Genesis 11 – What Amazing Gifts

How high can we dream? Straight up to the heavens.

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

10 This is the account of Shem’s family line.

Two years after the flood, when Shem was 100 years old, he became the father of Arphaxad. 11 And after he became the father of Arphaxad, Shem lived 500 years and had other sons and daughters.

12 When Arphaxad had lived 35 years, he became the father of Shelah.13 And after he became the father of Shelah, Arphaxad lived 403 years and had other sons and daughters.

14 When Shelah had lived 30 years, he became the father of Eber. 15 And after he became the father of Eber, Shelah lived 403 years and had other sons and daughters.

16 When Eber had lived 34 years, he became the father of Peleg. 17 And after he became the father of Peleg, Eber lived 430 years and had other sons and daughters.

18 When Peleg had lived 30 years, he became the father of Reu. 19 And after he became the father of Reu, Peleg lived 209 years and had other sons and daughters.

20 When Reu had lived 32 years, he became the father of Serug. 21 And after he became the father of Serug, Reu lived 207 years and had other sons and daughters.

22 When Serug had lived 30 years, he became the father of Nahor. 23 And after he became the father of Nahor, Serug lived 200 years and had other sons and daughters.

24 When Nahor had lived 29 years, he became the father of Terah. 25 And after he became the father of Terah, Nahor lived 119 years and had other sons and daughters.

26 After Terah had lived 70 years, he became the father of Abram, Nahorand Haran.

27 This is the account of Terah’s family line.

Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. 28 While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. 29 Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milkah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milkah and Iskah. 30 Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.

31 Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there.

32 Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Harran.

What amazing gifts our God has given us! Look at our creativity, our ingenuity, our tenacity.  No rocks for building? Let’s make bricks.  No mortar? Let’s use tar.  And how high can we dream? Straight up to the heavens.  God himself says in verse six, that when working together “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”

Our problem is our pride.  We did not build the tower of Babel to serve God, but to serve our own pride.  “Let us make a name for ourselves,” the people say in verse four. This pride is what caused God to thwart us – not our creativity, not our industriousness – our pride.

What would have happened, I wonder, if we had asked for His blessing before building the tower.  What if we had expressed a yearning not for our own fame, but a yearning for a way to be closer to Him?  It’s just an idle thought about an allegorical story, but it does make you wonder, doesn’t it?  What if God had blessed the tower and city of Babel instead of cursed it?  What if those people had lifted up the lowly in their community and said “Here, this we build for you and the glory of God, so that all might know Him.”  Who knows?

I truly believe God wants to see us happy.  Happy, creative and creating, constantly learning and discovering.  But not in a way that forgets Him or at the expense of others.  This past Sunday my pastor spoke to following God’s path and not your own.  It can be difficult to determine which one you are doing.  I’m a worrier and over-thinker by nature, so I second-guess almost everything I do on a constant basis.  But I think avoiding our own modern-day Babel’s can start with a simple prayer.  One of my favorite mealtime blessings includes the line “Bless this food to our use and our use to thy service.” It acknowledges our own work as well as the work of God.  If we keep asking, keep praying “God, lead me down the right path,” we become open to the answer, and more receptive to following it, as well.  So go forth, work, cook, create, and dream as big as you want to, but just don’t forget to ask for God’s blessing, as well.

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That was a very short meditation as I’m pressed for time today.  I believe Sarah, Milcah, and the rest of Abram’s family is mentioned again later in Genesis, so I hope to talk about it more then.

Genesis 10 – Creating a Legacy of Good

We are the most important characters to our own story, but that story doesn’t end with us.

This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons, who themselves had sons after the flood.

The sons of Japheth:

Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshek and Tiras.

The sons of Gomer:

Ashkenaz, Riphath and Togarmah.

The sons of Javan:

Elishah, Tarshish, the Kittites and the Rodanites. (From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language.)

The sons of Ham:

Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan.

The sons of Cush:

Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah and Sabteka.

The sons of Raamah:

Sheba and Dedan.

Cush was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; that is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Uruk, Akkad and Kalneh, in Shinar.]11 From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah 12 and Resen, which is between Nineveh and Calah—which is the great city.

13 Egypt was the father of

the Ludites, Anamites, Lehabites, Naphtuhites, 14 Pathrusites, Kasluhites (from whom the Philistines came) and Caphtorites.

15 Canaan was the father of

Sidon his firstborn, and of the Hittites, 16 Jebusites, Amorites,Girgashites, 17 Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, 18 Arvadites, Zemarites and Hamathites.

