Religious traditionalists have harshly criticized the recently released movie, “Noah” for its distortion of the Bible’s sacred chronicle. Rather than indulging in criticisms that accomplish little, I would rather present some aspects of the ancient Jewish version of Biblical story that have great modern relevance.
This, in a nutshell, is a much abridged version of the Biblical tale. The people of that era grew terribly decadent and debauched, save for Noah. The Almighty therefore flooded and destroyed the world except for Noah, his family, and representatives of the animals who all survived aboard the Ark. After the water receded and Noah left the Ark, God promised that He would never again smite the world in so devastating a manner.
What follows are some amplifications on this saga taken from ancient Jewish texts.
Why did The Almighty punish those people so severely? The Bible (Genesis 6, 13) writes: “God said to Noah, the end of all flesh has come before me, for the earth is filled with robbery through them; and behold, I am about to destroy them from the earth.”
The ancient Jewish take is that those people were widely guilty of not just theft, but of three other major types of sin as well: adultery and sexual perversion, idolatry, and murder. Furthermore, even some of the animals acted with sexual perversion, which is why they too perished, except for those aboard the Ark.
God did not destroy the world immediately after its moral collapse. Rather the Biblical phrase, “His days shall be 120 years” (ibid. 6:3) indicate that for 120 years, Noah publicly built the Ark during which time he warned the sinning people that if they do not change their ways, a great flood would come, and they would all perish.
Several relevant lessons emerge from this narrative. First and foremost: the world and its human inhabitants are not an evolutionary accident. God created the world and sustains it. And when there is a pervasive disregard for basic traditional morality, G-d’s destruction may follow. However, those who do not succumb to the prevailing moral breakdown may escape the ravages of the demolition, just as Noah did.
The Biblical story also teaches that when a culture becomes depraved, its resultant downfall may be delayed. Someone observing a morally corrupt society that seems strong and vibrant might therefore assume that things will always continue that way. The example of Noah teaches that people should not be lulled into this false sense of security. Although the generation of the Great Flood deserved to be annihilated, such did not occur until after 120 years, throughout which time they steadfastly refused to improve their ways. But when the downfall finally came, it was absolute and it happened very quickly.
The Almighty did promise that He would never again totally destroy the world as He did in the time of Noah. The implication however is that God might at least ruin the financial and political viability of cultures steeped in decadence. In fact, some historians have made the point that throughout the ages, when immorality became widespread within a society, it was a precursor to its demise.
To cite one example: In 1776 English historian Edward Gibbon wrote that the downfall of the ancient Roman Empire and other great civilizations was caused, not by external enemies, but by internal moral degeneration. Describing the Greek Empire before it fell, Mr. Gibbon wrote: “The music of the young people became wild and coarse. Popular entertainment was brutal and vulgar. Promiscuity, homosexuality, and drunkenness became a daily part of life. And all moral and social restraints were lost leading to greater decadence.”
What does all of this say to modern Western society?
It was previously mentioned that the people of Noah’s day were widely guilty of four major sins, adultery and sexual perversion, idolatry, murder, and theft.
Thankfully, idolatry is not prevalent in modern Western society. It does however seem that sexual improprieties are now widespread. Mr. Gibbon’s 1776 description of ancient Greece 2,100 years ago seems like an almost eerily up to date description of modern society.
Western society is generally law abiding and it therefore not broadly guilty of murder and theft. However, there is another way to look at the matter. If one considers the many first, second, and even third trimester fetuses that are currently being legally aborted, it may very well be that modern society is indeed guilty of widespread murder.
As for theft, I myself recently opined that the present system of government taking huge sums of money from taxpayers and distributing it in entitlements is highly unethical.
Traditionally, charity consists of people giving to causes they deem important. For one person it is a university, for another an orchestra, for a third medical research, and so forth. Another time-honored freedom is the option to not give charity at all. Using police powers of the state to seize money from private citizens against their will in order to fund a charity of politicians’ choosing (such as Obamacare that provides for the medically uninsured) makes “theft by government” the law of the land.
I also feel that when politicians overspend, especially on entitlements, and thereby engorge the national debt, that too is outright society-wide robbery. In order to give to charities they deem important, they borrow money and then coerce others – in this case, future generations – to pay the debt with interest. Any private citizen caught doing the same would be sent to prison, irrespective of however noble the cause being donated to. Ethically speaking, it is no different from pilfering a credit card and then brutalizing the card-owner into being saddled with years of credit card debt in order to pay for the ongoing spending.
Ominously, much of the behavior that led to the downfall of many great societies, including that of Noah’s time, now prevails.
The story of Noah thus loudly broadcasts a fundamental and unequivocal message. To ensure its continued prosperity and survival, modern Western society must intrepidly rededicate itself to traditional moral values.