Discussing Torah matters because the Torah matters

Genesis 18 & 19: A Look at Hospitality

In Genesis 18, God appears to Abraham in the heat of the day. Abraham looks up and sees three men approaching him. Now these three men are not ordinary men, although they appear to be. In fact, they are angels sent by God. Hebrews 13:2 comments and says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it!” Here Abraham models perfect hospitality. He gets up from his seat and runs to greet these strangers. He bows himself toward the ground and says “My Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not go past your servant . . . Let a little water be fetched and wash your feet, and rest . . . I will fetch a morsel of bread to your comfort your hearts...” The angels accept, and Abraham hurries into his tent to have a meal prepared for his guests. He prepares much more than a morsel of bread. He offers them fresh meat tender and good dressed with butter and milk, along with three measures of fine flour (one measure for each visitor) baked into hot cakes. Note: Abraham’s offer is humble, but his delivery is great. His words are small, but his actions are large. The three angels are impressed as they sit and enjoy a delicious meal at Abraham’s table. In years prior, they had watched from a distance God make a covenant with this man, but now they get the opportunity to meet him up close and personally. They admire Abraham’s wisdom when he addresses them in the singular, “my Lord.” You see, Abraham recognizes them for who they are: representatives of the one true God. He is a man with spiritual eyesight, who sees beyond the physical reality. Before him are three men physically, but spiritually they are united. They come as one, on behalf of One. Abraham’s usage of the singular––“my Lord”––shows that Abraham recognizes more than meets the eye. 

Zooming out, we come to learn what hospitality is from this chapter. Our father Abraham sets the bar very high for his children. We derive 5 principles of hospitality based on his behavior. As Rabbi Telushkin explains:

Genesis 18 is important to keep in mind as we turn the page and start reading chapter 19. In chapter 19, we will see a similar set up affording the same opportunities for hospitality. Instead of Abraham, though, Lot will be placed in the position of host. Lot is a believer; he is a “saved” person. But is his hospitality on par with Abraham’s? Well, let’s see what we find. 

Chapter 19 begins as TWO angels approach the city of Sodom at dusk. Wait––just a moment ago, Genesis 18 said there were three angels. But now in Genesis 19, there are only two of them. What happened to the third angel? Well, we must understand something about angels. Angels sent by God are called to carry out a specific mission. Once they accomplish their task, they return to God for further instruction. Demons, on the other hand, like to play around. They like to poke and prod at situations just to see what havoc they can cause. Angels sent by God are not that way. Angels come into the world with an intended purpose in mind; they execute the mission in full obedience to God’s will. In the context of this story, one angel is meant to tell Abraham that he would soon have a child with Sarah. This angel accomplishes his mission in Genesis 18 and then exits the story. Genesis 19 picks up and only two angels remain. Their mission: to save Lot and destroy Sodom. Also, there are two of them because two witnesses are needed to establish any legal matter (Deuteronomy 19:15)––especially in cases of life and death. These two angels act as the two witnesses who will condemn Sodom to the death penalty. 

As the two of them approach the city, they are spotted by Abraham’s nephew, Lot, who is sitting at the gate of Sodom. Immediately there are several items to note. 

By this time, Lot has lived in Sodom for at least 15 years. 
Lot first pitched his tents toward Sodom when Abraham was not yet 85 years old. When the angels meet Lot at the city gates, Abraham is now 99 years old. So based on how much Abraham has aged, we know for sure that Lot has been involved with Sodom for at least 15 years. (You can follow this timeline for yourself via Genesis 13:10-13, 15:1, 16:16, 17:24-25.) 

Lot is likely an elder of the city. 
The city’s elders would sit at the entrance of the city, at the city’s gate. (Reference Deuteronomy 25:7, Joshua 20:4, Proverbs 31:23.) Lot has come a long way since pitching his tent toward Sodom 15 years ago! Now he occupies a dignified position in the city. I would suggest that the great war against Mesopotamia is what boosted Lot’s reputation. Two reasons: 1) Many Sodomites went to war and died in battle, so the power fell upon fewer men afterward. 2) It was Lot’s uncle who saved the city! So by virtue of his relationship to Abraham the war hero, Lot became more esteemed in the community. 

