Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Uh, That Sounds Familiar (Again): Noah and Lot in the Book of Genesis

noah and lot

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works.Tweets at @peteenns.

Last week we took a gander at the overlap between the stories of Adam and Noah, and a good time was had by all.

This week, let’s continue the party by looking at the overlap between the stories of Noah and Lot.

If I may begin by driving home a point from last week, stories that overlap, or “echo” each other, don’t need to do so every point. If they did then they would simply be the same story. 

But if enough elements from one story remind you of elements of another, it might be worth pausing for a moment and thinking about what the biblical writer might be trying to say.

Here is the basic plotline of the story of Noah. Note that this summary is not exactly the same as what we saw last week—because the way Noah and Adam overlap is not the same as how Noah and Lot overlap.

  1. Humanity is sinful.
  2. The door of the ark is shut keeping out the wicked.
  3. The guilty are destroyed by God.
  4. Noah and his family escape.
  5. Noah gets drunk and his son commits a sinful act.
  6. Noah’s offspring is cursed.

Compare this to the story of Lot:

  1. Sodom and the “cities of the plain” are sinful.
  2. The door of the house is shut keeping out the wicked.
  3. The cities of the plain are destroyed by God.
  4. Lot and his two daughters escape.
  5. Lot gets drunk and his daughters commit a sinful act.
  6. Lot’s offspring is cursed (Deuteronomy 23:3-6)

On #5 of the Lot story, Lot’s daughters get Lot drunk and have sex with him because they are afraid they will have no way of having children, since “there is not a man on earth” for them (Genesis 19:31). That seems like a bit of an exaggeration, since there are men somewhere—the earth wasn’t destroyed, just the five cities of the plain (19:24). I think this exaggeration helps tie this episode to the Noah story, where everyone does die except Noah and his family.

Concerning #6, there is no explicit curse in the Lot story and so this is not a true echo—but—anyone who knows the biblical story knows where all this is heading. 

The elder daughter bears her father Lot a son named Moab and the younger bears him son named Ben-Ammi. They are the ancestors of the Moabites and Ammonites, two of Israel’s immediate neighbors to the east, across the Jordan River, and with whom they did not get along—at all. The exceptions are that Ruth was a Moabite and she became the ancestor of King David, and Naamah the Ammonite (1 Kings 14:21) was one of Solomon’s wives and the mother of Rehoboam, the first of the southern kings who continued the line of David.

Those exceptions are WAY interesting, but for another time. My point here is that the relationship between the Israelites and the Moabites and Ammonites was not friendly and occasionally got testy. The author of Deuteronomy gives us his angle on these nations:

“No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, not even in the tenth generation. . . . Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live.”

Deut 23:3, 6

All that is to say that we are not stretching things by seeing an implied curse at the end of the Lot story. Moabites and Ammonites! Look at their sketchy origins! What a bunch of losers, as they have been all the way from the beginning—as were the Canaanites whose ancestor uncovered Noah’s nakedness.

Ok, so what?

In The Bible Tells Me So and on this blog and this blog, I talk about how Genesis, among other things, gives readers a preview of Israel’s later political map. And Israel’s later enemies don’t get a very good grade.

The Canaanites, Moabites, and Ammonites are three nations in the immediate vicinity with whom the Israelites will later have a rocky relationship, and are presented here in an unflattering light. The origins of the Moabites and Ammonites are no less abhorrent than the origin of the Canaanites.

Other nations are also introduced in Genesis, namely:

  • the Babylonians (Genesis 1 and Tower of Babel) 
  • Egyptians (stories of Abraham and Joseph, among other places) 
  • Edomites (story of Jacob and Esau [= Edom])
  • Philistines (Genesis 21 and 26)
  • Arabs (Genesis 16 and 25)

We won’t get into any of that here. My only point is that, with the exception of the Babylonians (who would later deport the residents of Jerusalem to Babylon!), Israel’s relationship with these other nations listed here is rather complicated.

But not so with the Canaanites, Moabites, and Ammonites. Genesis gives them (and the Babylonians) a hard F. The writer, I believe, makes his point by means of these echoes between the stories of Noah and Lot.

Echoes really invite us to see the bigger picture the biblical author is developing. It’s also fun to see these connections.

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