The Covenant with Noah, and all life on Earth
YHWH said to himself, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humanity, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.
Then God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will be upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the sky, upon every thing that moves upon the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. Every moving thing that lives will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being too, I will demand an accounting for the life of their fellow human. Whoever sheds the blood of human being, by human hand shall that person’s blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made human beings. As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it."
"I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you - the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you, every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth."
Then God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”
What God will do:
What humans must do:
The sign of this covenant:
Personally, we do not take the story of the flood literally, rather as an ancient myth that has an on-going message.
If you examine the story closely, there are in fact two versions which have been melded together. The first is the Yahwist version (commonly referred to by scholars as ‘J’, from the German spelling of God’s name, ‘JHWH’, and the way that God is always referred to by name); and the Elohist version (commonly referred to by scholars as ‘E’, from the word ‘Elohim’, the way in which God is referred to in this version).
In the J-version, seven pairs of every kosher animal, seven pairs of all birds, and just one pair of all non-kosher animals are taken into the ark.
In the E-version, only one pair of every animal (kosher and non-kosher) is taken into the ark.
In Genesis 8:20, Noah sacrifices of every kosher animal and every kosher bird. If the E-version is correct (where only one pair of every animal is taken into the ark), then this sacrifice logically means the extinction of every kosher animal. Even if Noah only sacrifices one of each, that still means that all these species will become extinct because they no longer exist as breeding pairs! The Flood story therefore cannot be taken literally.
What message then does the story still have for us today? How do we interpret the covenant? (In our community, we do not experience YHWH as a vengeful God, so how are we to re-examine the story)?
To us, this covenant is about human responsibility towards nature. Controlling nature does NOT mean that we can do whatever we want with it. We must grow in wisdom, so that Nature will endure and prosper in the care that YHWH our God has entrusted us into our hands.