I. NOAH IN ARK — FLOOD ABATES.
A. NOAH'S CONDITION IN THE ARK.V.1a. And God remembered Noah, and all the beasts, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark.
1. When that horrible wrath had exhausted itself, and all flesh with the earth had been destroyed, the promise made by God to Noah and his sons, that they were to be the seed of the human race, began to be realized. No doubt this promise was to them an object of eager expectation. No life is so hedged about with difficulties as that of faith. This was the life lived by Noah and his sons, whom we see absolutely depending upon the heavens for support. The earth was covered with water. Bottom on which to stand there was none. It was the word of promise that upheld them, as they drifted in this welter of waters.
2. When the flesh is free from danger, it holds faith in contempt, as the claims of the Papists show. It loves showy and toilsome tasks; in these it sweats. But behold Noah, on all sides surrounded by waters, yet not overwhelmed! Surely it is not works that sustain him but faith in God's mercy extended through the word of promise.
3. The difficulty besetting Noah is hinted at in the words: "God remembered." Moses thus intimates that Noah had been tossed on the water so long that God seemed to have forgotten him altogether. They who pass through such a mental strain, when the rays of divine grace are gone and they sit in darkness or are forgotten by God, find by experience that it is far more difficult to live in the Word or by faith alone than to be a hermit or a Carthusian monk.
4. Hence, it is not a meaningless expression when the Holy Spirit says that "God remembered Noah." He means that from the day Noah entered the ark, no word was spoken, nothing was revealed to him; that he saw no ray of divine grace shining, but merely clung to the promise which he had accepted, while in the meantime the waters and waves raged as if God had certainly forgotten. The same danger beset his children and also the cattle and all the other animals throughout the one hundred and fifty days they were in the ark. And though the holy seed by the aid of the conquering Spirit overcame those difficulties, the victory was not won without vexation of the flesh, tears and stupendous fear, felt, in my opinion, even by the brutes.
5. Thus a twofold danger beset them. The universal flood which swallowed up all mankind could not vanish without stupendous grief to the righteous, particularly as they saw themselves reduced to so small a number. Further, it was a serious matter to be buffeted by the waters for almost half a year without any consolation from God.
6. The expression used by Moses, "God remembered Noah," must not be short of its meaning by calling it a rhetorical figure, signifying that God acted after the manner of one who had forgotten Noah, whereas God cannot in truth forget his saints. A mere master of rhetoric, indeed, does not know what it means to live in such a state as to feel that God has forgotten him. Only the most perfect saints understand that, and can in faith bear, so to speak, a God who forgets. Therefore the Psalms and all the Scriptures are filled with complaints of this nature, in which God is called upon to arise, to open his eyes, to hear, to awaken.
7. Monks possessed of a higher degree of experience, at times underwent this temptation and called it a suspension of grace. The latter may be experienced also in temptations of a slighter nature. The flame of lust found in young people is altogether unbearable unless it is held in check by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. Similarly, at a more mature age, impatience and the desire for revenge can nowise be overcome unless God tears them from the soul. How much more liable is the soul to fall into the darkness of despair, or into ensnaring predestinarian tenets, when more severe temptations beset us and the suspension of grace is felt.
8. Hence this expression is not to be passed by as a mere rhetorical ornament, according to the interpretation of the rabbis. It is intended rather to portray the state of soul which feels despair coming on amid unutterable groanings of heart, with just a spark of faith left to wrest victory from the flesh. In the same way that Paul suffered from Satan's messenger, we may believe that Noah felt himself stabbed in the heart, and that he often argued thus within himself: Dost thou believe that thou alone art so beloved of God? Dost thou believe that thou will be kept safe to the end, when waters are boundless, and those immense clouds seem to be inexhaustible?
9. When, then, such broodings found their way also into the weak souls of the women, what cries, wails and tears may we surmise to have been the result? Almost overcome by sadness and grief, he was forced to lift up and comfort those with the cheer his own heart did not feel.
10. It was, therefore, no jest or frolic for them to live so long locked up within the ark, to see the endless downpour of rain and to be carried to and fro floating upon the waves. This was the experience of having been forgotten by God which Moses implies when he says that God at last remembered Noah and his sons.
11. Though the occupants of the ark overcame this feeling by faith, they did not do so without great vexation of the flesh; just as a young man who leads a chaste life overcomes lust, but surely not without the greatest vexation and trouble. In this instance, where the trial was greater, where all evidence was at variance with the fact that God was gracious and mindful of them, they indeed triumphed, but not without fearful tribulation. For the flesh, weak in itself, can bear nothing less patiently than the thought of a God who has forgotten. Human nature is prone to be puffed up and haughty when God remembers it, when he vouchsafes success and favor. Is it a wonder, then, that we become broken in spirit and desperate when God seems to have cast us away and everything goes against us?
12. Let us remember that this story sets before us an example of faith, of endurance, and of patience, to the end that, having the divine promise, we should not only learn to believe it, but should also consider that we are in need of endurance. Endurance is not maintained without a great struggle, and Christ calls upon us, in the New Testament, to acquire it when he says: "He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved," Mt 24,13.
13. This is the reason why God hides for a time, as it were, seeming to have forgotten us, suspending his grace, as they say in the schools. As in this temptation not only the spirit but also the flesh is afflicted, so afterward, when he again begins to remember us, the perception of grace which during the trial was evident only to the spirit and most faintly at that, is extended to the flesh also.
14. Hence, the word "remembered" indicates that great sadness beset both man and beast during the entire time of the flood. It must have been by dint of great patience and extraordinary courage that Noah and the others bore this lapse from God's memory, which is simply unbearable to the flesh without the spirit even in slight trials. True, God always remembers his own, even when he seems to have forsaken them; but Moses indicates that he remembered his people here in a visible way, by a sign, and by openly fulfilling what he had previously promised through the Word and the Spirit. This is the most important passage in this chapter.