So here’s Lot sitting at the city gate when he sees these two men (angels) approaching Sodom. If we measure Lot’s greeting in light of Abraham’s greeting, we’ll notice it says nothing about Lot running to greet them (as did Abraham). Instead, Lot waits until the angels come to him. He is a city elder, after all. That is a respected position. So these visitors––they can come to him

They finally get within speaking distance. Lot, the city elder, bows himself with his face toward the ground (Genesis 19:1). Whereas Abraham bowed himself toward the ground, Lot simply bows himself with his face toward the ground. It’s interesting to compare the two. The language implies Abraham prostrated his body to the ground, and Lot politely nodded. 

Lot begins by saying, “My lords...” Plural! Recall, Abraham addressed them in the singular because he recognized their unity. Lot, on the other hand, puts more stock in the physical than he does the spiritual. To Lot, the physical is primary and the spiritual is secondary. He addresses the visitors in the plural because their physical separation is more real to him than the oneness they represent. He is physically minded. But this is typical of Lot. Take for example the time Lot decided to move toward Sodom in the Jordan Valley: 

“Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east . . . Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:10-13 ESV). 

Like I said, Lot beholds the physical reality more than he does the spiritual reality. He moves his family to Sodom because (physically) it is like the Garden of Eden! It is like the land of Egypt! I mean yeah, sure, the wickedness is great and the people are corrupt, but just look at that view! It’s gorgeous! Let’s go!

Lot says, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant's house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” Lot presses them strongly, urging them to come to his house. The angels accept the offer and go to his house. Genesis 19:3 tells us, “And [Lot] made them a feast...” but what does it say he made for them? “...and he did bake unleavened bread.” 

...What? Where’s any mention of fresh meat tender and good dressed with butter and milk? Or what about the fine flour baked into hot cakes? Is there any mention of this? No. There is no mention of this whatsoever. The only detail we’re given is that he made them some unleavened bread. Compared to the description of Abraham’s meal, Lot’s meal seems to be less than grandiose. Lot’s meal seems to be closer to a morsel of bread than does Abraham’s. Note, though, the Torah is gracious. God (who is telling this story to Moses) does not call attention to Lot’s service...or lack thereof. But I think we can read between the lines and make a comparison between Abraham’s meal and Lot’s meal. The details are telling. We see that Abraham’s words were small but his delivery was great. The description of Lot’s meal is big (“a feast!”), but his delivery seems to be lacking. (...unleavened bread? Oh...thanks, Lot.)

Now Lot certainly deserves some credit. He does show hospitality to his dinner guests. It may not be on par with Abraham’s, but at least Lot does invite them into his house and offer them something to eat. He later stands up for them and tries to protect them from the men of Sodom. To his credit, Lot shows a degree of hospitality. But this brings us to thinking about two kinds of believers. How hospitable are we when it comes to inviting God into our lives?

Some believers are of Abraham’s stature: they see the spiritual world as primary and the physical world as secondary. They see God in the people they encounter. Their words are humble but their deeds are great. They run to the Lord. They worship Him with their whole being (“worship” and “bow” are the same word in Hebrew: shachah). 

Meanwhile, other believers are of Lot’s stature: there is a degree of pride involved. To them, the physical world is primary and the spiritual world is an afterthought. They make themselves available to the Lord if He will just come to them. He is invited in, yes, but only for a time they so designate––like Lot says, “In the morning you can go on your way.” In other words, “I will be your host, Lord, but only from here to here. After that, you need to go. You need to be on your way.” This kind of believer may shachah God with their head, but not with their whole being. Everything is limited. 

