Genesis 7 – The Expendables

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Today’s PassageGenesis 7

Maybe it’s just a function of growing up evangelical, but sometimes it’s hard to get away from reading Genesis as a battleground for fundamentalists and skeptics. Here we are, about to go into a giant flood and a giant boat intended to preserve eight human beings and every kind of animal, while an ostensibly omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity kills every other living thing because the world has gone south. If it strains your credulity, then it strains your credulity; I get it. It’s weird. And it’s a story about God’s direct involvement in the world; true or false, you can’t expect it not to be big. But there is a time and a place for apologetics, and to me at least it doesn’t seem that today’s entry is that time or place.

Today I want to call your attention to a peculiar phenomenon other than the forty days’ deluge that stops every breath outside the ark. As it comes time to load up, God commands Noah: “You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female…also of the birds of the sky, by sevens, male and female, to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth” (7:7-8). Noah is known for bringing pairs of animals onto the ark with which to repopulate the world, but the sevens get overlooked.

Specifically, the clean animals are to be brought on board. God has not yet formally given the Law, and he won’t begin to do so until Exodus, but Noah has some understanding of which terrestrial creatures are “clean.” Moreover, he also brings birds in seven pairs, and if you’ve ever made your way through Leviticus, you know that several sacrificial rituals call for birds. Why bring seven pairs of birds and clean beasts? I’d suggest it’s to have spares.

Here we have an implied sacrificial system, perhaps rudimentary, perhaps more fully developed. In any event, Noah is offering some of these animals to God, and he isn’t the first one to do so. The earliest we see such a practice? Cain and Abel. Cain brings produce, but Abel brings the first and best from his flock (3:3-4). And God is pleased with Abel’s offering.

We don’t see Adam and Eve offering animals in the Garden. The practice, apparently, only comes into play after mankind has started sinning. The beginning chapters of Genesis don’t tell us explicitly what these offerings are for. It may be that some of them, even Cain and Abel’s offerings, are simply to express gratitude to God for his provision. But their point of entry in the narrative suggests that they’re necessitated by humanity’s fall. I’m inclined to conclude that within the first generation, God has off-camera given his creations a constant reminder that their evil requires a sacrifice to bridge the gap they’ve created.

I’ll leave it to the author of Hebrews to make the case that these sacrifices are inadequate in themselves to pay the price for our transgressions, and that they must point to an adequate sacrifice. Suffice it to say that you can’t pay for human evil with a goat’s life. It takes an actual human life: that of a perfect human, one who can survive death and triumph over it, God himself in the flesh, Jesus Christ.

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