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Noah and the Rainbow Covenant

Perhaps you've heard the story of Noah and the flood, from Hebrew scripture, or the Bible. It goes something like this:

Did you ever make such a mess of your homework that you just got crazy mad and frustrated and wanted to crumple the whole thing up and throw it away? That's how God was feeling, looking around at the world. "You pour your heart and soul into making this wonderful world, full of people and animals and plants—and if you think it's easy, try getting the stripes on a zebra just right—all that effort and for what? A year or two or 1,500 go by, and the whole thing is a mess. People! What was I thinking? They're rotten to the core! They lie, they cheat, they murder, they steal—there's not a decent one in the whole bunch! Dang it all, I should just start over. Obliterate the whole mess and start from scratch. Yep, I think that's just what I'll do."

God took a good look around to make sure that there were not, in fact, any decent people about to be destroyed. And it turned out that God found one good, kind, clean-living family, the family of a man named Noah. And so God went to Noah and said: "This world is just plain no good, and I'm planning on getting rid of all of the people, except you and your family. So this is what you have to do: Build a really big boat, big enough for not only you and your family, but also a pair of every kind of animal there is. I'll give you time, but you better get on it, because I'm going to rain this whole place out, and anyone who isn't on that boat is going to drown."

I imagine Noah had a hard time believing his ears, but he gathered up his family and told them what he'd heard. They, no doubt, had a hard time believing Noah, but they trusted him, and so some of the family set about building the boat, called an ark, while others went and gathered up animals. Of course, everybody else thought Noah was just plain nuts for building this gi-normous boat and filling it with animals, but Noah and his family just kept right on working.

And eventually the rain came. It rained and rained and rained, like no rain you ever saw. It was as if the sky was full of millions of fire hydrants, all opened at once. And the water got higher and higher and covered the land, and the giant boat, full of animals and Noah's family, gently rose with the water. For days and days and nights and nights the rain went on until, finally, it just stopped.

The people ran to the windows of the ark and were astonished to see blue sky. And blue water. And nothing else. Just water and sky. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do, so they waited. And waited.

Finally, Noah sent a raven out to fly around and look for land, but it came back tired, for there was nowhere to rest. Noah waited a week. Then he sent out a dove to fly around and look for land, but it just came back tired, too. So he brought the dove back in, waited another week, and sent it out again. This time the dove came back with a twig from an olive tree in its beak—it had found land! Eventually the water backed off enough for Noah to see the ark had come to rest on the top of a mountain, and there was land around them. Maybe not dry land—wet and mushy land—but land, all the same. Finally, finally, the people and the animals were able to leave the crowded, smelly ark and touch the earth. They were all overcome with gladness, and Noah made an altar to thank God for bringing them to safety.

"Welcome home," said God. "I will make a deal with you, a promise—a covenant. My covenant is with all the beings of the earth, not just the people. You go forth and populate the earth and fill it again with all your kind. And I promise never to flood the earth again. And as a sign of my covenant with you I will put a rainbow in the clouds. And every time you see a rainbow it will remind you of our covenant to create and preserve life."

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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