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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

(About 2400 B. C.)

[Gen. 5–7]

ADAM lived nine hundred and thirty years. He had many sons and daughters to whom he announced the law of God and the coming of the Redeemer. His immediate descendants also lived to a very great age. Mathusala, the oldest of them, lived nine hundred and sixty-nine years. The people became very numerous. Some were herdsmen and lived in tents; others built cities and became mechanics and musicians. The descendants of the pious Seth, whom God had given to Adam instead of Abel, were good, feared God, and hence were called the children of God. The descendants of Cain, however, turned away from God, were wicked, and were called the children of men.

Henoch, one of the children of God, was noted for his faith and piety, and was taken up alive to heaven. Unhappily, the children of God began to associate with the children of men, and soon they themselves became wicked. Then God said: “My spirit shall not remain in man for ever, because he is flesh, and his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”

“And seeing that the wickedness of men was great on the earth and that all the thought of their heart was bent upon evil at all times, God repented that He had made man on earth, and He said: I will destroy man, whom I have created, from the face of the earth.”

But among these wicked men there was one just and virtuous man, who was called Noe. Noe found favour with the Lord, and the Lord said to him: “Make thee an ark of timber-planks; thou shalt make little rooms in the ark, and thou shalt pitch it within and without with bitumen. The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, and the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. Thou shalt make a window in the ark, and a door in its side; and thou shalt divide the ark into lower, middle, and third stories. Behold, I will bring the waters of a great flood upon the earth, to destroy all flesh wherein is the breath of life. But I will establish my covenant with thee. Thou shalt enter into the ark, thou and thy sons, and thy wife and the wives of thy sons with thee. And of every living creature, of all flesh, thou shalt bring two of a sort into the ark that they may live with thee. Thou shalt take unto thee of all food which may be eaten, and thou shalt lay it up with thee.”

Noe did all that the Lord had commanded him to do. He spent a hundred years in building the ark (Fig. 2), during which time he preached penance to the people. But men heeded not the warning. They ate, drank, and were married just as before, without a thought of the terrible punishment that was to come upon them. Then the Lord said to Noe: “Go in, thou and all thy house, into the ark; and after seven days I will cause rain to fall upon the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy every substance that I have made, from the face of the earth.” Noe entered into the ark, with all his family, taking with him all the beasts that the Lord had commanded him, and the Lord shut him in on the outside.

 

Fig. 2. The Ark. Reconstruction. (After Calmet.)

And when the seven days were passed, the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the flood-gates of heaven were opened, and the rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights. The waters continued to increase till they rose fifteen cubits above the highest mountains. Thus every living being was destroyed, that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, of cattle, of beasts, and all men. Noe only remained, and they that were with him in the ark.

The terror of God’s Judgment. Picture to yourself the horror of this terrible judgment of God. In sixteen hundred years the human race had increased to millions of beings, and now all were destroyed! Many of them were drowned when the Flood first began, while others saved themselves for a time in high trees or on the roofs of houses. But the houses were swept away and the trees uprooted, and all who were on them were swallowed up in the waters. Many fled to the mountains, but the flood followed them there. With deadly fear they watched the waters rising higher and higher, till the very mountain-tops were swallowed up, and one by one those who had sought safety on them were engulfed in the roaring waves. Mothers saw their children, brothers their sisters, husbands their wives, drowning before their eyes, and were powerless to help them. Black clouds covered the sky, and the earth was wrapped in darkness. Beasts roared, and men wailed and cried aloud to heaven for mercy. But the day of mercy was past; the day of retribution had come. And, behold, while the storm raged fiercer and fiercer, and the waters rose above the highest mountains, burying all mankind in a watery grave, the ark floated securely on the top of the horrible flood, protected by the hand of God, neither injured by the fallen trees which were hurled against it, nor dashed to pieces against the sunken rocks.

The four last things. The patriarchs lived to a great age, but they had to die at last. Of each one, with the exception of Henoch, it is said that he lived to such and such an age, and then died. By this they fulfilled the words of God: “Dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.” So it is with man still, and so it will be till the end of the world: all men must die, because they are the inheritors of Adam’s curse. “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment” (Hebr. 9:27). The four last things are death, judgment, heaven, hell.

The sons of God and the sons of men. The opposition between the sons of God and the sons of men continues to this day, and will continue to the end of the world. The children of men are those who either have no faith, or who do not live up to their faith, but follow the desires of their own corrupt hearts, and without shame transgress God’s commandments. They love the world above all things, as if it were their God. They struggle after the honours, pleasures, and riches of this life, and do not trouble themselves about eternal life. But who are the children of God? They are those who do God’s will, who live in the grace and love of God, and who strive after heavenly things. As Christians, we are all children of God. Let us live as such, and try to do the will of our Father, who is in heaven.

The long life of the Patriarchs. As the earth before the Flood produced larger plants and larger beasts than it does now, so men in primeval times were taller and stronger than the men of later ages. They lived a simple, temperate life, and therefore reached a great age. This long life of the patriarchs was ordained by God to serve several ends. The first was that they might have a great many children, and that the human race might multiply and spread itself. Another was that the patriarchs might be able to transmit the divine revelation of the history of creation, of the original state and fall of man, the promise of the Saviour, the story of Cain and Abel &c., to later generations, pure and unfalsified. Adam himself was able to teach these truths to his descendants down to the time of Lamech, who at the time of Adam’s death was fifty years old. Lamech was the father of Noe, and died a few years before the Deluge. He instructed Noe (who lived 950 years) and Sem, the son of Noe. Sem (who lived 600 years) was able to instruct his descendants down to the time of Jacob. Jacob transmitted the divine revelation to his descendants, one of whom was Moses, who wrote the first five books of Holy Scripture, containing the revelation of God from the Creation onwards. There was no Holy Scripture between the time of Adam and that of Moses; the faith being preserved and spread by means of oral tradition and living witnesses.

