JEF Sunday School Lesson #6

February 1, 2006 | 15 comments
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Lesson 6: Moses 8:19-30; Genesis 6-9; 11:1-9

Moses 8

Verse 9: Lamech named Noah “rest.” How does Lamech explain the name? Is Noah’s name significant to the story of the flood?

Verses 19-21: Why don’t the people listen to Noah? What do the things they say about themselves tell us about them? (Compare verse 21 to verse 14.) Why does what they say focus on marriage and children? Do we see anything here about how they understand what it means to have dominion?

Verse 22: Compare this verse to what God says of creation (e.g., 2:10, 31). What has happened to creation? How has it happened?

Verse 23: What does Noah promise the people of the earth if they will repent? How is that a blessing?

Verses 25-26: Why does the Lord decide to destroy the earth?

Verse 27: What does it mean to be just? What does it mean that Noah was “perfect in his generation”? What does it mean to walk with God? We find the same phrase, “just man, and perfect in his generation,” (with the plural of “generation” rather than the singular) in Genesis 6:9. There the word translated “just” is a translation of the Hebrew word tsaddiq and the word translated “perfect” is a translation of the Hebrew word tamim. The word tsaddiq is often translated “righteous” (as in Psalms 145:17 and Proverbs 13:25). The verb form of the word is used to speak of judgment: a judge must judge according to the truth, honestly and impartially. The Old Testament has a great deal to say about the tsaddiq. For examples, see Job 29:12-15, 31:31-32; Psalms 37:21, 72:1-2; Proverbs 14:34; and Malachi 3:18. Tamim, “perfect,” is most often translated as “without blemish,” but it is also translated as “whole,” “sound,” and “upright.” One translator (Nehama Leibowitz) translates the word “whole-hearted.” Its root meaning is “whole,” as is the root meaning of our word “integrity.” To be tamim is to have integrity. In Genesis, the word corresponding to “generation” in this verse means “the circle of a person’s life, from birth to death.” Some take the declaration that Noah was perfect in his generation to mean that he was righteous his whole life. Others take it to mean that he was righteous in comparison to the other inhabitants of the earth. Which do you think is more likely? Why?

Verses 28-30: What does it mean to say that the earth was corrupt? That it was filled with violence? Where did that violence begin? What has been the outcome of Cain’s covenant with Satan? Another translation of the word translated “corrupt” in the corresponding verse of Genesis (Genesis 6:11) is “destroyed.” Does that suggest anything about why the Lord agreed to destroy all flesh from the earth? Compare Ezekiel 33:11. What does that tell us about what happened at the time of Noah?

Genesis 6

Verse 12: What does it mean to say that all flesh had corrupted the way of the Lord on the earth?

Verse 16: How is the ark a symbol of salvation? (See 1 Peter 3:20-22.) What does the story of Noah have to teach us today?

Verse 17: Notice how this verse is a kind of mirror image of the creation. In the creation, the Lord gave the breath of life to all things. Here it takes it away from them.

Verse 18: What covenant does the Lord establish with Noah? Why does he use the word “establish” rather than “make”?

Verse 22: Why did Moses include this verse?

Genesis 7

Verses 1-5: Though not a word-for-word repetition, these verses closely repeat what was said in Genesis 6:17-22. Notice that verses 7-9 repeat the information again. Why these repetitions?

Verses 20-23: Eden was a well-watered place (Genesis 2:10-14; Moses 3:10-14) and the creation as described in Genesis 1 and Moses 2 begins with water. Water is central to both the creation and the destruction of the earth. So what?

Genesis 8

Verse 1: How was Noah like Adam? (Does Genesis 8:27 give us a comparison of the two?) What does it mean to be remembered by God? The word used here can be used to refer to recollection (e.g., Psalms 137:1) and to meditation on something (e.g., Job 21:6-7). When used in reference to people, it often implies action, as in Numbers 15:40 and Ezekiel 6:9.

Verse 4: Is there anything significant about the ark coming to rest on the seventh month?

