Friday, January 6

Genesis 6: In the New Testament, the Deluge, to which the next four chapters of Genesis are devoted, is understood as a type of baptism. Thus, St. Peter, writing of Christ’s descent into hell after His death, goes immediately to treat of Noah, the Deluge, our own baptisms, and the Lord’s resurrection. For the early Christians, these are all components of the same Mystery of regeneration: “For Christ suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, whole the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:18-21).

We must be baptized, because we are sinners, and our sins are washed away in baptism: “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Or earlier, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins” (2:38).

Like the Deluge, there is something destructive about baptism. Baptism has been given to the world, because the world is full of sin, and through this water we are delivered from the world of sin. Whether we speak of the baptismal type in the Deluge, therefore, or of the fulfillment of that type in baptism itself, we must begin with sin.

Thus, the Deluge account begins with a description of a world full of sin (verses 1-5,11-13), ending with God’s sorrow at having made man and His resolve to destroy man from the earth (verses 6-7). Noah alone pleased God verse 8), so God will spare Noah and his family. God commands Noah to build the ark, and He remains patient a while longer while the ark is being constructed (1 Peter 3:20).

Then Noah and his family wait quietly in the ark for seven days, until the rains come. The rains come “after seven days” (verse 10), which is to say, on the eight day. The number “seven,” reminiscent of the week of Creation, signifies the old world, whereas the number “eight” serves as a symbol of the New Creation. In the second century St. Justin Martyr remarked that “the mystery of saved men happened in the Deluge, because righteous Noah, along with other human beings at the Deluge—namely, his own wife, his three children, and the wives of his sons—who were eight persons in number, contained a symbol of the number of the eighth day, in which our Christ appeared, having risen from the dead” (Dialogue With Trypho 138.1).

Saturday, January 7

Tutored by the patriarchal tradition, which affirmed that God is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, the observant and logical Noah became certain that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” Metaphysics and the moral order drove his mind to the necessity of the retributive eschata. Evil was unnatural; it could not go on indefinitely. Driven by the fear such a perception engendered in his soul, Noah got busy and “prepared an ark to the saving of his house.”

Noah’s construction of the ark represented his faith, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews: “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (11:7).

Noah not only lived in righteousness; he also preached righteousness to his contemporaries. The Apostle Peter referred to Noah as “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5), and late in the first century Clement of Rome wrote that “Noah preached repentance, and those who heeded him were saved” (Epistle to the Corinthians 7.6). Evidently, however, their number included only members of his own family!

This picture of Noah as a somewhat unsuccessful preacher came to the early Christians from Jewish lore. Flavius Josephus wrote of Noah’s relationship to his contemporaries in this way: “Noah was most uncomfortable with their actions, and, not at all happy with their conduct, he persuaded them to improve their dispositions and their actions. Seeing, nonetheless, that they did not obey him but remained slaves to their own wicked desires, he feared that they would slay him, together with his wife and children, as well as the spouses of the latter, so he departed out of that land” (Antiquities 13.1).

Unlike Noah’s contemporaries, we ourselves hearken to his preaching. That is to say, we submit to this new baptismal flood because we repent at the witness of Noah. Baptism presupposes and requires this repentance of our sins, this conversion of our hearts to the apostolic word of Noah. In repentance we plunge ourselves into the deeper mystery of Noah’s flood, which is the death and resurrection of Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:3; Colossians 2:12).

Sunday, January 8

1 Peter 3:13-22: To be baptized into Christ is to be associated with His sufferings. As Christ was victorious over death by His Resurrection, so will be those who belong to Him. Baptism, because it unites believers with the Resurrection of Christ, is a pledge and promise of their own victory over death.

In verses 18-22 Peter speaks of Christ’s descent into hell, which took on so pronounced an emphasis in Christian faith and worship that it became an article in the Nicene Creed. Peter says that Christ “went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

The relationship of Christian Baptism to the Flood and Noah’s Ark, found here explicitly for the first time, became a common trope in Christian biblical exegesis:

“Righteous Noah, along with the other mortals at the Deluge, that is, with his own wife, with his three sons, and with their three wives, all of them being eight in number, were a symbol of the eighth day, whereon Christ appeared when He rose from thee dead, first in power forever. For Christ, being the firstborn of every creature, became again the head of another race regenerated by Himself through water, and faith, and wood, containing the mystery of Cross, even as Noah was saved by wood when he rode upon the waters with his family” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 138).

“Just as the waters of the Deluge, by which the old iniquity was purged—after the baptism of the world, so to speak—a dove became the herald announcing to thee earth the softening of the heavenly wrath, when she had been sent away out of the Ark, and had returned carrying the olive branch, a sign that even among the pagans signifies peace, so by the selfsame law of the heavenly dispensation, there flies to the earth—that is to say, our flesh—as it emerges from the font, having put away its old sins, the dove of the Holy Spirit, bringing us the peace of God, sent forth from heaven, where is the Church, typified by the Ark” (Tertullian, On Baptism 8).

