The kingdom is a partnership (Genesis 7–8)

God warned that he would bring a flood (6:17) and send down rain (7:4). But when the flood actually comes, it is not attributed to God. The language is entirely impersonal: rain fell (7:12); the flood came (7:6, 10), the waters prevailed (7:18, 19, 20, 24). This change is obvious in English, but it is decidedly odd in the Hebrew worldview where everything that happens is attributed to God. The narrator has changed perspective: the flood is not seen as an act of God but as an attack on God’s kingdom. It is as if evil is attempting to overturn everything God established, to return his creation to the shapeless abyss it was before he spoke order into his realm (1:2).

The verbs that describe divine agency in Genesis 7–8 are entirely focused on God rescuing Noah, his family and the animals! The flood threatens all flesh (6:13, 17; 7:15-16; 7:21; 8:17), every living thing (6:19; 7:4, 23; 8:17; 8:22). The sovereign remembers his creatures in their struggle. He moves his a (Spirit/wind) causing the waters to subside (8:1), just as he did in the beginning (1:2). (Note that 7:23 does not attribute the destruction to God. The NIV’s passive is preferable: everything “was wiped out.”)

Remember how we described the kingdom God established in Genesis 1? God ruled the earth, and his human agents ruled the animals. Facing the threat of the flood, this is exactly what Noah is called to do. God rescues humanity (by saving Noah), and Noah saves the animals (by following his sovereign’s instructions):

  • God extended favour to Noah (6:8), warned him about the impending disaster (6:13), provided detailed instructions on how to build the boat (6:14-17), covenanted himself to rescue Noah and his family (6:18), remembered Noah during the flood, and calmed the waters (8:1).
  • Noah’s commission was to preserve the animals (6:19, 20; 7:3). Four times we’re told he did exactly as his sovereign commanded (6:22; 7:5, 9, 16). He built the boat and stocked it with food (6:19-22). He took the animals on board at the right time (7:2-9). He led them out when the danger had passed (8:17-19).

Does this sound familiar? God cares for us, and commissions us to care for his creatures. The kingdom of God is a partnership, a cooperative venture between God (the sovereign) and humans (his servants). That’s how the kingdom works at every stage of the narrative. God partnered with Adam and Eve, with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses, with Israel, with David, with the prophets, and ultimately with Jesus and those who are “in him.” When the godly sons lost their distinctiveness (turning to violence for justice instead of to God), there was no hope for the world (6:6). But all it took was one human—Noah—doing what God commanded, and the kingdom was re-established.

With the danger gone, Noah’s first act is to honour the ruler who saved him (8:20). The sovereign promises he will never again belittle the land by humiliating it under the chaos waters due to the failure of his human agents. His reign over the earth will never cease (8:21-22).

Could we say that God was at work in Noah, reconciling the creation to himself? All it takes to re-establish the kingdom of God is one obedient son of man.

 

What others are saying

Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), 374:

For the Old Testament writers, it was virtually inconceivable that anything could happen independently of God’s will and working. As evidence of this, consider that common impersonal expressions like “It rained” are not found in the Old Testament. For the Hebrews, rain did not simply happen; God sent the rain. They saw him as the all-powerful determiner of everything that occurs.

Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1998), 236:

… in 8:1 God intervenes to save mankind in Noah …

Read Genesis 7–8.

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Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Discipleship Trainer • Riverview Church

2 thoughts on “The kingdom is a partnership (Genesis 7–8)”

  1. In genesis there was chaos and darkness. If God is perfect and light, where did chaos and darkness came from? I’m guessing, the chaos and darkness is from the fall, the first creation. Hope to hear from you soon. Thanks again for your insight. Blessings!

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    1. Hi Rafael. That’s a good question, but I don’t think Genesis will give you the answer to the question you’re asking.

      At the start of the Genesis narrative, chaos and darkness were not necessarily evil. Chaos is the absence of order; darkness is the absence of light. These are the conditions you would expect to have before God brings order and light to the world. So Genesis 1:2 describes the earth as shapeless and meaningless (formless and void) until God’s command begins to bring it shape and significance. Likewise, you would expect darkness to cover the deep waters until God’s command brings it light. In other words, the earth is unordered and unlit until God brings it order and light. It wasn’t evil before that: it was just incomplete.

      There is a philosophical question about the origin of evil. If God created everything that exists, and evil exists, then is God the creator of evil? There are many books dealing with that question. (Search for “theodicy.”) However, the question in this form reflects Greek (not Hebrew) thinking. Western philosophical debate has its roots in Greek philosophy. It’s quite different from the worldview of ancient Hebrews.
      Staying within the Genesis narrative (rather than importing verses from later in the Biblical narrative), the flood narrative does sound like the waters breaking their boundaries and disorder “prevailing” against the order God established. In this sense, it is similar to what humans did in Genesis 3 by overstepping their boundary and breaking the established order God set in place. In that sense, the return to disorder after God has commissioned order is evil (in the sense that it stands against his command). But the underlying reason for this disorder in creation (in the Genesis narrative) is the rebellion of his human servants: “YHWH saw that human evil had enveloped the earth, that every human heart was permanently occupied with plotting evil” (6:5) — a condition to which God must respond.

      So, if you’re asking where evil came from in God’s good world, the answer from Genesis would be: From the rebellion of his servants who grasped at his power and used power abusively against each other and the animals and the earth.
      I’m sure that doesn’t completely answer your question, but I think it is as complete an answer as we can get from the early chapters of Genesis. Keep asking questions: it’s good to hear what you’re thinking.

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