B. Waters Abate.V.1b-3. And God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged; the fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained; and the waters returned from off the earth continually; and after the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters decreased.
15. Moses said above (ch 7,11-12) that the deluge raged in three different ways; for not only were the fountains of the great deep broken up and the windows of heaven opened, but also the rain descended. When these forces ceased on the one hundred and fiftieth day, quiet was once more in evidence and the fact that God remembered, and Noah with his sons and their wives, as also the animals, was refreshed after terror so great and continuous. If a storm of two days duration causes seafarers to despair, how much more distressing was that tossing about for half a year!
16. The question here arises, how the wind was made to pass over the earth, which as yet was entirely covered with water. It is nothing new that winds have the power to dry, especially those from the east, called by our countrymen "hohle winde," and by Virgil "parching winds," from the drouth which they bring upon the earth. These are mentioned also by Hosea 13,15. The explanation, accordingly, is simple. Moses says that the wind was made to pass over the earth, that is, over the surface of the waters, for such a length of time that at last, the waters being dried up, the earth again appeared. So, in Exodus, a burning wind is said to have dried up the Red Sea. Now, God might have accomplished this without any wind, yet he habitually employs a natural means to attain his purposes.
17. Up to this time Noah had lived in darkness, seeing nothing but the waters rolling and raging in a terrifying volume. Now the delicious light of the sun bursts forth once more, and the winds cease to roar from all points of the compass. Only the east wind, calculated to reduce the waters, is blowing, and gradually it takes away the stagnant flood. Other means also are effective; the ocean no longer hurls its waves upon the land, but takes back the waters which it had spewed forth, and the floodgates of heaven are closed up.
18. These are outward and tangible signs by which God consoles Noah, showing him that he had not forgotten, but remembered him. This is a practical and needed lesson also for us. When in the midst of dangers we may with certainty look for God's help, who does not desert us if we continue in faith, looking forward to the fulfilment of God's promises.
V.4. And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.
19. The waters increased for forty days, until the ark was lifted from the earth. Then for one hundred and fifty days it floated upon the waters, driven by the winds and the waves, without a sign of God's remembrance. At length the waters began to decrease, and the ark rested.
20. The point of dispute among the Jews here is the number of months. But why waste any more time upon immaterial matters, particularly as we see that the suggestions of the rabbis are not at all wise? It is more to the purpose for us to inquire where the mountains of Ararat are to be found. It is generally believed that they are mountains of Armenia, close by the highest ranges of Asia Minor, the Caucasus and the Taurus. But it appears to me that more likely the highest of all mountains is meant, the Imaus (Himalaya), which divides India. Compared to this range, other mountains are no more than warts. That the ark rested upon the highest mountain is substantiated by the fact that the waters continued to fall for three whole months before such smaller ranges as Lebanon, Taurus, and Caucasus were uncovered, which are, as it were, the feet or roots of the Himalaya, just as the mountains of Greece may be called branches of the Alps extending up to our Hercinian Forest (Harz). To anyone who surveys them with care the mountains seem to be wonderfully related and united.
21. Josephus has wonderful things to tell about the mountains of Armenia, and he records that during his time remains of the ark were discovered there. But I suppose nobody will judge me to be a heretic if I occasionally doubt the reliability of his statements.
V.5. And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month: in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, were the tops of the mountains seen.
22. Moses said before that by the seventh month the waters had fallen so far that the ark rested upon Ararat. In the third month thereafter, the tops of the lower mountains began to appear, so that Noah, looking down from the mountains of Ararat as if from a watchtower, saw also the peaks of the other mountains, of the Taurus in Asia, the Lebanon in Syria, and the like. All these were signs of God's remembrance.
V.6, 7. And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made: and he sent forth a raven, and it went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.
23. So far the history; the allegorical significance we shall discuss at its proper place. The carelessness of a translator has caused a dispute upon this part of the story. The Hebrew text does not say that the raven did not return, as Jerome translated; hence there was no need to invent a reason why he did not return — because he found dead bodies lying about everywhere. They claim that abundance of food prevented him.
24. On the contrary, Moses says that the raven which had been sent forth, returned; although he did not permit himself to be again imprisoned in the ark as the dove did. Moses implies that Noah sent forth the raven to find out whether animals could, by that time find dry land and food. The raven, however, did not faithfully carry out his mission, but rejoicing to be set free from his prison, he flew to and fro, and paying no attention to Noah, he enjoyed the free sky. The swinish Jews, however, show the impurity of their minds everywhere. For they suppose that the raven had fears concerning his mate, and that he even suspected Noah concerning her. Shame upon those impure minds!
V.8, 9. And he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground; but the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him to the ark; for the waters were on the face of the whole earth: and he put forth his hand, and took her, and brought her unto him into the ark.
25. When Noah's hopes had been set at naught by the raven, which flew about wantonly but brought no tidings concerning the condition of the earth, he took a dove, thinking that she would more truly perform the mission. The text almost authorizes us to say that those two birds were sent forth at the same time, so that Noah might have two witnesses from whom to gain desired knowledge. The raven enjoying the free sky, flew round about the ark, but did not want to return into it. The dove, however, fleeing from the corpses and corruption, comes back and permits itself to be caught. This story, as we shall hear, offers a fine allegory concerning the Church.
V.10-12. And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; and the dove came in to him at eventide; and, lo, in her mouth an olive-leaf plucked off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. And he stayed yet other seven days, and sent forth the dove; and she returned not again unto him any more.