Monday, January 9

Genesis 9: The word “covenant” (berith), which appeared in Genesis 6:18 for the first time in Holy Scripture, is now taken up and developed. The earliest explicit account of God’s covenant, that is to say, is the covenant with Noah. The second divine covenant, which we shall see in Chapters 15 and 17, is God’s covenant with Abraham. In Genesis the idea of God’s covenant is found in only these two narratives.

The first, the Noachic covenant here in Genesis 9, is God’s covenant with the entire world and with mankind in particular. The second, the Abrahamic covenant especially as described in Genesis 17, is God’s more particular covenant with the descendants of Abraham, which will be further defined as the biblical narrative continues.

There are significant theological features shared by these two covenant narratives in Genesis, features reflected in a distinctive vocabulary that distinguishes them from the other covenants recorded in Holy Scripture.

One of the distinguishing features shared by these two covenants, in Genesis 9 and 17, is the choice of verbs employed to predicate it: natan, “to give” (9:12; 17:2), and haqim, “to establish” (9:9,11; 17:7). The first of these verbs emphasizes the gratuity, the generosity, of God’s act in making the covenant; it is pure, unmerited grace. This is why, in each case, God’s calls it “My covenant” (9:15; 17:7). The second verb places the accent on God’s resolve in the covenant; God Himself will not break the covenant. Each of these covenants is a perpetual pledge of hope for the future.

A second distinguishing feature of these two covenants in Genesis 9 and 17 is the ’oth berith, “the sign of the covenant,” a distinctive symbol of each covenant. In the case of Noah the ’oth berith is the rainbow (9:12-17), and in the case of Abraham it is circumcision (17:1).

In the covenant with Noah, the function of the rainbow as a “sign” is to cause God to “remember” His covenant (9:15-16). The covenant sign serves as a reminder, as it were, a “memorial,” a zikkaron in Hebrew, an anamnesis in Greek. This theme will be taken up later in Holy Scripture, when Jesus describes God’s definitive covenant with the Church in terms of an anamnesis (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). The Lord’s Supper, that is to say, is not simply an occasion for Christians to remember Jesus and His saving work on our behalf; as a “sign of the covenant,” the rite of Breaking the Bread and Sharing the Cup is even more the ineffable ’oth berith to God Himself, in which He is called upon to “remember” the redemption that He has definitively given and established with us in the Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, January 10

Genesis 10: Already, at the end of the previous chapter of Genesis, we found that all was not well among the sons of Noah, and the tensions of that chapter will be developed extensively in the rest of the biblical story. Just as Ham treated his father, Noah, with disrespect, so the sons of Ham—the Egyptians the Canaanites—will make life unpleasant for the children of Shem, which includes the Israelites. Thus, the discussion of the variety of nations here in chapter 10 prepares the way for the account of the diversity of tongues in chapter 11. In the present chapter we are given the ethnic aspect of the coming conflicts in the books of Exodus and Joshua.

This list of the nations, however, seems more preoccupied with geography than ethnicity. We note that the descendants of Shem (still called Semites) mainly inhabit the Fertile Crescent, while the offspring of Ham inhabit areas to the south and southwest of the Fertile Crescent, and the children of Japheth live to the northwest, in the area of the Turkish peninsula and the Aegean Sea. That is to say, this list covers roughly the three landmasses that contain the Mediterranean Basin: southern Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. The Holy Land touches all three of these land masses.

Josephus, describing this period, says that the descendants of Noah “first of all descended from the mountains into the plains, and fixed their habitation there; and persuaded others who were greatly afraid of the lower grounds on account of the flood, and so were very loath to come down from the higher places, to venture to follow their examples. Now the plain in which they first dwelt was called Shinar. God also commanded them to send colonies abroad, for the thorough peopling of the earth, that they might not raise seditions among themselves, but might cultivate a great part of the earth, and enjoy its fruits after a plentiful manner” (Antiquities 1.4.1).

Holy Scripture ascribes to God the division of the earth among the tribes and clans of mankind. Indeed, this division is said to precede the rebellion of Babel and the multiplication of the tongs. That is to say, the genetic distinctions within the human race the human race are presented in the Bible as a good aspect of human history, not as a consequence of sin. About seventy nations are listed in this chapter. We remember, in this respect, that Jesus sent out exactly that number of apostles (Luke 10:1), a number indicating the universality of their mission to “make disciples of all nations.” In other words, the evangelization of the human race is not presented simply as “one soul at a time.” Full evangelization requires that the nations themselves—together with their own unique and distinctive cultures—become enclaves of faith.

Wednesday, January 11

Genesis 11: In spite of the national diversities outlined in the previous chapter, all of mankind, up to this point, speaks with a common tongue (verse 1).

The construction of Babel, the second city to be founded in the Bible, prompts us to recall the moral ambiguity of the first city, founded by the world’s first fratricide (4:17). Babel, like that first city, represents the development of technology (verse 3; 4:22). The tower of Babel symbolizes man’s arrogance and his rebellion against the authority of God. Not trusting God’s promise never again to destroy the world by flood (9:15), the men of Babel decide to build this tower as a sort of insurance policy against God’s punishment. Its construction, therefore, is of a piece with all the earlier rebellions against God that we have seen, starting in Chapter Three.

