Noah’s wife, sons, and daughters-in-law all helped in choosing the best from their small herds and flocks. Only seven pairs of each kind of clean animal had come with them into the ark, those creatures that chewed the cud and had completely cloven hooves. There were only ten of this category, oxen and sheep, goats and deer, and all the varieties of antelope and gazelle. They selected one from every group, all yearlings, the best males from those born within their cavernous boat. Each creature had come easily, naively, without hesitation, for they had been fed their whole lives by these human hands.
All stretched their necks to be patted and caressed, leaning in with their affection, as animals will do. Once the yearlings had been assembled, Noah took the first sacrifice, a beautiful ram with fine horns and a thick, creamy fleece. Solemnly, Noah raised his obsidian knife, as the guileless creature looked up with innocent interest. Only when the sharp blade bit into its trusting flesh, did the ram’s first bleat of terrified betrayal and pain crack the air, spraying out with it the acrid smell of fresh blood. Fear swept through the other creatures as the sacrifice’s cry echoed up and down Ararat’s canyons. Acting as a catalyst of frenzy and dread, a rapid wave moved undulating through the disembarking beasts. The stampede grew, animals running, galloping, swarming, teeming, spreading out of the ark and down the sides of the mountain.
Only the clean creatures were left, and perhaps the dogs. Two camels, which had been roped to a tree, now bucked and tugged at their moorings, coughing and screaming. Oxen and goats, deer and sheep, all the small flocks and herds, corralled in their makeshift fences, could only throw themselves at their enclosures, terror shaking their sides, and ululating from their gaping jaws.
One by one, Noah solemnly sacrificed the clean yearlings, beautiful as they were, without any mark or deformity. Some of his family wept. Others looked grim, as they gathered from the plentiful fallen wood, to build up the fire Noah had started on his heap of unhewn rocks.
“We are not giving from our poverty,” he had told them, assembled before him, his little clan. “We are offering back to the Lord from the abundance of His faithfulness to us.”
Ham had shifted uncomfortably. It did not seem like abundance, to try to grow all the earth’s herds from these few dozen cattle and sheep. On what would they live? They had already spent over a year in scarcity, carefully husbanding their dwindling supply of food, patching their clothes from even more ragged clothes, living in near squalor with nowhere to go but out the window with all the manure.
“We will give to the Lord in humble thankfulness, for He has given us a new earth, and a new chance to live in peace and prosperity, goodness and joy, in righteousness.”
Noah had then paused to look intently at each of his beloved family members, his wife and sons, and their wives already heavy with their own sons and daughters soon to be born. “We are the new humanity,” he had said quietly, his voice catching. “God has given us Shalom, and we will praise Him with all our hearts.”
His wife had brushed a strand of hair from her eyes and tucked it behind her ear. It felt so good to feel the dry ground under her feet, to breath the fresh, sweet air. She had looked out over the stands of trees, climbing up the mountains’ sides, the birds gliding and wheeling in the sky, the beautiful clouds, the beautiful sun, the beautiful outside of the ark. She thought briefly about how they would restructure it to become a home for their growing tribe.
She did feel thankful, overwhelmingly so. But…she also felt angry. God had not answered their questions, nor explained His long silence. And she felt scared. God had not given them any reassurances about the days ahead, nor offered any comfort for the long and difficult sojourn they had just endured. What did lie ahead? Their hope had come only by faith. God had sealed them within the ark as His act of grace, to save them. Surely, she thought to herself, surely He would complete what He had begun? Finally, underneath all those feelings was a deep, soft, heavy sorrow, mourning for the life she once had, her home, her family, her friends.
And now, they were celebrating their new life with more death. She felt her throat tighten, and tears push through her lashes. She bit her lip. Salvation had come at such great cost.
How their hearts had broken as they watched Noah open neck after neck, as each creature yelped in panic and pain, then convulsed in its death rattle, blood spurting onto the altar, onto Noah, onto his wife, and sons, and their wives…
How their arms had ached, their bodies wearied, their stomachs sickened, as they lifted each animal onto the altar, the fire crackling and spitting with each new carcass, the reek of burning hair and hide, the fetor of muck as the sacrifices’ bowels had emptied.
“This is the stench of death,” Noah finally said. For they had offered up each animal unto the Lord in silence. “This is the wretchedness of sin, the horror of sin. We must let these images burn themselves into our eyes, and our minds. We must never forget this day.”
And they would not forget. The screams of terror and horror from those who had perished in the flood. Their own sense of pervading guilt and survivor’s shame, for they knew they too had done wrong things, and thought wrong things, even while in the ark, even while being saved from the destruction of the entire earth. And now it was all symbolized in their offering of thanksgiving, which was also a reminder that, though they were the new humanity, their condition was unchanged, their hearts still had the capacity to conceive of evil.
Again, Ham had shifted uncomfortably, looking away with a furtive fear. He had dark longings, darkness itself was lurking within him, he could feel its oily tendrils uncoiling, winding round and round his soul. Would the others see?
Noah and his family offering sacrifices | Joseph Anton Koch [Public domain]