What were among the first bible stories you ever learned? Some of my first stories were
- God’s creation (Genesis 1-3)
- Joshua and the battle of Jericho (Joshua 5-6)
- David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
- The fiery furnace (Daniel 3)
- Daniel and the Lion’s Den (Daniel 6)
- Jonah and the Whale (Jonah 1-4)
- The birth of Jesus (Matthew 1; Luke 1-2)
- Jesus feeds the 5000 (Matthew 14:13-21)
- The death and resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 27-28; Mark 15-16; Luke 23-24; John 19-20)
And finally, Noah and the Ark (Genesis 6-8).
You remember the story, right? There is a population explosion on the earth. And virtually everyone everywhere had forgotten about God. Everyone was doing their own thing, turning away from what they knew to be right and true. In fact, Scripture diagnosis the problem this way:
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5).
When God looked upon the earth, he saw disease and death and destruction. God’s holy heart was grieved by what He saw. The world was filled with hate instead of love, and God determined that He must do something about it. He would bring an end to this corrupted world with a great flood. The arrow of His wrath would rightly be pointed at a wicked people.
But there was one man who found favor with God. His name was Noah. God instructed Noah to build an ark – a place of rescue and safety from the coming storm – for Noah and his family. Noah obeyed despite the mockery of public opinion. And one day it started to rain…and rain and rain and rain some more. Until the earth was flooded, and every living creature not on the ark perished.
When the rain stopped falling and the flood waters receded, God promises never to judge the world in the same way for its sins. The sign of God saying He would not flood the earth ever again in judgment was a rainbow in the sky.
I was reminded of this story this week while listening to a sermon on knowing God by Tim Keller. You can walk away from this story with a foreboding sense that, perhaps, God is really, really disappointed in humanity, so disappointed that He is eager to pour out His righteous fury on our sins. When we think about our own sinfulness and failures, sometimes we may be tempted to believe that God’s heart for us is filled with deep discouragement and displeasure. Even Noah, who found favor with God (6:8-9), would eventually demonstrate some disconcerting failures.
And there certainly is a reality that God’s heart is broken over sin and the impact of sin upon creation and people and even His very Son Jesus Christ. We must not overlook or forget that God is holy and just, and in His holiness and justice, He stands opposed to sin.
But the story of God taking action against the disappointing wickedness of His people does not end there.
God gives a sign – a symbol representing a promise – that God would never again judge the earth with a flood. What is that sign? You guessed it. A rainbow.
Except, the text actually doesn’t say “rainbow”. In the Hebrew (original language), the word used is “bow”, not “rainbow”. Bow. As in bow and arrow. A war bow, the main weapon in warfare in ancient times.
Why was the rainbow a sign of God saying, “I will not judge you”? It wasn’t because of the pretty colors. It was because of the direction of the rainbow. Have you ever noticed that the bow is not pointing towards us?
The bow of God’s wrath is not just pointing away from us. It is pointing to heaven. The bow of God’s wrath and judgment is pointing away from sinners. It points heavenward. So, every time a rainbow appears, what God is saying is, “I’ve promised a way for you to escape judgment for your sins. Don’t you see? The bow is pointed towards Me. I’m willing to take the judgment myself.”
Sinclair Ferguson reminds us that the war bow, the bow of battle now flung into the sky, “…is a picture of God, after hostility has ended, and He has established His new creation, flinging His bow of war, His bow of judgment, into the skies as reassurance to Noah, ‘Now that there is reconciliation, you can enjoy the peace that you have with Me; you can be sure that there will never again be this kind of judgment on the earth, until of course, the final cosmic judgment of all time.”
The bow points heavenward, of course, because God Himself takes the judgment of our sin to Himself, into His Son Jesus Christ, that we might enjoy full and final reconciliation with Him.
Dear friends, be encouraged today. The rainbow is a sign of God’s promise, that He has hung up His bow of wrath for those who have taken refuge in Jesus Christ. It is, as Jared Wilson writes, “a reminder to Himself of His grace towards the earth.” Similarly, the cross is a symbol and reminder of the infinite cost required for a just God to shower our sinful lives with grace and forgiveness. The cross is a reminder that when God pointed the bow heavenward, He redirected the arrow of wrath rightly aimed at us and aimed the arrow of His wrath at His sinless Son instead.
You are loved in Christ. The bow proves that. Rest in that love today.
