March 5, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. Today's passage of scripture is the last part in the story of the famous "Noah's Ark." This is the message given to us on the first Sunday in the Passion season. Today I would like for us to inquire into the will of the Lord as we focus on four points in particular in this flood narrative and look carefully at each piece in the story one by one.
Its Relationship To The Narrative On The Creation Of The Universe
2. The first is the relationship between the flood narrative and the narrative on the creation of heaven and earth. Please go back just a bit to verse one. "God blessed Noah and his sons and said, "Beget children, increase, fill the land. All the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the sky, along with all the creeping things on the earth and all the fish in the sea will tremble before you and are entrusted into your hands.'," (9:1-2).
3. This message brings to our minds the message in Genesis chapter one. In the creation of the universe narrative, the following was said about the creation of humankind. "God created humans in his own image. In his own image [they] were created. [He] created [them] into male and female. God blessed them and said, 'Beget children, increase, fill the land, and subdue the earth. Take control over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and every living thing that creeps upon the earth.'," (1:27-28). In this way then, we see how that today's passage of scripture has a deep connection to the narrative of the creation of the heavens and the earth.
4. But now, there it has "Take control over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and every living thing that creeps upon the earth," and this phrase "take control, rule" doesn't seem to be aligned with a very good image today. [I say that] because too many evil rulers are in the world. No negative meaning is included within the phrase "take control, rule" in itself. What is meant here in the scripture is the righteous management of the created world in accordance with the will of the creator. Humankind was entrusted with that glorious task.
5. However, by [the time] we get to chapter six, we will see that the humans entrusted with the management of this world are described like this: "The Lord saw that the evil of human beings upon the earth increased, and only bad things were always being devised in their hearts, he was sorry that he had made humans upon the earth, and it sickened his heart," (6:5-6).
6. When we read these words, the following doubts may arise within our hearts. "Why did humankind become depraved? Couldn't God have created humankind to not be depraved? Before it ever even happened why couldn't God have warded off the whole regrettable situation?" But, it doesn't seem like the Bible has any concern at all regarding these doubts. The concern of the scriptures is directed towards how the real world is rather than how it got that way. There is a world out there on this earth for sure which is full of human evil, where humankind is always devising in its heart only that which is evil. There is a world out there where the land is depraved before God. Setting aside how it got that way, there's no denying this reality which the Bible depicts.
7. God announced that he would destroy these humans the way they were and all of the created world. The scripture says, "The time has come before me when I will bring an end to all flesh. Because of them lawlessness fills the land. Look, I will destroy them along with all the earth," (6:13). Then, in order to fulfill these words, God caused a flood. [That's the way] this story unfolds, with which we are quite familiar.
The Flood As A Reversal Back Into Chaos
8. Then the second thing I would like for us to consider is "why [there was] a flood" in the first place. Why couldn't he have destroyed [the world] by burning it up with fire? Why couldn't he have just annihilated it? Why couldn't it have been some other method?
9. So, when we read it carefully, we will notice that the Bible says the following in regard to the flood. Please look at chapter seven and verse eleven. "The sixth hundred year, the second month on the seventeenth day of Noah's life, that day, each of the springs from the great deep down sections tore, the windows of heaven were opened," (7:11). The windows of heaven were opened, and the water did not only fall from above. The water overflowed from below as well. It was written in that style deliberately. Why was that?
10. With that, I would like for us to look again at the passage on the creation of the heavens and the earth. Please look at chapter one and verse two. "The earth was chaos, darkness was on the surface of the deep down section. The spirit of God was moving on the surface of the water," (1:2). This is the order-less and primordial situation with its utter chaos. God began to build order into the chaos. God said, "Let there be light." The order that was first built through [God's saying] that is "day and night," (verse five). Then the order build next is described as follows. "God said, 'Let there be a great expanse in the waters. Separate water from water.' God built the great expanse, and he separated the water from under the expanse and above the expanse. Thus it was," (1:6-7). Also, the following system is set forth regarding the water underneath. "God said, 'Let the water under the heavens collect in one place. Let the dry land appear.' Thus it was. God called the earth the dry land, and he called the place where the water collected the ocean," (1:9-10).
11. Well, having read this far, I think I've noticed something. The water that was separated above and below with such care has now again become one by means of the flood in the story of Noah's ark. In addition, the dry land, created and separated from the water, ends up covered up with water again. To be brief, the flood is illustrated as "going back to the conditions of chaos."
12. The creation narrative in Genesis chapter one is not a simple narrative on the origin of the world. The narrative doesn't tell us that; it tells us the message that "God is the one who gives order and meaning to this world." What about it, that God is the one who gives order and meaning to this world? It means that "When separated from God, it cannot help but revert back to its first chaos again." It is the story of Noah's ark that is teaching that also.
