PARASHAT NO’ACH (NOAH)
Genesis 6:9 – 11:32; Isaiah 54:1 – 55:5; Luke 17:20 - 27
by Rabbi David Wein, Tikvat Israel, Richmond, VA
WATERS OF CHAOS, VEHICLE OF PROTECTION
Sometimes it’s helpful to understand how the ancient near-easterners thought about the structure of the world to get the most out of the creation account and the rest of the Torah. They thought of the world in three parts: the heavens, which was like a dome in the sky, then the earth, and then the waters. They believed that waters were also behind the dome of the sky. When God “separated the waters under the dome from the waters above the dome” (Gen. 1:7) the ancient near-easterners understood that he was keeping the waters of chaos behind the dome of the sky at bay to establish the order and protection of creation. When it rained, water was allowed to break through the protective dome of the heavens. However, remove all the protection of the dome of the sky, and you’ve got yourself a worldwide flood.
The ancient near-easterners thought of the waters as representing chaos, and ancient creation accounts in Babylon show the gods fighting and struggling with the waters of chaos. What makes the Torah unique (as compared to these other accounts) is that God, Elohim, does not struggle with chaos; his Ruach is over it, he is in total control of the waters of the deep (or tehom in Hebrew) and the waters above (sometimes referred to as the mabbul, or flood).
In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth. This is a clue that this entire Book is about these two realms and how God eventually brings them together in one place, as they were in Genesis 1-2. And the earth was waste and wild and darkness was over the face of the Deep (tehom), and the Ruach [wind, breath, spirit] of God hovered over the surface of the waters [of
chaos]. And God said, let there be LIGHT.
But that, of course, was last week’s parashah.
In many ways, the Flood story is a reversal and then restoration of the Creation story. Because of the wickedness of humanity (violence, murder, anger, gross immorality, rejection of God as King and Father and Creator, etc), the waters of chaos are re-released onto the earth, reverting it back to before the beginning.
Proverbs 8, in which personified Wisdom speaks as the one through whom God created all things, puts it this way:
When He set the heavens in place, I [wisdom] was there.
When He inscribed the horizon on the face of the ocean,
when He established the skies above,
when He securely fixed the fountains of the deep,
when He set the boundaries for the sea,
so that the waters never transgress His command. (Prov 8:27-29 TLV)
We recognize that Yeshua is the Power and Wisdom of God, as the Apostle Sha’ul says; in other words, God created all things through his Word/Wisdom, Yeshua the Messiah. So, there is the sense here that God holds back the waters of chaos to create order in creation, that he released the waters of the deep and the flood from the sky in the days of Noah, but then rescues and restores Creation again afterwards, through his Power, Wisdom, and Protection.
In Hebrew, Noah’s giant vehicle is called a Teva, unlike the vehicle I used during the flood of Sukkot in 2019, which is called a Kia. Guess where teva appears again?
Now a man from the house of Levi took as his wife a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and gave birth to a son. Now when she saw that he was delightful, she hid him for three months. But when she could no longer hide him, she took a basket [teva] of papyrus reeds, coated it with tar and pitch, put the child inside, and laid it in the reeds by the bank of the Nile. (Exodus 2:1-3 TLV)
The Lord himself is our Ark, our vehicle, and our hope. Remember, he has power over the waters of chaos. His life-giving Ruach hovered over the waters in Creation; his Ruach blew back the waters so that Noah could leave the ark; and his Ruach split the waters so that Israel could go through the Red Sea.
The fullness of the revelation of the God of Israel, Yeshua the Messiah, walked on water, just as Elohim hovered over the waters of chaos, and he calmed the wind and waves with just his voice. His students’ reaction to this is particularly striking: “They were struck with awe and said to one another, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the sea obey Him!’” (Mark 4:41 TLV). Indeed, the Word of the Lord commands even the strongest forces of destruction to be silent.
Remember the three-tiered universe we mentioned in creation? Here’s the end of the story of Heaven and Earth in Revelation 21:1:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
If you had never read anything about the waters of chaos, you would see this and go, “What’s so terrible about the sea? Why no waters in the new creation?” But we know the whole story. He is putting an end to the powers of chaos and he is renewing the Heavens and the Earth, so that they are once again in the same place. The Lord creates, the Lord cleanses, the Lord rescues, and the Lord re-creates after we mess things up.