Noah, the Ark and the Elephant in the Room

This week’s Torah portion doesn’t pull any punches

The Bible makes clear that God is a righteous and demanding judge. Photo: Nati Shohat/Flash90

Somehow in emphasizing all the positive, inspiring, feel-good scriptures of the Bible and making them relatable to enlightened, modern sensitivities, it seems that the part about God being a judge “putting to death and bringing to life” (Deut. 32:39) has been significantly downplayed. It’s kind of like the big inconvenient elephant in the room (or in the ark) that no one wants to talk about, but the God portrayed throughout both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament has this nature one cannot ignore, of being a righteous judge.

Noah’s Torah portion (Genesis 6-11) has beautiful imagery – pairs of animals lining up in a wooden ark, doves flying over the immense watery waste, and the first-ever rainbow. Yet at the heart of the story are the most sobering words imaginable:

“The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time… So the LORD said, ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth… But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.’ ” (Genesis 6:5-8)

After pushing “restart” with Noah, God promised never again to cut off all life with a flood, in spite of man’s evil. However, that was hardly the end of the Creator having a perfect standard of righteousness, hence the whole invention of sacrifice.

Biblical sacrifice can cancel punishment, but in the context of judgment. In fact, central to Peter’s first Gospel declaration to the Gentiles in Caesarea, was that Jesus of Nazareth has been “appointed as the judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42).

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