Genesis 06 – Noah, the Ordinary Man

Kings could have build God a fleet of ships, had he so chosen.

When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

This is the account of Noah and his family.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

There are two parts of to this chapter: Verses 1-7 describe the way the world was around the time of Noah: man’s lifespan getting shorter (their days shall number 120 years, verse 3), Nephilim roaming the earth (we’ll get to them in a moment), and general wickedness.  The second part of this chapter is the beginning of the flood story, where Noah is identified as “a righteous man” (6:9) and given instructions for the ark.

I think verses 1-7 almost sounds like a prologue out of Lord of the Rings.  I wonder how much of a Bible reader Tolkien was.  The language sounds like something the Elves would say. “For man is mortal” (6:3) and “his heart was deeply troubled” (6:6) are both lines also said in one of the movies, I’m pretty sure.  Also, this prologue has an epic cast of characters, even if they are only alluded to: the sons of God, beautiful daughters of Man, heroes of old, men of renown, Nephilim.  And who are these Nephilim?  There are two schools of thought: One is that they were fully human, and it was a way to describe kings, who often achieved demi-god status in the eyes of men at this time.  Second, is that they are fallen angels (or the offspring of fallen angels) who intermarried with mankind.  Either way, they were seen as big, strong, important beings.  Some even translate the word to mean “giants.”  Was there a race of giants roaming the Earth during Genesis? Perhaps there were a few: the Anakites mentioned later are also described as giants.  Whether this means they were actually “giants” or just unusually big, strong people we may never know, but clearly the author sees them as exceptional.

But the question here is, what does this have to do with Noah, and why, out of all the details that could be shared in a prologue, are these the ones being shared with us?  The “wickedness of the human race” (6:5) is shown in contrast to Noah’s righteousness.  That makes sense.  But I think these Nephilim and the other epic characters mentioned are to contrast Noah’s ordinariness. Yes, he was the grandson of Enoch, who walked with God, but other than that, Noah was just an everyday Joe.  He was not a giant, he was not a king.  He was just a man.

I’m going to jump ahead here because there’s a New Testament quote I love. Luke 6-7 reads: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  God sees us, God loves us, and through Him we are made special, just like Noah.  God selected Noah, out of all the people that could have been picked to build the ark.  Surely these strong Nephilim could have built it bigger and faster.  Kings could have built God a fleet of ships, had He so chosen.  But Noah, just a sparrow of a man compared to these others, was the one righteous enough to save.

It’s comforting and sobering at the same time.  The comfort of it is: we matter. Every single one of us matters.  It doesn’t make a difference how unimportant we seem in the grand scheme of things: social status, wealth – none of that makes us more or less precious to God.  The sobering part is: we are all equally responsible for our actions.  Again, kings could have changed whole policies that would have made society less wicked.  Government worked a little different back then, but decrees outlawing whatever the wickedness was at that time (I’m guessing prostitution, greed that led widows and orphans to abject poverty, murder) would have been an effective start, as would a task force of dedicated Nephilim enforcing said decrees.  But even if that had happened, that doesn’t get the little guys, like you and me and Noah, off the hook.  Regardless of the law of the land, we still have a responsibility to God to be “righteous.”

I actually hate that word.  It sounds elitist and judge-y. Which is too bad, because that’s not really what it means, or what it should mean.  If we are righteous, we are decent and virtuous, which still sounds a little puritanical, but better.  What it boils down to is that we just need to be good people.  That is hard sometimes. But more than that, it’s scary sometimes.  It means going against the grain of society.  Noah and his family were the only “righteous” ones left around, according to this story.  You don’t think it got them a few sideways looks? It also means doing things that go against good sense.  Noah built an ark in the desert.  Tithing when I worry about money every month doesn’t make sense either, but it works (as an aside, I found the exact tithing amount needed for this month when doing a deep clean of our bedroom last week).

Scariest of all, being righteous, being a good person, means we are open to hearing God’s call, and sometimes it can mean taking on something greater than we ever thought we’d have to do.  I doubt God will call upon you to build an ark, but even people who feel called to do something can testify to how difficult it is sometimes.  The pastor of the current church I go to said he wrestled with the decision to become a minister for years before finally doing it.  I felt called to start this farm.  Most of the time I feel great, but there are definitely moments where I look around and think, “what the flying fuck was I thinking?!”

So, it can be scary to be a good person.  But lest I scare you completely off, know that God is there, and He sees you, down to the very hairs of your head.  Knowing that you are cherished so can make it a little easier in those hard and scary times to carry on.  So please, if you only take one thing from this, know that you are loved. To God, you are not only more precious than many sparrows, but more precious than the heroes of old, the men of renown, even the giant Nephilim.  You, no matter ordinary, are loved above all.

Malachi 03 – Tithing

Bringing God His toolbox.

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

13 “You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.

“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’

14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’”

16 Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.

17 “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. 18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.

