Sermon Commentary for Sunday, February 18, 2024
Genesis 9:8-17 Commentary
For preachers interested in holding a cohesive theme through Lent, this year’s Old Testament lectionary readings provide an opportunity to reflect deeply on the nature of God’s relationship with God’s people through covenant. This Sunday, it is his covenant not to destroy the earth, next Sunday, his choosing and making a great nation through Abraham. Then we move to God’s promises of fruitful and faithful living through the gift of the law. The Jeremiah text introduces the language of “new covenant” and the Isaiah text offers one of four “servant songs” that directly prepare the listener for the inauguration of that covenant in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Following this strand through the texts might be especially applicable during the season where many of us make promises — no chocolate! fasting on Fridays! Giving up the snooze button on our alarms! — that will prove to us yet again that we desperately need a God who is better at keeping promises than we are!
The Character of a Covenant-Making God
While there may be some dispute about the nature of God’s promises to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, most commentators recognize this as the first covenant recorded in Scripture. Covenants were not uncommon in the ancient Near East as tribes and leaders made treaties with one another. This text contains certain literary markers that indicate covenant formation: a formal proclamation and a sign. This kind of covenant is not made between equal parties, each bringing 50-50 to the table or bartering goods as benefit both. Instead, God as King makes promises to God’s subjects. Although there is some expectation of responsibility on the part of humanity, ultimately God makes the promises and God keeps them. Which is good news indeed.
In this morning’s text, God promises never again to wipe humanity off the face of the earth. Not that humanity — by virtue of our boundless creativity, unflagging energy and bumbling incompetence — won’t deserve such a punishment ever again. But, rather, that God will not indulge in it. As Miguel De la Torre writes, “humans will hopelessly continue to imagine evil in their hearts; nevertheless, God’s resolve to wipe them out will not be part of this new world order, for a more intimate relationship is established between God and humans. God transforms God’s self into a God of long-suffering patience and endless mercies.” Although God is all-powerful, because God desires relationship with the world God so loves, God has chosen to restrain anger (even righteous anger) against us.
Note, too, that the “us” in the passage is incredibly broad. This promise is not only for God’s chosen people. But, again from De la Torre, “It is a covenant made will all of humanity. But it is not just with humans; it is a covenant made with all of creation. The well-being of humans will from now on be intertwined with the well-being of the entire planet and all forms of life it contains.”
Creation Care and Common Grace
If, as we have already observed, God makes promises to preserve all creation from destruction and degradation and if, as we alluded to above, God’s people are given responsibilities in keeping with the covenants made by their Kings, this text reminds us that we are also accountable to the work of caring for creation and honoring God’s work of common grace of sustaining the world around us. As Tremper Longman III writes, “we should not miss the important teaching of the Noah story (as well as the Adam story before it) as concerns humanity’s role and responsibility in creation care. Indeed, this mandate works well when read in harmony with the creation accounts in which Adam is deputized to care for creation, ruling over the animals but “not in a despotic, irresponsible way, but as wise monarchs who care for the well-being of their subjects. In the second creation narrative, Adam is tasked with naming — therefore we rightly assume, knowing — the animals. But, between creation and Noah, the text shows us the fall into sin and its resulting rebellion against the Creator manifesting in antipathy and even outright violence against the creation, including fellow human beings. Because, “The Noahic covenant is not just a covenant with humanity but between God ‘and all life on the earth’, God commissioned Noah and his descendants all the way down to us. We “are called to take care of the creation…and we are to discharge our duties toward creation with compassion and wisdom.”
Sally Lloyd Jones has a beautiful rendition of God’s promise to Noah in her children’s book, The Jesus Storybook Bible. She writes:
“The first thing Noah did was to thank God for rescuing them, just has he had promised.
And the first thing God did was make another promise. ‘I won’t ever destroy the world again.’
And like a warrior who puts away his bow and arrow at the end of a great battle, God said ‘See I have hung up my bow in the clouds.’
And there in the clouds — just where the storm meets the sun — was a beautiful bow made of light.
It was a new beginning in God’s world.
It wasn’t long before everything went wrong again but God wasn’t surprised, he knew this would happen. That’s why, before the beginning of time, he had another plan — a better plan. A plan not to destroy the world, but to rescue it — a plan to one day send his own Son, the Rescuer.
God’s strong anger against hate and sadness and death would come down once more — but not on his people, or on his world. No, God’s war bow was not pointing down at his people.
It was pointing up into the very heart of heaven.”
A poignant uniqueness of Jones’ children’s Bible is the way she brings to life her subtitle: Every Story Whispers His Name. And the story of Noah and the Ark is no exception.
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