Enoch “Refuses to be Comforted”

After reading that there was mourning ritual associated with Job’s and Jacob/Israel’s “refus[al] to be comforted”, I noticed that Enoch says the same thing after he sees the destruction wrought by the Flood: “And as Enoch saw this, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be comforted…” (Moses 7:44).

The idea of refusing comfort in the wake of a disaster is a common Hebrew part of mourning. Something terrible happens and the victim (or parent, or whoever) “refuses to be comforted” during his or her mourning. James Kugel, in How to Read the Bible, says:

There was a certain ritual practiced in the ancient Near East by anyone who had endured a severe loss–for example, the death of a parent or other close relative. The person would be visited by friends and family, who would seek to reconcile him or her to what had happened. But the normal, expected posture of the sufferer in such circumstances was to “refuse to be comforted,” at least for a time. This ritual of mourning called for sufferers to reject all such efforts for a while and remain plunged in grief, tearing their clothes, putting ashes on their heads, and wearing sackcloth… (639)

This is what’s going on in most of the Book of Job. For a time, his friends come to attempt to comfort him. But, as I said, this phrase also appears after Enoch foresees the destruction of humanity by the Flood. I think it’s profound that Enoch is so stricken by this destruction, as the language suggests that Enoch viewed these people as close enough that their death would elicit such a strong, mournful response. It might also be that he was shocked by the extent of the destruction. I think it’s interesting that we have such distance from many biblical stories that we aren’t stricken by how profoundly terrible many of them are. Yes, the people in the days of the Flood were wicked, but still, that’s a lot of death. We pass over it pretty lightly. In the same way, I think we do this when we read the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac (see here and here for some additional thoughts along these lines).

Second, I think it’s interesting that God’s immediate response to Enoch’s heartbreak is to comfort him, in line with the tradition, and tell him of the Messiah to come. Much of the rest of Enoch’s vision is Enoch trying to understand how God’s promise will be fulfilled. He is finally satisfied when God tells him, “Then [at the second coming of Christ] shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other…” (Moses 7:62).

The Flood as a New Creation: Some Textual Parallels

While I’m sure these are better elaborated elsewhere, these are a few things I noted that seem to tie the Flood together with the Creation stories in Gen. 1-3. (both in my own reading and drawn from other sources. Sadly, I didn’t keep detailed notes on other sources).

  1. In both stories the earth is submerged in the “deep”. The Hebrew word is tehom, which is often referred to as the waters of chaos in scholarly literature (this post gets at some of that. See the stuff under the third point). See Gen 1:2 (see here for the Hebrew) and the “fountains of the deep” in Gen. 7:11 and elsewhere in the flood story (again, see here for the Hebrew).
  2. The ark goes “on the face of the water” (Gen. 7:18) just as spirit does in Gen. 1:2.
  3. Noah and family to multiply and replenish the earth (Gen. 9:1), just as Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:28)
  4. Relation of man to animals is emphasized, although it differs when repeated in Gen. 9:2. In Gen. 1:28, man has “dominion” over animals; in Gen. 9:2, animals will fear man.
  5. Noah and his family are to fill an empty earth, like Adam and Eve. This one is perhaps more of a stretch, as in Gen. 1, the earth is not empty, while in Gen. 2 the earth is empty of animal life but not plant life. Notably, God is unconcerned about the plant life when flooding the earth, suggesting that a parallel to Adam and Eve in Gen. 2, rather than Gen. 1 might be stronger.
  6. It appears that God removes the curse on the earth in Gen. 8:21 that he placed on it in Gen. 3:17. Gen. 8:21 says: “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s (Adam’s) sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.”

I don’t really have much to say about what I think this means, although it is intriguing. If point 6 is correct, then it suggests that whatever curse was on the land due to Adam is no longer operative. This would suggest that citing the curse on the land as a justification for our need to work–which is the kind of thing I’ve heard–would be a bit weaker. But I’m not sure that this is a great loss, since I’m sure there are other passages that can probably be used in its place.