(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
After the Flood
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
Hurricane Katrina cleanup workers in New Orleans might envision conditions after a worldwide flood. If the waters had covered the highest mountains, the mere fact that it had stopped raining wouldn’t mean it was safe to leave the ark. So Noah used birds as “scouts” to determine what was happening on the earth. Eventually, “the earth was dry.” That would have meant all the bad was gone—but nothing had yet taken its place. Now what?
The Flood story that used the Hebrew Elohim to refer to God didn’t mention sacrifice. It couldn’t, because just two of each kind of animal were in the ark, so that an immediate sacrifice would have wiped out a whole species. Instead, it showed God immediately urging Noah and his family, as well as all the animals, to get about the business of repopulating the earth—“be fertile, and multiply.”
In the other Flood story, with seven of each clean animal saved, Noah built an altar as soon as he left the ark. The story said Noah’s act of devotion moved the Lord’s (Heb. Yahweh) heart. Based on that, the Lord “thought to himself” that he would never flood the earth again despite the fact that “the ideas of the human mind are evil from their youth” (verse 21).
To end the Flood story, Genesis returned to “narrative two.” It was an inspired choice. While repeating God’s command to be fruitful and multiply, this story said it was God’s (Heb. Elohim) idea, unprompted, to make a “covenant” with Noah and all his descendants. This was the first explicit use of the language of covenant, which became a vital theme about how God relates to humans throughout the rest of the Bible.
God promised Noah that there would never again be a flood that would cover the earth. God’s promise took the form of a covenant with “all the living creatures on the earth” that he would remember, and that there would never again be a worldwide flood. As the seal and token of heaven’s pledge, Elohim put the rainbow in the rain clouds. What a beautiful symbol of God’s love and grace!
Isaiah 54:4-10, Revelation 4:1-3
The Noah story shows up repeatedly in Scripture as an archetype of God’s power to give fresh starts, to bring hope and salvation in what seem to be utterly hopeless situations. Isaiah drew on Noah’s story to say Israel could depend on God’s mercy even on the far side of their painful exile in Babylon. Drawing on the most beautiful image in Noah’s story, Revelation pictured a rainbow circling God’s throne in the very heart of heaven.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Almighty and forgiving God, may your covenants and promises calm our fears, and may we extend the confidence you provide us to others who may be living in despair. Cleanse us by your continuing work of creation. Find us when we are lost and protect us when we are threatened. Extend your mercy and grace to all who call upon your Holy Name. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Have you ever seen a rainbow that you will never forget? What made it so special?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
NOTE: We encourage study groups to have several different Bible translations available for these readings. Reading aloud from the Common English Bible or The Message may help to clarify the meaning of some passages.
Read Genesis 8:6-14. When the earth dried out, Noah faced the unknown; a blank slate. What “blank slate” situations have you faced? Noah used birds as “scouts”. What have you used to scout out the unknowns you have faced? After all this flooding, do you think Noah felt like he had to face all the unknowns alone? Do you tend to think of yourself as alone, or do you usually remember to seek God’s guidance?
Read Genesis 8:15-19. Do you tend to see the Noah flood story as one of destruction, or something else? Has God’s creation process ended? Will God yet bring about another creation? If so, what kinds of things that are re-created do you look forward to? How will these things make life better? God told Noah and his family to repopulate the earth. What does this suggest to you about God’s attitude toward sexuality? In our crowded world, does God’s attitude translate to our time? Could God’s command to multiply be limited to the circumstances of Noah’s time? Should we feel the need to aid animal species which are facing extinction?
Read Genesis 8:20-22. What is your understanding of God’s thought that “the ideas of the human mind are evil from their youth”? What in our society makes you especially aware of humankind’s need for God’s forgiving grace? Do you completely trust that God’s grace is available to you, or do you tend to suffer from guilt for the mistakes you’ve made? What is the meaning of the statement that God found a “pleasing aroma” in Noah’s sacrifice? What can we do to make our life a “pleasing sacrifice”?
Read Genesis 9:1-11. God warned Noah against returning to the attitudes before the flood in which human blood was freely shed. How does this affect your attitudes toward warfare, “just wars” and “preemptive strikes”? What was the covenant God made with humankind after the flood? What does this say to you about the nature of God? What might make God “regret” having made this covenant? The earth had been “washed clean”. How can we be cleansed as thoroughly as the earth was?
Read Genesis 9:12-17. Do you like this part of the Noah flood story? Why? Do you ever think about this story when a rainbow appears? Have you ever seen a double rainbow? What did you think about that? How has God faithfully “remembered” his covenant of love and grace with you? These verses refer to the rainbow as God’s bow. What does the use of the words “God’s bow” suggest to you about the struggles between God and humankind? Does this mean that judgment will never come?
Read Isaiah 54:4-10, Revelation 4:1-3. What messages and feelings do these verses bring to you, personally? What do they say about our fears? What do they say about the mistakes we’ve made in the past? What does the emerald rainbow suggest to you? How much hope do you feel in these verses? What is God’s covenant of peace?
