Long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being
and the earth was formed out of water and by water.
By these waters also the world of that time was destroyed.
All the springs of the great deep burst forth,
and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.
And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights
Then God sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.
The springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens were closed,
and the rain stopped falling from the sky
Seth, the righteous son who God sent to Eve as a replacement for her son Abel, was the last born son of Adam who inherited the honour of carrying on his father’s line. We saw in his older brothers Cain and Abel the embodiment of selfishness and the lasting effects of the curse of Adam – mortality and sin. We saw in Cain the human condition and how easy it is to allow sin to become the master of our souls.
Unfortunately, as the story continues humans don’t exactly figure it out. We are told that the whole of God’s creation had become wicked. God had told Cain “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” It seems that as time went on more and more people were becoming lost in sin – they grew selfish and cruel. They failed to master sin and so sin became their master. God began to regret having made humans and his heart was filled with sorrow, so he decided to wipe out his creation. The human experiment had failed and he was about to give up. He was going to send a great flood to destroy the earth and all the flesh which he had given the breath of life.
If we remember way back in Genesis 1, when God was creating the heavens and the earth, the second action God took was to separate the waters. The bible tells us that in the beginning, before God started creating, the earth was formless and void and God’s spirit was hovering over the waters. God didn’t create out of nothing, there was a formless ocean in the beginning.
In ancient times the depths of the ocean were representative of chaos. So the first two actions God takes in creating the earth is to bring order out of chaos, he separates the light from the darkness, and divides the waters to make a pocket or bubble in which to create. And the ancients did consider the earth to be a bubble. The belief was that below the earth and above the heavens lay the deep expanse of primordial water.
Genesis 1:6-8 tells us that God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
The vault, as the New International version puts it, is the bubble I just referred to, there is a space within the waters of chaos which God has formed and in this space God creates. In the story of Noah we are told that all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.
You’ll notice that water sprung up from the deep and that the flood gates which held the primordial waters of chaos above were opened. This was not simply a little rain, this was the waters which surround the vault being allowed back in. It was a pin prick in the bubble which keeps creation separated from chaos. The fear of chaos was prevalent in the ancient Israelite mind, that’s why they needed the law, why they worshipped a God of order and justice who controlled not only the elements of nature but the unfolding of history itself, because the threat and fear of impending chaos was too much for them to bear.
The wind God sent over the waters to keep them at bay is the same as the wind which hovered over the waters in the beginning and which Wisdom describes in Proverbs. In wisdom God brought order back to the chaos.
In our modern world, where we have created the comforts and protections which we enjoy the chaos of nature seems far off. But to semi-nomadic peoples who lived in tents the wrath of nature could be devastating. A storm might destroy not only their tents but their crops and many people could die. The understanding was that order and peace were fragile and that chaos was lurking at the door, that it’s desire was to consume and that it must be mastered or destruction would be the result.
So when the people of earth became lost in chaos, when they had given themselves over to self satisfaction and cruelty, destruction was imminent. In the beginning God’s Spirit hovered over the water, Wisdom was outside and above the chaos, yet it is within the chaos that God created us. It is the power of God’s Word which keeps the chaos at bay. The presence of order is the presence of God, without God’s action there would be only chaos. This is true of the world around us, of nature and physics, but it is also true of the world within us. Without God’s assistance our internal state becomes chaos.
And so God changes his plan, he realizes humanity is going to require a little more work. So he cleans the slate, he cuts off the burnt edges, he takes the good bits and he starts with those. He is going to need to take a longer approach to this project, so God begins to work through history. God begins to form covenants with humanity, the first covenant is shown in the rainbow.
Genesis 9:8-17 tells us God not only made a covenant with us but also with all of his creatures. The rainbow is a sign to you and me and also the birds of the air and animals which crawl on the ground. God agrees that he will never destroy the earth, he will never stop the seasons or destroy all life. God ensures humanity a little bit of order, in the midst of great chaos. God makes this promise immediately after Noah makes a good and pleasing sacrifice of the best animals in the ark, immediately after finding dry land, in just the way Cain had not. From here on out God’s relationship with humanity would come in the form of covenants.