God’s response is twofold. It is both a punishment against the rebels and a preventative measure against their becoming even worse. That is to say, even God’s punishment is an act of mercy.

In the more general symbolism of Holy Scripture, Babel also represents Babylon, the city of power and godless rebellion, which is overthrown definitively in the Book of Revelation. There is a symbolic identity, therefore, uniting the present story to the destruction of Babylon described in Revelation 17 and 18. This city represents any political and economic establishment characterized by arrogance and the love of power.

Its punishment by the division of tongues was especially appropriate. Augustine of Hippo comments on this chapter: “As the tongue is the instrument of domination, in it pride was punished, so that man, who refused to understand God when He gave His commands, should also be misunderstood when he gave commands. Thus was dissolved their conspiracy, because each man withdrew from those who could not understand and banded with those whose speech he found intelligible. So the nations were divided according to their languages and scattered over the face of the earth, as seemed good to God, who accomplished this in hidden ways that we cannot understand” (The City of God 16.4).

Thursday, January 12

Hebrews 11:23-29: Arguably one of the most puzzling verses in Holy Scripture is that which tells why Moses’ mother did not drown him at birth. For the purpose of introducing this subject as a matter of inquiry, but without recommending the accuracy of the translation, I quote the relevant verse in the New King James Version: “And when she saw he was a beautiful child, she hid him three months” (Exodus 2:2).
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the appearance of the newborn Moses is given as the reason why his parents “were not afraid of the king’s command,” the entire context is that of faith: “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw that he was a beautiful child” (11:23). Here the point is very subtle indeed. When the parents looked upon little Moses, they were able to discern “by faith” some aspect of the child’s appearance that was not otherwise obvious.
We observe that this section of Hebrews began by defining faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (11:1). In Hebrews 11, faith invariably has to do with an adherence to the unseen future. The infant Moses, then, gave evidence of something hoped for but not yet seen, and faith granted his parents a special discernment in his regard.
The Hebrew text of this story of Moses suggests another dimension. It says of Moses’ mother, wattere’ ’oto ki tov hu’, literally, “and she saw that he was good.” The most obvious parallels to this passage, I submit, are the several places where the Book of Genesis says of Creation, “And God saw that it was good,” wayyar’ ’Elohim ki tov (Genesis 1:10,12,18,21,25,31).

It is remarkable that both passages employ the identical predicate (ra’ah) and exactly the same objective clause (ki tov). That is to say, each of these books begins with the selfsame assertion, ra’ah ki tov—“. . . saw that . . . was good.”
Moreover, this verbal correspondence between Genesis and Exodus is certainly deliberate on the author’s part. Thus, God’s salvific deed in Exodus is here set in intentional parallel with his creative work in Genesis. This harmony pertains to the deeper, subtler significance of the text.

Friday, January 13

Matthew 4:18-25: As fishermen, the Aposltes follow a profession with a playful analogy with the ministry of the Church. That is, they become “fishers of men,” drawing the whole world into the Holy Spirit’s net, which is the Church. In the third Galilean pericope (23-25), the fishing is extended to the larger region of the Decapolis and Syria. The Church’s fishing net is being spread to cover a larger area. This text is a step in preparation of the Great Commission, given in Matthew’s final chapter, about the disciplizing of “all nations.” The people are gathering here, of course, to hear the Sermon on the Mount, which will fill the next three chapters of Matthew.

Genesis 13: When Abram left Egypt, he and his family were very wealthy, because of Pharaoh’s generosity to someone he was trying to gain as a brother-in-law! Now Abram and Lot find that the sheer size of their flocks requires them to live apart (verses 1-7). The story of their separation (verses 8-13) demonstrates Abram’s humility in giving his younger relative the choice of the land (verse 9), while he himself takes what is left. This humble action of Abram illustrates the meaning of the dominical saying that the meek shall inherit the earth. Abraham’s descendants, not Lot’s, will inherit all this land. In this story we discern the non-assertive quality of Abram’s faith. He is not only meek; he is also a peacemaker. Meekness and peace making are qualities of the man of faith.

Lot serves in this story as a kind of foil to Abram. The meek and peaceful Abram takes what is left, whereas Lot, obviously having failed to do a proper survey of the neighborhood, chooses to live in Sodom. This was to prove one of the worst real estate choices in history.

The present chapter closes with God’s solemn asseveration to Abram, promising him the land and the “seed” (verses 14-18). Unfortunately the rich ambivalence of this latter noun (zera‘ in Hebrew, sperma in Greek, semen in Latin) is lost in more recent translations that substitute the politically correct but entirely prosaic “descendants” for “seed” (verses 15-16).

Besides Sodom, two other important Canaanite cities are introduced in this chapter, Bethel (still called Luz at this period — cf. 28:19) and Hebron. Both these cities will be extremely important in subsequent biblical history, and Abram is credited with making each of them a place of worship (verses 4,18).