These days, after a baptism, everyone usually sits down to a relaxing celebratory meal with friends and family. Not so for Jesus! The very next thing was that the Spirit of God ‘drove him’ into the Judean wilderness to be tested or tempted by the devil. ‘Devil’ (from the Greek) or ‘Satan’ (from the Hebrew) both mean ‘adversary’, ‘accuser’ or ‘slanderer’.
Like the very worst kind of political opponent, the Devil will distort any truth and attack all aspects of our character in order to uncover our weakness and entice us to surrender to his will. Modern films and novels may portray the Devil in a dinner jacket, acting in a civilised and hospitable manner; believe me, he is no gentleman – although he is always very attentive!
The purpose of this ‘testing’ was a re-run of both Genesis 3 – Jesus succeeding where Adam failed the test – and of Deuteronomy 8:1-5. In the latter, Israel was led by the Lord into the wilderness for forty years “in order to humble and test you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commands”.
Jesus therefore had to survive one day for each year that Israel had lived in the wilderness, undergoing the same tests for obedience and submission. The letter to the Hebrews tells us that “He was tempted in every way, just as we are, but without sinning” (4:15) and “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (2:18). Both verses show that God was lining up his Son to become the Great High Priest who could completely identify with mortal man and also represent him/us before the Throne of Grace.
The difference was that He was not provided with manna and quail daily but ate nothing. Matthew, in a classic understatement writes: “…he was hungry” (v2). But Jesus was not allowed to use his own miraculous powers to alleviate his hunger. He had to be patient and wait for his Father to provide. Nor could he rely on supernatural power to attract a huge following by ‘flying’ unhurt from the top of the temple. Nor could he take shortcuts to ruling the kingdoms of this world, by bowing down to Satan. In each case, the challenge was : “Since you are God, you can do this instantly and achieve your wishes immediately”.
The Devil will always tempt us to fast-track our legitimate desires by taking short-cuts that are wrong (unhealthy, ungodly, immoral, or unfruitful). He will try to pull us away from relying upon God. Jesus knew that God’s calling in us could only be fulfilled by God’s methods and in God’s timing – setting us an example in the process. As part of this example, he demonstrated that we have to know the scriptures extremely well – each one of us – so that we can repulse the Devil’s temptations and warped schemes. Let us take note of that. Let us immerse ourselves in the scriptures daily – Old Testament and New – so that we become fully equipped for every good work in the Kingdom of God (1 Timothy 3:16).
Having returned from the wilderness after 40 days, Jesus learned of the death of John the Baptist, he moved his base to Capernaum on the shore of Lake Galilee, he called his first disciples to him (not the first time they had met up), and he began to exercise a public ministry for the first time. That included teaching the religious people where they met, preaching the gospel to the unsaved where they lived and healing every disease and sickness in the public places. His main message: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near”. The disciples were watching intently, ready to imitate this behaviour later.
GENESIS 6 – 9
Here begins the account of the Flood. The first four verses of chapter 6 are simultaneously important and obscure. One theory is that the ‘Sons of God’ are the godly descendants of Seth who unwisely intermarried with the ‘daughters of men’, meaning the women who descended from the wicked household of Cain. It is true that the temptation that Israel later succumbed to, through the centuries, to marry into the cultures and faiths of the surrounding nations was constantly a cause of their downfall. Marriage to unbelievers always makes for a stressful life and undermines wholehearted allegiance to God. It should be avoided at all costs, however promising the relationship appears to be.
A competing theory is that the ‘Sons of God’ were certain members of God’s heavenly Ruling Council who ‘fell’ from grace, took on human bodies, and produced children with the women of the time; these children were called the ‘Nephilim’ (or ‘fallen ones’). Further information on this theory is in books by Michael Heiser: ‘Supernatural’ and ‘The Unseen Realm’. Either way, God had had enough! Mankind had become totally depraved (v5) and his days were numbered! The Flood was God’s purification method of choice.
What we learn from the genealogy in chapter 5 is that righteous Methuselah and Lamech both finally died in the year or so before the flood, and only righteous Noah and his family remained who were worth preserving. The command to build an ark must have come as a complete surprise to Noah who had never seen rain in his lifetime and he must have wondered about the need for a lifeboat when living hundreds of miles from the sea! The ark was not a boat for navigation, but rather a floating box; it was huge – not until AD 1884 was a larger vessel ever built. Noah and his sons had about 100 years to build it.
Two questions have arisen in my daily notes so far: why did the Antediluvians live so long and what were the ‘waters above the sky’? To these, I will add: where did all the water come from to cover the entire Earth? One possible explanation for all these is the presence of a vast canopy of water vapour held in the upper atmosphere from the day that the world was created. The shielding effect against harmful ultra-violet sun rays would have aided human longevity, since it is well known that UV light badly degrades human DNA and accelerates the ageing process. When the flood started, the ‘floodgates of the heavens were opened’ – i.e., God caused this vapour canopy to collapse and produce forty days of continuous heavy rain. At the same time, volcanic eruptions in the oceans expanded their total volume massively. The highest mountains in the Earth become covered, which means that the whole world would have been covered – a universal flood!
The ark was not so much a time capsule as a DNA store. At least two of every creature was preserved for later breeding and, just as every human was originally derived from Adam, from now on they were all descended from Noah. Once back on dry land, God promised by covenant never to flood the whole Earth again (there have of course been many local floods) and the presence of rainbows in the newly configured atmosphere provided the sign of that promise. Mankind was now permitted to eat all kinds of food, including meat. And the rapid decrease in human lifespan after the flood is evidence that climatic conditions became much more extreme and unfriendly in the new world! A plausible and very detailed case for a global flood of this type is made in the classic book: ‘The Genesis Flood’ by Whitcomb and Morris, still available from Amazon (somewhat appropriately!).
The rains and fountains of the deep had finished their work and, for 150 days, the earth was fully immersed and all land-based creatures, at least, destroyed, along with most birds, I imagine. The entire human race, other than the eight people in the ark were also wiped out. The waters then began to recede. How? Well, one theory is that God moved the land and the seabed to make the oceans deeper and the mountains higher. In this way, a greater percentage of the water would end up in the oceans, leaving much of the land exposed again. But we are also dealing with a supernatural phenomenon, governed by a supernatural God.
The ark successfully grounded in a mountainous area, and Noah did a series of tests with birds to see when they would find enough solid, dry land to live independently on – which meant that they had no need to return to the ark. They also needed to find suitable food to eat. The dove is a biblical symbol of ‘peace’ and once this creature was able to find rest in the new world, it also signified to Noah that God’s punishment of humanity was over, and that mankind was at peace with God. Allegorically, I think it is significant that, in Luke 10:5-6, Jesus tells his followers: 5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. (Rather like that dove, then.)
God told Noah to let everyone out of the ark, to enable them to spread out throughout the earth and to repopulate it. Noah worshipped the Lord by sacrificing some of the ‘clean’ animals and birds (he had seven pairs of each kind of these), as a burnt offering of devotion.
A lot had changed in this new world:
- Mankind’s relationship with the other animals changed completely
- Mankind was permitted to eat meat
- God made a covenant never again to destroy the earth by a flood – the rainbow was the sign
- Noah’s relationship with his son Ham was ‘broken’, due to Ham’s disrespectful behaviour; the brunt of the punishment (slavery) fell upon Ham’s son, Canaan. When Israel (‘Shem’) conquered the land of Canaan, they made many of the Canaanites slaves (those they did not kill).