“Never Again” – Genesis 8:1 – 9:17
Pentecost 4 – July 2, 2017
- The Flood Waters Recede
Last Sunday, as we dealt with the first half of the story of God and Noah and the flood (clap, clap), one of the significant Bible verses in the Genesis 6 account said that “EVERY inclination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was ONLY evil ALL THE TIME.” That indicated the prevalence of, the depth of, the insidious nature of sin in the world of Noah’s time, and it was the catalyst for God’s sending of the flood. We heard how the floodgates of heaven opened up with rain for 40 days and 40 nights, and how the springs of the great deep also burst forth. We heard that every living creature on the earth perished, except for Noah and his wife, his three sons and their three wives, and of course the zoo menagerie that they had on board the ark.
The story picks up in Genesis 8 and concludes in Genesis 9. At the end of Genesis 7, we read that “the waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.” But then God sent a wind and the flood waters began to recede until the ark came to rest “on the mountains of Ararat.” Then we hear about Noah sending a dove out of the ark three times. The first time it returned because the water still covered the land. The second time it returned with an olive leaf in its beak. The third time it did not return, so that, along with God’s own word of encouragement, helped Noah realize that they could safely leave the ark. Noah’s family came out. All the animals came out, and as we heard last week, life on the earth started over… from scratch.
- The Bad News: Sin is relentless
But the bad news was that the starting over did not mean a starting over – perfect, holy, without sin – as with Adam and Eve in Genesis 2. Innate sin, inherited sin, was the new normal for any human being that was born. Sin and its effects on human life was relentless and insidious.
When Noah emerged from the Ark, one of the first things he did was to build an altar and sacrifice burnt offerings on it to the Lord. I believe that sacrifice was out of joyful thanks and praise and complete dedication to God. God smelled the aroma of the offering and it pleased him, for it was offered from a sincere and faith-full heart.
But that holy heart in the man who was righteous and obedient and who found favour in the eyes of the Lord would soon be tarnished by sin. Last Sunday I mentioned the post-flood account of farmer Noah overindulging in some wine from his vineyard, getting drunk and lying naked in his tent. Sin takes down the greatest of holy heroes. In the coming weeks documenting the essential Bible stories from the Old Testament, we’ll hear about these characters and their character flaws:
Abraham, who couldn’t wait for God’s promise of an heir, and made a baby with a servant girl instead of his wife;
Moses, who, as leader of Israel from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, took credit himself for one of God’s miracles;
Samson, the judge and strong man, whose lack of self-control proved to be his downfall;
David, who, although He was the king of Israel, and already married, took his neighbour’s wife to himself for one night, and then had to kill her husband to somehow try to cover up the fact that she was pregnant.
Every one of those holy heroes (and a whole bunch more in the New Testament) would eventually give in to the relentless pressure of temptation and sin pushing, pushing, pushing on their lives from one angle or another. It’s kind of like the waters of a flood surrounding your home. Somewhere, somehow that water is going to find its way in. And when it does, it wreaks havoc.
- The Good News: God is more relentless!
But while the bad news is that sin and temptation are relentless in our lives, the Good News is that God is even more relentless at undoing and resolving the effects of that sin. But before we get to that in the flood story, let’s take a quick side-trip, an excursus, and look at covenants in the Bible.
A covenant was a common occurrence in Bible times and in Bible stories. The covenant or treaty or agreement or promise may be personal in nature (between two people) or it may be broader in scope (involving two countries). It may have a purely secular nature or a more narrow spiritual nature. There were different kinds of covenants based on the ones engaged.
In a suzerainty covenant a superior (person or nation) binds an inferior (person or nation) to obligations defined by the superior. “This is what you’re going to do because I say so. Oh, and I’ll protect you.”
In a parity covenant, equal parties are bound by oath to help each other for the good of both. “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mind… let’s shake on it.”
In a patron covenant, the party in a superior position binds himself to some obligation for the benefit of an inferior. “I’ll do this for you, because you need me to.”
God made a covenant with King David that He would establish and maintain the Davidic dynasty on the throne of Israel to provide a Godly king. This covenant was a patron covenant that ultimately came true in Jesus.
God made a suzerainty covenant with Abraham to be his God and the God of his descendants. The condition imposed on Abraham and his male descendants was total consecration symbolized by circumcision.