A covenant in the Hebrew Scriptures implied more than the word simply means today. Covenant is a word used in legal settings to mean a contract, often but not always a social contract, such as marriage. In the Hebrew Scriptures a covenant is a bonding of two people or groups of people. The word has its roots in the sharing of meals and livelihood. To make a covenant was to bond yourself to another. When God makes the covenant with humanity, which is seen in the rainbow, God is bonding himself to his people.
God is also the one who allows the flood, who invites the chaos. For the Lord of all Heaven and Earth is master of both order and chaos and by his eternal Word both are subject to divine providence. Just as Satan is a member of God’s court, so are the waters of chaos elects within God’s command. They come to us intentionally for the purpose of our growth. Torrential rains pour down on us from time to time as divine blessing, to clean away what is wicked and to allow the little piece of Noah within each of us to carry on into the future.
He is committing to nurturing them and not destroying them, he is committing to sharing a life together, in many ways like a marriage. In fact, as you read through the Bible you will find that the language of husband and wife is often used to describe God and Israel and also God and the Church. And so the rainbow reminds us of God’s unfailing love for us. It reminds us that while there may be rain, the earth will never again be destroyed. It reminds us to look to God for our hope when chaos seems to be coming at us from every direction, it reminds us that order is about us, that chaos will not have the final word. And this covenant does not only speak to the external world, but more importantly it speaks to the internal world. Within each of us the bubble of order which is surrounded by chaos feels fragile.
But God’s covenant is that he will never allow the chaos to take complete charge. There are times, when the waters rush in, when we feel neck deep, but God always gives us hope, his plan is always to save and to teach. To save us from our own nature and to teach us how to live with the cleverness we inherited that excluded us from the garden. The cleverness which Adam and Eve gained through tasting God’s knowledge led to the hubris and wickedness which was Cain and his descendants. And that stain on humanity, which we all bear, was not fully washed away by the flood, it remained then and still does today.
Even in Noah and his family there was corruption. After the waters had subsided Noah planted a vineyard, and proceeded to make wine and get drunk. He passed out naked in his tent and when his sons came in to see him they covered his naked body with a blanket. Noah woke up in a fury and cursed his own son claiming that his descendants would be slaves of his other son. It didn’t take much longer for this fresh new start to lose it’s way than it did Adam and Eve in the beginning. Our cleverness survived the flood.
There will always be the Spirit of Cain within us, there will always be a need for God to wipe away those things which have gone astray, both in the world around us and the world within us. Chaos is part of life, and just as Cain and Abel were born together, so are order and chaos two parts of the same whole. There will be times, therefore, sisters and brothers, when the flood waters will come. When God will wipe away everything in your life that no longer serves his purpose. The task we are faced with is to trust God in those moments, to build an ark and keep only those things which we truly need, which truly serve God. For there will be floods – there will times in your life when the waters of chaos arise from the very ground under your feet and fall down on you from above. There will be times when it seems your life will never be the same – and indeed it won’t. But the promise of the rainbow is this: that God will not destroy everything, that in every storm God is there, there is always hope, and that when the waters have receded, when the chaos has run its course, that new life will be able to spring up, that a new creation and a new covenant will be there waiting for you.
So do not fear the storms, my friend, do not fear the waters and the chaos, for in all things God has a purpose and there is always hope. God has promised to love you and care for you and lead you back into relationship with him. So look within yourselves when the waters come. Look within yourselves and find that part of your soul, of your life, of your being which is like Noah. Just as the world lost in chaos still had one righteous man, in every soul which is lost in sin, there is a spark of goodness. Find that goodness, build it an ark, help it to rise out of the waters of chaos and encourage it to multiply and spread within you. Find your Noah, find your righteousness and make your good sacrifice to God, then you will come to see the rainbow, you will come into covenant relationship with the Lord of all, and there is nothing sweeter than that you could ever find.