I have long been fascinated by Noah and the unique call God had on his life. As we begin our Lenten pilgrimage I want to offer you (such as it is) a chance to imagine the events that led to catastrophe but ultimately to new life. A new chapter will be added here each week.
Chapter 1 The Mark of Cain
He was already an old man, over 500 years of living in this dry arid land, eking out an existence. Each morning he would waken early and stand at the entrance of his tent, gazing east towards the distant oasis, a shock of green standing out from the brown scorched earth. It was a haven of palm trees, fresh clean water and many tents and wooden houses that were filled with a mixture of races that had one thing in common, suspicion and hostility for the stranger who lived at the far end of the valley, in the dark shadow of an ancient forest they believed to be cursed.
Noah was a simple man, happy to accept his lot in life, giving thanks to his God every morning for bringing him and his beloved wife safely to the beginning of yet another day. He was also a dreamer, dreaming daily of having a farm where he would grow plants and trees, and vines, lots and lots of vines! As a wandering nomad with enough sheep to keep him and his family well fed for the foreseeable future he yearned for a time that he would not have to beg those who lived around the distant oasis; when he could move to his own oasis and not be answerable to anyone except his God. He was not a heavy drinker but each morning as he gazed East to say his prayers he would allow himself a moment of wistfulness as he wondered what it would be like to drink a skinful of his own wine, fermented from his own grapes.
This daily dream always turned his heart back to God, who alone would be able to convince the leaders of the distant oasis settlement to allow him to build a water channel through the valley to where he and his wife had pitched their tents all those years before. He could picture in his mind’s eye the valley before him filled with green grass, fresh crops and rows upon rows of flourishing vines. ‘God of my fathers’, he would begin ‘All I need is water, all I have is these few sheep and this strange dark forest of trees that reaches to the heavens with dark wood with leaves that never fall’. As he continued to utter long familiar prayers, his mind would wander back to the days he and his new bride arrived in the valley.
They had travelled many miles to find a place to call their own; far enough away from those who sought to harm them, and still near enough to keep contact with their own family should need arise. As Noah prayed for his family, his thoughts turned to his father Lamech. Word had reached him that his father’s health was failing: that soon he and Naamah would have to leave this dried out valley and return to his father’s tents to take over his father’s flocks. Not surprising the warning of Lamech’s failing health had been delivered by his ancient grandfather, Methusaleh, who was already 869 years old and still so much healthier and stronger than his dying son who was only a mere 682 years old and unlikely to see many more.
Noah sighed, despite his relative youth, at 500 years he felt stretched, old and tired, so very tired. He was worn out by the harsh toil and constant struggles to access the life sustaining water of the distant oasis. Maybe it would be good to go home, he mused; to surrender to the hostile glares of his nearest neighbours. But Noah was stubborn, doggedly so, and was still determined to make his farm in this barren valley filled with so much potential. He remembered, all so clearly, the stir that their arrival at the oasis had caused all those years before. His wife’s name literally meant ‘beautiful’ or ‘pleasant’ and Naamah lived up to her name. The men who ruled the oasis seemed well pleased to welcome weary travellers. As is often the way of it, that first evening around the fire pit was filled with conversations and questions, everyone eager to find points of connection, who had relatives in common, who knew their families. Noah had already noted the presence of three of the ‘taller-men’sitting back from the firepit, those believed by many to be offspring of the sons of the gods and the daughters of men. Their silent presence unsettled Noah especially as their eyes so often shifted to stare hungrily at Naamah.
The chief of the oasis was an older man, who carried the traditional stick of authority, but it soon became clear that any decision that Noah would seek about his future plans would have to be cleared by these silent watchers. Naamah feigned tiredness as the night drew in and Noah and she went outside the camp to set up their tents. Neither of them slept a wink as they listened, with growing unease, to the raucous and riotous activity at the oasis. Just before dawn, he heard the approaching footfall of the taller-men, his hand moving instinctively to the three metal spikes he had laid near the door of his tent. The unwelcome visitors demanded that Noah pay them a special price for the privilege of sleeping so near the oasis. Placing a protective arm over Naamah’s shoulders and showing a lot more courage than his quaking body felt, he asked what price was expected. ‘To be so near the water would cost much more than two such wandering nomads could afford’, sneered the leader, his eyes leering at Naamah, ‘But we are reasonable hosts, water in these parts means life, so we would expect your woman to give herself to us or to die of thirst!’ Noah’s grip tightened on the three spikes hidden behind his robes, however his mind was not looking for violence but for a way to calm this threatening situation. ‘Then’, he replied carefully, ‘we will not trouble you anymore but take ourselves to the furthest point of this valley so we will not remove any of your water from you’. Another of the taller-men sneered ‘that would bring you to the very edge of the dark forest of the west, there you would find no water save that which is poisoned by those cursed trees’. Quick as a flash Noah dropped his spikes and walked with purpose to the speaker, holding out his hand. ‘We’ll take it’, he declared as he shook the hand of the startled leader, ‘on the condition that you allow us to visit this oasis once every day, to feed our flocks and to take such water as we can carry. As my wife is a daughter of the family of Cain the Accursed, we would not want to put you in any danger, were you to cause her any harm. So we will drive our stakes halfway between here and the forest, just to ensure that none of your kinfolk should inadvertently wander too close’.
The faces of all three taller-men blanched at the mention of Cain the Accursed. They were suddenly all too willing to accept Noah’s terms, and to quickly remove themselves from the taint and risk of death. As Noah picked up his three metal spikes he called after them ‘Remind your fellows that the curse of Cain awaits all those who would do us harm!’
Note: Genesis 6 makes mention of ‘Nephilim’ an unknown tribe of Giants who roamed the earth before the flood. In this story I refer to them as ‘taller-men’.