But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided; the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters gradually receded from the earth. At the end of one hundred and fifty days the waters had abated; and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains appeared.
At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent out the raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent out the dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; but the dove found no place to set its foot, and it returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took it and brought it into the ark with him. He waited another seven days, and again he sent out the dove from the ark; and the dove came back to him in the evening, and there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days, and sent out the dove; and it did not return to him any more.
In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and saw that the face of the ground was drying. In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. Then God said to Noah, ‘Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.’ So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. And every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families.
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelt the pleasing odour, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature 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.’
God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.
Whoever sheds the blood of a human,
by a human shall that person’s blood be shed;
for in his own image
God made humankind.
And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it.’
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’
Yesterday and today, we have read the story of Noah, and there is much we can learn from him. Our first lesson from Noah is this: Noah was obedient: he listened to God and built the Ark.
We are familiar in the story of Noah with the rain falling for 40 days and 40 nights; however, it is often overlooked that the Bible tells us that Noah was actually in the Ark for 1 year, 1 month and 27 days. Secondly, Noah was patient before God. How patient are we before God? How quickly do we expect answers?
After their time in the Ark, Noah and his family stepped on to a new earth. God had wiped the slate clean and had begun again. Both God and Noah had a new lesson to learn: to learn to let go and to trust – God trusting humanity and Noah trusting his children to do the right thing and to go the right way. God has given us the gift of freewill to determine our own course and path in life.
The third lesson is trust. Those whom we love – do we hold on to them, keep them shut inside the Ark, afraid of letting them go? Or do we trust them, as Noah trusted the dove?
What of the rainbow? The story of Noah is a story like the Nativity: it has its soft, presentable side; the animals going into the Ark two-by-two, the dove returning with the olive twig: the story which we tell children. Every toy shop sells a Noah’s ark! But like the Nativity and Jesus’ life-story, it has a darker side, one which we often prefer not to think about. There was certainly blood shed: apart from Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives, everyone else -millions of people and animals – was killed in the flood. Just as the New Covenant with God was bought at the cost of Jesus’ blood, the Covenant with Noah came at a terribly high price.
We do not need to wait for any special day, like a new year, nor do we need to wait for any sign in the sky, not a rainbow, nor a star: God is ready for us to begin afresh at any time.
In the morning of my life I shall look to the sunrise.
At a moment in my life when the world is new.
And the blessing I shall ask is that God will grant me,
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through.
(adapted from a song by Petula Clark)
Walt Johnson is an Elder at Wilbraham St Ninian’s URC in Chorlton, South Manchester.