26. The dove, being a faithful messenger, is sent forth once more. Moses carefully describes how the waters decreased gradually, until at last the surface of the earth, together with the trees, was laid bare. We do not believe that the dove brought the olive leaf intentionally, but by the command of God, who wanted to show Noah, little by little, that he had not altogether forgotten but remembered him. This olive leaf was an impressive sign to Noah and his fellow-prisoners in the ark, bringing them courage and hope of impending liberation.
27. The Jews dispute sharply in respect to this matter of where the dove found the olive leaf, and some, in order to secure special glory for their homeland, make the ludicrous assertion that she took it from the Mount of Olives in the land of Israel, which God had spared from the flood that destroyed the remainder of the earth. But the saner Jews rightly refute this nonsense by arguing that if this were true, the olive leaf could not have been a sign for Noah that the waters had fallen. Others have invented the fable that the dove was admitted to paradise and brought the leaf from there.
28. But I have (ch 2, §39-42) set forth at length my views concerning paradise, and this nonsense is not worthy the effort of a refutation. It serves a better purpose to remind you that all these things happened miraculously and supernaturally. A dove is not so intelligent as to pluck a bough and bring it to the ark in order that Noah might form a judgment with reference to the decrease of waters. God ordained these events. Other trees had leaves at that time, particularly the taller ones which rose sooner from the waters. The olive tree is comparatively short, hence it was calculated to furnish information concerning the decrease of the waters and to serve as an object lesson of the cessation of the wrath of God and the return of the earth to its former state. Of this he had more certain proof however, when the dove, having been sent out the third time, did not return: for not only did it find food on earth, but was able to build nests and to flit to and fro.
V.13, 14. And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from off the earth: and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and, behold, the face of the ground was dried. And in the second month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month, was the earth dry.
29. Here we see that Noah was in the ark an entire year and ten days; for he entered the ark on the seventeenth day of the second month, and came out again, after a year had passed, in the same month, but on the twenty-seventh day. Poor Noah, with his sons and the women, lived in the ark more than half a year in sore grief, without a sign of being remembered by God. Afterward God gave him gradual proof, through various signs, that he had not forgotten him, until at last, after the lapse of a year and ten days, he was again given dominion over the earth and sea. On this day of the second month, the flood had not only disappeared, but the earth was dry. This is the story of the flood and its abatement. After this fearful wrath, there ensues an immeasurable light of grace, as is shown in the following sermon addressed to Noah by God himself.
II. NOAH LEAVES ARK, HIS SACRIFICE AND GOD'S PROMISE.
A. Noah Obeys Command to Leave the Ark.V.15-17. And God spake unto Noah, saying, Go forth from the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons' wives with thee. Bring forth with thee every living thing that is with thee of all flesh, both birds, and cattle, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth; that they may breed abundantly in the earth.
30. Up to this point the narrative is only a record of facts, or the description of a divine work. Though the works of God are not mute but eloquent witnesses, and present to our vision the will of God, a still greater comfort is vouchsafed when God links to the works the Word, which is not manifest to the eye but perceptible to the ear and intelligible to the heart through the promptings of the Holy Spirit. So far God had given proof by his work that he was appeased, that the God of wrath had turned into a God of mercy, who turns back the waters and dries up the earth. Such comfort he now amplifies by his Word in that he lovingly accosts and enjoins him to leave the ark with the other creatures, both men and animals.
31. In the light of this passage the frequent and emphatic application of the principle is justified that we should neither design nor do anything, especially in respect to God's service and worship, without the initiative and command of the Word. As above narrated, Noah enters the ark upon God's command; and he leaves the ark upon God's command to leave it. He does not follow superstitious notions, as we see the Jews do, who, when they establish anything temporary by command, endeavor to retain it forever, as if it were essential to salvation.
32. Noah might have argued thus: Behold, I built the ark by the command of God; I was saved in it while all other men perished: therefore I will remain in it, or keep it for a place of divine worship, since it has been sanctified by the Word of God and the presence of the saints, the Church. But the godly man did nothing of the kind. The Word had commanded him to go forth, therefore he obeyed. The ark had done its service during the flood and he left it, assured that he and his children were to live on the earth. So must we undertake nothing without the Word of God. In a holy calling, which has the Word and command of God, let us walk! For whosoever attempts anything without the command of God, will labor in vain.
33. To deny this, some one might cite as example the act of Noah, described below, when he built an altar without God's command, and offered a burnt-offering thereon to God from the clean animals. If this was permitted to Noah, why should we not be permitted to choose certain forms of worship? And, in truth, the Papacy has heaped up works and forms of worship in the Church without measure, just as it pleased. But we must hold fast to the principle, which is a theorem of general application, that whatsoever is not of faith, is sin, (Rom 14,23). But faith cannot be separated from the Word; hence, whatsoever is done without the Word, is sin.
34. Furthermore, it is plainly dangerous to take the acts of the fathers as models. As individuals differ, so also do their duties differ, and God requires diverse works according to the diversity of our calling. Accordingly the epistle to the Hebrews fitly refers the various acts of the fathers to the one faith, in order to show that each of us must imitate, in his calling, not the works, but the faith of the fathers. Heb 11.
35. Hence works peculiar to the holy fathers must by no means be considered as models for us each to imitate as the monks imitate the fasting of Benedict, the gown of Francis, the shoes of Dominic and the like. Men become apes who imitate without judgment. The monks try to ape the works, but know nothing of the faith of the fathers.
36. Abraham was commanded to slay his son. Afterward his descendants most wickedly believed they should follow his example, and they filled the earth with innocent blood. In a similar manner the people worshiped the brazen serpent and offered sacrifices before it. In both instances the people wanted to justify themselves by the example of their forefathers; but since they established these forms of worship without the Word, they were righteously condemned.
