National Catholic Register

Commentary

Rhyming History

BY Mark Shea

July 31-August 13, 2011 Issue | Posted 7/22/11 at 4:20 PM

 

“History,” said a wise man, “does not repeat itself. But it does rhyme.”

True that. History is full of little curious coincidences (like those little lists of coincidences surrounding the assassinations of Kennedy and Lincoln, or the oddness of a novel called Futility appearing 14 years before the Titanic disaster in which a ship called the Titan strikes an iceberg and sinks).

Far more significantly though, it is full of the repetition of great themes and ideas which are heard again and again like musical motifs that start out small and then build until the climax in a great swelling symphonic movement.

This is supremely true of salvation history. And the reason is that the Author of salvation history is the Word or Logos, who is the Creator of history along with everything else. He is also the one whose Spirit inspires the authors of Scripture. In fact, he is, according to our Tradition, the principal Author of Scripture. And so Scripture, in its recounting of salvation history, unfolds certain recurring themes.

So, for instance, we all know that Genesis 1-3 tells the story of creation and the fall. But did you know that Scripture tells it again? The story of Noah’s flood follows the same pattern as the creation-and-fall story. A new world emerges from the waters of “the deep” (Genesis 1:2; 7:11).

The number “seven” is significant in both accounts, since the seventh-day Sabbath (rooted in the Hebrew word which means “seven”) is the sign of God’s “rest” at creation, while in the flood story Noah’s name means “rest” or “relief” (Genesis 5:29).

After leaving the ark, Adam’s divine commission is repeated to Noah: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). Adam’s position of dominion is restored to Noah (Genesis 9:2). The creation covenant God made with Adam (the sign of which was the Sabbath) is renewed in a new covenant with Noah, the sign of which is the rainbow (Genesis 9:13). In short, the flood is a re-creation event.

But there is a story of the fall here, too. Adam and Noah are soon found in a garden or vineyard (Genesis 2:15; 9:20), where they eat a fruit revealing their sin and nakedness (Genesis 3:6-7; 9:21) and a curse results (Genesis 3:14-19; 9:25) that blights their children (Cain and Canaan).

And that’s not the end of this theme. Israel too will come into being as a new creation born out of the waters of the Red Sea during the Exodus. Israel will, after receiving the love and blessing of God, and the promise of a new “garden” in a land flowing with milk and honey, undergo its own fall by worshipping the Golden Calf (a symbol of money, sex and power). They will be saved from destruction by Moses, who sacrificially intercedes for them, just as Adam and Eve are clothed in the skins of animals and Noah offers sacrifice. Out of this great sin will indeed arise the whole sacrificial system of the Law of Moses.

All this matters because the story of Israel not only looks backward to those great stories of creation, fall and redemption, but forward to some longed-for-but-unguessable climax in Israel’s history, the day when God “will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:33). And so, the prophets look both backward and forward as they call Israel back to fidelity to the covenant with Moses and yet also look forward to “the great and terrible Day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5-6) as God declares, “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.”

Of which, more next time.

Mark Shea blogs at NCRegister.com.