13. Of course, it is human sin, it is evil that is made the issue in a direct way with Noah's flood narrative. But, as we too know quite well, the influence of evil by humanity which has turned its back in rebellion against God does not remain just in human societies. It has brought chaos upon the entire created order, and it is causing conditions whereby the whole world is caught up in its destructiveness. If going by its fundamental nature, in this world gone back to chaos, the Bible is informing us that all flesh deserves to be destroyed. God said this: "The time has come before me when I will bring an end to all flesh," (6:13). Therefore, "all flesh" should have expected to be destroyed.
The Remnant According To The Mercy Of God
14. But [now] here is the third point that I want to rest our attention upon. It is the strange contradiction between God's words and his actions. Notwithstanding the fact that God said "he would put an end to all flesh," in actual fact, he did refuse to destroy it "all". In the first place isn't the very fact he is talking to Noah, who is one of "the flesh" in question, and telling him "The time has come for him to put an end to all flesh" strange in and of itself? And then this Noah is left behind. Wait a minute, if it were just Noah, I might still get it. Actually, it is not only Noah, but his family also is left behind. Furthermore, "All that has life, from all that is flesh, two by two" also survive, (6:19).
15. What is this telling us? It is that God is merciful. This deluge narrative, if you go by its conclusion, is a story about God's mercy. At the least, for the Israelites, who told it with great care, this was not a simple story of the past. In particular, it wasn't like that to those who had experienced the fall of the government and the captivity. They looked right there at these figures -- at Noah, his family and the animals, who survived for some reason. This is the story of God's mercy.
16. We might as well say that it has to do with whether or not we can read this story in a real sense [for us], whether we can find our own figures in this or not. We have not been destroyed in the chaos by God's judgment, but we still survive upon the earth. That is not what we deserve. This earth upon which we stand is truly being given to us by the mercy of God. Our day to day lives by which we occupy ourselves upon this earth are truly given to us through the mercies of God.
The Eternal Covenant Established By God
17. So, going back to today's passage of scripture, let's place our attention on point four. It is on the phrase "make a covenant" which is repeated in a tedious way in today's passage. "I am making a covenant with you and your descendants to follow after you. I am making a covenant with every beast on the earth, and with all the living things that are with you, with the birds, the cattle, and all the beasts that are with you, and besides everything that came out of the ark. When I have established a covenant with you, no flesh will be destroyed by flood a second time, a flood will never arise and destroy the earth," (9:9-11).
18. We don't usually say "make a covenant." We say "bind or establish a covenant." The phrase translated "establish a covenant" is in other places in the Bible. In Japanese, we bind a covenant, but in Hebrew they use the expression "cut" a covenant. As for the actual activity of doing it, when one bound a covenant, the parties passed in between the animal that was cut in two. By doing that, they agreed that breaking the covenant meant death. That's how a covenant was established. Thus, when one uses the expression to "cut" a covenant, both parties are involved in it, and the sincerity of both are accounted.
19. However though, here it says that God "is establishing the covenant." God is the one doing it. It is only God who is involved in establishing it. In that sense it is a one way contract. As we've seen earlier, "all flesh" had become the target of judgment. It was on Noah, his family and upon "all flesh." Just as [God] had said, "The time has come before me when I will bring an end to all flesh," at its basic root, the bond between God and all flesh was ending. Therefore, all of the original creatures would just be destroyed. Noah and his family and the surviving animals would be the same. Nevertheless, they survived only because of God's mercy flowing from him and it says that [God] established a covenant between him and all flesh, [which] God alone was responsible for, [that was] entirely unilateral [in nature].
20. Then, it is important that [the scripture] states that the sign of that covenant is a "rainbow." Rainbows have been appearing for ages. In this way God remembers his covenant across the ages. The Lord says, "When a rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it, I will remember the eternal covenant I have established between all flesh, [that is, between] every living thing on the earth and God," (9:16).
21. How are we to look at this world of ours? How are we to look at our very own selves as we live in it? How do we see our lives while we are in this world? Are the world and everything alive in it just meaningless beings only heading for destruction? No, we're not, the Bible tells us. This world is the target of the eternal covenant established by God. This world is that kind of world. All flesh are that kind of being. Because of that God has established a tremendous plan of salvation for all flesh, having sent his only son into this world [God] did not even hold back from making him flesh.
22. The Lord said, "What a person thinks in his or her heart" is evil from childhood," (8:21). It certainly is as the Lord said it was. The created world is still one where suffering and the cries of groaning never cease because of humankind's sin the way it is. We certainly live in that same sort of world. But, even in [our] world the rainbow comes out over and again. This is a world where rainbows will come out over and over. That is, it is still a world targeted by God's love and mercy; and we know that this earth is where the cross of atonement for sins had stood. We are alive on that kind of earth. We are alive within God's mercy. God is speaking to us through his mercy, and God is calling out to us through his mercy. During Passion season, it is upon the mercy of God that we need to turn our eyes first.