In the six hundreth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the window of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark
It’s bizarre the way some authors craft a story. The way they describe things can often tell you far more about them than about the thing they are describing. The man or woman with the pen in their hand is dangerously close to the edge of transparency when writing. Even when writing accounts of historical events. Even when the writing is inspired by God.
Moses is credited for penning the first five books of the Old Testament. A task that certainly felt more like a job to him than the writing of an all-time best seller. Here, a mere seven chapters in, I think there is a bit of the man revealed in the text that he is writing.
Though the Hebrews had their own storytelling idiosyncrasies, the way Moses delivers the timeline of Noah’s last day prior to the flood is unique. Moses records the flood before the boarding. He tells of the fountains of the deep and torrential rains from the heavens before he lets us know that Noah and his family got on board safely. This does, if you are reading the text as a story, cast a bit of momentary doubt on the fate of the protagonist. So why? Why does Moses create this suspense? Why is there this small, but noticeable, hiccup in our timeline?
I’m sure scholars and six-year olds, far more insightful than me, have come up with brilliant reasons for this anomaly, and I don’t dare challenge their expertise, but I do wonder about this from my own perspective. Conservative, biblical scholars date the writing of the Old Testament to the century of 1400BC, just after the exodus (1445 BC is the best estimate, working backward through the Bible’s date references, of the exodus from Egypt). Moses could very well have been writing the book of Genesis through some of the infamous wilderness wanderings of the people of Israel.
Moses was, it seems, a profoundly frustrated man during the majority of his dealings with the young nation of Israel. He loved them in a way that is far more patriarchal than compassionate. He had a short fuse for their complaining and grumbling. He was, at times, overwhelmed with the pressure of leading more than a million people in circles through a small dessert. He felt the strain of being the hinge point between that many people and the God of the universe. To say that he was under SOME stress is like saying that you MIGHT want to stay behind Dick Cheney on a hunting trip.
Moses had been closer to God than just about any other individual that we have record of (with the exceptions of Adam, Eve, Enoch, and Abraham). He’d had a conversation with Him at the bush that burned, He’d almost been killed by Him on his way back to Egypt. He would, shortly after the exodus, see God in a way that no other man on earth would see Him until the Transfiguration of Jesus (and it may have been more raw than even that, not to mention that Moses was at the Transfiguration). But despite all of these incredible experiences, Moses was a man whose life’s call it seems was to wait. Waiting, wandering, learning to be satisfied with a sloth-like existence…these were the things that marked Moses’ life.
So as he beings to commit to historical record the story of Noah, isn’t it possible that his own question leak through the pen (though they do so without altering any of the historical fact of things)? As Moses’ life could be perceived as a line-up of “waitings”, he sees Noah’s story as a just-in-time kid of ordeal. The temptation would be to have Noah sitting on the ark, door closed, thumbs twiddling, kids nodding off when the storm rolls in, but that wasn’t Moses’ view of God. There seems to be no evidence that Noah or his family got the least bit wet. They weren’t just barely getting into the ark as the rising waters ran them down (though the recent movie Evan Almighty plays up that kind of drama). We just know that the ark was ready, the animals and refugees were on board, and then on this fateful day, 600+ years into Noah’s life, everything started soaking.
As frustrating as so much of Moses’ life had been, he still believed in a God that functionally operated with a purpose for everything. God’s time isn’t our time. Peter would go so far as to say that we don’t even come close to understanding time like God does (a thousand years is like a day to God). And perhaps, for Moses, there was subtle comfort in arranging the story, not to rewrite history, but to show that there isn’t one moment in God’s timeline for our lives that is wasted or unplanned. whether it’s the seconds between the ark door being closed and the flood waters sloshing up, or the 40 years between seeing the promised land and entering the promised land. Perhaps Moses was, in his own way, reminding us and himself that God doesn’t drop moments. There has never been one second that God wasn’t sovereign over. There has never been one day, month, year, or lifetime that He didn’t orchestrate, ordain, direct, or at the very least allow. This wasn’t difficult for Noah to grasp on that day of the flood, he was a believer, but after 15 years in the wilderness Moses might not have had such an easy time with this reality.
For us as well, as we wait, as we exist in the “time between times”, as we look for what God wants to do with us, in us, through us, and for us…in the now, there is only trust that our “waiting” is no different from our “arriving”. Every moment, whether sitting in a classroom, fighting for freedom, working for mission, collating spreadsheets, or stacking pallets…all of the moments spent in any of these endeavors are not trivial, they are remarkable. They are all to be offered up to the Giver of all moments as a sacrament, as an act of worship and rememberance.
As it was for Moses, so it is with us. We must wait well. And sometimes we must remind ourselves that the waiting is just as important as the doing, because in God’s economy the waiting is the doing.