From last week: Did you consider your role in protecting and nurturing all living creatures? Were you able to find at least one thing you could do to improve the condition of animals and the earth. Please share with the group whatever you discovered.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, May 18, 2014:
We spoke briefly last week of what it must have felt like for Noah and those aboard the ark for these 150 days. Five months apparently lost at sea. You can imagine—day after day, the ark bouncing along the sea, yet no sign of God. They do not hear God. They do not see God acting. God is silent. Surely Noah wondered if God had forgotten them. I wonder if you’ve ever experienced a prolonged period in which you felt God had forgotten you?…
Noah, his families and the animals floated on the waters for five months. Then Genesis 8:1 says: “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark.” This word “remembered” is an important one in scripture. It means not only to remember, as we think of it, but to be concerned about and therefore to act on behalf of another. So when God remembers, he has compassion and he saves. When God remembers, he acts on behalf of the one he remembers. When Rachel could not have a child and was overwhelmed with grief, God remembered her and blessed her with a child. When the Israelites were oppressed as slaves, God remembered them and sent Moses to deliver them.
God does not forget. But there comes a moment when we experience his remembering, when we begin to see that God has not forgotten us. God has not forgotten any of you, but the day will come when you feel his remembering.
Let’s return to our text: “At the end of one hundred 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.” Now 150 days of flooding has passed when God was said to remember Noah and the animals. We might expect that at this juncture God would finally deliver Noah from the flood, but Genesis says that from the 150th day, when the Ark landed near the top of the Ararat mountains, it was another seven months before the flood waters receded to a point that it was safe to get off the ark. Seven more months!
What I think most of us want and expect is for God to remember us, and fix things NOW. But that isn’t how things usually work. We pray for God to fix things, but God works in ways in our lives that seems, at moments, tediously slow. That time between is a time of deepening trust, of healing, of learning and growing and being readied for something else….
Coming out of the ark God speaks to Noah saying: “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you…and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” Do you recognize that phrase “be fruitful and multiply”? It was the command God gave to Adam and Eve. This is a new beginning, a new creation. Life starts over again.
This is part of what happens after a flood, after a divorce, a job loss, a terrible tragedy. There is the time of drifting on the water, the in-between-time where healing is happening and you are being prepared. Then there is the time when the dove brings the olive branch, and it’s time to start over. It’s a new beginning. You can’t stay on the ark forever, you have to get out, and start anew.
Once Noah got off the ark, what did he find? He found he was suddenly in a place he’d never been to before, an unfamiliar place. Everything had been wiped out. Trees were starting to blossom, but no houses, no crops, no nothing. This is what happens after the flood, you find yourself in unfamiliar territory. You find that you’re going to work harder than you’ve ever worked. Noah and his family will single-handedly build homes, plant crops, clear away the debris from the flood.
Noah could have, with his family, looked around and begun to cry out to God, “Why me? You call this a favor? You saved me for this!?” But that is not what he did. Noah gets out of the ark, seeing all that was around him, and this is what he did: “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.”
Noah gets off the ark and praises and worships. He doesn’t complain about how hard things will be. He thanks God for what he has left. He feels a sense of mission–he’s rebuilding a world. He builds an altar, takes some of the clean animals and offers them to God. I want to say, “No, Noah, you’ve only got 7 of each clean animal on the ark! Save them! You’ll need to eat them; you’ll need them to be fruitful and multiply!” But though he has very little, he trusts God with what he has. He worships….
That takes us finally to the rainbow. Listen to what happens in the story next: “Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him…“I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants…that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood…This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you…I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
The bow is a weapon, but this bow points to the heavens. To say God will not destroy the earth again by flood sounds like God could choose fire, or wind or some other means to destroy the earth, which is not so comforting. But I think it means something different. I think every time it rained after the flood, Noah and his family would be afraid—call it PTSD. Could they trust that the world was safe? Was another terrible flood coming? I think God was saying, “The rainbow is a sign. You’ll be okay. It may storm and rain and floodwaters may come, but they will not ultimately destroy you. Trust me.”…That’s what I think the rainbow means.
I love that God called this a sign of his covenant. Jesus said the same thing of eating food. He took bread, broke it, gave thanks for it. He called the bread and wine the signs of the New Covenant in which he gave us hope of forgiveness, showed us that God is the God of the second chance, and that he promised that, in him, we’ll be okay….
The story of Noah teaches us that God grieves the harm we do to one another and to his planet. It calls us to be like Noah, who was righteous, blameless, walked with God, trusted God and was obedient. And it reminds us that God never forgets us, that he walks with us through the flood, and that the floods in our lives will not ultimately destroy us. Therefore we can always have hope.
The Olive Branch in America
An olive branch held by a dove was used as a peace symbol in 18th century Britain and America. A £2 note of North Carolina (1771) depicted the dove and olive with a motto meaning: “Peace restored”. Georgia’s $40 note of 1778 portrayed the dove and olive and a hand holding a dagger, with a motto meaning “Either war or peace, prepared for both.” The olive branch appeared as a peace symbol in other 18th century prints. In January 1775, the frontispiece of the London Magazine published an engraving: “Peace descends on a cloud from the Temple of Commerce,” in which the Goddess of Peace brings an olive branch to America and Britannia. A petition adopted by the American Continental Congress in July 1775 in the hope of avoiding a full-blown war with Great Britain was called the Olive Branch Petition.
On July 4, 1776, a resolution was passed that allowed the creation of the Great Seal of the United States. On the Great Seal, there is an eagle grasping an olive branch in its right talon. The olive branch traditionally has been recognized as a symbol for peace. It was added to the seal in March of 1780 by the second committee appointed by Congress to design the seal. The olive branch has thirteen olives and thirteen olive leaves to represent the thirteen original colonies. Later on, the bald eagle and bundle of arrows were added. The idea of the olive branch opposing the bundle of arrows was to “denote the power of peace & war which is exclusively vested in Congress.”
During the week, consider your role to extend peace and hope in your day-to-day world. Find one specific thing you can do, no matter how small. Next week, share with the group what you discovered.