Light from the Sidra

Noach (‘Noah’). 17th October 2015. 4th Cheshvan 5776.

Torah: Genesis 6:9–11:32. Isaiah 54:1-55:5

When the heavens opened?

Last week I mentioned the excitement that was sweeping the scientific community as news broke of fresh evidence that there is probably water on Mars. It’s still not certain, of course, but the evidence for the existence of water on the red planet appears to be mounting. But even before the newest evidence came to light, there were scientists who believed there had once been such a surfeit of H2O on our closest planetary neighbour that its entire surface had been covered with water. Those same scientists, however, thought it was ridiculous to imagine that the earth had once been inundated, in spite of the fact that two thirds of the earth’s surface is still under water. But then, as Anatole France once wisely observed, ‘It is amazing what people will believe so long as it’s not in the Bible.’

The evidence for the Flood of Noah is everywhere. Think for a moment. If a universal Flood of the magnitude described in the book of Genesis had ever occurred in which ‘all the fountains of the great deep burst forth: and the windows of the heaven were opened’ (Genesis 7:11), what evidence would you expect? We should expect to see billions of dead things buried under hundreds of layers of rock. And what do we see when we look at the world? Billions of dead things buried in hundreds of layers of rock.

We find creatures fossilised rapidly while eating, giving birth and fighting. We see fossilised trees that pass through layers of rock that supposedly took billions of years to form. We find jewellery and other human artefacts in rocks that geologists date to hundreds of millions of years ago. Powerful evidence that a global flood occurred some time in human history stares us in the face every time we look at a mountain or a coastline.

The Hebrew word mayan, translated ‘fountains’ means a ‘fountain’, a ‘spring’ or a ‘well’, so the ‘fountains of the great deep’ are most likely oceanic or subterranean sources of water. Genesis 7:11 says that on the day the Flood began, there was a ‘bursting forth’ or a ‘breaking up’ of the fountains, which implies a release of the water, possibly through large fissures in the ground or in the sea floor. Primeval waters held back since the creation suddenly burst forth with catastrophic consequences. The breaking forth of those fountains most likely involved volcanic eruptions that spewed prodigious amounts of water out through the ground. Today, more than 70 percent of what comes out through volcanoes is water in the form of steam. If that is what Genesis means when it says that ‘all the fountains of the great deep burst forth’, then molten lava and scalding water would have been squeezed out of the earth’s crust in violent, explosive upheavals through earthquakes, volcanoes and geysers. According to Genesis 8:3, those ‘fountains of the great deep’ discharged their contents for 150 days, churning up the earth beneath the waters for almost half a year!

When we experience an unusually heavy shower, we talk about the heavens ‘opening’. The expression ‘windows of heaven’ is used in Genesis 7:11 and 8:2 to describe the rain that caused the Flood. Elsewhere in the Tanakh, the phrase is used only three times; twice in 2 Kings 7:2 and 19 to describe the pour miraculous that fell after Elijah had called down fire from heaven, and once in Malachi 3:10, where God promises to pour out abundant blessings on his obedient people. In Genesis the expression suggests the extraordinary, miraculous nature of the rainfall that brought the Flood. The windows of heaven opening is never applied in the Bible to ordinary rainfall.

A few months ago, I was having lunch with some friends and one of the ladies declared that she was proud to be Jewish and an atheist. She couldn’t believe the Bible, she said, because the story of Noah’s ark was ridiculous. No intelligent person could believe in all the animals surviving a flood in a boat. She was astounded when I confessed that I was not Jewish, I wasn’t an atheist and that I believed in the biblical account of the Flood.

I think the lady imagined that the Ark was a little boat like you see in cartoons, bursting at the seams with all manner of creatures and with giraffes sticking their necks out of the windows. But the dimensions of the Ark – 300 cubits (between 450 and 500 feet) by 50 cubits by 30 cubits – mean it was massive. When my middle daughter was at primary school, the teacher read the story of Noah to the class and then took the class onto the playing field to see how long 300 cubits was. The teacher was shocked to discover that the Ark would not have fitted into the school yard!

A study performed at the world-class ship research centre, KRISO, in South Korea almost 25 years ago confirmed that the proportions of the biblical Ark were near optimal for a sea-going vessel and that a vessel of the dimensions of the Ark could handle waves as high as 98 feet without capsizing.

Well, that’s enough of the mechanics. The Flood was not just the world’s worst catastrophe; it was a judgement of HASHEM. The God who, in the beginning, judged the world to be very good, later judged that ‘the wickedness of Man was great upon the earth and that every product of the thoughts of his heart was evil always’ (Genesis 6:5).

In response to the rampant godlessness of the time, God sent a Flood that destroyed every air-breathing land animal and every human not in the Ark with Noah. Noah, his three sons, and their wives were the only ones to escape God’s judgement. Now, as we look at the fossils in the rocks under our feet, we are seeing the evidence of divine judgement. But the earth is to be judged again and the story of the Flood reveals the way to escape that judgement. For the people of Noah’s day, the way of escape was the Ark. There was an open door into it but, when the time was up, God shut Noah and his family in the Ark. As the rain began to pour out of the skies and as the earth began to break up, disgorging millions of gallons of water from primeval subterranean reservoirs, his neighbours would have pounded on the door pleading to be let in. But it was too late. HASHEM himself had closed the door and Noah was powerless to open it.

The lesson for us is that if we wish to escape the judgement to come, there is but one door of escape. There will be no ten days of awe on which we can attempt to top up our store of good works. As in the days of Noah, people will continue working, getting married, building houses, planting trees… Suddenly the judgement will be on us and the door of salvation will be slammed shut. What can we do to be ready? We can listen to Jesus the Messiah, who said: ‘I am the door. If anyone enters in through me, he will be saved, and will both enter in and go out, and will find pasture… I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.’

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