I suppose the question is: Are you Lot or are you Abraham? Which kind of believer are you? How hospitable are you to God? How hospitable are you to your neighbor? If I may speak personally, so often I am Lot. My hospitality is limited, not just to others but to God as well. Thankfully, God is gracious! He does not call attention to my shortcomings. But He does give me chapters like Genesis 18 & 19 to think on it, pray on it, and try to do better in the future. Now that I think about it, this is His invitation to me––to join Him in His house. 

The Animal Parade

It was man’s first day on earth, and God wasted no time at all. Summoning the animals, God instructed Adam to name what he encountered. What ensued would go on to become one of the greatest scenes in all human history: God sitting alongside man, smiling––an afternoon lesson, a planet’s worth of animals, and not a distraction in the world. Can you imagine? And to think, God spoke His words into animals, but here He invites man to speak the animals back into words. It’s an amazing exchange when you think about it.

It is even more amazing is when you consider that this exchange is an exercise that reoccurs between God and man every single day. In your case, it goes as follows: From the moment you wake up to the minute you fall asleep, God parades before you a wild variety of figures, shapes, circumstances, opinions and ideas. He invites you to name whatever you see, and He gives you full liberty in the naming department. You wake up in the morning and choose to name what you see “a day the Lord has made.” Or, maybe you choose to name it “another God forsaken Monday morning.” You next come upon something you identify as “my quiet time with the Lord.” Or, maybe you identify this as “my time to catch up on the headlines.” Later, you choose to name a certain something “miraculous.” Then again, maybe you name it “mere coincidence.” For this person, you name “a child of the King,” or, maybe you name him “a democrat” or “a republican.” The parade continues. Maybe others like to name this next one “Christian hypocrisy,” but you name it “the way God challenges me to love.” Note that whatever name you choose, that is its name (Genesis 2:19). And the process goes on, day after day: one encounter passes by and the next encounter rises up. On and on, again and again, you name and God listens.

The depth of this exercise is more than meets the eye. It is intended to be an introduction to the life that is hidden within you. Just look at Adam. Adam is told that it is not good that man is alone. What happens next? Is Eve revealed right away? No! Instead the whole animal parade happens next. And then, finally, a deep sleep comes over him and he awakes to that which was hidden within him. In like manner, it goes that once the parade is over and you have completed the exercise, a deep sleep will come over you. Upon waking from it, what used to be concealed within will then be revealed in full

God (again alongside man) tells him, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Jesus speaking, Luke 6:45). 

After emerging from the deep sleep, you will awaken to the truths of your own heart. Some may awaken to an ugly reality, but to the degree you invite God into your heart, to the degree your reality aligns with the reality of His Word, to that degree you will awaken to the most beautiful masterpiece you will ever see: the kingdom of Heaven itself, that which was hidden within you. 

“...the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21 KJV)

The Torah's Tebahs

In Hebrew, the word “ark” is the word tebah (תבה) (pronounced tay-baw). There are two tebahs in the Torah. Can you guess what both of them are?

If you said Noah’s ark, yes, Noah’s ark is one such tebah. Can you guess what the other one is?

If you said the ark of the covenant, no, actually the ark of the covenant is not called a tebah. The word “ark” in this context is a different Hebrew word, the word aron. So the question remains, where is the Torah’s other tebah

Yes! The ark that Jochebed constructed for her baby Moses, the one she placed him in before she floated him down the Nile River. Like Noah’s ark, Jochebed’s ark is also called a tebah! 

These are the only two stories in which the word tebah is used. Having this in common, God is calling our attention to a connection He is making. So let’s put these stories side by side and see what we can learn. To get started, here is the story of Jochebed’s ark as told in Exodus 2. (Note: we learn later in Exodus 6:20 that her name is Jochebed.)

Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a [tebah] made of papyrus reeds and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the [tebah] among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:1-10 ESV)

Assuming you already know the story of Noah’s ark, let’s jump in and compare the two narratives. Keep in mind, we’re looking for not just the similarities but also the opposites. We do this according to the principle of the menorah, God’s pattern for giving light. The corresponding branches of a menorah are both the same and the opposite (as explained in detail here). It’s by bringing the two together that balance is made and a full amount of light is experienced. 

Again, the word tebah is used only in these two stories. This is no accident; obviously God is up to something. He orchestrated events in such a way that the stories would align to form this menorah pattern. But what is the central truth? What larger picture is this menorah illuminating?

The central truth is one of salvation, and the larger picture is the story of your life and mine, as we come to grasp that salvation. If you think about it, our Christian life unfolds in two sort of stages. Each tebah represents Christ working in our life during each particular stage. When brought together, the two arks help us see what it means to live in Christ. Permit me to elaborate. 

When you first come to God, you come to Him in a desperate state. You’re tired of the sinful world you live in, and you’re willing to do anything it takes to be saved from the destruction and judgement you see coming.  

Noah’s ark is the first part of your Christian journey. The tebah is Christ. In Christ, you escape the just judgment of God. Maybe in the interest of self-preservation, you leave behind the corruption of the flesh. You ask: what must I do to be saved? And then you respond to the direction you are given. And when things start happening, it is an internal experience––seen from the inside. You feel elevated in spirit. From a low, you are brought high. You know that everything––your whole life––has been saved. And God extends to you righteousness on account of your faith, as you find grace in the eyes of the Lord. Suffice to say, this describes your initial conversion. Hopefully you see how it parallels that which we noted about the story of Noah’s ark. It is a picture of when you finally get onboard and experience the Lord’s all-encompassing salvation. 

But there’s another facet of your Christian journey that comes afterward. This part is pictured by the story of Jochebed’s ark. Again, the tebah is Christ, He who carries me from here to there. But this time around, you don’t place your whole life in the ark. Instead, you give the ark a certain piece of your life that is very near and dear to your heart. With complete surrender to God, you let it go. You yield it to God. You see, this ark is less about righteousness and more about holiness. An example will help to clarify what I mean.  

Take an example from my life, a conviction of mine. I’ve been a Christian for a number of years now. I am a “saved” person. God has seen me through the “Noah’s ark” experience, so to speak. But Jochebed’s ark is a reoccurring event in my life. I am thinking of a certain aspect that doesn’t live up to the holiness that God has called me to. In this area, I cling to selfishness. It is His request for a few minutes of prayer time first thing in the morning. He wants me to surrender to Him the first fruits of my day. He wants me to put that time into the tebah, then wait and watch what He can do with it. He asks for only a few minutes of my morning; this is a small thing, I know. But it’s funny. If you saw the stubbornness with which I respond, you would think I was giving up a baby!

“But God!” I protest. “Those moments of the day are the only moments I get to myself! You know I have a full time job and a wife and a two year old! You know that that time in the early morning is very near and dear to me! That is MY time! And with MY time, I want to check the headlines and peruse Facebook. So what!” And then, from somewhere in my spirit, He politely whispers, “I wish you would trust Me. You should see what I can do with that small amount of time. A change so great it will be seen by others from the outside.” Yet so often, I ignore the kind whisper and turn the other way. Having checked the headlines and perused Facebook, I drive to work at the start of another day. Along the way, I can’t help but picture an empty tebah floating down the Nile to a place of royalty. I imagine the Royal eagerly peering inside, but again finding nothing precious there. It’s just another empty tebah, and another lost opportunity at holiness and blessing. No doubt, I need to take a lesson from Jochebed. 

Jochebed placed in the tebah one small thing: her baby Moses. Of course doing this was by no means easy! It was likely the hardest thing she ever had to do! Nevertheless, she trusted God; she let go of something that was very valuable to her. She realized that by clinging to him, she would lose him––lose him to the enemy, pharaoh. So she gave him up . . . and guess what happened? She got him back! And not only did she get him back, she started getting paid for him! There was added, unforeseen blessing involved. However! It is important to note that the baby wasn’t hers anymore. Because again, she had given him away. But you know what? I don’t think it mattered to her, because she saw that God was accomplishing something great with what she had given away. And she was getting everything she ever wanted in the meantime. 

