By Aian Macpherson
Here it is the mind of God.
‘Never again will I curse the earth because of earthmen’ (referring back to Genesis 3 and suggesting a restoration and reversal), curse will not be defining of God’s relationship to creation in general to or humanity. ‘Even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood’ which is the very reason God is said to be sending a flood in chapter six becomes the reason ‘I will not ever again destroy all living creatures as I have’.
The question that we were left asking earlier in the story was how will God’s decision to wipe out mankind from the earth, and the animals too, be reconciled to the grief and pain of God who is close to all he has made?
The answer is that God changes God’s mind. In response to Noah, out of remembrance of all the life on the Ark, because of God’s own compassion, God makes a covenant promise. Even before the flood comes God committed to ‘make a covenant with you’ (Gen 6:18). The flood has come, the human heart is unchanged, and ‘every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood’. The reason to send the flood is transformed in to the reason not to destroy life. The flood has not changed humans but within scripture we are shown that it irrevocably changes God. Or maybe the God who never changes, never needed convincing that the solution to evil was not destruction, but it is us ourselves, violent humanity, who need the flood story to convince us.
God’s promise comes in three parts.
First God talks to himself, or at least we hear God’s thoughts. God makes up his mind that never again will God destroy all living creatures. God promises that the seasons and the passing of day and night will never cease as long as the earth endures.
Let me ask you a question. How fast are you moving when you sit still?
Well at the equator the earth is turning at 1000 miles an hour. Then it is going at 18.5 miles a second or 66,600 miles an hour round the sun. The sun is moving at 43,000 miles per hour and orbiting the galaxy at 483,000. Finally the Milky Way, our galaxy is traveling at 1.3 million miles per hour. So you might be traveling at up to 1 million 893 thousand 600 miles an hour! And all without crashing!
That is the promise of God. The Word of God which ordered all things at the beginning teaches the planets their dance. We can describe it through the laws of physics or the beauty of poetry, but what has opened the human mind to the wonders of creation is faith in a faithful God. We believed first that ‘As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.’ Then trusting that the world would go on going on, that is could make séance, we began to glimpse the laws of gravity and thermodynamics and quantum physics. God promises to keep the earth spinning until its natural end.
Secondly God promises blessing. God blesses Noah and his sons and then talks to them about earthmen’s relationship to the earth. In God’s new promise of blessing some things are very different to how they were in the beginning. The beasts, birds, creatures and fish, will fear and dread mankind. In the first plan, humans had the fruit to eat but now the animals will also be our food. This connects to the broken relationship with the soil which no longer grows enough since Cain spilt his brother’s blood. God may be blessing and restoring but spilt blood still has consequences. ‘Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.’ This applies to animals as well as humans that kill. It is a natural law, one Christ teaches against, but it is still more measured than blood feuds and wars.
The spilling of animal blood is taken seriously as well. The life blood should be drained from meet. It is a sign of Noah’s universality that practises similar to the draining of blood can be found worldwide. For example the burying of the kidneys of the buffalo in North American cultures as a sign that the buffalo was not owned by the peoples that hunted it.
Other things are still the same as they were in the beginning. God blesses before he commands, and whilst commands on the sanctity of life are new the command to ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth’ is not. God continues to leave the animals in human hands. Though ‘They are given into your hands’ does not have the same tone as the command to ‘rule over’ or steward the creatures. It strikes a more ominous note. Life does still all belong to God.
Here we are told for the third time that: ‘in the image of God has God made mankind’. A point that requires its own blog!
Even with the introduction of commandments blessing is given first; the promise of blessing and of humanity as image bearers remains unchanged. Blessing and life are God’s intention for humanity and this is reinforced by the words ‘be fruitful and increase in number’ toping and tailing this human focused section of the story.
The third section of text has a universal focus; God makes a promise to all creation, returning to the scope of God’s own internal dialog. But the promise of blessing to humanity had to come first. It is through humanity that God’s third promise will be kept. Paul writes to the Roman church that ‘the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.’ Christ in flesh came to save the cosmos, not only the peoples.
Here in this third section God makes the promised covenant, a binding legal contract, and it is totally one sided. The promise will benefit everyone: Noah and his descendants – which according to the story is all humans – and every living creature – the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals. All those that came out of the ark – every living creature on earth – are recipients of this covenant.
The covenant makes public God’s own promise never to destroy all life. But it goes further by pointing to how God will bring about reconciliation between the creator and the creation. God gives a sign for this covenant, not because God needs reminding but so that the earth might have hope. The sign of the covenant for all generations to come is that ‘I have set my rainbow in the clouds’.
As we have gone through Genesis we have found several times that is it helpful to know what Israel and Israeli’s neighbours thought and what stories they told because Israel is in a dialog with their neighbours through these stories. Respectfully but subversively retelling them.
So what did the world of the authors of Genesis think the rainbow was?
Clouds are a chariot, lightning is arrows and… the rainbow is a war bow. So what is God saying by hanging up his bow? God will not destroy life on earth. But which way is the bow pointing now?
God takes a sign of war and makes it a promise of faithfulness to the earth but even more than this God turns the threat of the heavens upon God’s self. As a man once shouted out when a friend was preaching on this ‘Oh my God, He’s going to shoot himself’.
God’s way of relating to a wicked world, of reconciling divine justice and sorrow and pain with human violence and evil will be to take the worst on God’s self – the grief, the gut acing pain of seeing your loved ones suffer, seeing your loved ones do violence and murder and destroy the earth and ignore you will be God’s. All the things that lead up to the flood, God will take them on because he has promised. The war bow of the gods points to the Cross of the Son of God. God’s way of relating to the world will be through promises. Some we see kept morning by morning, others we wait on with hope because of the many that have been kept before.
You see what we learn is that our deliver has come, and is coming. That our deliverer ‘will never break his promise though the stars should break faith with the sky’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=harMWNdudXs
To appropriate some of the script from Peter Jacksons LOTR, we might say this:
Sam: It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories Mr Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened. But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t because they were holding on to something.
Frodo : What are we holding on to, Sam?
 Rich Mullins, The Jesus Record