The Messiah in the Old Testament – Noah
Christians believe Jesus is the ‘anointed of the Lord.’ That is what ‘Christ’ means. ‘Christ,’ ‘Messiah;’ these are titles, not names. We who follow and worship Jesus believe he is the one who fulfilled the prophecies about God sending an anointed one who would herald his restoration of Shalom and Edenic ‘Good’ to the world, fallen in sin as it is. We Christians believe Jesus is the bringer of salvation. In The Messiah in the Old Testament scholar Walter Kaiser points to texts from the Hebrew Bible that anticipate and point to the Messiah.
Last week I began my reflections on Kaiser’s observations in chapter 2, “The Messiah in the Pentateuch.”[i] He cited Genesis 3:15, the passage in which God judges between the deceptive serpent and the offspring of Adam and Eve, the people who succumbed to the serpent’s wiles. This week, we briefly touch on the next Messianic text Kaiser identifies in the Pentateuch, the prediction of Noah (Genesis 9:25-27).
After Noah and his family are back on dry ground and the flood waters receded, Noah’s first act on dry ground is to worship.
20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth (Genesis 9:20-21).
God notes that even Noah’s family had evil in it. Shortly after this Noah reissues the Eden commission to be fruitful and fill the earth (9:1). Echoes of this commission fill Jesus’ great commission. Here, a new humanity, one rescued from the flood is sent to reestablish God’s vision for creation. In the Gospel (Matthew 28), Jesus sends his disciples to make a new humanity, one in his image. One of God’s purposes for humanity is for us to go out, obeying his commands, acting as his agents to make the earth what he intends.
Soon after Noah issues the commission, trouble comes. He passed out naked in a drunken stupor and his middle son Ham “saw the nakedness of his father,” a shameful thing in that ancient culture (Genesis 9:21-22). Reverently, the oldest, Shem and youngest Japheth, cover Noah without looking at him. When Noah wakes up, he blessed them and curses Ham.
The controversial verse is 27. “May God dwell in the tents of Japheth, and let him live in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.” In this sentence, who is referred to by the word “him,” and “his” in the second and third stanzas? Do these pronouns refer to Japheth or do they refer to God? Kaiser believes God is the referent for the pronouns “him” and “his”. Thus he writes, “The meanings of Genesis 9:27 is God’s announcement that his advent will take place among the Shemites, later known through the Greek form of their name as the Semites” (p. 45).
Furthermore, Kaiser poses a question that prior to the coming of Jesus would have been so preposterous as to not even be asked. “How could the immortal God, so to speak, contaminate himself with the stuff of our humanity?” This question is not as difficult for Christians because we believe Jesus was God in human flesh; a paradox, fully God and fully human at the same time. It is a core belief summed up well in John 1:14. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.” Kaiser believes the promise to Shem in Genesis 9:27 anticipates and is fulfilled by John 1:14.
So far, following Walter Kaiser’s comments, God will appear before humanity through natural human birth (Genesis 3:15) and will be a Shemite (Semite) (Genesis 9:27). Has God’s plan for the Messiah has been in God’s mind from the very beginning?
Next, we will take a look at the Messiah in relation to Abraham.