Formations 01.29.2017: God’s Covenant with Noah

Genesis 9:1-6, 12-17

Joquin Sorolla’s “Kids at the Seashore: Niños a la orilla del mar” (1903).

Hearing Noah’s story and looking for grace, I imagine it as if Joquin Sorolla had painted the scene. The animals and Noah’s children play in the leftover puddles that reflect the light, every color refracted by dissipating clouds. And I see it through my own Sorollan experience from a few years back.

Two friends and I, waiting for others to arrive, had walked down to the southeastern end of Tybee Island, where the mouth of Tybee Creek and the Atlantic met. The tide started to come back in, and for whatever reason, we set our things down and dug channels with our feet to connect the tidal pools and the incoming ocean. Then changing our minds, we dammed the channels with our feet, but they held for only a few moments. The water found its way around our ankles and through our toes, even cutting its way through the packed sand beneath us. There was grace in this moment.

And in this light, it’s easy enough to find grace in the rainbow and water of Noah’s story. Our traditions are rich with natural images to describe the presence and power of God, but seeing God’s grace in rivers and oceans should also ask us where God is when they overflow. Seeing God in the water at Noah’s feet the morning after invites us to ask where God was in the flood the night before.

We, who often find ourselves looking at all types of destruction, may ask these same questions. In the face of polluted drinking water, growing deserts, rising seas, and extended droughts, how do we also find God’s grace in warm sunlight and splashing waves? For all the ways we find grace in God’s creative power, what do we do with God’s destructive power?

This week we ask where grace can be found in a story that begins with the human potential for violence, that turns to God’s potential for violence, and returns to the shared possibilities accompanying the divine and human conditions. Looking to the end, we remember that God, who destroyed everything but Noah, his family, and some animals, promises to resist this destructive potential for all time (9:15). And to humanity, who corrupted the earth and filled it with violence (6:11), God repeats the charge given to the first humans (9:1; see 1:28). God invites them to care for the earth they were given, to restore it, to create life not destroy it.

In our own time, we look at the world and see a world filled with God’s grace. It’s there in the water and the trees and the love shared between friends and families, even strangers. But looking hard enough, we also find a world where grace seems imperiled. For religious, ethnic, political, and racial differences, we still hurt each other. For money, we treat other people as objects, not images of God, and we believe that the world around us is ours to use up.

And yet the covenant extends through Noah to us. Hearing it in places and times we struggle to find grace, let us ask what we can do to take up our end and leave traces for each other.

Discussion

• In what people, places, and experiences do you encounter God’s grace? What are the sources of destruction or violence that cause to question these encounters with Grace?
• How do you make sense of the presence of both creation and destruction? How do people fit into these realities? Where does God fit in?
• In what ways can you contribute to creation in place of destruction?

Reference Shelf

Covenant with Noah

The first of three covenants emphasized in the Pentateuchal priestly materials, the other two being the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 17) and the Mosaic covenant (Exod 19–24, 31). The Noah Covenant (Gen 9:1-17) climaxes the primeval themes of GENESIS—creation, rebellion, judgment (the tower of Babel and the flood), and the COVENANT. The FLOOD marks the end of the old epoch, and God’s word to the new era in the NOAH covenant is one of hope and blessing.

The Noah Covenant was a universal covenant since it included Noah, all Noah’s descendants (not merely the Semites and Israelites), and all living creatures. It also was an everlasting covenant (Heb bĕrît ‘ôlām)—an unconditional covenant—in which God promised never again to punish the earth by returning it to the primeval watery chaos.

Jack Weir, “Covenant with Noah,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: MU Press, 1995), 181–82.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.

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