37. Let us, therefore, remember not to establish anything without the Word of God. Duties differ, and so must the works of individuals. How foolish it would be for me to proclaim that I must follow Caesar's example, and that others must obey my laws! How wicked it would be for me to assert that I must follow the example of a judge, condemning some to the cross, others to the sword! Then, we must look, not upon the works, but upon the faith of individuals; for the faith of all saints is one, though their works are most diverse.
38. Think not that because Noah built an altar, you may do likewise; but follow the faith of Noah, who thought it right to show his merciful Savior that he understood his beneficent gifts, and was grateful for them. Follow Abraham, not in slaying your son, but in believing the promises of God, and in obeying his commandments. The epistle to the Hebrews fitly refers the deeds and acts of the fathers to their faith, setting forth that we should follow their faith.
B. NOAH'S SACRIFICE.39. The objection under consideration can be invalidated by the rejoinder that Noah did have a command to erect an altar and offer sacrifices. God approved the rite of sacrifice by ordering that more of the clean animals — suitable for sacrifice — should be taken into the ark. Nor was Noah permitted to cast aside the office of the priesthood, which had been established by the Word before the flood and had come down to him by the right of primogeniture. Adam, Seth, Enoch and others had been priests. From them Noah possessed the office of the priesthood as an inheritance.
40. Therefore Noah, as priest and prophet, was not only at liberty to offer sacrifice, but he was under obligation to do so by virtue of his calling. Since his calling was founded on God's Word, in harmony with that Word and by God's command he built an altar and offered sacrifices. Therefore let a monk prove it is his office and calling to wear a cowl, to worship the blessed Virgin, to pray the rosary and do like things, and we will commend his life. But since the call is lacking, the Word is not the authority and the office does not exist, the life and works of the monks in their entirety stand justly condemned.
41. Finally, even if all other arguments should fail, this argument, according to which man judges the cause by the effect, remains; namely, that God expresses approval of Noah's deed. Although such reasoning from effect to cause may not be unassailable, it yet is not without value in respect to such heroic and uncommon men, who meet not with rejection but approval on the part of God, although they appear to do what they have not been expressly commanded. They possess the inward conviction that they are guilty of no transgression, though the disclosure of this fact is delayed until later God expresses his approval. Such examples are numerous and it is noteworthy that God has expressed approval even of the acts of some heathen.
42. Let this maxim, then, stand, that everything must be done by the command of God in order to obtain the assurance of conscience that we have acted in obedience to God. Hence they who abide in their divinely assigned calling, will not run uncertainly nor will they beat the air as those who have no course in which they have been commanded to run, and in consequence may not look forward to a prize. 1 Cor 9,24.
But I return to the text. Noah, with his sons and the women, is commanded to leave the ark, and to lead forth upon the earth every species of animals, that all his works may be sanctified and found in keeping with the Word. Concerning the animals Moses now expressly states:
V.17-19. Be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth. And Noah went forth, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives with him: every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, whatsoever moveth upon the earth, after their families, went forth out of the ark.
43. The Lord speaks of the propagation of Noah and his sons in the ninth chapter and that, I believe, is the reason why he speaks here only of the propagation of the animals. From the expression here used, Lyra foolishly concludes that cohabitation had been forbidden during the flood and was now again permitted after the departure from the ark, since God says, "Go forth, ... thou and thy wife." Such thoughts belong to monks not to God, who plans not sinful lust, but propagation; the latter is God's ordination, but lust is Satan's poison infused into nature through sin.
44. Moses here uses many words to illustrate the overflowing joy of the captives' souls, when they were commanded to leave their prison, the ark, and to return upon the earth now everywhere open before them. In recounting the kinds of animals, however, he arranges them in a different order, distinguishing them by families, as it were, to let us see that only propagation was God's aim. It must have been a glad sight when each one of the many beasts, after leaving the ark, found its own mate, and then sought its accustomed haunt: the wolves, the bears, the lions, returning to the woods and groves; the sheep, the goats, the swine, to the fields; the dogs, the chickens, the cats, to man.
V.20. And Noah builded an altar unto Jehovah, and took of every clean beast, and of every clean bird, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar.
45. This text shows conclusively that Moses was not the first person to introduce sacrifices but that, like a bard who gathers chants, he arranged and classified them as they had been in vogue among the fathers and transmitted from the one to the other. Thus also the law of circumcision was not first written by Moses but received from the fathers.
46. Above (ch 4,4-5), where Moses mentioned the sacrifice of Abel and Cain, he called it minchah, an offering; here, however, we find the first record of a burnt-offering, one entirely consumed by fire. This, I say, is a clear proof that the law of sacrifices had been established before the time of Moses. His work, then, consisted in arranging the rites of the forefathers in definite order.
V.21. And Jehovah smelled the sweet savor.
47. It is set forth here that Jehovah approved Noah's sacrifice which he offered by virtue of his office as a priest, according to the example of the fathers. However, the differences of phraseology is to receive due attention. Of the former sacrifice he said that Jehovah "had respect" to it; here he says that "Jehovah smelled the sweet savor." Moses subsequently makes frequent use of this expression. The heathen also adopted it; Lucian, for example, makes fun of Jove who was conciliated by the odor of meats.
48. The word in the original, however, does not properly signify the "savor of sweetness," but "the savor of rest", for nichoach meaning "rest", is derived from the verb nuach, which Moses used before, when he said that the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat. Therefore it is the "savor of rest," because God then rested from his wrath, dismissing his wrath, becoming appeased, and, as we commonly say, well content.