Verses 7-14: Why do you think Moses spends so much time telling us about Noah waiting for the waters to abate?

Verses 15-19: Notice the similarity between this and the creation story. What is the point of that similarity?

Verses 20-22: What does it mean to say “the Lord smelled a sweet savor”? Why does verse 21 tell us that the Lord said what he said “in his heart”? The Lord told Adam that the ground was cursed for his sake (Genesis 3:17; Moses 4:23). What does it mean when he says here “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake”? Does it mean that the Adamic curse of the earth was lifted? How does the fact that man’s heart is evil from his youth explain that the Lord won’t curse the earth any more (verse 21)?

Genesis 9

Verses 1-7: Why does the Lord twice repeat the original commandment to “be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth” (verses 1 and 7)? The Lord commanded Adam to subdue the earth. Why doesn’t he repeat that commandment here? Why was eating meat first forbidden and now allowed (verses 2-4)? Does that have anything to do with the dominion that Adam was given? Does comparing this to other commandments we have been given and that were then retracted (such as the Law of Consecration) help explain what happened? Why is Noah forbidden to eat blood? What does blood symbolize and when we refrain from eating blood what might we remember? What does it mean to say “your blood of your lives will I require” (verse 5)? Does what follows in verse 5 explain that phrase? Does the concluding clause of verse 6 explain why we shouldn’t kill another (because the other person is made in the image of God) or does it explain why the judge has the right to impose the death penalty (because he is made in the image of God and, so, has the power to deal out divine punishment)?

Verses 8-17: Why was this covenant necessary? What purpose does it serve? Why is the rainbow a particularly appropriate token of the Lord’s covenant never to destroy the earth by water again? Is the fact that it is a bow significant? What light does Isaiah 54:9 shed on the covenant and the meaning of the rainbow? What does it mean to us?

Verses 18-23: What is the import of “and Noah began to be an husbandman” (verse 20)? Is there a parallel here with Adam? Another translation of the phrase “began to be an husbandman and planted” is “master of the earth was first.” In the alternate translation “Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard” becomes “Noah, master of the earth, was the first to plant a vineyard.” Suppose that translation is better. How does it change our understanding of the text? Verse 21 gives us the ground for everything that follows, but the writer says no more than absolutely necessary about what happened. Why do you think that the writer may have been so terse in this verse? Notice that the same is true of verse 22. Some have speculated that Ham’s sin was of a incestuous homosexual nature, but there is no textual evidence for such a claim. What is the sin of Ham? Notice the difference between the amount of language used in verse 23 and that used in verses 21-22. What might the point of such comparatively expansive language be? Why, for example, do you think “their father’s nakedness” is repeated twice?

Verses 24-25: Perhaps the most difficult question in these verses is “Why does Noah curse Canaan, the son of Ham, rather than Ham?” (Verse 25). Or does the word “Canaan” there refer to Ham’s son? When the sons names were mentioned previously, it seemed that Ham was the middle son. (Compare, for example, verse 18.) How do we explain that ordering if Ham is the youngest son (verse 24)? (To think about this, look at other instances where their names are given.) In verse 25 the curse is that Canaan will be “a servant of servants.” In contemporary English, the Hebrew word translated “servant” would be translated “slave.” Does this mean that he will be the slave of other slaves? Or is the phrase used to suggest that he will be the lowliest of slaves?

Verses 26-27: How might this verse change our understanding of what has just happened? Noah blesses the name of God, “the God of Shem,” and repeats that Ham will be “his” servant. To whom does “his” refer? To “God” or to “Shem”? If it refers to Shem, is it significant that his servitude is mentioned in the context of praising God? Does verse 27 help us answer those questions?

Genesis 11

Verses 1-9: How is this similar to what we saw happening with Adam’s descendants before Noah? What does that repetition of events suggest? (Refer back to what the Lord says of human beings in Genesis 8:21.) Does the decision to give themselves a name (verse 4) suggest anything about their problem? Why do they want to give themselves a name? How do we try to give ourselves a name? What are they trying to avoid and why are they worried about it? What does having a common language allow people to do? What does a language barrier help prevent? In other words, what problem is the Lord dealing with in these verses and why is the confounding of the language a solution to that problem? (Compare Isaiah 2:12-18.)

