us must answer the question of ‘who do we live for?’ 
There are times when we know the call of God on our lives is taking us down an uncomfortable or unpopular route, or a path that may lead to ridicule and bewilderment from others, and these are the times when we must ask the question…
Thankfully there are many instances when the call of God doesn’t take us down paths that are so obviously counter-cultural or unexpected…but you never know.
Something to think about
Can you identify times in your life when God has called you along an uncomfortable path that has forced you to ask the question ‘who do I live for?’  How did you respond? 
Perhaps God is calling you down such a path now, if you’re comfortable sharing the details of your situation your housegroup could pray for you. 
In conclusion
As we read the story of Noah it becomes increasingly clear to us that Noah was a man who lived for God in the  midst of a hostile and difficult culture and who was unafraid to follow Gods call on his life.  And this is why we can rightly call him a hero of faith. 

Simon Butler, 19/12/2012