God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:8- 17 (b)

See:   God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:8-17 (a)

Genesis 9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 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.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant which 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. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.”

God’s promise to never again destroy the earth and to accept as “inevitable” the wickedness in the human heart means God is willing to accept suffering because of and for His creatures.   In deciding to preserve humans rather than annihilate them, God decides to accept having a continuously grieving heart as part of allowing humans to continue to exist. God in effect accepts His own having to suffer as a necessary part of His love for His creation. God can see humans will continue to cause Him pain, and He accepts that as the price He has to pay for having such creatures on His earth.  Allowing the continuance of the human race for God means bearing with the wickedness of humanity and accepting the pain which humans cause Him in his heart.

“…and with every living creature…”   God’s covenant has a global dimension to it.  The covenant is not limited to humans for even non-rational animals are included in it.  The rainbow reminds God that His covenant extends to all animals too.  The protection of life guaranteed in the covenant broadly includes all humans, not just Jews, males, righteous saints, the good, or believers; God’s love and concern encompasses every human being without exception and unconditionally.  The covenant is not limited to rational creatures, to believers, to the rich, to the educated, nor to those who have reached the age of reason.  This divine testament is truly “on behalf of all and for all.”  And why shouldn’t it include animals?  In Psalm 148, one of the Psalms of praises, we call upon not only animals but even inanimate objects to praise God: “Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!  Beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (148:7-10)

The Rainbow.   Because the ancients tended to believe the sky/heavens was a solid boundary (they had no instruments to examine them closely), they had no modern concept of what the lights in the heavens were exactly (remember they had no electricity so did not and could not see the stars as light bulbs of some sort). The only things they knew created light were the sun and the stars and the moon and fire.  But the stars in heaven gave a more perfect light unlike any fire on earth.  The moon glowed.  The light of the sun was hot – that they could observe.  But what the source of the light was, they could only speculate.  The appearance of a rainbow in heaven was equally mystifying as it was always above them, and could not be explained by human reason. 

“bow in the cloud”     Though modern people tend to see the rainbow as something beautiful, the word “bow” is the word for the weapon “bow” which any archer would use (“weapon” in fact is its only meaning in the bible).  It was a beautiful bow and a sign of a promised peace, but it was seen as a weapon by the biblical authors – a sign of God’s power and anger too.   The author of the text has no understanding of the rainbow as a natural phenomenon caused by water droplets refracting light causing the spectrum of light to appear.  He assumes that the first appearance of a rainbow was after the flood – thus all rainbows are miraculous signs, not natural phenomenon.     

Photo by rwangsa

“When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant…”   The rainbow is to be a sign to God, not the humans!   When God sees the bow, he promises it will remind Him of the covenant He has made.   When we see the rainbow in the sky, we might consider we are looking at the very same thing which God is looking at that very moment as well.  We both share a common vision of at least one thing in creation.  And if every time God sees the rainbow He is reminded of His covenant with humanity, how much more might we expect God to recognize His peace with us everytime He sees the cross, the sign of God’s New covenant with humanity.

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:8- 17 (c)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:8- 17 (a)

See:   God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:5-7

Genesis 9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 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.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant which 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. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.”

In 9:8 God is speaking to Noah AND to his sons which is the first time they too are included in “hearing” the invisible God; so however Noah was able to hear and understand God, now too His sons hear God speaking to them.  In 9:17 God appears to be speaking to Noah alone, if the text is to be read literally. 

This is the first explicit covenant between God and Noah.   A covenant is an agreement that binds together two parties that otherwise would be separated.   As a result of the Fall humans had become not only separated from God, but even alienated from Him and had become at enmity with Him.  The covenant endeavors to heal the division and to bind God to humanity again specifically through His chosen servant Noah and Noah’s descendents. In this sense the covenant is with Noahian humanity, not just with the man Noah alone. (Because a covenant “binds together” two parties who might not share a natural union, we can understand how the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is then a New Covenant).  The Genesis 9 covenant asks nothing of the humans and is extended to all of creation (though in the earlier verses :1-7, God promised a blessing to humanity and laid down specific laws regarding not eating the blood of animals and demanding societal punishment upon any who kill other humans).  God promises never to destroy humanity or the earth again, no matter what.  In Isaiah 54:9, God promises to remember His covenant with Noah and not to entirely annihilate faithless Israel.  Noah is the prototype of the faithful remnant who exist in every generation and whom God will remember.    “Noah was found perfect and righteous; in the time of wrath he was taken in exchange; therefore a remnant was left to the earth when the flood came. Everlasting covenants were made with him that all flesh should not be blotted out by a flood” (Sirach 44:17-18).    As stated in the text, this covenant is also a covenant of hope because it makes certain promises about God’s future relationship with all humans.  Hope for the humans is also a trust in the unseen future.  We will not know if God will stay faithful to His promise to “never again” destroy the earth until time has come to an end.   The Covenant for us is thus an agreement of faith.   As Hebrews 11:13, 39-40 attests: “These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. … And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”   We await the fulfillment of God’s eternal promise.

The Covenant.       God makes a covenantal promise to never again destroy the earth and all humans by another flood – the rainbow becomes the sign of that covenant.   But did God leave Himself a loophole?   He won’t destroy the world with a flood, but might He use something else – say fire – to destroy the earth?     In Genesis 8:21, “the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.’”   God seems to rule out ever again destroying all humankind.  He recognizes the human heart is full of evil from the time we are children.  But His covenantal promise to never totally destroy the earth again would also seem to apply to whatever God plans for His final Judgment Day.    Of course in Genesis 8:22, God may have made conditional this promise when He said, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”    The condition being that as long as the earth exists God will not destroy it.  He doesn’t promise that the earth will always exist, but certainly in the New Testament there is much indication that God plans to transfigure the earth at the end of time, not destroy it.  In the Beatitudes for example we read that the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5) – what kind of blessing is that if the earth is to be destroyed anyway?   And how is the rainbow an everlasting covenant if “everlasting” means only for a time?    Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, Jesus answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed … for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.  … As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of man.  They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:20-21,26-27).  The Kingdom of God is in our midst – it is not far away “in heaven” nor does it require the annihilation of the earth for it to be established.  The promise of God in Genesis never to destroy all life again is everlasting. And while God explicitly promises never to destroy all of life again, He never denies the possibility of someday glorifying humanity.

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:8- 17 (b)