Later the Canaanite clans scattered 19 and the borders of Canaan reached from Sidon toward Gerar as far as Gaza, and then toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, as far as Lasha.

20 These are the sons of Ham by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations.

21 Sons were also born to Shem, whose older brother was Japheth; Shem was the ancestor of all the sons of Eber.

22 The sons of Shem:

Elam, Ashur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram.

23 The sons of Aram:

Uz, Hul, Gether and Meshek.

24 Arphaxad was the father of Shelah,

and Shelah the father of Eber.

25 Two sons were born to Eber:

One was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided; his brother was named Joktan.

26 Joktan was the father of

Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 27 Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah,28 Obal, Abimael, Sheba, 29 Ophir, Havilah and Jobab. All these were sons of Joktan.

30 The region where they lived stretched from Mesha toward Sephar, in the eastern hill country.

31 These are the sons of Shem by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations.

32 These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.

Look at all these people that spread out from Noah and his sons.  The whole of the Mediterranean world is listed here: Egyptians;  Philistines; the “bad” lands of Sodom and Gomorrah and the “good” lands of Ophir; maritime peoples that went even further abroad than any of their cousins.  I used to think of  these genealogies as just names to be skimmed over, of no interest except to a handful of dusty scholars.  But if you think about it, this lineage is truly awe-inspiring.  God blessed Noah, and his descendants filled the land.

I’m reading a book right now, Original Blessing by Matthew Fox, and in it he warns of the dangers of a religion that is too introspective.  If we focus upon ourselves too much, even if it is in self-reflection and self-study, we lose touch with the whole of the wonderful cosmos that our God has made.  We are too busy contemplating our own soul, missing it’s connection to our world and our fellow man.  We become blind to beauty and injustices alike.  We can see the importance of connection and bigger pictures here, in this chapter: Noah is pivotal to the story, but he’s just the beginning.  His three sons were fruitful and multiplied, and then those sons multiplied, and the ripple effect went on and on.  I think we need to remember that about ourselves, too.  Of course we’re going to be the most important character in our own stories, but we need to also remember that the story continues without us.  We don’t just end, but send our own ripple effects out past our limited reach.  It’s important to remember the fuller picture.

I am still angry about the Nathan Phillips/Covington Catholic Schoolboys incident as I write this.  I keep hearing people say “wait for the fuller picture,” or “there are two sides to every story,” or “Russia is using our outrage to erode our democracy.”  I am in a very privileged position of knowing some of the people involved.  Chris has met Mr. Phillips; I first saw the raw video of this confrontation on my newsfeed taken by a person I know who was actually there.  So I believe them when they say it was ugly. What I think people have lost sight of is the basic storyline: A teenager disrespected an elder.  Let’s make it even more basic than that: A human being disrespected another human being.  And I won’t be gas-lighted into believing otherwise.

When people say “wait for the fuller picture,” etc, etc, I think they have already lost sight of the fuller picture.  Put yourself in front of that smirking child and Lord of the Flies crowd backing him up.  Put your wife there, your daughter.  Now how do you feel about it? I certainly wouldn’t want to be in Mr. Phillip’s position there. I am not condoning violence upon this boy or his peers, no sane person is.  What I, and others like me, want, is for them to realize they were in the wrong, apologize, and more than anything, grow from it.  I want this child to grow from it. We all make mistakes, but if no lesson is learned, we – both individually and as a larger society – gain nothing.

What ripple effects can you start today?  We may not be destined to fill the Earth with our grandchildren, but we can fill the Earth with our good works.  Make an effort to reach out beyond yourself today.  Drop some canned goods off at your local food bank.  Ask your child’s teacher if there is anything they are lacking this second semester – can you buy it for them?  Call your representative on behalf of furloughed federal employees and contractors (thank you!).  Don’t stand by silently if something makes you uncomfortable, stand up for those being wronged.  Creating larger waves of good is the only way we are going to smooth over the ripple effects of negative behavior.  So today I challenge you to look beyond yourself.  What will be your legacy?

Genesis 08-The Raven and the Dove

Is the raven also a symbol of the Holy Spirit?

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year,the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

22 “As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”

I went down a research rabbit-hole during naptime yesterday!  I mean, I went deep into this one without meaning to, but I just got caught up. I’ll tell you all about it, but first let me just give a shout out to local libraries, which made yesterday’s research possible.  Getting a library card was one of the first things I did when we moved here.  Our little tiny local library is part of a larger group of libraries, so I have access to tons of books, plus they have a fun little children’s corner with toys and stuffed animals, lots of activities (including a play-time focused on sensory issues, which we will be attending in the future), and access to academic research tools, like JSTOR, right from my own computer, I just log in through the library website.  So, have you checked out your local library lately?