Have you ever noticed that when the phrase “fear not” is used in the bible it is almost always used when fear is a normal human response to a given situation? For example, in Genesis 50 we see Joseph’s brother’s cowering in fear before him. Their dad had died, and they were now concerned and fearful that Joseph may have second thoughts about really forgiving them for all the wrong they had done to him and respond with severe consequences. But look at Joseph’s response in Genesis 50. He exhorts them to “fear not” and adds “am I in the place of God”. Just two verses later he exhorts them to “fear not” and assures them of his care and protection. In Exodus 14 when the Israelites were being pursued by the Egyptian army the people were extremely afraid since they were boxed in by the Red Sea and had nowhere to go. But what was the God inspired exhortation from Moses? “Fear not, stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13a). Numerous other times we see God’s exhortation to “fear not” or “do not fear” in response to threats of oppression, violence and war. At other times the people have no food or water, basic provisions and what is their response? Fear. But what does God say? FEAR NOT. And he always provides! We see this so clearly in the opening verses of Joshua when the Lord exhorts him in the same way, but with an addition – Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Mmmm. It seems that fear can reveal where our trust and faith is rooted.
Now, I understand there is a good kind of fear. Fear of getting an awful shock is what keeps us from doing something unwise around electricity. Fear of falling off of a cliff to certain death keeps us from getting too close to the edge. You know what I’m talking about. That’s not quite what I’m getting at here though.
I’m referring to a deep-seated, deeply rooted view of life that is anchored in fear. So often (more often than not?) we don’t even realize we are living with that going on. It’s underneath the surface until something happens. Ongoing, habitual fear is rooted in a lack of trust in God’s goodness and faithfulness, especially when the results don’t turn out the way we would want or imagine. Fear, like faith, are both incredibly powerful drivers in our lives. One drives us to despair and the other to peace in the midst of difficulty. For God to say “fear not” means that we look to the alternative – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). In this case I would equate trust and faith. Hebrews 11:6 says it like this: “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him”. It doesn’t mean that we always get what we desire. It means that we submit our desires to him and trust him whatever the outcome. It is easy to express faith and trust in God when things are going good – there is plenty of money in the bank, the kids are doing okay, my marriage is going okay or the relationship I’m in is healthy, school is going okay, I’m physically healthy and well, etc. It is when we are in the times of testing, trial, suffering and hardship that what we really believe about God is revealed or shaken. When what we are ultimately trusting in or whatever serves as our primary source of joy, contentment and fulfillment – that person, thing, idea, etc.- is taken away – how will we respond? What does our response reveal about our hearts and minds?
Grief and sadness over any kind of loss is normal and okay. Unsettling circumstances can result in a jolt of fear for sure and we are certainly living there a lot these days. We just don’t want to stay there, right? If we are given to fear regularly or live in that mindset, we might very well need to make an adjustment. How does that happen? Speaking the truth of God’s Word to ourselves with regularity is key. I don’t just mean reading the bible perfunctorily, but rather with the goal of preaching the truth to ourselves where we are constantly reminding ourselves of the truth (Romans 12:1-2; Colossians 3:1-4). We have to constantly and regularly put ON the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). This is a very powerful and transforming action and can literally change the way we think and react over time. Prayer is key. And again, regularity and consistency is of the utmost importance. That’s why both Jesus and Paul tell us to pray “always” (Luke 18:1; I Thessalonians 5:17). These things and others (Fellowship with believers, Scripture memory, Fasting, etc.) build faith and trust. It is so exciting to sense your faith growing over time! It doesn’t mean you never fear, but it does mean that you begin to respond to circumstances differently and in ways that give glory and honor to God and strengthen your own heart at the same time.
Grace & Peace,
Jon Eric Woodward
Simple things are not always what they appear.
A shared piece of fruit; rebellion.
Bread and table wine; redemption.
A lamb becomes majestic.
Parables of the mundane instruct a child and marvel a theologian.
Complexity and simplicity from the Creator of galaxies and the Creator of gnats.
A Word written to touch an untouchable in New Delhi or confound the confident in the marbled halls of Cambridge.
We need simplicity right now.
Simple questions to bring us back to the source of Life. Invite us to encounter again.
Where are you? (Genesis 3:9)
Cool of the day.
He calls out.
Hiding but not hidden.
“Where are you?”
Our first father and mother face a new reality.
“Something has changed.
Where are you?
For the first time, I was afraid and hid.”
Shame. Identity. Justification.
But God is working.
Redemption begins to unfold.
Thousands of years later, another question like the first.
Do you want to be healed? (John 5:6)
A sheep’s gate.
A pool of water.
38 years of motionless wandering.
The Great Physician.
The Living Water.
A greater Moses, leading a new exodus.
“Do you want to be healed?”
“Sir, I have no one to carry me…”
Shame. Identity. Justification.
But the Son doesn’t stop working.
Where does your mind wander these days?
What has your affections?
What are the desires of your heart?
The I AM,
not the I was,
not the I will be,
is still asking,
Still afraid? Still hiding?
“Sir, This virus,
this school situation,
I have no one to carry me…”
The Son is working.
Where are you? Do you want to be healed?
But they were never just questions.
They were, and are, invitations to encounter, to behold.
And they need to be asked, to be pondered, to be answered more today than ever.