OT Lectionary

For those who want a change from the Gospel

Easter 5 – Genesis 8:1-19

This week we have part 2 of the flood narrative which we began last week. It’s a well-known story, and we enjoy the images of birds flying away, and a dove with an olive twig, which has become a universal symbol of peace and rest. Sadly our lectionary reading doesn’t quite complete the chapter, and there is an amusing irony in some of the animals who had been saved from a watery death, no doubt feeling relieved that they are safe back on dry land, then being chosen for sacrifices. But I want to take a slightly different tack this week, and focus on one idea, from a Hebrew word which occurs in v.1. The word is zacar (pronounced zaarkar) and it is usually translated ‘remember’. God remembered Noah.

This word is used 235 times in the OT, and some notable examples would be God remembering his people in slavery in Egypt (Ex 6), remembering Abraham when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed (Gen 19), and remembering Samson one last time (Judg 6). In our culture we usually think of remembering something which we have previously forgotten. We suddenly remember where we put our car keys, or someone’s birthday, or to pick up some milk from the shops on the way home. So the sense we get from our English translations is that God had forgotten Noah, presumably because he was preoccupied with other things, but then one day thought ‘Oh my goodness! Noah! I’ve left him floating around! Oops – better sort that one out!’  

But the Hebrew sense of zacar isn’t like that, you’ll be glad to hear. When God remembers someone, he decides that the time has come to act for their good, to help them. The only thing that God is capable of forgetting is our sin. Otherwise we’re all held constantly in his heart and mind. So why then do we sometimes feel that God has forgotten us? Even Jesus felt himself to be forsaken by his Father as he died on the cross. And why does God seem to decide to zacar us at odd times, and often after some delay? If you add up the dates from our passage, it took around seven and a half months before God allowed Noah and his family out of the ark. Even round the world cruises don’t usually last that long. If he hadn’t forgotten him, why did it take so long to remember him? Maybe you have lived through times when it appeared that you had slipped out of God’s memory. Maybe you have had to wait for him to focus back on you and do something. It’s one of the hardest times to live through, and those periods really do make us question whether or not God really loves us, or even if he is in any way interested in us.

Well, let me tell you the answer to that question: why does God appear to forget us? The answer is: I’ve no idea. Frankly that isn’t how I’d play it if I were God. But he does. He decides at times to bring us to the front of his attention and act for us, and at other times not to. Our problem is that we don’t like waiting, but it appears that sometimes God thinks that waiting is good for us, so his loving purposes for us mean that we don’t get instant answers to prayers of solutions to our problems. Just as Noah was left for months floating around aimlessly until God ‘remembered’ him, so we can be left bereft, sometimes for years, until one day God starts to act. That’s how it is, like it or not.

So that leaves us with a choice. We can rail against it, moan and complain, or perhaps we can stop praying about the situation altogether, deciding that there’s simply no point since God clearly has forgotten us, or has taken against us for some reason. Or we can work with him. We can choose to trust him, that he hasn’t forgotten us, and is quietly working out his purposes for us. In the words of Maggi Dawn’s song, we can ‘sing in the darkness, and wait without fear’, confident that sooner or later he will zacar us and act for our redemption from whatever is troubling us. At the end of the day, it comes down to what we believe about God, and whether we really are confident of his love, goodness and justice. Waiting for him to remember raises important questions, and can hold up a mirror to our faith, a mirror which it would be more comfortable not to look into.

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