In Sunday School this week we covered the account of Noah in Genesis 6-9. And I was struck once again by the contrast between the ancient Near Eastern (ANE) accounts that parallel the Biblical Deluge/Noah account.
In the ANE accounts the gods destroy mankind with a flood because of their “noise”* which the gods find bothersome, there is one who escapes the deluge and once they have committed this atrocity they are upset that there are no humans left to feed them. Alas, there is one who survives (Utnapishtim) by use of an ark and upon his exiting the ark he offers a sacrifice. The gods “gathered like flies” to the feast and consider themselves fortunate that a human survived to feed and serve them.
The Bible, on the other hand, declares that God, that is Yahweh, intentionally preserves humankind via righteous Noah. This God even provides specifically for the food for Noah on the ark. Once the ark is opened and Noah exits, he offers a sacrifice to the LORD who is pleased by this. Noah and his descendants are themselves given food to eat by the LORD.
“Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” (Gen.9:3 NIV2011)
This is the God we serve…not a capricious god, but the LORD who preserves and provides for His creation.
* To be fair, it is possible the ‘noise’ of humans in these ANE accounts actually parallel the biblical account of the LORD noting the din of human violence and depravity.
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it–I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. (Gen 1:29-30 NIV)
Whereas some have taken this as some sort of Pre-fall diet plan to get healthy (it isn’t), I realized it is making a VERY significant claim theologically. In the ancient Near Eastern stories of the creation of humans (see Atrahasis Epic), people were made to feed the gods. They did feed themselves, but only as they would “sustain the gods”. And the gods (Igigi) were said to toil hard at making food and led (by their rebellion under the toil) to the creation of humans.
In the Genesis 1, however, it is the God of Israel who feeds people and creatures alike. There is not even a mention of God eating (to be fair God is described as eating later in the canon). Now THAT is a theological claim we should not miss. This God, the god of Israel, is the one who feeds all of creation and has created in order to care for creation. And the work was not toilsome to begin with, but simply attending to the garden of God (Gen.2-3). And it was God Himself who watered the dwelling of humans and gave them freely to eat. This is the God of Israel. This is the God of the Church.
Now that’ll preach!
In a recent conversation, I noted a particular question that was posed about “blessing the food” when we gather to eat. Here are my reflections: We do not ask for the food to be blessed, per se, but we bless the Lord and we give thanks for the food.
- “We do not ask for the food to be blessed, per se,…” – What I mean by this is that the “food” does not need “blessed” (I’m never quite sure what that is supposed to really mean in many of our contexts). I have been witness to prayers offered for God to bless by making nutritional what was self-confessed by the one praying as not nutritional (think Twinkies). The food that we eat is our choice and responsibility. If we should not consume it because of health issues then simply don’t consume it. However, we do well to not ask for some “blessing” for what we already know to not be blessed by the Lord. However, if it may be “consecrated” (another factor in being “blessed”) then we do well to do so in faith. Whatever we eat or drink must be done in faith. If we can do such, then we may “consecrate” (or “bless”) the food given by the Father for our enjoyment and His good pleasure (cf. Matthew 26:26; 1 Cor.10:16).
- “…but we bless the Lord…” – If any blessing is to be requested and/or given, it is a blessing of the Lord for His grace and mercy in provision. We do well to bless the Maker of heaven and earth. We do well to bless the Father of Lights who knows how to give good and perfect gifts (Matthew 7:11; James 1:17) to those who ask Him.
- “…and we give thanks for the food.” – In everything we give thanks, because we recognize ourselves to be the undeserving children of God. Let us give thanks as our Lord Jesus gave thanks in sharing the supper with his disciples (Luke 24:30).
ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, המוציא לחם מן הארץ.
“Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.”
Let it be said by God’s people: “You shall eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good land that he has given you.” (Deut.8:10 – NRSV)