15 Responses to JEF Sunday School Lesson #6

  1. Clinton on February 1, 2006 at 6:42 pm

    I thought I would include another Jewish interpretation of Ham’s sin that is common from Jewish midrash. This version note the similarities in Lev 20:10-11 “And the man tha lieth with his father’s wife hath UNCOVERED HIS FATHER’S NAKEDNESS…” Therefore they suggest that Ham “knew” his mother and this is the reason Canaan is cursed as the offspring of this union. Biblical scholors then note that this is one of the reasons used by Isrealites to utteryly destory Caanan.

  2. Jim F. on February 1, 2006 at 11:31 pm

    Clinton: You are right that some have made this this accusation. As I note in my questions, though perhaps too briefly, there is little textual evidence for it. Umberto Cassuto has an excellent and persuasive discussion of the issue in Commentary on Genesis, vol. 2, pages 151-52.

    Is that interpretation common in the midrashim? I haven’t noticed it, but I’m not an expert on them.

  3. Clinton on February 2, 2006 at 10:14 am

    Thanks for your comments. I will go back and check for you the other midrash sources that have this interpretation. I am unsure why you would say though that there is little textual evidence for this interpretation. Unless you are just saying there is little textual evidence period to explain what Ham did. On the other hand I think that the interpretation suggested, that of homosexuality, is much farther from the mark. For one it doesn’t explain in the slightest why Ham is NOT the one cursed but his son Caanan. Secondly it doesn’t explain why Ham would commit this act since it seems obvious he had 4 sons and who knows how many daughters.

  4. Jim F. on February 2, 2006 at 12:59 pm

    Clinton, I owe you an apology. I misread your response–the unfortunate result of reading too quickly–to be one that offered the homosexuality explanation. Now I see that wasn’t the case.

    Sorry. However, I think that Cassuto makes a very good case, based on the Genesis text and comparisons to relevant other Old Testament texts, that it means no more than that, rather than dealing with his father’s nakedness as did Shem and Japeth, in a respectful way, Ham mocked his father.

    By the way, I don’t think that the son Canaan was cursed. I think that “Canaan” in the curse means “the descendants of Ham,” the name “Canaan” being a stand-in for those descendants, just as “Israel” more often refers to the tribes than it does to the person.

  5. Clinton on February 3, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    Jim, I owe you an apology. I went back to my midrash and was unable to find the interpretation I suggested. I did an internet search and found a discussion of this issue you might find interesting. Apparently I head it from a different source.
    http://www.sbl-site.org/Publications/JBL/JBL1241.pdf
    I am however interested in why you think that the curse is upon “Canaan” which you interpret as the “descendants of Ham.” The Canaanites were only the descendants of one of Ham’s son Canaan. The other sons inhabited other lands. This is in fact what the next chapter disusses.

  6. Robert C. on February 4, 2006 at 10:55 am

    Clinton, thanks for providing that very interesting link. Not sure I’m convinced, but a fascinating read.

    Do you know of other biblical studies journals available on-line? We’re trying to put together a list of good bible study resources on a Feast wiki page here. We’d appreciate any other electronic sources you know of. Or more generally, if anyone has any favorite scripture commentary books, journals, articles, etc. please let us know (here or there or by email) so we can improve our list (any thoughts on the books or journals would help too). I think there are a lot of us out there who would like to read more scholarly writings on the scriptures, but need some advice on knowing where to start.

    Jim, notice I added to the page the Cassuto book on Genesis you mentioned–how strongly would you recommend this book? Are there others you’d recommend for Old Testament commentary? How about an introductory book on rabbinic literature?