Okay, with that plug out of the way, let’s talk about what I found!  Actually, first, let’s talk about why I was searching.  I remembered Noah had sent out the dove twice, but I did not remember the raven at all.  So I wondered, “why the two birds?”  And apparently a lot of other people have wondered about it, too.  There are lots of writings out there, but the two I found most interesting and helpful were Miriam Gedwiser’s 2016 article on the website Lehrhaus, which explores diversity in Jewish thought.  The second I found on JSTOR, so I can’t link to it, but it’s “Why Did Noah Send Out a Raven?” by R.W.L. Moberly in the July 2000 issue of Vetus Testamentum, a scholarly journal for Old Testament studies. I’ve noted where I’ve paraphrased these two.

Some see it symbolically: That the raven represents carnal/sinful/sexual desires, and by sending the raven out first, Noah was symbolically purging the ark of sin. (Gedwiser) Others are less allegorical, and say that the raven is a common land sighting bird, meaning it will fly towards land even if it can’t see any, and was used in navigation before compasses. (Moberly)  Here the analysis diverge.  The first school of thought says that the raven was just too wild of a bird to bring Noah any good information.  But the dove is a gentle, people-friendly bird who would allow Noah to hold it in his hand to see not only the olive branch but examine it’s feet for evidence of clay or other solid ground. The second school of thought reminds us that ravens are carrion eaters, and therefore could live off any bloated corpses floating around on the receding flood. Some say the raven was a harbinger of death and not a good choice or good omen for leaving the ark, so Noah then sent out the dove, which is also a land-sighting bird but not a carrion eater, so would have to return if it didn’t find enough food (aka dry enough land with things growing).

There’s some interesting ideas, maybe even a little truth, in all of those, but I find all of them lacking a bit.  As for the raven being symbolic of sin, I have trouble swallowing that one.  The raven is revered in many cultures as a wise bird, if a little cunning-Native American and Norse mythology are just two examples that come to mind of the raven being “good.”  Also, in a contemporary flood legend, Gilgamesh had a helpful raven. And, as the Moberly article pointed out, Elijah is sustained by the bread and meat brought to him by the raven God sends him while hiding in the Kerith Ravine, later in the Old Testament (Kings chapter 17, if you’re interested).  So, if the raven is leaving the ark to purge sin, it seems to me like it is doing so out of helpfulness, almost like volunteering to take out the trash.

As for the raven being too wild to bring Noah any good information, I just wonder why Noah would have picked the raven if that were the case, considering the dove (and literally any other bird) was right there to chose from.  The added layer of information, that ravens are carrion eaters, helps a little bit.  Perhaps Noah sent out the raven, and then when it flew back and forth he realized that maybe there wasn’t enough dry land yet, but enough of whatever (mucky flotsam, dead bodies…) to keep a crow fed but not to nest.  So perhaps the raven was informative where the dove wouldn’t have been.  It’s almost a biblical “are we there yet/are we done yet?” kind of question.  Basically, the raven’s back and forth flights say to Noah,”Yes, the flood waters are receding, but it’s not safe for you yet.  Wait a bit.”  Whereas if the dove had been sent out, it’s answer would have been a flat “NO” with no added information.

Moberly ends their article suggesting that the raven might be an imitation on Noah’s part of God sending out the Holy Spirit to quell the flood.  Normally, the dove is used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit – remember Matthew 3:16 where “the Spirit of God descend[ed] like a dove and alight[ed] on” Jesus?  And that is good and true. But perhaps Moberly is onto something, and the raven is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit that we’ve just forgotten about.  Surely God instilled the Holy Spirit in the raven that fed Elijah.  I like the yin/yang completeness of having a dark and light bird both be symbols of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the “black” bird has just been falsely demonized by earlier generations intent on separating themselves from the “godless heathens” around them, denying any symbolism Christianity and other religions might share through the raven and focusing only on the dove.

Whatever the explanation, I identify with the raven.  The poor raven gets no credit.  I completely forgot he was part of the story – did you?  In the raven, I see every menial task, every thankless job that I have to do.  The Holy Spirit is not only with us in times of great spiritual revelation, such as the baptism of Jesus, but with us always, like when we’re changing diapers and doing our taxes.  The dove might bring us a message of hope from above, but the raven is in the weeds here with us, keeping our spirits up.