49. Here the question might be raised why does he not say, Jehovah had respect to Noah and his burnt offering, rather than, Jehovah smelled the savor of rest, which latter certainly sounds shocking, as though he were not commending the man for his faith, but merely for his work. This objection is usually answered by saying that the Scriptures speak of God in human fashion. Men are pleased by a sweet savor. But it seems to me there is still another reason for this expression, namely, that God was so close at hand that he noticed the savor; for Moses desires to show that this holy rite was well-pleasing to God: Solomon says (Prov 27,9) that perfume rejoiceth the heart. Physicians sometimes restore consciousness by sweet odors. On the other hand, a violent stench is extremely offensive to our nature, and often overpowers it.
50. In this sense, one may say that God, having been annoyed by the stench of wickedness, was now refreshed, so to speak, when he saw this one priest girded himself to perform holy rites in order to give proof of his gratitude, and to manifest by some public act he did not belong to the ungodly, but that he had a God whom he feared. This is the real meaning of a sacrifice. As it had pleased God to destroy mankind, he is now delighted to increase it. Moses uses this expression for our sake, that we, through the experience of God's grace, may learn that God delights to do us good.
C. GOD'S RESOLVE NOT TO CURSE THE EARTH AGAIN.V.21b. And Jehovah said in his heart.
51. Moses points out that these words were not spoken by God without heart and feeling, but from his very vitals. This is the meaning of the Hebrew text which has it that God spoke to his own heart.
V.21c. I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake.
52. God speaks as if he were sorry for the punishment inflicted upon the earth on account of man, just as formerly he expressed regret for his creation, reproving himself, as it were, for his fury against man. This must not, of course, be understood as implying that God could possibly change his mind; it is written only for our consolation. He accuses and blames himself in order to rouse the little flock to the certain faith that God will be merciful hereafter.
53. And their souls stood in real need of such consolation. They had been terrified as they witnessed God's raging wrath, and their faith could not but be shaken. So now God is impelled to so order his acts and words that these people might expect only grace and mercy. Accordingly he now speaks with them, is present at their sacrifice, shows that he is pleased with them, blames his own counsel, and promises that he will never do anything like it in the future. In brief, he is a different God from what he had been before. While God, indeed, does not change, he wants to change men, who have become altogether habituated to thoughts of wrath.
54. They who have experienced trials of the spirit, know full well how much the soul then stands in need of sure and strong consolation to induce it once more to hope for grace and to forget the wrath. One day, a whole month, perhaps is not enough for this change. Just as it takes a long time to recover from bodily disorders, so such wounds of the soul cannot be healed at once, or by one word. God sees this, and tries by various means to recall the terrified souls to a certain hope of grace; he even chides himself, speaking to his own heart, as in Jeremiah 18,8, where he promises to repent of the evil he thought of doing, if the offenders also repent.
55. It should furthermore be noted that he says, "I will not again curse the ground." He speaks of a general destruction of the earth, not of a partial one, as when he destroys fields, cities, or kingdoms. The latter instances are for a warning; as Mary says, "He hath put down princes from their thrones." Lk 1,52.
III. MAN'S NATURAL DEPRAVITY AND HIS NATURAL POWERS.V.21d. For that the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth.
56. This is a powerful passage, relating to original sin. Whoever weakens its force, goes straying like the blind man in the sunlight, failing to see his own acts and experiences. Look at the days of our swaddling clothes; in how many ways sin manifests itself in our earlier years. What an amount of switching it requires until we are taught order, as it were, and attention to duty!
57. Then youth succeeds. There a stronger rebellion becomes noticeable, and in addition that untamable evil, the rage of lust and desire. If one take a wife, the result is weariness of his own and a passion for others. If the government of a State is entrusted to him, an exceptionally fruitful harvest of vice will follow — as jealousy, rivalry, haughtiness, hope of gain, avarice, wrath, anger, and other evils.
58. It is true, as the German proverb has it, that sins grow with the years: Je laenger, je aerger; je aelter, je kaerger (worse with time, stingier with age). All such vices are so blatant and gross as to become objects of observation and intelligence. What, then shall we say of the inward vices when unbelief, presumption, neglect of the Word, and wicked views grow up?
59. There are those who are and desire to be considered powerful theologians, though they extenuate original sin by sophistry. But vices so numerous and great cannot be extenuated. Original sin is not a slight disorder or infirmity, but complete lawlessness, the like of which is not found in other creatures, except in evil spirits.
60. But do those extenuators have any Scriptural proof to rest upon? Let us see what Moses says. As I pointed out in explaining the sixth chapter, he does not call such things evil, as lust, tyranny, and other sins, but the imagination of the human heart; that is, human energy, wisdom and reason, with all the faculties the mind employs even in our best works. Although we do not condemn acts which belong to the social or civil sphere, yet the human heart vitiates these works in themselves proper, by doing them for glory, for profit, or for oppression, and either from opposition to the neighbor or to God.
61. Nor can we escape the force of this passage by saying that those are meant who perished by the flood. God uses a generic term which denotes that the heart of man, as such, is meant. At the time this was spoken there were no other people than those saved in the ark, and yet the declaration is: the imagination of man's heart is evil.
62. Therefore, not even the saints are excepted. In Ham, the third son, this imagination of the heart betrayed its nature. And the other brothers were no better by nature. There was only this difference, that they, believing in the promised seed, retained the hope of forgiveness of sin, and did not give way to the evil imagination of their hearts, rather resisting it through the Holy Spirit, who is given for the very purpose of contending against, and overcoming, the malignity of man's nature. Because Ham gives way to his nature, he is wholly evil, and totally perishes. Shem and Japheth, who contend against it in their spirit, though being evil, are not altogether so. They have the Holy Spirit, through whom they contend against the evil, and hence are holy.
63. It would seem here that God might be accused of fickleness. Before, when he was about to punish man, he assigned as a reason for his purpose the fact that the imagination of man's heart is evil; here, when he is about to give unto man the gracious promise that he will not thereafter show such anger, he puts forward the same reason. To human wisdom this appears foolish and inconsistent with divine wisdom.