  7. Clinton on February 4, 2006 at 1:28 pm

    Yes there are few resources that I would suggest. For a wide range of Christian commentaries as well as a good source for online interlinear with Strong’s lookup I would suggest Crosswalk.com.
    One of the first places I would go to get a good overview of the rabbinic commentary on a subject would be the Encylopedia Judaica which can be found online. However from time to time it goes offline and I am not sure why.
    http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com
    Book Sources would include:
    A good book of Hagaddah such as Ginzburg’s Legends of the Jews. A more recent scholarly version such as Raphael Patai may be a better source.
    The other source I would suggest would be a classic such as Midrash Rabbah. I usually read an English translation here at the Divinity Library. I am not sure where to purchase this multivolume set.
    Of course one of the most interesting commentaries is the Sefer Ha Zohar. However its interpretations are not for the faint of heart. The best edition in my opinion is the Pritzker edition which just released the 3rd volume which finishes up Genesis. However there is an online version which is Rav. Berg’s translation. However it is inferior in my opinion to the Pritzker edition whose footnotes are marvelous.

  8. Jim F. on February 4, 2006 at 2:39 pm

    Robert C.: I recommend the Cassuto commentaries highly. He completed all of Exodus and wrote 1 volume and part of another on Genesis before he died. Very good books. I also like Nehama Leibowitz’s commentaries very much. (Hers have titles that start with “New Studies in,” as in New Studies in Bereshit (Genesis). Neither of these absolutely requires a reading knowledge of Hebrew, but it helps. All a person needs to use them effectively is the ability to read the Hebrew alphabet and, in fact, it is possible to understand what they are saying without that.

  9. Jim F. on February 4, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    I would, by the way, “amen” Clinton’s suggestions.

    A good introductory book on rabbinic literature? I don’t know, though I like the collection edited by Montefiore and Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology. I also recommend Robert Alter’s books on the Bible, The World of Biblical Literature, The Art of Biblical Narrative, and The Art of Biblical Poetry. I think they do more than anything else currently available to help people read the Bible, particularly the OT, better.

    Though I don’t particularly think that the Talmud is relevant to our Sunday School lessons, I like the Steinsaltz edition, a good English translation with helps for understanding how to read the Talmud.

  10. VeritasLiberat on February 4, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    “…rather than dealing with his father’s nakedness as did Shem and Japeth, in a respectful way, Ham mocked his father.
    By the way, I don’t think that the son Canaan was cursed.”

    Maybe having Ham for a dad WAS the curse. Ham obviously doesn’t have much compassion. What kind of person mocks an old and troubled man for his weaknesses? (I imagine that Noah getting drunk is an attempt to temporarily block out the horrible things he has seen and endured, or suppress guilt feelings, e.g., “If only I had said thus and such, I could have converted someone else and saved them from death.” That kind of ordeal would make just about anybody seek oblivion from time to time.)

  11. Robert C. on February 5, 2006 at 12:28 am

    Jim and Clinton: Thanks a lot for the excellent suggestions. The Jewish Encyclopedia link wasn’t working, but I found another on-line version here. I added several more links to on-line material I found here.

    I found several of the books you mentioned at BYU’s library, they look very good and relatively accessible. Here’s a quote I found skimming through _The World of Biblical Literature_ that suggests I’ll like Alter’s approach: “What [many] commentators . . . do not readily imagine is that much biblical writing . . . might have been devised precisely not to yield a solution, or to yield multiple and contradictory solutions, and that this might be the very hallmark of its greatness” (pp. 143-4). That’s basically the approach I found in Jim’s book on scripture study (pp. 10-11) that got me excited about scripture study, an approach that I think is not used enough….