There are some really beautiful passages in here. I actually love the imagery of God as a refiner of silver and find it really hopeful instead of condemning.  Maybe the process won’t be pleasant, but if we go through God’s fire we come out silver on the other side.  Maybe even the worst of sinners can go through that fire and come out silver on the other side.  With faith, anything is possible.

But what I really want to talk about tithing, which is the focus of most of this chapter.  Done correctly, it is bringing a full 10% of the fruits of your labor (then grain, now money…usually) to God.  Usually to a church, but again, I think God sees our intention and if donating to a charity is more comfortable for you than donating to a church, I don’t think He would mind.  Finally, tithing is separate and apart from offerings, which are givings beyond the 10% tithe.

Is 10% a lot? I go back and forth on this.  Sometimes it seems like not so much, other times it really really does!  We’re on a tight budget, but even so, I could probably rearrange some spending to clear up 10%.  Somehow we seem to make do when we need to – we’ve shouldered whole new expenses with each kid, probably waaaaay more than 10%, doing the same thing we were doing before kids.  Sure, we would definitely hit a wall at some point, but I don’t think it’s only 10% away.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a great tithe-er.  I’ve done it extremely intermittently in my life.  In this chapter, God specifically says “test me in this, and see if I do not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing there will not be room enough to store it.” (3:11)  I’ll see as I keep reading, but I remember being told this is the only directive in which God challenges and permits us to test him.  So I’ve decided to try it.  Actually, I decided to try it two weeks ago when I read ahead a bit.  And I found the same thing was true then as in the past when I’ve started tithing.

I know some people will roll their eyes and others will just say it’s a coincidence, but  I really do believe God provides for us when it comes to tithing. He doesn’t want it to be a hardship.  Would you demand payment from your children if you know it meant them going hungry? Of course not.  Let me give you a few concrete examples from my own life:

Let’s start with my newest resolve to tithe.  Actually, let me back up, so you know what kind of money I’m talking about here.  While my husband and I run the farm together, our primary income, for now, is still my husband’s contract work as a software developer.  I don’t pull a paycheck.  What I do pull is a household allowance from Chris’ paycheck.  So I have $800 a month for groceries, dog food, diapers for two, gas, savings, and incidentals, for a family of four plus a farm manager (who lives in-house) and two dogs.  Like I said, we’re doing OK but there’s not a lot of extra wiggle room!  So, my tithe would be $80, or $40 per paycheck.

Getting back to tithing, I decided I wanted to start doing it again two weeks ago.  That day, I saw a friend in Charlottesville requesting donations through Venmo for help with refugees who were passing through the area.  This is a very boots on the ground movement, I don’t even know if it’s an official charity or organization, but I wanted to donate because I know how passionate this friend is when it comes to social justice and I knew the money would be well spent.  Now I haven’t used Venmo in forever, I didn’t even have the app installed on my new phone, which is now close to 6 months old.  But I vaguely remembered having $30 left in it, so I was going to donate that plus $10 more and call it my tithing for the pay period.  I installed Venmo, opened it up, and there was $70 in it.  I had forgotten that I hadn’t used all of my birthday money mom had sent me to cover babysitting.  So there was the whole $40 without any pinch in my budget.

Let me give you another example from two years ago.  Money was extra super tight then.  Like, pick which bills to pay tight.  But it was around Christmas and I was super pregnant and emotional and really wanted to do something tithe-y.  So I wrote a $40 check out to the Church that Sunday with a prayer and the resolve to eat a lot of ramen noodles.  Later that week I got a nice big reimbursement check from the insurance company for some medical expenses I had already paid, then they had renegotiated.

Another time, when we were moving, I was in tithing mode.  I was cleaning out some old old papers and found $100 I had stashed away in college as emergency money.  That covered two whole months tithing back then.

With those examples in mind, let’s talk about what this chapter – and that bit in chapter 2 about unblemished animals – is asking of us.  No one I know of is taking uncut bulls to donate to the church anymore, but I think the meaning is still pretty clear – God doesn’t want our cast-offs and leftovers.  As I said, he doesn’t want to unduly burden us, but he does want to see we’re making an effort.  If you were fixing the sink, and asked your (fully capable) child to bring you your toolbox, but they only come back with a few nails, would you be pleased? No. You’d send them back to do what they were supposed to do.  That is why God asks us for the full tithe.  He wants to see a good faith effort on our half.  He isn’t asking us to fix the sink, just to bring him the toolbox.  And he’ll reward us for our efforts.

Is tithing right for you?  I hope so. Let’s dream with some rough numbers.  The United States of America has a GDP of 19.39 trillion dollars.  That’s the value of all the goods and services produced, so it includes household incomes as well as corporate and business profits, but we’ll include it because a lot of businesses do charitable giving.  Just 10% of that would be 1.93 TRILLION dollars of charitable giving.  Right now the US as a whole (again, individuals and organizations) does a little over $390 billion, only twenty percent of the tithing possibility.  Can you imagine the good that would come from adding four times as much charitable giving? It’s not going to happen anytime soon, I know, but it can start to add up.  My $40 isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but it is a beginning, small but good.