By Dr. Mark Scott
Our lessons during September will concern some of these covenants (the rainbow, circumcision, the Sabbath, and the Spirit-filled heart). The Hebrew word for covenant, berit, appears 284 times in the Old Testament and can be translated covenant, league, alliance, pledge, or treaty. It can refer to agreements between a king and his subjects, between a husband and his wife in a marriage, between friends, and between God and his creation. In this lesson it refers to the pledge God made to Noah and his family during the flood narrative of Genesis 6-9.
Genesis 8:20-22; 9:8-11
Once sin reared its ugly head in Genesis 3 it did not take long for things in the world to go south. God regretted that he had made humankind and was grieved in his heart (Genesis 6:5, 6; see Ephesians 4:30). God judged the world with a flood. The water destroyed the world (Genesis 7:11, 12), but it also floated the ark, which saved Noah and his family (Genesis 6:8; 7:5; Hebrews 11:7; 1 Peter 3:20, 21).
When the flood subsided, Noah, whose name means “comfort,” built an altar to the Lord and sacrificed burnt offerings to the Lord. While sacrifices had been going on since the time of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:4), the language of these sacrifices comes from the time of Moses (Leviticus 1:1-17). The burnt offering was for atonement of sins. It was not a thank offering. While Noah and his family were grateful for God’s providence in the flood, this offering indicates a consciousness that Noah’s family was not without sin.
The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, which includes the idea of accepting Noah’s offering, and made a promise that he repeated four times in our printed text (Genesis 8:21—twice; 9:11, 15). “Never again” is the refrain of our text. Never again will the Lord curse the ground (see Genesis 3:17b, 18). Never again will God destroy all the living creatures. Never again will God use a huge flood to judge the world for its wickedness. We see here a picture of the love of God. Even though people are evil from their youth, God commits himself to removing curses and even taking the curse upon himself (Galatians 3:13).
Two promises were made as a result of God’s desire never again to destroy the world with a flood. First, God promised to allow creation to continue in spite of the cataclysmic changes made by the flood. Seasons, temperature, and day and night will continue as long as the earth endures (Genesis 8:22). Second, God established his covenant with Noah, his family, and all of creation (9:8-11). While God’s covenant to save the world through Jesus will get narrowed to one family (12:1-3), at this point in the biblical narrative this promise is worldwide, which it later will become again (Revelation 21:1-4).
There is not only the covenant, but there is also the sign of the covenant. The Hebrew word for “sign” means distinguishing mark, banner, omen, token, or proof. God would give a banner of his love to Noah, to all of creation, and to the generations (habitations or ages) to come.
That sign would be a rainbow. The Hebrew word means something “bent,” as in a literal bow used with arrows. Note that the rainbow was a sign for God—not creation. We get to see its beauty and remember God’s promise. However, the rainbow was for God to remember his promise. How can a God, who is omniscient, not remember? Still, that is what the text says. The promise of the rainbow was not about local flooding which remains as a result of fallen creation groaning (Romans 8:18-22). It was a promise not to judge the world by a flood again. This promise was everlasting (perpetual, continual).
“Somewhere over the rainbow” lays not a pot of gold but a God who never fails to keep his end of the covenant.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2013, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.