OT Lectionary

For those who want a change from the Gospel

Easter 6 – Genesis 8:20 – 9:17

In the final part of this mini-series on the Flood narrative we come to the happy ending, although actually it is not that happy. We may have been struggling with the idea of a God who, in a fit of anger, regrets that he has made the world and destroys almost all of its inhabitants with a flood. We have used the picture of a divine reboot to get things running smoothly again, although without too much hope for anything different to happen in the future. God himself knows that ‘every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood’, so even his hopes must have been low. Yet this story is one of grace and patience, of a God who will try anything to restore the relationships which have been so tragically broken.

But first we need to get that grace in context. It is possible to read the story as though God woke up in a bad mood one morning and snapped his destructive fingers in a fit of pique. In fact the chapters from Gen 3 to 6, chapters which cover eight generations, show a continuous downward spiral, from Adam and Eve’s disobedience, Cain’s murder, through to the spiritual evil of the demonic Nephilim. God had put up with human sin for hundreds of years, and did not lightly come to the conclusion that drastic punishment was needed. But in the aftermath of that, his grace one more rises to the fore, as he makes a covenant with his creation.

The first thing to note is that covenants are made between parties who have a relationship. They are not like the dreadful ‘Married at first sight’ TV shows. The fact that God makes a covenant with all the created order is significant, since it implies relationship. In the 17th century a new philosophy arose, which saw God as the great Creator who had now finished his wonderful work and put it on the shelf, having nothing more to do with it, like a clockmaker who winds up his machine and leaves it to get on with it. God has no ongoing relationship with us or his world. As the Creator he is worthy of our respect, but not of our love or worship. Deism soon died out to be replaced by atheism, although it is still alive and well in the Masonic Lodge, the Scouting Movement and the Anglican 8 o’clock Communion service. The fact that God has relationship enough with his created world to make a covenant with it gives the lie to this heresy. Note too that it is all living creatures. We are used to thinking about God’s covenant with his chosen people, the Jews, but here his favour is for everyone, a favour which will be worked out finally when all nations come to worship at his footstool.

The second thing to note here, though, is that this covenant is entirely one-sided. Elsewhere in the Bible covenants are conditional. If you keep my commandments, I will bless you and be your God, that sort of thing. Not this one. This is purely about God’s desire not to wipe us all out again. This is pure grace, even though, as we have mentioned, God knows exactly what sinful human hearts are like. Any images we have of a grumpy and spiteful God need to be tempered by this truth. There are some regulations about what may and may not be eaten, and vegetarianism seems to be a thing of the past, and there is a reminder of the sanctity of human life which must not be ended by bloodshed and murder, but nowhere is God’s blessing stated to be dependant on these regulations.

The third significant feature of this narrative is the rainbow, which we so often misunderstand. While the rainbow is a natural feature which we all recognise, its significance here is often missed. The word ‘bow’ (qesheth) refers primarily to the weapon used in hunting and in warfare. It only carries the meaning of a rainbow because of the similarity in shape. So God is quite literally ‘hanging up his bow’ in the sky, in the same way we are used to a boxer hanging up his gloves. In other words, there will be no more fighting. The old song about ‘When you see a rainbow, remember God loves you’ misses the point entirely. The heavenly bow is a sign for God, not for us, which he will see and remember (zacar) his grace and mercy.

Of course as Christian readers of the OT we can see here a foreshadowing of that time when the Messiah came not to destroy his enemies but to show mercy on them through his death, knowing full well that most would turn away from him. As in so much of the OT, we see mercy triumphing over judgement. Hallelujah, what a saviour!

One thought on “OT Lectionary

  1. Hi John, I’ve enjoyed this “Flood” series, thank you.
    Just one point, please can you add citations to the paragraph, “Deism soon died out to be replaced by atheism, although it is still alive and well in the Masonic Lodge, the Scouting Movement and the Anglican 8 o’clock Communion service.”?
    Much appreciated.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s