- The Noah covenant
The first covenant made in the Bible is here in this flood story in Genesis. After the entire flood account, after Noah and his family and the animals had emerged from their floating zoo, God still knew and declared that going forward “every inclination of [man’s] heart is evil from childhood.” God knew that, even after starting over, human beings would continue to be hopeless sinners. But God, the great king, the Creator, bound Himself to a patron covenant with Noah… in fact with the entire human race. “I’ll do this for you because you need me to.” Four times in 17 verses we hear God speak the words “never again.”
“Never again will I curse the ground because of man.”
“Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood.”
“Never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
“Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.”
That’s a pretty powerful and relentless message of good and of grace. God establishes this covenant for our benefit. He assures us that He will not start over. We need not fear such a catastrophic event that will wipe out the entire human race. Oh, there have been and there will continue to be localized flooding, and earthquakes and volcanoes that threaten human life in certain regions. Those are still the result of the broken relationship between humanity and creation right from the time of the fall. But not until the end, until the final day, will ALL human life be threatened and destroyed.
- The sign of the covenant
Sometimes in the Bible and even in our lives there are signs / symbols that represent promises / covenants that have been made.
Think of marriage as a covenant. It’s not a patron covenant where one person says to the other in a charitable kind of way, “I’ll do this for you because you need me to.” It’s not a suzerainty covenant where one person says in a superiority kind of way, “This is what you’re going to do because I say so.” It’s a parity covenant where each party offers their entire being for the good of both together. The sign or symbol of that covenant is the wedding ring. When rings are exchanged on the wedding day, the giver says, “Receive this ring as a pledge and token of wedded love and faithfulness.” That’s the sign of the covenant of marriage. By wearing it, by seeing it, it helps both the husband and the wife to remember their part of the promise.
When God made the covenant with Abraham and his descendents, circumcision was the sign or symbol of the consecration of the people to God. It helped the people to remember their commitment to obey and follow and believe in God, but even more importantly it helped them to remember God’s great commitment to them – to defend and to protect, to provide and to guide, to have compassion and to care for them.
The patron covenant that God made with Noah was established with a visible seal and reminder – the rainbow. God said, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth… Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between [Me] and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
The interesting thing is that, the way God says it, the rainbow is not for the benefit of those who see it from below but for the One who sees it from above. God says, “I will see it. I will remember.” When we see a rainbow, we can only be grateful that God also sees it and is reminded that He is a God of mercy and grace, and will not destroy the earth with a flood.
- The New Covenant
There is one other covenant that we cannot ignore. Especially in the time of Moses and Aaron, a comprehensive system of sacrifices and offerings became a part of the covenant by which God would forgive people for their sins. Doves, rams, lambs, goats, bulls – they all were sacrificed as evidence that a person was genuinely sorry for his/her sins and desired God’s forgiveness, which was His side of the promise. Hebrews 9 describes some of the ritual, and ends the thought by saying that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
But that animal sacrifice of the ancient times was only a foreshadowing of what Jeremiah wrote about as the new covenant. That new covenant also included the shedding of blood. Instead of the blood of a lamb, however, the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus, was sacrificed and won the forgiveness of not just one person’s sins, but the sins of a whole world of people. This is a patron covenant of pure grace, where God says, “I am doing this for you because you need me to. I’m doing this for you because I love you. I’m doing this for you because it’s the only way for us to be one and to be right with each other.”
Our part in this covenant is simply to believe. When we look in faith to Jesus on the cross, God says, “Never again will your sins flood over you to destroy you. Never again will I hold your sins against you. Never again will you be separated from me.” Whereas the rainbow was the sign and symbol of the “no flood again” covenant, the empty cross is our sign and symbol of God’s “no guilt again, no condemnation again” covenant. Paul said it clearly in Romans 8: “There is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That is something to be ecstatically grateful for. God is not interested in smelling the aroma of burnt offerings of thanksgiving as Noah prepared after the flood. But Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5 that “we are to God the aroma of Christ.” That means that our thankful hearts and our lives are the real offering that pleases God.
And you know, on the night before He died, Jesus instituted the New Covenant meal which we still celebrate today… and TODAY! This New Covenant meal of His body with bread, of His blood with wine is to assure us that we are fully forgiven, and really reconciled with God.
From the time of Noah, the rainbow has been a covenant symbol of God’s love. Later God would express His love in person, in the person of His Son. Now, the cross is the symbol of His covenant with us. Remember that the rainbow was not for the benefit of those who see it from below but for the One who sees it from above. God says, “I will see it. I will remember.” When God looks at us, He sees us through the cross and remembers what He has done for us. When we see the cross, we can only be grateful that God also sees it and is reminded that He is a God of mercy and grace, love, forgiveness and salvation – for us. Amen.