This week’s reading tells the story of Noah, the father of all humanity. We learn that G-d spoke to him and his children, directing them to follow seven laws for just and moral lives. Most religions say that they offer an exclusive path, but our Talmud teaches that “the righteous of all nations have a share in the World to Come.” Maimonides says that this applies to anyone who accepts upon him or herself to observe the Seven Commandments given to Noah.
-Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org
“But flesh, when its soul is with its blood, you shall not eat it… He who spills the blood of man, by man shall his blood be spilled, for in the Image of G-d did He create man.” –Genesis 8:4,6
Where was God when the descendants of Noah needed salvation? Christians believe we are saved through the blood of Jesus Christ and Jews believe they merit a place in the world to come by obeying the 613 mitzvot (OK, it’s more complicated than that, but that’s “salvation” in a nutshell). But what about the time before the birth of Christ and before Moses at Sinai? We know that people were aware of God. Certainly Noah was a “righteous man; he was blameless in his age” and he “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9) and certainly God spoke to Abraham when He said, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1), but what allowed a person to have a relationship with God, particularly in Postdiluvial times?
We see hints that the people in those days were aware of “Torah” requirements. Even Noah was commanded of “every clean animal you shall take seven pairs, males and their mates, and of every animal that is not clean, two, a male and its mate”, telling us that well before Sinai, clean and unclean animals were an understood concept. We don’t see God going through an extensive set of explanations telling Noah the difference between these two general types of creatures, so he must have already known about this. We even know that when Abel offered his sacrifice to God (Genesis 4:3-4), it was a clean animal appropriate for sacrifice.
The commentaries in the Stone Edition of the Chumash make significant reference to the kosher vs. non-kosher animals such as in this example:
Genesis 6:19 “Two of each.” As the following verse explains, these animals were to be one male and one female, so that the species could be replenished after the Flood. In the case of the kosher species that could be used for offerings, Noah was later commanded to bring seven pairs (7:2), so that he could bring offerings of gratitude and commitment after returning to dry land.
The Chumash commentary for Genesis 8:20-21 even refers the reader to Leviticus for details on the sacrificial offerings, their names, and terminology, again suggesting that Noah would have had to possess some of this information in order to give a proper sacrifice to God after the Flood. Yet man, at that time, was not to divide animals into kosher and non-kosher for eating, as illustrated in Genesis 9:3:
Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these.
We see that certain parts of the “Torah knowledge” available to both the antediluvian and postdiluvian peoples was later applied specifically to the Children of Israel as part of the Torah, but what about the rest of humanity? Ten generations followed Noah before the birth of Abram (Abraham). The Bible glosses over the details of the lives of these people, but we presume at least some of them continued their worship of and devotion to Hashem. Also, during the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, there were members of their households who were not Hebrews yet who learned of the God of Noah and turned their hearts to Him. What about the Egyptian members of Joseph’s house when he was a viceroy of Pharaoh, King of Egypt (see Torah Portions Miketz and Vayiggash)? Perhaps Joseph taught some of them about the God of his father Jacob. Most assuredly, he taught his Egyptian wife and sons.
Unlike most other religions, Judaism does not declare that they are the only path to righteousness, well not exactly anyway. Rabbi Yaakov Menken has this to say.
Unlike the other religions of the world, Judaism does not believe that everyone must become a Jew in order to approach G-d or earn a place in the World to Come. When King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he asked of G-d that He hear the prayers of all who pray towards that Temple: “Also a gentile who is not of your people Israel, but will come from a distant land for Your Name’s sake… and will come and pray toward this Temple, may You hear in Heaven Your dwelling-place, and do according to all that gentile calls out to You…” [I Kings 8:41-43]
It is the subject of much debate as to whether or not there were “Noahides” or Ger Toshav among the Hebrew people between the days of Noah and Moses, but it is more than possible that they existed. Abraham sent his most trusted (non-Hebrew) servant to find a wife for his son Isaac (Genesis 24:1-9) and Rabbinic commentary identifies this man as a Noahide. If this servant had not been righteous before God, how could he have risen to such a high position in Abraham’s household and why would Abraham have trusted him to find a suitable wife for Isaac? We even see the Bible’s first recorded personal prayer uttered by this man.
He made the camels kneel down by the well outside the city, at evening time, the time when women come out to draw water. And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my master Abraham: Here I stand by the spring as the daughters of the townsmen come out to draw water; let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’-let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac. Thereby shall I know that You have dealt graciously with my master.” –Genesis 24:11-14
From a Christian point of view, there are apparent “gaps” in God’s plan of salvation for mankind. Discussions of hypothetical situations occasionally occur in Bible studies, such as what would have happened to a person before the birth of Christ who otherwise was “good” but had no way to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior? Perhaps God answered that question when He spoke to Moses in Genesis 9:1-17, which is the basis for today’s Noahide Laws.
I recently investigated the concept of the Ger Toshav as a possible “interface” between Christians and Jews but only hit a brick wall. Observant Jews do not consider Christians to be “righteous Gentiles” if, for no other reason, than they believe we worship a man as a God and indeed, worship three Gods rather than the One. However, the Ger Toshav may have enjoyed a life of righteousness that included a relationship with the God of Adam and Noah, perhaps into the time of Jesus, Peter, and Paul.
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 8:8-11
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. –Acts 10:1-2
As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. –Acts 17:10-12
The covenant of Christ allows we who are not Jewish to enter into a deep and abiding relationship with the God of all Creation that, in its holiness, is on par with the people of the Mosaic covenant (Galatians 3:26-29) so we non-Jews can go beyond the boundaries of the Noahide. Yet, the Acts 15 letter issued by the Jerusalem council, in some ways, mirrors the laws of Noah. Becoming disciples of the Master does not remove the obligation of a Christian to shun worship of idols, murder, theft, blasphemy, and sexual immorality. The Noahide prohibition to not eat the limb of a living animal may seem strange, but we also would find such as act abhorrent. Creating a court system is an act of establishing justice and as Christians, being just and merciful should not seem odd.
If the Messianic covenant has not removed or replaced the Noahide covenant but instead, has enhanced it and greatly expanded our access to God, how can we say that the covenant of the Messiah has replaced the Mosaic covenant for the Jews? The Noahide covenant paints a rainbow-colored portrait of God’s love of and provision for all of humanity from the days of the Flood up until the current age. He never abandoned the vast throng of mankind from Noah to Jesus but gave them a gift of Himself, even into the times of Abraham, Moses, and David. For the past 2,000 years, we have had Jesus to turn to for an even greater relationship with God.
But as I just said, if we can learn one lesson for the Gentiles in the story of Noah, including that there is no conflict between Noahide and Messianic covenants, then perhaps we can also learn that no conflict exists between the Mosaic laws and the teachings of the Messiah. Moses and Jesus are not enemies and in fact, for a Jew, what they illuminate goes hand in hand, just as the teachings of Noah and Jesus do for the Gentile.