Holy Hilarity: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Genesis 9:1-17

The conclusion to the flood story addresses a variety of topics, including what we eat and how we eat it, capital punishment, and the connection of all life on earth. It does not specifically address Big Macs, whether to execute by firing squad or electric chair, or the importance of talking to your plants (or whether those who talk to plants should in fact be executed). In the end, the flood story offers hope and new life. As in the Garden of Eden story, God punishes his creatures but also sustains them with his presence and his promises, which calls us to look for God’s sustaining hand in our lives.

Chapter 8 ended with God thinking to himself that he would never again destroy the earth. Here in chapter 9 it gets even better: God blesses Noah and his sons and outlines a promise and a new covenant. It would have been nice if God had blessed and addressed the four wives as well, but they were busy making sure the ladybugs were off the ark, and so were unavailable. But they would certainly be needed, for God’s first command is to be fruitful and increase in number. God repeats the command in verse 7, underscoring its significance. Since the intervening material in verses 2-6 is largely about diet, we should note the connection between fertility and diet. God says be fruitful. Numerous studies show that the best way to increase fertility in men is to eat a healthy diet, including lots of fruits and vegetables. God knew eating Twinkies would make you impotent (only indirectly, of course, as they make it more difficult to find a willing partner).

In Genesis 1:29, God gave plants—not animals—to people for food. Which means Noah built the ark as a 600-year-old vegetarian. But now God permits humans to eat animals as well. He explains that animals will “fear and dread” people. It’s just too bad they experience humanaphobia. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a plant that tasted like a juicy steak and was full of protein, so animals didn’t have to “fear and dread” human violence?

God then declares that “everything that lives and moves will be for food for you. Just as I gave you plants, I now give you everything.” Of course, not everything, especially if you have a food allergy that makes you swell up and break out and have trouble breathing, and occasionally die. Not to mention poisonous plants that would kill anyone. But there are many plants that are good for us, like broccoli, spinach, carrots. And cannabis. But even edible vegetation is only partly edible. Think how much more food we’d have on this planet if humans could digest, say, tree bark. Or if you could go into your front yard and graze on the grass for lunch. Furthermore, there are also many animals I would not recommend eating, such as baboons, jellyfish, or your pet poodle. In short, Noah (and we) cannot take God literally when he says everything that lives is now fit to be eaten.

While God outlines no restrictions on the kinds of plants or animals that can be consumed, he does put stipulations on how they can be eaten, namely, animal flesh must not contain any blood. One explanation for this unique command is that people in antiquity would drink blood for renewed strength and energy. Israel, by contrast, believed life and vitality come from God; hence the blood was forbidden. Another explanation is that several kosher companies lobbied hard for this law.

God then transitions from commands about eating blood to the value of human blood (v. 5). Human blood must not be shed (especially not in a shed). Murderers are directly accountable to God, the giver of life. Notably, animals that kill humans are also accountable. It’s difficult to picture a “murderous” animal standing before God to give an accounting: Bear: “I was, uh, protecting my cubs from that ape-like creature I thought was after us, so I mauled it and it died.” God: “But what about that ape-like creature—called a human, by the way? Did you ever think that they might be hungry and in need of food for their little ones? Did you ever think of that? Did you?”

Verse 6 then offers poetic justice. It presents two ideas that may seem contradictory, especially if you are against capital punishment (which I personally am not: I think everyone in the capital should be punished). One, humans who murder must be put to death by other humans because, two, God places utmost value on human life. Humans, then, can forfeit their right to life if they take another life.

If in verse 5 animals are held to the same standard as humans when it comes to shedding human blood, in verses 8-17 animals are now included along with humans in God’s covenant. God repeats repeatedly that his pact is with people and the animals (vv. 10, 12, 15, 16, 17). This is a powerful thought that should give us pause: God enters into a covenant with all forms of life. Furthermore, God vows he will never again destroy life on earth with a flood (perhaps he gave a devious wink when he emphasized the words “with a flood”?). His promise obviously does not involve what humans might do to destroy life on earth—like WMD or HBO.

The sign of the covenant is the rainbow, God’s arc in the sky for those just off the ark. This sign is much prettier—and less painful—than the sign of God’s subsequent covenant with Noah’s descendants: circumcision (Genesis 17), although both involve “encircling” in some fashion (circles must be God’s favorite shape: think of the planets, for example). God says that when he sees the rainbow, it will remind him of his covenant with all flesh. The rainbow reminds me personally of gay pride, which makes me think God’s multi-colored sign might have something to do with the diversity of life on our planet. Or it might be God’s way of reminding us just how blind the human eye is: we cannot see the full breadth of the electromagnetic spectrum.

At any rate, we can say confidently that the rainbow is a sign of hope and reassurance in the wake of the tragedy of the flood. God’s promises comfort us and grant us peace in the midst of our own tragedies. At the same time, this passage encourages us not to look inward at our own troubles but rather to focus on God’s promise to and relationship with all the earth of which we are a part. We are indeed part of something much bigger than ourselves, which can inspire and empower us to participate in the covenant in meaningful ways.

Questions

holy_hilarity_md_bkborder1. Is eating meat part of God’s concessions to a sinful humanity, in contrast to Genesis 1 where humans are to eat only plants? Do you think we should follow the command to drain the blood?
2. This chapter shows us that what we eat is important to God’s covenant. In what ways can we try to live faithfully as we choose our diet?
3. To what extent are verses 5-6 important in contemporary discussions of capital punishment?
4. When God says he will not destroy the earth with water, do you think he is intentionally leaving open other possibilities?
5. God’s covenant is with every living creature. How should this affect our relationship with the non-human world?

This post originally appeared as chapter 8 in Holy Hilarity: A Funny Study of Genesis.

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