Skip to content

Beginnings in Genesis – Was Noah Really Righteous?

April 10, 2008

Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord
genesis 6:8

God’s decision is to put an end to ‘all flesh’ (gen 6:13). There is no equivocation here. No wiggle room. Immediately after this comment of God’s to Noah there are the technical instructions for the Ark and the food required, but also of a covenant which would serve to save him and his family. It is only after God speaks again to Noah, in 7:1 that there is the explanatory cause given,

for you alone have I found (lit. ‘seen’) righteous before me in this generation
genesis 7:1

Now here’s a question that occurs to me. God had ‘seen’ the wickedness of humanity (gen 6:5,12), here he sees the righteousness of Noah. But at what point did this second vision come?

Or maybe this one is better, was Noah chosen because he was righteous, or because God set his favour upon him (gen 6:8)?

Again, midrashic teaching is interesting here. The scholars are not afraid to interrogate the text and ask, ‘by what merit was was Noah saved?’ And the answer given can be that Noah is saved NOT because he is morally different from his generation, but becuse he finds favour in God’s eyes. Rashi, for instance, comments on the phrase ‘righteous in his generations’ by asking whether this is damning Noah with faint praise! Only in a time as corrupt as his, did Noah appear righteous. Or to put it in the familiar aphorism, ‘in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is King’. Or is it that he was a moral giant in an era or pygmies?

The idea that God might choose Noah, before finding him righteous is more comforting and inspiring to me. The idea that Noah was damned with his whole generation and the whole earth, but saved by the grace of God because God was compelled to pass on to someone the knowledge of Himself. As Zornberg says,

Noah is of a piece with his generation. He is essentially included in God’s ‘regret’..only love can invert Noach into chen – an object of beauty: ‘you have I seen as righteous before me’ (7:1)
Genesis – the beginning of desire (p41)

But then other, more disturbing questions must arise. Why Noah? Or, if Noah was truly righteous, might there have been others who were swept away by the flood? These, I guess I could say, are the questions posed by one whose perspective is limited, someone for whom God’s power is more apparent than his discrimination. But then, I don’t want to shift the challenge away from one that focusses on the character of God and take all the blame onto my admittedly weak and limited shoulders. It is to say however that theological systems can sometimes serve to gag the impulse to ask questions, even though I don’t think God is all that concerned by those who question him and his character, like Abraham did when he pleaded for Sodom and Gomorrah.

But I’ve probably already said to much for some.

From → Genesis

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: