GENESIS ix. 13. I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.
We all know the history of Noah's flood. What have we learnt from that history? What were we intended to learn from it? What thoughts should we have about it?
There are many thoughts which we may have. We may think how the flood came to pass; what means God used to make it rain forty days; what is meant by breaking up the fountains of the great deep. We may calculate how large the ark was; and whether the Bible really means that it held all kinds of living things in the world, or only those of Noah's own country, or the animals which had been tamed and made useful to man. We may read long arguments as to whether the flood spread over the whole world, or only over the country where Noah and the rest of the sons of Adam then lived. We may puzzle ourselves concerning the rainbow of which the text speaks. How it was to be a sign of a covenant from God. Whether man had ever seen a rainbow before. Whether there had ever been rain before in Noah's country; or whether he did not live in that land of which the second chapter of Genesis says that the Lord had not caused it to rain upon the earth, but there went up a mist from the earth and watered the face of the ground, as it does still in that high land in the centre of Asia, in which old traditions put the garden of Eden, and from which, as far as we yet know, mankind came at the beginning.
We may puzzle our minds with these and a hundred more curious questions, as learned men have done in all ages. But--shall we become really the wiser by so doing? More learned we may become. But being learned and being wise are two different things. True wisdom is that which makes a man a better man. And will such puzzling questions and calculations as these, settle them how we may, make us BETTER men? Will they make us more honest and just, more generous and loving, more able to keep our tempers and control our appetites? I cannot see that. Will it make us better men merely to know that there was once a flood of waters on the earth? I cannot see that. If we look at the hills of sand and gravel round us, a little common sense will show us that there have been many floods of waters on the earth, long, long before the one of which the Bible speaks: but shall we be better men for knowing that either? I cannot see why we should. Now the Bible was sent to make us better men. How then will the history of the flood do that?
Easily enough, my friends, if we will listen to the Bible, and thinking less about the flood itself, think more about him who, so the Bible tells us, sent the flood.
The Bible, I have told you, is the revelation of the living Lord God, even Jesus Christ; who, in his turn, reveals to us the Father. And what we have to think of is, how does this story of the flood reveal, unveil to us the living Lord of the world, and his living government thereof? Let us look at the matter in that way, instead of puzzling ourselves with questions of words and endless genealogies which minister strife. Let us look at the matter in that way, instead of (like too many men now, and too many men in all ages) being so busy in picking to pieces the shell of the Bible, that we forget that the Bible has any kernel, and so let it slip through our hands. Let us look at the matter in that way, as a revelation of the living God, and then we shall find the history of the flood full of godly doctrine, and profitable for these times, and for all times whatsoever.
God sent a flood on the earth.
True; but the important matter is that GOD sent it.
God set the rainbow in the cloud, for a token.
True; but the important matter is that GOD set it there.
Important? Yes. What more important than to know that the flood did not come of itself, that the rainbow did not come of itself, and therefore that no flood comes of itself, no rainbow comes of itself; nothing comes of itself, but all comes straight and immediately from the one Living Lord God?
A man may say, But the flood must have been caused by clouds and rain; and there must have been some special natural cause for their falling at that place and that time?
What of that?
Or that the fountains of the great deep must have been broken up by natural earthquakes, such as break up the crust of the earth now. What of that?
Or that the rainbow must have been caused by the sun's rays shining through rain-drops at a certain angle, as all rainbows are now. What of that? Very probably it was: but if not, What of that? What we ought to know, and what we ought to care for is, what the Bible tells us without a doubt, that however they came, God sent them. However they were made, God made them. Their manner, their place, their time was appointed exactly by God for a MORAL purpose. To do something for the immortal souls of men; to punish sinners; to preserve the righteous; to teach Noah and his children after him a moral lesson, concerning righteousness and sin; concerning the wrath of God against sin; concerning God, that he governs the world and all in it, and does not leave the world, or mankind, to go on of themselves and by themselves.
You see, I trust, what a message this was, and is, and ever will be for men; what a message and good news it must have been especially for the heathen of old time.
