Keyword:

Light from the Sidra

Noach

Genesis 6:9 - 11:32; Isaiah 54:1 - 55:5

The South of England has just suffered its worst storms since the great hurricane in 1987 and as I write more heavy rain is expected and several town are on flood alert. In the Shalom office we found ourselves surrounded by water rising from the River Darenth and had to take emergency measures to prevent flooding.

Water is a powerful force, as those who live in towns and villages in Britain’s flood plains know. But compared to the recent floods in Italy and the frequent inundations in Bangladesh we got off lightly. A recent BBC documentary revealed how it is only a matter of time before a volcanic eruption in the Canary Islands will cause a mega-tsunami - a gigantic tidal wave over a mile high - that will destroy the entire eastern seaboard of the United States.

But compared to the Flood of Noah, all this is small fry. The “waters above the firmament” - a gigantic protective canopy of water vapour, created in Genesis 1:7 – collapsed, inundating the entire globe so that the “high mountains that were under the whole heaven were covered”.

There have been great floods since then but the LORD remembers his covenant that the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh”. God is faithful.

When they arranged the synagogue readings, linking portions of the Torah with passages from the prophets, the rabbis placed Isaiah 54-55 alongside the Genesis account of the Flood because of Isaiah 54:9, “For this is as the waters of Noah unto Me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee.”

A number of themes that appear throughout the Hebrew Scriptures can be found in both portions.

Judgement

And the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually…And the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and creeping thing, and fowl of the air; for it repenteth Me that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5,7)

We live in an age that has forgotten that God is “of eyes too pure to behold evil, and … canst not look on mischief” (Habakkuk 1:13). The days in which Isaiah lived were in some ways worse than the days of Noah. The LORD likened Jerusalem the holy city to Sodom and Gomorrah (1:10) and the prophet discovered himself to be no different to the people (6:5). The nation was ripe for judgement, which would come in the form of the Babylonian exile.

Salvation

“Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8). The Jerusalem Targum says Noah found “grace and mercy” to emphasis that even though Noah was “a righteous man”, a “blameless man in his generation”, who “walked with God”, he was saved from the judgement on the world not by his righteousness but by God’s mercy. In order to make it clear that Noah was not perfect, Moses relates the account of his drunkenness after the Flood (Genesis 9:20,21). Only God is righteous.

Grace, (chesed), is the quality of mercy shown by David to Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9. In his anger at the taunts of the Jebusites that the “blind and lame” could ward off his assault on Jerusalem, David swore he would never have a blind or lame person in his house (2 Samuel 5:8). But the covenant David entered into with Jonathan, which involved an oath that he would show the “grace of God” to Jonathan’s descendents (1 Samuel 20:14-16), overrode his attitude to the crippled Mephibosheth, and the lame grandson of David’s arch-enemy Saul became David’s adopted son. Mephibosheth could do nothing for David but that did not matter. He had found chesed in the eyes of David and was saved from the wrath of David just as Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD and was saved from wrath.

It’s a pity the Sidra readings include Isaiah 52 and 54 but omit chapter 53 because this Haftorah portion which speaks of Israel’s redemption and deliverance from wrath follows from the sufferings of the righteous servant of the Lord in 53. The wrath of the LORD fell on him so that Israel might be redeemed.

Covenant

Grace and covenant go together. Mephibosheth found grace because of David’s covenant with his father. Noah found grace and God established his covenant with him (Genesis 6:18).

When God wanted to confirm his promise of a son to Abraham he did so by establishing a covenant. When he brought Israel out of Egypt, in order that he might be their God and they be his people, he established a covenant with them at Sinai.

In the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord promised to establish a better covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah than the one made at Sinai, a covenant that could not be broken, the everlasting covenant of Isaiah 55:3, “the sure mercies of David”. The Hebrew word for “mercies” is chesed. According to Rabbi David Kimchi, Aben Ezra and others, this is a prophecy of the Messiah who will establish the everlasting covenant of grace.

The technical word for establishing a covenant is to “cut” a covenant, a reference to the practice of sacrificing animals to establish the covenant. When God established his covenant with Noah and his descendants Noah built an offering and offered sacrifices to God. All covenants had to be ratified by sacrifice. It was the blood of the sacrificial victim that made the promises of the covenant permanent and trustworthy.

When God established his covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15, the patriarch was instructed to bring “a heifer three years old, a she-goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon … [he] cut them in two, and laid each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.”

A covenant involves two parties and when the kings of the nations cut covenants they would sacrifice animals in a manner similar to Abraham after which they would walk between the pieces taking the oath, “May the gods do this to me and more also if I fail to keep this covenant.”

The amazing thing about God’s covenant with Abraham was that although in human covenants two parties were required to take the appropriate oaths, God did not require Abraham to walk between the pieces:

And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and there was thick darkness, behold a smoking furnace, and a flaming torch that passed between these pieces. (Genesis 15:17)

From that moment Abraham never wavered in his belief that God would keep his promise to give him a son. Even if Abraham offered Isaac as a burnt offering on Mount Moriah, God could not break his word. No laws or stipulations had been laid on the father of the Jewish people. He “believed God” and God had bound himself to give him innumerable descendants through Isaac. God in the form of the “smoking furnace, and a flaming torch” passed between the pieces. When the “smoking furnace, and a flaming torch” passed between the pieces, the LORD who speaks of himself in terms of “we” and “us” at creation and at Babel (Genesis 1:26, 11:7; Isaiah 6:8) passed between the pieces as two parties. Abraham knew the significance. God was saying, “Abraham if I break My covenant to give you a son, may it be done to me as you have done to this heifer, ram and she goat”.

God’s covenant to bless Israel with the sure mercies of David must also be ratified by sacrifice. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, the Messiah, offers his soul as an asham, the guilt offering of Leviticus 4, in order to establish the everlasting covenant, the unbreakable “new covenant” of Jeremiah 31. The judgement of God was poured out on him so that Israel could rejoice in redemption.

Who is the Messiah? Judge for yourself; read Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12 and you’ll see.


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