  12. Ed M. on February 9, 2006 at 4:49 am

    We’re a bit behind in our ward, but as I was looking at this discussion of Noah’s nakedness, I was reminded of something I read years ago in “Temple and Cosmos” by Hugh Nibley (pp 128-130): (apologies for not including the footnotes from the text)

    The Book of Jasher tells us that “after the death of Adam, the garments were given to Enoch, the son of Jared, and when Enoch was taken up to God, he gave them to Methuselah, his son. And at the death of Methuselah, Noah took them with him in the ark. And as they were leaving [the ark], Ham stole those garments from Noah his father, and he took them and hid them from his brothers.â€? Then Ham secretly gave the garments to his favorite son, Cush, who handed them down in the royal line. We meet this idea of the stolen garment often. We are told in one document that the garment of Adam was owned also by Noah and Ram, the brother of the biblical Jared; but the tradition is that Ham, the father of Cainan, saw the skin garment of his father, showed it to his brothers outside, made copies of it, and claimed it for himself. According to the Rabbi Eliezer, Noah came to himself and saw what had happened—that Ham had stolen his garments. (The world used “nakednessâ€? as the word; “skin garmentâ€?, the same word, is simply a derived or secondary meaning. The word means “skin coveringâ€?.) When Noah found out what he had done, he cursed Ham and said, “Because you grabbed it ahead of time, Ham, you cannot have the priesthood until the end of time. Meanwhile, I will give the garment to Shem, and part of it to Japheth, but you cannot have it.â€? Why? Because Noah had anticipated that Ham would get it illegally. To show that he was justified, Ham tried to fake it and caused a great deal of confusion thereby. In the Midrash Genesis Rabbah, Rabbi Johanan says, “Shem began the good deed [they returned the garment to their father], and then Japheth came and hearkened to him; therefore, Shem was granted the tallit and Japheth the palliumâ€?—the large cover, a cloak with clasps and buttons on the shoulder. Tallit here means a fringed garment; Rabbi Johanen means that the reward of Shem, the ancestor of the Jews, “was the precept of the fringesâ€? in the garment, “while that of Japhethâ€?, representing the Greeks, “was the palliumâ€?, the “cloak, betokening his dignity.â€?

    The Midrash goes on to tell us that as a reward they received from God prayer cloaks (others say it was robes of state), while Ham was denied the protection of the garment, because he had stolen it. This was the priesthood that he was trying to get illegally. And Rabbi Jehudah says in the Pirkê de Rabbi Eliezer,

    The coats which the Holy One…made for Adam and his wife were with Noah in the ark….When they went forth from the ark, Ham, the son of Noah, brought them forth with him, and gave them as an inheritance to Nimrod. When he put them on, all the beasts,…came and prostrated themselves before him [because this was the garment which Adam wore in the Garden, and the beasts all reverenced him because he had dominion over them as long as he acted as God would act]. Therefore, [the sons of man] made him king over themselves.

    He fooled everybody into thinking he had the priesthood because he had the garment. The Apocalypse of Abraham says, “Cush loved Nimrod, the son of his old age [Cush got it from Ham], and gave him that garment in which God had once clothed Adam as he was forced to leave paradise�. This garment passed from Adam to Enoch to Methuselah to Noah, who took it into the ark. Here Ham misused it and secretly handed it to his son Cush, whose son Nimrod, while wearing this garment was invincible and irresistible. The garments enabled him to conquer the world and proclaim himself its ruler, so that mankind offered him worship. (There is a profound mystery concerning these garments, which is one of the secrets the ancients kept to them-selves.) Then what happened? According to Jewish lore, Nimrod had it; then Esau was jealous of Nimrod, who was another great hunter. He lay in ambush, slew Nimrod, took the garment from him, and brought it home. This garment was the birthright which Jacob got from Esau, who got it back again. This was the garment of Jacob, the garment of Ham.

  13. Robert C. on February 14, 2006 at 9:29 pm

    Thanks for pointing this out, Ed. One important reference is the Book of Jasher 7:27:

    “And in their going out, Ham stole those garments from Noah his father, and he took them and hid them from his brothers.”

  14. Jim F. on February 14, 2006 at 11:57 pm

    Ed M. and Robert C.: Thanks! These ought to be very helpful to any Mormon trying to make sense of the story.

  15. Clinton on February 15, 2006 at 9:53 am

    Really … “And in their going out [Of the Ark], Ham stole those garments from his father …” How then does this help us understand the story about Ham’s action in his Mother’s tent?