64. But I gladly pass by such sublime themes, and leave them to minds possessed of leisure. For me it is enough that these works are spoken to suit our spiritual condition, inasmuch as God points out that he is now appeased and no longer angry. So parents, having chastised their disobedient children as they deserve, win again their affections by kindness. This change of mood is not deserving of criticism but rather of commendation. It profits the children; otherwise they, while fearing the rod, might also begin to hate their parents. This explanation is good enough for me, for it appeals to our faith. Others may explain differently.
65. We should give diligent attention to this passage because it plainly shows that man's nature is corrupt, a truth above all others to be apprehended, because without it God's mercy and grace cannot be rightly understood. Hence, the quibblers previously mentioned are to be despised and we have good reason to take to task the translator who gave occasion for this error by rendering the words so as to say, not that the imagination of man's heart is evil, but that it is inclined to evil. Upon this authority the quibblers distort or set aside those passages of Paul where he says that all are children of wrath (Eph 2,3) that all have sinned (Rom 5,12) and are under sin (Rom 3,9). They argue from our passage as follows: Moses does not say that human nature is evil, but that it is prone to evil; this condition, call it inclination or proclivity, is under the control of free will, nor does it force man toward the evil, or (to use their own words) it imposes no constraint upon man.
66. Then they proceed to find a reason for this statement and declare that even after the fall of man, there remains in him a good will and a right understanding. For the natural powers, say they, are unimpaired, not only in man but even in the devil. And finally they so twist Aristotle's teachings as to make him say that reason tends toward that which is best. Some traces of these views are found also in the writings of the Church fathers. Using Psalms 4,6 as a basis, where the prophet says, "Jehovah, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us," they distinguish between a higher part of reason which inquires concerning God, and a lower part employed in temporal and civil affairs. Even Augustine is pleased with this distinction, as we stated above when discussing the fall of man.
67. But if only a spark of the knowledge of God had remained unimpaired in man, we should be different beings by far from what we now are. Hence, those quibblers who pick flaws in the plain statements of Paul are infinitely blind. If they would carefully and devoutly consider that very passage as they read it in their Latin Bible, they would certainly cease to father so bad a cause. For it is not an insignificant truth which Moses utters when he says the senses and the thoughts of the heart of man are prone to evil from his youth. This is the case especially in the sixth chapter (vs 5) where he says that the whole thought of his heart was bent on evil continually, meaning thereby that he purposes what is evil, and that in inclination, purpose and effort he inclines to evil. For example; an adulterer, whose desires are inflamed, may lack the opportunity, the place, the person, the time, and nevertheless be stirred by the fire of lust, unable to dwell upon anything else. In this manner, says Moses, does human nature always incline toward evil. Can, then, the natural powers of man be said to have remained unimpaired, seeing that man's thoughts are always set upon evil things?
68. If the minds of the sophists were as open toward the holy doctrine contained in the prophetical and apostolical writings as toward their own teachers who teach the freedom of the will and the merit of works, they surely would not have permitted themselves by so small an inducement as one little word to be led away from the truth so as to teach, contrary to Scripture, that man's natural powers are uninjured, and that man, by nature, is not under wrath or condemnation. Notwithstanding, it appears that they turn against their own absurdity. Although the natural powers of man are uninjured, yet they maintain that, to become acceptable, grace is required; in other words, they teach that God is not satisfied with man's natural goodness, unless it be improved by love.
69. But what is the need to argue longer against the madness of the sophists, since we know the true meaning of the Hebrew text to be, not that man's mind and thoughts are inclined to evil, but that the imagination of the human heart is evil from youth?
70. By imagination, as I stated several times before (ch 6, §148), he means reason itself, together with the will and the understanding, even when it dwells upon God, or occupies itself with most honorable pursuits, be they those of State or Home. It is always contrary to God's law, always in sin, always under God's wrath, and it cannot be freed from this evil state by its own strength, as witness Christ's words: "If therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed," Jn 8,36.
71. If you wish a definition of the word "man" take it from this text teaching that he is a rational being, with a heart given to imagination. But what does he imagine? Moses answers, "Evil"; that is, evil against God or God's Law, and against his fellow man. Thus holy Scriptures ascribe to man a reason that is not idle but always imagines something. This imagination it calls evil, wicked, sacrilegious, while the philosophers call it good, and the quibblers say that the natural gifts are unimpaired.
72. Therefore this text should be carefully noted and urged against the caviling quibblers: Moses declares the imagination of the human heart to be evil. And if it be evil, the conclusion is natural that the natural gifts are not unimpaired, but corrupted: Inasmuch as God did not create man evil, but perfect, sound, holy, knowing God, his reason right and his will toward God good.
73. Seeing we have clear testimony to the fact that man is evil and turned away from God, who would be mad enough to say that the natural gifts in man remain unimpaired? That would be practically saying that man's nature is unimpaired and good even now, whereas we have overwhelming evidence in our knowledge and experience that it is debased to the utmost.
74. From that wicked theory there have sprung many dangerous and some palpably wicked utterances, for instance, that when man does the best in his power, God will unfailingly give his grace. By such teaching they have driven man, as by a trumpet, to prayer, fasting, self-torture, pilgrimages and similar performances. Thus the world was taught to believe that if men did the best that nature permitted, they would earn grace, if not the grace "de merito," at least that "de congruo." A "meritum congrui" (title to reward based upon equity) they attribute to a work which has been performed not against but in accordance to the divine law, inasmuch as an evil work is subject not to a reward but a penalty. The "meritum condigni" (a title to reward based upon desert) they attribute not to the work itself but to its quality as being performed in a state of grace.
