"Bridled Justice,"      Genesis 9:8-17,   March 1, 2009
 
Q. Who was the greatest financier in the Bible?
A.Noah. He was floating his stock while everyone else was in liquidation.
 
The story of Noah’s Ark is usually portrayed as a cheery children’s story. Fisher Price Noah’s Ark toys, church nurseries painted with blue skies, smiling animals and a giant rainbow. Happy melodies that kids sing in church, and plush arks with Velcro animals.

Even scholars that compiled the church lectionary prefer to skip the unpleasant realities of The Flood. Nowhere in Cycle A, B or C in our lectionary do we publicly read “the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created’”[1]. Nor do we ever read the repeated theme:[2] “[A]ll flesh died that moved on the earth.”

Is it a cover-up, as if we’d prefer to ignore the hard parts of Scripture? We seem to want to get God off the hook for the entire Noah story. Some say the flood had minimal impact, i.e., it was local and not global.
Some claim the story was merely a myth copied from the Epic of Gilgamesh. Or, like the lectionary readings, some just ignore the death of many in favor of God's saving Noah’s clan.

There may be good reasons to narrow the scope of this story, but one thing is clear: It’s in the Bible. We may want to get God off the hook for the death of many, but God is perfectly comfortable staying on the hook! God wants us to know that lives were taken and it was for a reason.

While it's appropriate to neuter story for our children, but as adults, we must look at the full reality of this tragic event and ask, “God — why?”

One answer is that Noah’s flood and covenant serves as theological metaphor. In contemporary terms, it could be called performance art. “Performance art” is a term coined in the 1960s, referring to a living, artistic expression that is embodied by the artist. It is public, unconventional, often shocking, and like most art, attempts to communicate meaning and engender reflection in its audience.

In that sense, God, the Performance Artist, used The Flood, the Rainbow as shocking historical events, captured in Scripture, as theological displays for the rest of history to understand what God is like, and what people are like. We are not to overlook or minimize the tragic loss of humanity in The Flood; we are to contemplate it carefully.

Genesis 6 gives us some of the back-story for why the flood happened — punishment for the complete wickedness into which humanity had fallen. However, the event had much larger purposes than that. It was a display of what God could always choose to do in the face of human depravity. God could do a do-over.
 
The fact that God chose to rescue the Noah clan shows that God had not completely given up on humanity. God could have wiped all creatures out and started with a fresh slate.
 
However, Genesis 9 is God’s covenant that assures Noah, and us, that what God could do does not equal what God will do. God makes a promise that while the sovereignty of God allows for the wages of sin to be actual and immediate judgment, his mercy will not make that ruling.

In other words, God’s grace bridles God’s justice.

Moreover, as a vivid reminder, God creates a rainbow in the sky. This visual reminder is important for two audiences. First, it is a reminder that the entire world is under the blessing of God’s common grace. This grace is extended to “all flesh”. It is a promise that disobeying and disregarding the Creator will not result in a person's immediate destruction.

Just as an author scripts a sentence, if those words are not doing what the writer hoped for them to do, he or she can simply delete the sentence and start over. As creator of those words, it’s within the writer's right and power to alter them. Same goes for God as Creator of people. If that which is created does not please the creator, the creator might justly decide to start over. The common grace of the rainbow is that God promises not toimmediately do so.

The rainbow is first a reminder of God's grace toward all of humanity, and second, it is a reminder to Christians, that God's grace extends into Eternity for those who believe. God's redemptive message is that God’s grace bridles his justice not just immediately, but eternally as well. The message is one that we see visually written in the skies as a reminder of what is spiritually written across our souls.

Sometimes overlooked in reading Genesis 6-9 is that God is in a punishing-then-promising relationship with all of creation, not just sinful/rescued humanity. “In the beginning … God created the heavens and the earth ….” (Genesis 1:1).
However, God’s creation, including especially human beings, ceased being content to honor the Creator; so, God is grieved and sorry to have made humanity and other living beings (6:6-7), and God punished the creation by means of flood.

In Genesis 6-9, notice the abundant use of the expressions “all flesh,” “every living creature” and “earth”. “All flesh” appears in Genesis 9:11, 15 (two times), 16, 17
[3].  God brought the flood due to the corruption and violence of “all flesh” (apparently including that of animals)[4] and especially to the “wickedness of humankind” —
 
“Every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5; also 8:21). “Every living creature/being/thing” is a synonym for “all flesh.” Similarly, the “earth” is at fault before God, so God will destroy the earth (6:11-13, 17).