There are times when we, too, must surrender what is ours. We do this as we pursue the holiness that God has called us to. Holiness is about being a people set apart from the world. To be set apart, we must separate ourselves from certain things we may cling to, things which may be very near and dear to our heart. But if God asks for it, He asks for it, and we need to be ready to put it in the tebah and let it go. Although it may not be easy, at least we have Jochebed’s story from which to draw inspiration. In light of her story, holiness is not about living a life of withouts. The holy life God wants for us is a rich and full life, a life with great unforeseen blessing, a life in which we get everything we ever wanted, in a way we didn’t expect. This is what Jochebed experienced; it can be our experience as well. It comes only by way of surrender, though.  

Thankfully God is gracious. He doesn’t ask us to give up everything all at once. Instead, He asks for one small thing at a time. He says to us, “I saved you with a big ark, so trust Me with this little ark. Put it in the tebah and see what happens. You will be grateful that you did.

The Ark Lands on Ararat

Mount Ararat as pictured from space

When Noah’s ark settles on Mount Ararat, there is an awesome picture we should have in our minds––even more awesome than the picture above. But the picture I am speaking of is illustrated only in the Hebrew. So quickly, let’s run through three Hebrew words and then one Hebrew letter.

When cursing the serpent, God makes this prophecy: “[The seed of the woman] will bruise your head...” (Genesis 3:15). The word for “bruise” in this passage is the Hebrew word shuwph, which can mean bruise, crush, or to fall upon.

Holding onto this thought, let’s reach for another Hebrew word, the word “curse.” In Hebrew, the word “curse” is the word arar, spelled ארר. This word is used by God when He curses the serpent, saying, “Cursed are you...”

Onto the next word, beginning with this question: Isn’t it fascinating that the Torah reports exactly what mountain the ark landed on? A general area would have sufficed, but the Torah instead tells us specifically where the ark came to rest. And that is significant in more ways than one. It tells us the ark landed on Mount Ararat. In Hebrew, the word Ararat is spelled אררט.

Notice, the first three letters of Ararat (ארר) are the same three letters that spell arar, curse” (ארר). By simply adding the letter tet (ט) at the end of the word, we come to spell Ararat, as in Mount Ararat. What are we to make of this?

To answer that question, we must know that each Hebrew letter symbolizes something. For instance, the letter aleph represents an ox. The letter beit represents a house. The letter dalet represents a door. We could go through the whole Hebrew alphabet this way, because again, every letter is a picture. So what, then, does the letter tet represent? The letter tet represents a snake! (ReferenceYou can see the letter even resembles a snake with its curled tail on the right and its head lifted up on the left:

Now that we have run through three Hebrew words and the letter tet, we are ready to look at the picture. But first, let’s frame it...

The enemy had to have been proud of himself, because humanity––God’s crown of creation––had become corrupt beyond recognition. The corruption of all fresh had gone so far that God saw fit to wipe the whole earth clean with a global flood. But before He pulled the trigger, God also did a subtle something that the enemy wasn’t expecting. He instructed a man named Noah to start building an ark. Noah, a man righteous in his generation, obediently responded to God, and his construction of the ark began. So while the enemy busied himself with the kingdoms of the world (thinking that’s where he would have the most impact in his destruction), somewhere outside of town, maybe off the enemy’s radar, there was a man hammering down one nail at a time. And even if the enemy was aware of the project, I imagine he was so drunk on his own success and so possessed by his own ambition that he underestimated the importance of one layman’s contribution to the world. If the enemy had cared enough about it, I imagine he would have called the kings of the earth to ride up on the construction site and burn the boat to the ground. But as it happened, the ark was completed, the project was finished, and God’s plan was set into motion. 

