I’m going to stick my neck out a little and risk saying something that might not go down well with people. But hear me out till the end and perhaps you might gain something out of what I’m about to say.
Noah was perhaps one of the most outstanding persons in the Bible who received an accolade like none other. “Noah was a righteous man, faultless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:9). However, the end of his life didn’t quite match up with how he started. Genesis 9 tells us that he “began to be a man of the soil.” He planted a vineyard, drank its wine, became drunk and became uncovered. Not the most glorious way to end the commentary of one’s life, especially for one as illustrious as Noah’s.
I think there’s a lesson to be learnt about this and that is – Obedience is NOT enough. Consider this for a moment. In the account of Noah’s life, we see a remarkable attribute about him – his absolute and silent obedience to God’s instructions. Whether it was when judgment was declared over the world, or when he was told to build an ark to save himself and his family, or when the rains began to fall. Noah said nothing. Instead four times, we read of his silent obedience. Yet for all his obedience, his end was far from perfect.
What’s amazing is that while the Pentateuch contains over 600 commandments, the Hebrew language really did not have a word for “obey”. Instead the verb that’s used is “shama” which means to listen, hear, attend, understand, internalise and respond. Now if blind, silent obedience is what God’s after, then surely this ought not to be so? For that matter, why would God create as His pinnacle of creation – mankind? This one species that questions, argues, contends and thinks. If obedience was what God was after, He could’ve created a legion of robots that would listen unerringly to His every word and obey them absolutely.
I think what God is after is a people who’s mature, deliberate and who chooses to do His will because they understand the reasons for His actions. He’s after a people who knows and trusts Him enough to follow Him even when they don’t understand. In other words, He’s seeking for something greater than obedience. He’s after responsibility.
In my house, we’ve determined that we’ll keep legislation to a minimum. We seek deliberately to reduce the number of do’s and don’ts when it pertains to rules. We once checked our kids’ phone chats and discovered some very unsavoury conversations. We made a decision then that we’d not confront our boys about those chats and that we’d not violate their privacy and check on their phone chats from then onwards. Instead we focused on raising them to understand values and morals.
Amazingly, on several occasions, our boys came to us on their on volition to confess to things that they had done and to repent of them. We realise that we cannot watch over them all the time, but our objective instead should be to build an atmosphere of God over their lives and to teach them truth and what’s right; to teach them responsibility over their own actions and decisions.
Biblical text shifts to focus on Abraham after the account of Noah, and what a different picture Abraham paints for us. It was Abraham who protested against God when the Lord declared judgment over Sodom and Gomorrah. He was not one to keep silent, but a man who took responsibility and acted out of it. Concerning Noah, he was described as a man who “walked with God” (Gen 6:9), but Abraham was described as one who “walked before God” (Gen 17:1).
An old story was told of a king who had two sons – one grown up and the other still a child. To the child, he said, “Walk with me. But to the adult son he said, Walk before me.” When we see a need or an injustice, we don’t need permission from God to act. We know that God has already placed a responsibility on us to do something about it.