The Forbearance of God. Although all men, with the exception of Noe and his family, had become impious and vicious, God gave them a hundred and twenty years in which to repent, before He let loose His wrath upon them. We call God long-suffering, because He waits such a long time before He will punish a sinner. Good men often complain thus: Why does God put up so long with impiety? Why does He not punish the sinner who defies Him? Almighty God is patient, because He is eternal. He waits for the sinner to repent; but if he will not repent, the punishment falls upon him at last, if not in this world, then in the world to come.

God’s Holiness and Justice shine forth most clearly in this story. The sins of men are powerless to hurt the Lord God, or disturb His infinite peace and happiness. Why then did He repent of having made man? Because He is holy, and, sin being opposed to His very essence, He could no longer endure the wickedness of man. He also wished, by this destruction of sinful man, to reveal His detestation of sin to all future generations, and thereby to keep them from sinning. Because God is holy, He is also just, as is shown by His reward of the righteous Noe, and His punishment of the wicked.

The Mercy of God. God reveals to us His mercy as well as His justice in this story of the Deluge. He did not allow the Flood to come suddenly, but by degrees. When the rain began to fall, it is probable that many believed in Noe’s warnings of the coming judgment and began to pray and repent of their sins, and cried to God for pardon. Such as did this were saved, and were not cast into hell, but sent to Limbo (1 Pet. 3:19).

“Others do the same thing.” Sinners often speak thus in excuse for themselves. But the Deluge teaches us that such words avail nothing with God. Sin remains sin, and mortal sin remains mortal sin, whether committed by few or many. When everybody was wicked, as in the days of Noe, everybody was punished. At the Last Day we shall not be judged according to the opinions and easy-going principles of the world, but according to the holy Commandments of God and of His Church.

The fortitude of Noe. Among all his other virtues we must admire this the most. He remained virtuous in the midst of a corrupt world, and did only that which was pleasing to God. The wicked people around him did all in their power to lead him astray. They mocked him, because he did not do as they did; but he did not let himself be moved to do evil. He firmly resisted the attractions of the wicked world, and remained true to what was right.

Noe’s love of his neighbour. For a hundred and twenty years he laboured for the salvation of the souls of his fellow-creatures, who were walking on the road to ruin. His love of his neighbour was real, practical, and entire.

The Ark a type of the Catholic Church. All those who were in the ark, were saved from death: whosoever is a true child of the Catholic Church, will be saved from everlasting death. There was only one ark of safety: so is there only one true Church in which there is salvation. The ark was designed and built according to God’s directions; so was the Church founded by our Lord. The ark did not sink amid the storms of the Deluge, being protected and guided by God; even so the Catholic Church does not sink amid the storms of persecution, being invisibly protected and governed by God the Holy Ghost.

The Last Judgment. The terrors of the Deluge are a type of the Last Day, for our Lord has said (Mat. 24:37): “As in the days of Noe, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (i. e. when He comes again to judge the world). Great were the fear and lamentation when the Deluge broke forth, but greater far will be the terror felt at the approach of the Last Day. “There shall be then great tribulation such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now” (Mat. 24:21). And yet many men behave about the Last Judgment precisely as those of Noe’s time behaved about the Deluge, passing their lives in frivolity, and fearing nothing. The very same thing which happened to these last will happen to them. The men of Noe’s time would not listen to his warnings: they scoffed at him and refused to believe in the judgment that was to overtake them. But when the Flood came, and certain destruction lay before them, they cursed their folly and frivolity, and bitterly envied Noe’s safety in the ark. So will it be with men when the Last Day comes. “Then will they say within themselves, repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit: These are they whom we had some time in derision, and for a parable of reproach. We fools esteemed their life madness, and their end without honour. Behold, how they are numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints” (Wisd. 5:3–5).

APPLICATION. You became children of God by holy Baptism. Have you always lived as such? Have you always prayed willingly and devoutly, and hated sin? Think very often about God, who is everywhere, and sees into your hearts. Henoch took delight in meditating about God. Wherever he went, and whatever he was doing, he had God before his eyes. Each time to-day that you hear the clock strike, or the bell ring, make short acts of faith, hope and charity.

The children of God became corrupt, because they mixed with the children of the world. Man, being naturally inclined to evil, follows bad example very easily. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” One bad apple taints a hundred sound ones, but a hundred sound apples cannot make the bad one good again. Beware, in future, of bad companions. They are not true friends, but the enemies of your soul. Seek the company of pious, God-fearing people. “My son, if sinners shall entice thee, consent not to them” (Prov. 1:10).

Noe’s preaching was all in vain, because the frivolous people heard him indeed with their ears, but did not take to heart what he said. In what way do you listen to sermons and instructions?

Noe feared God, but did not fear the impious world. Very often you fear men more than God. Have you never been ashamed to make the sign of the cross, or to kneel down to say your prayers, or to take holy water? Do not ever again be so cowardly! Pay no attention to the scoffs of bad people, but be strong, and fearlessly confess your faith! Pray earnestly to God the Holy Ghost for the gifts of fortitude and holy fear!








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