There are is a word and a phrase tucked away into the flood story in Genesis 6 that escaped my attention until this morning. Here it is,
“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen 6:5).
It is easy to miss because it isn’t obvious in English but it is right there in Hebrew jumping right off the page. Before I tell you what it is let me tell you where a form of this word appeared a few chapters earlier. It appeared in Genesis 2 in two places,
2:7 – “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
2:19 – “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky.”
This word “formed” is the same word used of a potter working the clay like in Jeremiah 18 & Isaiah 29:16. When God made mankind and the animals he formed them as a potter forms the clay into the vessel of his choosing. Look back now at Genesis 6:5. The word inclination is the same word. It is something that can be made into something else. It is a word about formation. It is a creative word. God allowed humanity the freedom to choose…the freedom to form…the freedom to create. One of their first creative jobs was to name the animals. Then they were to work the soil. They were also to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth. These are all creative tasks of the creation.
The most important thing that can be formed is the human heart…the essence of our being. What we find in Genesis 6 is that man also had the responsibility for their own formation or de-formation. What was created can also be un-created. So man shaped their own heart into something evil.
Before I go on to the phrase that I missed let me point out another word that I had missed until the last few years. It is in Genesis 6:8 – “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” Favor is the same word as “grace.” Who says there is no grace in the Old Testament? It is all over the place.
What was God’s response? This is the phrase that I had missed. It is found in Genesis 6:13 – “ So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.”
When we tell the flood story we don’t usually talk about that last piece. We talk about the judgment of humanity and the death that it caused. But what does God mean when he talks about destroying the earth? I believe that in order to understand what it means to destroy the earth you have to go back to what it meant for God to create the earth in Genesis 1. If you read Genesis 1 you will find God not just creating things but also ordering things. First the creation story itself has a rhythm. The rhythm has been mentioned by countless commentators: creating space in a particular order and then filling that same space with things in the same order he created the space. You also see God creating order out of chaos. He is constantly putting things where they belong. One of the most significant of these is organizing the water to the waters above and the waters below and then making land to further order the waters below.
The flood as deconstruction of creation…a sort of un-creation:
We see in Genesis 2:5-6 that rain wasn’t part of God’s initial creation but that the earth was watered by streams that came up from the earth. So when the first rain fell in the flood what we have is a break in the separation of the waters above from the waters below. The chaos that had been ordered and contained has now been unleashed to “destroy the earth.” Something was broken…not just in Genesis 3 but also in Genesis 6.
Uncreation/deformation is the natural result of a humanity determined to form itself not for good but for evil. So God made it all good. Man took their responsibility of choice and choose evil and spiritual deformation. God responded with the natural consequences of what a world like that would be like. In the middle of it all is that little word “grace.”