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|"A Bow in the Clouds"
|Throughout the Bible there are covenants; and
some of the best-known are God's covenant with Abraham and God's
covenant with David. But more important, I believe, is God's
covenant with Noah. It was, in fact, the original Biblical
God's first major promise. Now this is not to say that it is God's first GIFT, because it certainly was not; but it is God's first major indication of what is to come.
And I suppose that it is a bit difficult for us to conceive of God's promises in HUMAN terms, because humans are quite capable of BREAKING promises, and we very often do. But God does not. And therein lies the importance of God's promises.
God's promise to Noah follows a rather major disaster: the flooding of the entire earth with forty days and forty nights of rain. In short, God became very angry with us and let us have it. And then God said that it would not happen again.
And this is a rather strong promise; for consider the sixth chapter of Genesis, where in the seventh verse we read,
"So the Lord said, "I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created--people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them."
That's a pretty heavy statement. But it's balanced by the verse that follows: "But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord." And what this tells me is that God may have been angry, but God did not give up.
God was still looking for something in the creation for which there was still hope; and it was found in Noah and his family. And we read in the eighth and ninth verses of the ninth chapter of Genesis: "Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you."
In other words, the covenant would not live and die with Noah, but would be forever.But the nagging question in all of this for me is, "Why the flood?"
And I think the answer has to lie not in the flood ITSELF, but in Noah's ESCAPE from the flood and God's response afterward. Because since the beginning of biblical history, there has never been a total end of God's creation.
That time is not yet. And in spite of all that has befallen humanity, humanity has kept coming back. Even in the Garden of Eden, God could have called the whole thing off, but didn't. God keeps giving us second chances. Instead of giving up completely, God keeps trying and helps US to keep trying. When we look at the crucifixion, we should ask, why didn't God just give UP on us? Why didn't God just eliminate us all then and there?
How could we do such an ugly thing to an innocent human being, let alone God's Son? So we know that God's patience is incredibly great.
And we also know that God's caring extends through all creation, for we know that when Noah was given instructions for the ark, he was to FILL it with animals.
And we know from the tenth verse of the ninth chapter of Genesis that the covenant is "with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark." God was very careful in maintaining the creation, in spite of the flood, and this should cause us to stop and think for a moment. Was God REALLY all that angry with us?
Usually, anger provokes irrational responses; but God's plan for the ark is NOT irrational. But how does this fit with a God who says "I will blot out human beings"? And my answer would be that in Genesis we are seeing the extreme POSSIBILITIES of God.
We are seeing a God who COULD have wiped us all out; but we are also seeing a God who does distinguish good from evil in the world and works to preserve that good. But let's get back to the covenant.
God specifically spells out the promise in this way: "I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." And when I read those words I have to ask WHY? Why would an infinite God self-impose limits?
And why would an infinite God, infinite in wisdom, commit an act and then vow that the act would never again occur? And for me, the meaning has to lie in how WE respond to God's work.
What God is telling me in this is that whenever I encounter a disastrous event in my life, that disaster, as I encounter it, will NEVER occur again. Not because there are LIMITS on God, but because we LEARN from our experiences with God.
We know that we HAVE experienced and WILL CONTINUE to experience devastating events in our lives. But we also know that we have LEARNED from them, and because we have learned from them, we are PREPARED for them when similar events occur in our future. But God is not content with leaving only the word of promise; and God tells Noah,
"This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth."
Ancients imagined the rainbow as God's weapon, or bow, from which the lightnings of his arrows were shot.
In the seventh psalm, the twelfth and thirteenth verses, we hear "If one does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and strung his bow; he has prepared his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts."
And in the third chapter of Habakkuk, the ninth through the eleventh verses, "You brandished your naked bow, sated were the arrows at your command. You split the earth with rivers. The mountains saw you and writhed; a torrent of water swept by; the deep gave forth its voice.
“The sun raised high its hands; the moon stood still in its exalted place, at the sight of your arrows speeding by, at the gleam of your flashing spear." And so, God has placed his weapon in the heavens as a sign, a visible token, that his wrath has abated.
I think the nations of the earth could take a lesson from this.
How often do we hear proclamations of peace, the insistence from politicians that they DESIRE peace, but the accompanying signs are of war, of the maintaining of preparation for war, and the continuing manufacture of the instruments of war?
We think of ourselves as a democracy, as a nation of peace, and I try to believe that we are.
But even though we no longer have a major super-power threatening us, we spend even more billions of dollars on so-called defense, and now we even beat up on other nations when they have done nothing to us. I wonder about the signals we send.
But getting back to God's signals:
"When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh."
This passage is very special for three little words. God does not say, "YOU will be reminded." God says, "I will remember."
And God is telling us further that OUR promises, OUR covenants, need signs that are not merely reminders to others, but signs that cause US to remember.
Too often there are Christians who practice worship attendance to remind OTHERS that they are Christians; when it is more important that we remind OURSELVES.
And when we make promises, pledges, commitments to others, I think it is significantly LESS important that we remind them than it is that we remind ourselves.
When we enter into holy matrimony, the token and pledge of our abiding love as shown in the ceremony of the rings is really far less important to the other person than it is as a reminder to ourselves.
When we give gifts to others, we may like to think that we are reminding others that we love them. But if we ourselves are not caused to remember our love, the act is shallow and carries no meaning.
And in all of this, we should not be concerned with reminding God of who or what WE are; God needs no reminding--God knows well enough. It is more important that we remember ourselves who WE are and who GOD is.
The arrangement of God's covenant with Noah was, I believe, far more than a promise to never again wash us all away.
Just as in the beginning when God created us in the image of the almighty, God is here continuing to provide us with a model for how we should live, how we should behave, how we should get along with others.
In another sense, God is also showing us what repentance is.
Although God has no need of repentance, was perfectly justified in eliminating evil from the earth and selectively saving those who were good, God's response after the flood is the kind of response WE should demonstrate when we repent of our wrongdoing.
Not only should we confess our sins seeking forgiveness, and promise to seek to sin no more, but we should also seek active ways in which we can AVOID sin, and we need to be continually REMEMBERING our promise to avoid sin.
And it is REMEMBERING that is the tough part.
"When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."
As we enter the Lenten season, that forty-day season prior to the celebration of Easter, I think it is well to remind ourselves of the God who never gives up on us.
God could have given up on us many years ago with the flood; but instead God selectively saved the good and set a powerful example for us in the new beginning of Noah and the covenant. God could have given up on us with the crucifixion of Jesus.
Jesus did not just die; Jesus was put to death on the cross. But in the resurrection, God set another example for us, showing us once again the patience of the almighty.
It's a long way from the flood to the crucifixion in the time of humanity. But it is no time at all by God's time. And in both events we see evidence of God's promises. Promises are so easy to talk about, and so easy to dismiss.
We make them all the time. But how often do we make promises to those who are really undeserving of the promise? How often do we go out of our way as God has done for us? Our very lives are covenant relationships with God.
Are we as truly grateful for those covenants as we ought to be? During this Lenten season, challenge yourself by asking, "What sign do I have to remember my covenant with God?"
God really doesn't need reminding of the covenants that have been made with us; but WE need to remind OURSELVES of the covenants WE have made with God.
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