Into this ark, God gathered all the living creatures of the Garden of Eden, Noah and his family included. This ark became a kind of reincarnated Garden of Eden, in that it brought together all the life that once dwelled in the Garden. As I see it, the ark was like a capsule of Eden, the Garden in pill form so to speak. God the doctor prescribed just one dosage; God the pharmacist ensured the right cut of ingredients; God the insurer made sure it was covered by premium grace. And so the ark––this Garden of Eden––lifted from the ground and floated atop the floodwaters. No matter how deep the floodwaters rose, the ark would abound all the more (Romans 5:20). Meanwhile, the enemy looked on with helplessness. The dominion for which he had labored for so long was gone now, destroyed by this baptism of floodwater. Without the kings of the earth, without the nephilim he had produced, he had neither hands nor feet with which to carry out his desires. Suddenly he found himself to be a snake again––a lowly lonesome creature without any legs or arms with which elevate himself. For the first time in a long time, the snake thought back to God’s declaration that the woman’s seed would shuwph its head.  

And sure enough, what happened next? The ark landed on Mount Ararat. Get the picture?

God’s salvation fell upon the head of the cursed serpent. The weight of the ark drove itself deep into wet mud of Ararat, bruising heavily its cold and slimy surface.

Even more, I like to think that the sharpest bruise done to Ararat was caused by the heel of Shem’s wife as she stepped off the ark and into the new world. For it was she who would carry forth the Messianic seed which would one day crush the serpent’s head for good.

“That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

Comparing Creation and Re-Creation

All of history pivots in Genesis 7 & 8. The flood is not simply the end of what was before. It is also the beginning of something very new. Such a pivot may be seen illustrated by a simple number exercise, a study in symmetry.

We see a chiastic structure of 7-40-150::150-40-7. It’s a menorah pattern! It balances the advance of the waters and their retreat, the destruction and the revival, the punishment and the recovery. The central stalk is God’s pass over, where He remembers Noah and the ark and saves them from the surrounding floodwaters.

As the floodwaters subside to reveal mountaintops, please understand that this is not a return to the old world. No! It is the revealing of a new creation! We’re beginning again. Think of the ark as a re-imagined Garden of Eden. The ark encapsulates man and all the living creatures which once dwelled with man in the Garden. The ark brings the ol’ gang back together again. It’s like a family reunion. When Noah and his family emerge from the ark, they are like the four rivers that emerge from Eden to water the earth. They are the four couples who spread out to populate the world. At the moment they step off the ark, history begins again. We’re witnessing the second beginning of human history in a new creation. And if we take the time to see it, what we’ll discover is that the second beginning is a reflection of the first beginning. By that I mean we will see the same elements in both accounts. Let’s unpack the parallels, those between the story of creation and the story of re-creation.

In Genesis 1, the Spirit of God is upon the water. In Genesis 8, God causes a spirit to pass over the earth which has returned to water. (By the way, “spirit” and “wind” are the same word in Hebrew: ruach). Next in Genesis 8, the waters above and below are stopped, a clear parallel to the division of waters on Day 2. Day 3 of creation tells of the exposure of dry land and the creation of plants, represented in Genesis 8 by the exposure of dry land and the olive branch. Day 4 is characterized by the luminaries which mark signs and seasons, seen again in Genesis 8:22 as God pronounces day and night, heat and cold, summer and winter. Day 5 gives us the birds of the air, and of course we have Noah releasing various birds into the air. And as Noah steps off the ark and surveys a new world, I can’t help but be reminded of Day 6, man’s first day on earth with the animals. I picture Noah standing at the foot of the ramp leading down from the ark, and the animals passing by him one by one as they make their exit. This is the second sort of animal parade in history. In the first one, man had named the animals. In the second one, man had saved them.

