“No, God’s war bow was not pointing down at his people. It was pointing up, into the heart of heaven.” (Jesus Storybook Bible, p. 47)
Noah’s ark is a necessary story for any children’s storybook or curriculum, but typically we miss the point. We are working hard here to remember that the Bible is a book about God first. The people (and in this case the animals) matter but are not the focus.
[Genesis 6-9 is a powerful read. Some parts are confusing and beyond our scope. Sons of God and daughters of men? Nobody understands this. Was it a pair of each animal (6:19) or seven (or seven pairs) of the clean ones (7:2)? There are many other ancient flood stories in existence (most notably the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh) which may “vouch” for the historicity of the flood. But most importantly, when we contrast the Genesis account against other ancient texts, we learn something about YHWH, Israel’s God. The church’s God.]
The account of Noah in many ways is a continuation of the fall story begun in Genesis 3. After Eve and Adam partake of the tree and are excused from the garden sin begins to take root in the heart of man. In the next chapter Adam and Eve’s sons take it to another level as a jealous Cain takes “a walk in the woods” with his little brother and kills him. Still in chapter four we see a second murder as Lamech confesses the evil deed to his wives (yes, plural…we are not in Kansas anymore) (Genesis 4:23). By the time we get to Noah it seems he is the only one on earth listening to God. God loves man, but after all man has done God repents of making humans. (Gen. 6:6)
This sounds pretty bad, but realize that in the other flood stories the gods have no concern for humanity at all. Humans are nothing more than servants to the gods. The God of Genesis seeks relationship with humans, and He finds it with Noah, a man whose faith stuck out as a lit candle in a dark room. So, God hatches a plan and brings Noah in on it. God will send water to wash the earth clean. Noah will build a large boat based on the plans and dimensions that God is giving him. On this boat Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives will be saved.
Oh yeah, the fun part, God cares about the animals, too. He will bring to Noah a pair (or seven) of every “kind” of animal on the earth. Why? It seems our fate as humans, is linked to the other creatures on the earth. God gave Adam and Eve dominion, read authority and responsibility, over all the animals…and mankind’s actions got the whole world flooded…we’ve been bad at this from the beginning. But the good news is that the animals get a second chance, as well.
There is so much we could talk about…the week spent on the ark after the door was closed and before the first rain drop fell…the forty days and forty nights of rain that turned into a year by the time it was dry enough to leave the boat. But what interests me the most, the part that gives me pause for hope and reflection comes at the end (well almost the end) of the Noah story.
The idea of God flooding the earth and destroying 99.9999% of all leaving creatures can easily lead one to perceive God as heartless, ruthless and not so loving. But the point of God’s story as it pertains to Noah is this: DESPITE IT ALL GOD LOVES US ANYWAY! Should we think that God expected humanity to be reformed after the flood? Really? As I alluded to before the end of chapter 9…a vineyard, a hangover and whatever Canaan did in that tent…quickly shows us that any amount of grace and mercy shown by God to man is unmerited. Yet, God’s love and grand visions for humanity’s flourishing continues.
At the end of chapter 8 God commits to never take out His frustration upon the earth on account of man’s evil hearts. In chapter 9:1, he echoes the command from the garden, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Then comes the rainbow as a symbol reminding us that God will never destroy the world again with water.
The rainbow is such a rich symbol here. Think about this for a minute. Many ancient (and some modern) people had a view of God as one who stood in the heavens with his eye on humanity just looking for people to mess up so he could strike him or her down. They could picture God the mighty warrior standing in the heavens, bow in hand, arrow pulled back and eyes scanning the earth for the next non-compliant human to be targeted and struck down. But review God’s words in Genesis 9:11-17. (I like to read it in the NASB because it translates the word literally as “bow” rather than the move to “rainbow” that is sometimes made.) God is hanging his bow on the rack. He is retiring from this perceived occupation of hunting guilty humans. The bow in the clouds testifies to a God of love, a God of relationship, a God who desires to be a part of our lives.
Take heart and find peace today, knowing that the bow has been put away. Let’s strive to be friends with the God of love, so that we can shine like candles in a world full of hate.