A reflection on Genesis 9:8-17 and Psalm 25:1-10 for the First Sunday in Lent, February 21, 2020.
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, and 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. 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.’ God said, ‘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. 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. 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.’
Genesis 9:8-17 (NRSVA)
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
Psalm 25:1-10 (NRSVA)
The flood is a disturbing account. The earth covered in water. Life destroyed.
In many ways it is anything but a children’s story.
And yet in the midst of this story there is hope and salvation. Noah and his family are saved. Enough animals to repopulate the planet disembark from the arc. Clearly the plan was never to annialate all life.
On the contrary, the God-initiated arc-plan was always to save. Sure, Noah obeyed. But God acted. Perhaps we could see this as the first covenant in the story of Noah and the animals. The guidance offered is reliable, trustworthy, and faithful. It offers a path to ‘salvation’.
Perhaps this is why this passage, coming after the account of the arc and flood, is needed. It reminds us that God is one who has proven faithful in this salvation story. How easy it would be to only see destruction here.
Yet woven through the account is a story of planned and communicated salvation.
And so God makes a promise to all those who have been saved. It is not simply a covenant with Noah – or even with Noah and his family. It is a promise made to every saved part of creation. Everything that comes off the arc is given a sign.
The sign of the rainbow.
Importantly this signal of faithfulness is not requested by Noah or any of his family. The initiative is – again – made entirely by God. In fact, God is the only speaker in this passage. Noah says nothing. No comment is made by anyone.
It is a monologue.
And in it is revealed a God who makes promises. This is a covenant.
Remarkably, it reads as quite one-sided. There is no deal being made here. God – who has been profoundly disturbed by the direction creation has taken – is not establishing here a two-sided contract. There are no conditions placed on the people or the animals. There is no requirement of holiness in order for God to protect creation in this way.
God is just promising.
So it is all the more remarkable that this promise comes with a reminder. To be sure, the ‘sign’ of this covenant is visible to both parties. It is, however, highlighted as a reminder to God: ‘…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.’
A visible sign to help God remember.
There is something good about pairing this covenant God story with the response of faith found in Psalm 25. It is a call to ‘trust’ and a reminder to ‘wait’ for the ‘God of my salvation’.
And it is, like the rainbow, a reminder to God that the ‘mercy’ and ‘love’ displayed throughout history are greater than ‘the sins of my youth and transgressions’.
In fact, God is seen here as doing more than restraining wrath. God is an invested teacher, a guide, an instructor.
Perhaps this is it the only evidence here of a response to the generosity of God’s covenant: that we would be prepared to learn the ways of this gracious one.
How have you thought of the story of Noah and the arc? How is this a disturbing story? How is is a story of grace?
In the telling of the story of Noah and the flood, how is salvation highlighted?
Are you prone to highlight judgment or grace in this story? What does this say about your approach to the story of God?
Read through Psalm 25:1-10 again. If this poem is the psalmist’ response to the faithfulness of God, what would your response be?