Standing on a new earth under a warm sun, Noah hears the voice of God. God instructs Noah in a manner that is parallel, if not identical, to the way He instructed Adam earlier in Genesis. Again we hear the command to be fruitful and multiply. Again we are told that man is made in God’s image. Then, just as Adam was given instructions pertaining to food, so too Noah is given instructions pertaining to food. 

As Genesis 8 closes, Noah, fresh off the boat, builds an altar and brings an offering to the Lord. We can’t read over this because it is among the most beautiful moments in Scripture. For a whole year Noah has had to devote all his energy to saving the animals, and yet now, immediately after their deliverance, he brings them as an offering! And as he builds the altar, we have to imagine him stacking stones smoothed and shaped by the floodwaters. Offering every pure animal on this altar, let us note that this offering is of significance for world history. As Rabbi Hirsch explains, “It is evident from many passages in Scripture that an altar of stone is a manmade structure through which the earth, as it were, ascends Heavenward. We are commanded to build the altar. It must not stand upon arches or pillars. It must be in direct contact with the ground, a continuum, as it were, of the earth. For the altar symbolizes the elevation of the earth to God through the actions of man. The constructed altar symbolizes man elevating himself above nature and exalting himself through creativity to the level of free man, so as to ascend from there to God. Thus, by building an altar to God on the earth newly restored to Him, Noah consecrated the whole world and made it a sanctuary. There, the deeds of man will join stone to stone, until the entire earth becomes God’s consecrated mountain.”

What a shift! From Genesis 6 where the whole earth was corrupt in God’s sight and filled with violence . . . to the end of Genesis 8, where the whole earth has been renewed and rededicated, made right and begun again. You can see why the flood is as much a prologue as it is a conclusion! And amazingly, the connections don’t stop here! The parallels continue into Genesis 9. Those parallels can be illustrated as follows:

Saving Sodom

Twice Abraham moves to save Sodom. 

In Genesis 14, the Mesopotamian army has plundered the city of Sodom and enslaved its people. We read, “The four kings [of Mesopotamia] seized all the goods of Sodom . . . and all their food; then they went away. They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom. A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew” (Genesis 14:11-13). Upon hearing this, Abraham moves to save Sodom in that he pursues the army, defeats the army, and returns with all of the people and possessions of Sodom (v. 16). He restores everything back to the King of Sodom, not even keeping a sandal strap for himself. Thus, the city of Sodom is saved, and Sodom lives on to see another day. 

In Genesis 18, the sins of Sodom have become so grievous that God “goes down to see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached [Him]” (v. 20-21). Abraham again steps forward to save Sodom. He approaches God, saying, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? . . . Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Abraham bargains with God, asking Him to spare Sodom if just 50 righteous citizens can be found...then just 40...then just 30...then just 20...then, finally, just 10. God agrees to the terms, and Abraham returns home. At this point, it looks as if Abraham has done it again; it looks as if he has saved the city of Sodom once more. However, not even 10 good people are found in the entire city! Consequently, the people and possessions of Sodom are destroyed by fire and brimstone. This time, the city of Sodom is not saved. Sodom does not live on to see another day.

Note this interesting parallel:

Abraham hears the outcry of a survivor, who reaches him and tells him how dire the situation is. In a surprise attack at night, Abraham strikes at the Mesopotamians who have enslaved the people of Sodom.

God hears the outcry of the sinfulness of Sodom, which reaches Him and tells Him how dire the situation is. In a surprise attack, God strikes at the sins which have enslaved the people of Sodom. 

In both cases, Abraham does whatever he can to save Sodom (as I mentioned before). How is it, though, that Abraham manages to save Sodom the first time but fails to do so the second time? 

I think there are some key differences: 
Abraham could rescue Sodom from the Mesopotamians. 
Abraham could NOT rescue Sodom from itself.

Abraham could rescue Sodom from the injustice of their demise. 
Abraham could not rescue Sodom from the justice of their demise.