Likewise, God’s promises after-the-flood are for “all flesh,” “every living creature” and all the “earth,” not just for humanity. Carefully look at Genesis 9:10-17 (every verse uses one or more of these expressions).
 
In Romans 8, the apostle Paul grandly asserts that the deliverance of all creation is associated with God’s anticipated final redemption of the children of God in Jesus Christ. All of God’s creation is closely linked, and all together can and will praise God. ReginaldHeber’s hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” puts it this way: “All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth, and sky and sea.”

Our Genesis text is about the Creator’s making/renewing a covenant with the creation.
God’s grace bridles God’s justice. A “covenant” (berit in Hebrew) is essentially a formalized relationship/agreement between two parties.
---Some covenants are conditional: God graciously offers to do such and such, upon the condition of God’s leader or people acting in a certain way (keeping the stipulations of the covenant).
---Other covenants are unconditional: God promises to do such and such, without any stipulations having to be met. The covenant of Genesis 9 is unconditional: The Creator makes a promise to the creation.

In Genesis 9, today's text, the word “covenant” appears 7 times.
[5] God promises to establish a covenant with Noah, his family, and their descendants, along with every living creature. God has judged the earth, but now promises never again to destroy the earth by means of a flood. God's grace bridles God's justice.

And
God calls us to bridle justice with grace as well.
In case you’re saying, “So what?” here is the point for us. As we remember the reality of God’s grace covering his justice against us, we can more easily extend grace covering justice to others.
 
We see events of injustice all the time — from the most public atrocities such as 9/11 and Darfur, and to the most personal such as people who wound us emotionally or physically. We are quick to feel anger. We are quick to want payback. We are quick to want God’s justice to make things right.

We want retribution; God gives us a rainbow.
We want a tsunami; God gives us an ark.
We want a sword; God gives us the cross.
We want the flood; God gives us the blood — the blood of Christ, that covers all sin.
 
God sends us now into a fallen world as performance artists ourselves with the rainbow, the ark, the cross and the very love of Christ to mediate justice on behalf of others, even those who have sinned against us.

In his book The Case for Faith, LeeStrobel quotes PeterKreeft as saying, “On my door there’s a cartoon of two turtles. One says, ‘Sometimes I’d like to ask why he allows poverty, famine and injustice when he could do something about it.’ The other turtle says, ‘I’m afraid God might ask me the same question.’”
It could be either all Flood all the time against those who don’t perfectly follow God, or it could be all grace all the time. God chose the latter, but which does our sense of rights and justice point toward most often?

For these reasons, God left the rainbow as dramatic symbol to be re-enacted time after time in water-laden skies. Rainbows should be moments of comfort to us. They should be moments of conviction. They should be reminders that the Light lies behind all beauty, that redemption is always possible; that God’s grace bridles his justice.

The Hebrew noun qéshet is used both for the warrior’s bow and for the rainbow. The rainbow image is therefore much stronger than simply a pretty heavenly phenomenon. God is putting up for good the divine war-bow, which God had used in the stormy period of the punishing deluge.
 
God’s bow now stays resting in the clouds. The resting bow means that ultimately God is not against us, in spite of sin and judgment (as some have worded it, “God isn’t mad at you any more”). God is for us, in promise and hope — we now have a renewed relationship with God.

God’s grace bridles God’s justice. God promised that when the bow is in the skies, God will remember this message (v. 16). 
God enacted a one-time event that would echo a timeless message through the remainder of human history. After costly loss, God can usher in beautiful redemption.

Today is the first Sunday in Lent. It is a time of reflection, looking inward, reevaluating our spiritual journey. God's mercy keeps us living, breathing, and enjoying life, as we know it. God is not indebted to humanity to give them a perfect life. God has indebted himself to humanity by means of Jesus Christ. It is on Christ's atoning work on the cross that we are forgiven. God’s grace bridles God’s justice toward us. Nothing we do merits God's favor in our lives. It is simply gratuitous. God desires to show mercy.
 
How are we doing in showing mercy to those around us; including those, we don't like? Amen.



[1] Genesis 6:6-7
[2] Genesis 7:21-23
[3] also in 6:12, 13, 17, 19; 7:15, 16, 21; 8:17
[4] see 6:11-13; and Genesis 6:5
[5] in verses 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16 and verse 17.
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