75. Another saying of this kind is the declaration of Scotus that man by mere natural powers may love God above all things. This declaration is based upon the principle that the natural powers are unimpaired. He argues as follows: A man loves a woman, who is a creature, and he loves her so immoderately that he will imperil his very life for her sake. Similarly, a merchant loves his wares, and so eagerly that he will risk death a thousand times if only he can gain something. If therefore, the love of created things is so great, though they rank far below God, how much more will a man love God who is the highest good! Hence, God can be loved with the natural powers alone.
76. A fine argument, indeed, and worthy of a Franciscan monk! For he shows that, though he is a great teacher, he does not know what it means to love God. Nature is so corrupt that it can no longer know God unless it be enlightened by the Word and Spirit of God; how then can it love God without the Holy Spirit? For it is true that we have no desire for what we do not know. Therefore, nature cannot love God whom it does not know, but it loves an idol, and a dream of its own heart. Furthermore, it is so entirely fettered by the love of created things that even after it has learned to know God from his Word, it disregards him and despises his Word. Of this the people of our own times are an example.
77. Such foolish and blasphemous deliverances are certain proof that scholastic theology has degenerated into a species of philosophy that has no knowledge of God, and walks in darkness because it disregards his Word. Also Aristotle and Cicero, who have the greatest influence with this tribe, give broad instructions concerning moral excellences. They magnify these exceedingly as social forces since they recognize them as useful for private and public ends. In nowise, however, do they teach that God's will and command is to be regarded far more than private or public advantage (and those who do not possess the Word are ignorant of the will of God). Quite plainly the scholastics have fallen victims to philosophical fancies to such an extent as to retain true knowledge neither of themselves nor of God. This is the cause of their lapse into such disastrous errors.
78. And, indeed, it is easy to fall after you have departed from the Word; for the glitter of civil virtues is wonderfully enticing to the mind. Erasmus makes of Socrates almost a perfect Christian, and Augustine has unbounded praise for Marcus Attilius Regulus, because he kept faith with his enemy. Truthfulness indeed is the most beautiful of all virtues, and in this case another high commendation is added in that there was combined with it love of country, which in itself is a peculiar and most praiseworthy virtue.
79. You may find men of renown not famous for truthfulness. Themistocles, for instance, did not have this virtue though he was a heroic man and did his country great service. That is the reason why Augustine admires Attilius, finding his reason and will to be utterly righteous, that is as far as it is possible for human nature to be. Where, then, is vice in this case? Where is wickedness? The hero's work surely cannot be censured.
80. First, Regulus knew not God, and, although his conduct was right, it is still to be seen whether a theologian should not censure his motive. For to his zeal in behalf of his country is added the thirst for glory. He evinces contempt for his life so as to achieve immortal glory among those to live after him. Contemplating, therefore, merely his life's dream, as it were, and the outward mask, it is a most beautiful deed. But before God it is shameful idolatry; because he claims for himself the glory of his deed. And who would doubt that he had other failings besides this thirst for glory? Attilius cannot claim the great virtues of truthfulness and love of country without tending violently and insanely toward wickedness. For it is wicked for him to rob God of the glory and to claim it for himself. But human reason cannot recognize this spoliation of the Deity.
81. A distinction must be made between the virtues of the heathen and the virtues of Christians. It is true that in both instances hearts are divinely prompted, but in the former ambition and love of glory afterward defile the divine impulse.
82. If now, an orator should come forth, who would dilate upon the efficient cause, but disguise the ultimate and vicious one, would it not be apparent to every one that with the two most potent causes, the formal (that which gives moral value to an act) and the ultimate one, disguised, an eloquent man could extol such a wretched shadow of a virtue? But a man apt in logic will readily discover the deception; he will observe the absence of the formal cause, namely the right principle, there being no true knowledge of God nor of the proper attitude toward him. He sees, furthermore, that the final cause is vicious, because the true end and aim, obedience to God and love of neighbor, is not taken into consideration. But what kind of virtue is that where nearly every cause is lacking except the natural cause, which is a passion, an impetus or impulse, by which the soul is moved to show loyalty to an enemy? These impulses, as I said, are found also in the ungodly. If exercised for the good of the country, they become virtues; if for its injury, they become vices. This Aristotle sets forth very skillfully.
83. I refer to these things that students of sacred literature may make special note of this passage, which advisedly declares human nature to be corrupt. For those make-believe virtues, found among the heathen, seem to prove the contrary — that some part of nature has remained as it was originally. Hence there is need of careful judgment in order to distinguish in this matter.
84. Moses adds, "from his youth," because this evil is concealed during the first period of life and sleeps, as it were. Our early childhood so passes that reason and will are dormant and we are carried along by animal impulses, which pass away like a dream. Hardly have we passed our fifth year when we affect idleness, play, unchastity, and evil lust. But we try to escape discipline, we endeavor to get away from obedience, and hate all virtues, especially of a higher order as truth and justice. Then reason awakes out of a deep sleep, as it were, and sees certain kinds of pleasure, but not yet the true ones, and certain kinds of evils, but not yet the most powerful ones, by which it is held captive.
85. Where, then, the understanding has attained to maturity, not only the other vices are found to have grown strong, but there are joined to them now sexual desire and unclean passion, gluttony, gambling, strife, rape, murder, theft, and what not? And as the parents had to apply the rod, so now the government must needs use prison and chains in order to restrain man's evil nature.
86. And who does not know the vices of a more advanced age? They march along in unbroken file — love of money, ambition, pride, perfidy, envy, and others. These vices are so much the more harmful as at this age we are more crafty in concealing and masking them. Hence, the sword of government is not sufficient in this respect; there is need of hell fire for the punishment of crimes so manifold and great. Justly, then, did Moses say above (ch 6) that the human heart, or the imagination of the heart, is only evil each day — or at all times — and here again, that it is evil from youth.
