Thinking inside the box

“Noah does not build a boat, but rather an ark. An ark is a box. The measurements given for it in the text are rectangular, and their is neither a keel nor a rudder, nor a sail…. The important fact is that, in such a vessel, the humans and animals are utterly helpless, cast about in the waters without any control over their fate.” –Richard Elliott Friedman, from Commentary on the Torah as quoted in Invitation To Genesis by Peter Enns, p32

I read this some weeks ago, when my Monday study group tackled Genesis 6-10. I felt so foolish: an ARK, right! Like “Ark of the Covenant,” the holy box that holds the stone tablets Moses inscribed the Ten Commandments on! God asked Noah to build a holy box to put himself, his family, and all the creatures of the world in. Then God put the lid on the box (no, really, it’s in Genesis 7:16) and kept them safe, bobbing in the chaotic waters. 

Like the people, working with God, kept God’s laws safe in that other holy box…in a kind of double safeguard, since the laws were to keep the people safe while the people took care of the laws. Until the people were really not upholding their part at all, and God let the Babylonians plunder everything.

I was curious; were there other arks that I had not paid attention to? Turns out that Moses’ baby-boat on the Euphrates, usually translated as a “basket,” is really another chest or box. In fact, the description of Moses’ box is pretty much the same as of Noah’s, except for the size. Moses and the treasure-chest he floated in were pulled out of the water by an Egyptian princess. A holy box, where God put a future leader for safekeeping.

God seems to have a fondness for putting things that matter into boxes.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. We were reading from Luke, reading the passage in Chapter 2 that has my favorite King James sentence: “the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” Wouldn’t any sane person be paralyzed in terror at that point?! But I digress. That chapter also mentions, a couple of times, that the newborn whose birth is announced by blinding light and earth-filling song is lying in a manger.

That is, a feed-box.

Now, ‘manger’ in ancient Greek is very far from the same word as ‘chest’ in ancient Hebrew. My poet’s sensibilities are probably pushing this farther than, textually, it can actually go.

But still, it struck me: God yet again put the future leader, the new beginning of God’s kingdom, the key to God’s promises

in a holy box. Where the contents wait  while chaos swirls all around, and only God knows how everything will work out.


I wonder what other treasure-chests God has laying around?


Update 28 Nov: At lunch today my friend Britta pointed out that a tomb can make a pretty good-sized box. That’s certainly a chest worth having God open!

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