Two by two
It’s the name of countless nurseries and toddler groups. We instantly think of a cramped menagerie and a cartoon boat – usually absent Noah and the family. Also absent is any hint that this is a cataclysmic scene of judgement.
The context is Genesis 6. Apparently the “sons of God” were uniting with the daughters of men (“sons of God” is most commonly a reference to angels in the Bible). It was one more illicit alliance between earth and heaven.
From the beginning, there has been only one legitimate alliance of heaven and earth. As Genesis 3:15 promises – the Man of Heaven will become the Man of dust. Notice the trajectory. The Man of Heaven will come down. Only in covenant relationship with the God-Man will we have the union we seek. But we’re always seeking illegitimate alliances.
In Genesis 3 Satan offered the original anti-God union of angels and men. And this kind of coup – evident in Genesis 6 – would be repeated in Genesis 11 when earth would again seek union with heaven – under its own steam and on its own terms.
But the LORD is implacably opposed to all these attempts for they all pervert a world that was made by Christ and for Christ.
The fruit of this adultery is terrible. In Genesis 6:5 we read the LORD’s assessment of a world corrupted through spiritual infidelity:
And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)
Not just the thoughts of the heart – the imagination of the thoughts of the heart. Every one of them. Not just occasionally evil, continually evil. Not partially evil, only evil.
It’s a problem that begins with spiritual adultery. It infects the heart then spreads out. Later in the chapter the LORD looks and sees “the earth is filled with violence” (v11 and 13). From the wicked heart to the clenched first the world becomes “corrupt” (v11,12) – that is, perverted, twisted, polluted, marred.
Spiritually-adulterous, black-hearted and violent. We read these assessments as though of course God’s going to have it in for us. Of course He’ll be negative. And of course He’s over-reacting. We think like the angsty teenager complaining about their history teacher “He hates me.”
But the LORD is not like that. He loves His world. He made us for Christ, for eternal friendship in bonds of covenant love. He’s no kill-joy or pessimist. That’s what makes this assessment so sobering. The LORD is angry – furiously angry – with a world He loves.
In fact He’s sorry He made it:
It repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. (Genesis 6:6-7)
God is sorry He made us! And in His wrath He will destroy the earth. We are a long way from the cartoon images here. Starting with man at the head, there will be a cosmic judgement.
This sounds like He’s going back on everything He ever began. It sounds like the whole creation project is going in the bin. But then there’s our phrase: “two by two.”
There will be a place of saftey – the ark. And the people who hide with Noah will survive. This will amount to his wife and his three sons with their wives (two by two if you like). And the animals who hide with Noah will survive. And not just survive. They also are coupled up. Male and female – to start again.
Noah doesn’t just preserve specimens on the ark, he hides couples with him. They come “two by two” (Genesis 7:9,15). Because judgement is not the end. It’s the beginning of new life beyond judgement. There will be a whole new world after the end of the world.
Repeatedly the Bible points to the flood as a pattern for this world’s judgement at the end. And here’s what we learn: the key is not to avoid judgement. The world will be washed clean. The key is to be hidden with the one called Rest. And when you come to Him there will be a fruitful future beyond death and wrath.