87. The Latin version, it is true, makes use of a weaker term; yet it says enough by stating that it is inclined toward evil, just as the comic dramatist says that the minds of all men are inclined to turn from labor to lust, Ter Andr 1, 1, 51. But those who try to misuse this expression for the purpose of making light of original sin, are shown to be in the wrong by the common experience of mankind; chiefly, however, that of the heathen, or ungodly men. For if spiritual men, who surely enjoy divine help from heaven, can hardly hold their ground against vices and be kept within the bounds of discipline, what can any man do without this help? If divine aid contends against the captivity of the law of the flesh only with fierce struggles (Rom 7,22-23), how insane is it to dream that, without this divine help, human nature can withstand corruption?
88. Hence reason of itself does not decide upon the right, nor does the will, of itself, strive after the same, as a blind philosophy declares which does not know whence these fearful impulses to sin arise in children, youths, and old men. Therefore it defends them, calls them emotions or passions only, and does not call them natural corruption.
89. Furthermore, in noble men, who check and control these impulses, it calls them virtues; in others who give the reins to their desires, it calls them vices. This is nothing less than ignorance of the fact that human nature is evil. The Scriptures, on the contrary agree with our experience and declare that the human heart is evil from youth. For we learn by experience that even holy men can scarcely stand firm; yea that even they are often entangled by gross sins, being overwhelmed by such natural corruptions.
90. The term ne-urim denotes the age when man begins to use his reason; this usually occurs in the sixth year. Similarly, the term ne-arim is used to denote boys and youths who need the guidance of parents and teachers up to the age of manhood. It will be profitable for each of us to glance backward to that period of life and consider how willingly we obeyed the commands of our parents and teachers, how diligent we were in studying, how persevering we were, how often our parents punished our sauciness. Who can say for himself that he was not much more pleased to go out for a walk, to play games, and to gossip, than to go to Church in obedience to his parents?
91. Although these impulses can be corrected or bridled to a certain extent by discipline, they cannot be rooted out of the heart altogether, as the traces of these impulses show when we are grown. There is truth in that unpolished lie: "The angelic youth becomes satanic in his older years." God, indeed, causes some persons to experience emotions which are naturally good; but they are induced by supernatural power. Thus Cyrus was impelled to restore the worship of God, and to preserve the Church. But such is not the tendency of human nature. Where God is present with his Holy Spirit, there only, the imagination of the human heart gives place to the thoughts of God. God dwells there through the Word and the Spirit. Of such, Moses does not speak here, but only of those who are without the Holy Spirit; they are wicked, even when at their best.
V.21e. Neither will I again smite any more everything living, as I have done.
92. Moses clearly speaks of a general destruction, like that which was caused by the flood. From this it does not follow that God will also abstain from partial destruction, and that he will take no heed of anybody's sin. There will also be an exception in the case of the last day, when not only all living things will be smitten, but all creation will be destroyed by fire.
V.22. While the earth reigneth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.
93. Following this text, the Jews divide the year into six parts, each comprising two months, a fact which Lyra also records in this connection. But it seems to me that Moses simply speaks of the promise that we need not fear another general flood. During the time of the flood such confusion reigned that there was no season, either of seedtime or harvest, and by reason of the great darkness caused by the clouds and the rain, day could not readily be distinguished from night. We know how heavy clouds obscure the light. How much greater, then, was the darkness when the waters, lying under the clouds like a mirror, reflected the darkness of the clouds into the faces and eyes of the beholders!
94. The meaning, accordingly, is simply that God here promises Noah the imminent restoration of the earth, so that the fields might again be sowed; that the desolation caused by the flood should be no more; that the seasons might run their course in accordance with regular law: harvest following seedtime, winter following summer, cold following heat in due order.
95. This text should be carefully remembered in view of the common notions concerning the signs before the last day. Then, some declare, there will be eclipses of I know not how many days duration. They say foolishly that for seven years not a single woman will bring forth a child, and the like. But this text declares that neither day nor night, neither summer nor winter, shall cease; therefore these natural changes will go on, and there will never be an eclipse which will rob human eyes of an entire day.
96. Nor is it a phrase devoid of meaning when he says, "While the earth remaineth," for he gives us to understand that the days of this earth shall sometime be numbered, and other days, days of heaven, shall follow. As long, therefore, as the days of the earth endure, so long shall the earth abide, and with it the rotation of seasons. But when these days of the earth shall pass, then all these things shall cease, and there shall follow days of heaven, that is, eternal days. There shall be one Sabbath after the other, when we shall not be engrossed with bodily labor for the purpose of gaining a livelihood; for we shall be as the angels of God, Mk 12,25. Our life will be to know God, to delight in God's wisdom and to enjoy the presence of God. This life we attain through faith in Christ, in which the eternal Father may mercifully keep us, through the merit of his son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, by the ruling and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Amen.
Copyright information for Luther
Welcome to STEP Bible
From Tyndale House, Cambridge UK
Use the search box to find Bibles, commentaries, passages, search terms, etc. Here are some examples:
This shows how to quickly lookup a passage.
Looking up a passage in three different translations is also easy.
This asks STEP to search for the Greek word for 'brother' and show the results in the ESV.
This example runs both a 'Hebrew word search' and a 'Text' search and shows the results in both the NIV and ESV.
You can mix most searches. This finds any word translated as 'throne' in the Prophets and the New Testament, but only in verses concerning the topic 'David'. This excludes verses which refer to a 'throne' in other contexts.
Interlinear Hebrew & Greek is available for some translations with grammar (and more soon). To reverse the interlinear order, click on a version abbreviation under the verse number.
© Tyndale House, Cambridge, UK - 2018