The Bible is filled with words.
774,746 to be exact. So how do you pick which one is the “greatest”.
The Muhamed Ali of words found in sacred scripture, in my opinion, is the simply significant, “but“.
It occurs fairly regularly. In fact, the story line of almost every story in the Bible hinges on this one word. Just when things look the worst, and there’s no other place to turn in the story, you can rest assured there will be a “but” coming along.
Take this episode of the account of Noah, found in Genesis 6:11-19.
11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 14 Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. 15 This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. 16 Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks. 17 For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19 And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you.
It seems that as man keeps moving East of Eden, things continue on an ever-increasing downward spiral. Within the first family there is blame-shifting and murder, and further down the family tree, we start to see the emergence of gangsta rap – glorifying in one’s pride at the expense of eliminating all competition – with the song of Lamech. It seems to just get worse and worse, not better.
God sees this.
God seeks to intervene and to prevent this downward spiral from going any further.
And the only way forward is to wipe the slate clean.
But…wait a minute.
Maybe there is another way.
A reset is in order. But that doesn’t have to entail total obliteration of all that God Himself created. It does entail finding someone to serve as a new covenant representative (or in theological terms, “federal head”).
Cue the music. Bring out Noah.
The beauty of this story is that even in the midst of depressing human nature doing what we do best apart from God – seeking life on our own terms and at everyone else’s expense – and the damning divine response to the wickedness of sinful man, there is still a “but“.
God is not a wrathful war-monger, looking to drop the hammer at the slightest offense on puny little man.
Instead, God is the God of looking for another way.
He’s the God who looks for alternate solutions.
And when they don’t present themselves on their own?
He’s the God who creates them.
He’s the God of prepositions.
That’s why “but” is the most significant word in the Bible.
Thoughts for Further Reflection:
1. When you read the account of Noah and the Flood, what images come to mind?
2. In Genesis 6, God says that He will “destroy” the world and every living thing in it. But then He calls Noah and his family to preserve their family and two of every kind of animal. Do you find that strange?
3. How do you think this might inform the way you think and talk about the yet-future “destruction” of the world? Do you think there would be more similarities to the future destruction and this destruction, or dis-similarities?
All of this stuff is talked about, at great lengths, by many brilliant and humble theologians. This is one of those tricky passages that get talked alot about under the umbrella of Covenant Theology. I personally have two great specific resources to point you to if you are interested in reading further. (I would also say that the ESV Study Bible would be a valuable one-stop-shop resource for nearly any question you might think up when reading through the Bible).
Far as the Curse is Found by Michael D. Williams.
Single-handedly my favorite book for helping gain a better grasp for the major plot and plot developments of the entire Bible. I just led a Men’s bible study through this and it was regarded by the rest of the guys as a great book and helpful in re-calibrating an understanding of the Bible as a whole in a way that is consistent across the Old and New Testaments. I cannot recommend this book enough.
Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson.
This book is regarded by many as the book to go to for understanding the various covenants in the Bible and how they relate to one another. This with Williams’ book would be worthwhile additions to your library, and great conversation partners for gaining a better understanding of how God relates to man through covenant. If you could only get one of these, I would go with Williams’ book. It offers more breadth than Robertsons’, but that does not mean that Robertson’s book is less than great. Its just more narrow in scope.