For what would the heathen, what actually did the heathen think about such sights as a flood, or a rainbow?
They thought of course that some one sent the flood. Common sense taught them that.
But what kind of person must he be, thought they, who sent the flood? Surely a very dark, terrible, angry God, who was easily and suddenly provoked to drown their cattle and flood their lands.
But the rainbow, so bright and gay, the sign of coming fine weather, could not belong to the same God who made the flood. What the fancies of the heathen about the rainbow were matters little to us: but they fancied, at least, that it belonged to some cheerful, bright and kind God. And so with other things. Whatever was bright, and beautiful, and wholesome in the world, like the rainbow, belonged to kind gods; whatever was dark, ugly, and destroying, like the flood, belonged to angry gods.
Therefore those of the heathen who were religious never felt themselves safe. They were always afraid of having offended some god, they knew not how; always afraid of some god turning against them, and bringing diseases against their bodies; floods, drought, blight against their crops; storms against their ships, in revenge for some slight or neglect of theirs.
And all the while they had no clear notion that these gods made the world; they thought that the gods were parts of the world, just as men are, and that beyond the gods there was the some sort of Fate, or necessity, which even gods must obey.
Do you not see now what a comfort--what a spring of hope, and courage, and peace of mind, and patient industry--it must have been to the men of old time to be told, by this story of the flood, that the God who sends the flood sends the rainbow also? There are not two gods, nor many gods, but one God, of whom are all things. Light and darkness, storm or sunshine, barrenness or wealth, come alike from him. Diseases, storm, flood, blight, all these show that there is in God an awfulness, a sternness, an anger if need be--a power of destroying his own work, of altering his own order; but sunshine, fruitfulness, peace, and comfort, all show that love and mercy, beauty and order, are just as much attributes of his essence as awfulness and anger.
They tell us he is a God whose will is to love, to bless, to make his creatures happy, if they will allow him. They tell us that his anger is not a capricious, revengeful, proud, selfish anger, such as that of the heathen gods: but that it is an orderly anger, a just anger, a loving anger, and therefore an anger which in its wrath can remember mercy. Out of God's wrath shineth love, as the rainbow out of the storm; if it repenteth him that he hath made man, it is only because man is spoiling and ruining himself, and wasting the gifts of the good world by his wickedness. If he see fit to destroy man out of the earth, he will destroy none but those who deserve and need destroying. He will save those whom, like Noah, he can trust to begin afresh, and raise up a better race of men to do his work in the world. If God send a flood to destroy all living things, any when or anywhere, he will show, by putting the rainbow in the cloud, that floods and destruction and anger are not his rule; that his rule is sunshine, and peace, and order; that though he found it necessary once to curse the ground, once to sweep away a wicked race of men, yet that even that was, if one dare use the words of God, against his gracious will; that his will was from the beginning, peace on earth, and not floods, and good will to men, and not destruction; and that in his HEART, in the abyss of his essence, and of which it is written, that God is Love--in his heart I say, he said, 'I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake, even though the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I again smite everything living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease.'
This is the God which the book of Genesis goes on revealing and unveiling to us more and more--a God in whom men may TRUST.
The heathen could not trust their gods. The Bible tells men of a God whom they can trust. That is just the difference between the Bible and all other books in the world. But what a difference! Difference enough to make us say, Sooner that every other book in the world were lost, and the Bible preserved, than that we should lose the Bible, and with the Bible lose faith in God.
And now, my friends, what shall we learn from this?
What shall we learn? Have we not learnt enough already? If we have learnt something more of who God is; if we have learnt that he is a God in whom we can trust through joy and sorrow, through light and darkness, through life and death, have we not learnt enough for ourselves? Yes, if even those poor and weak words about God which I have just spoken, could go home into all your hearts, and take root, and bear fruit there, they would give you a peace of mind, a comfort, a courage among all the chances and changes of this mortal life, and a hope for the life to come, such as no other news which man can tell you will ever give. But there is one special lesson which we may learn from the history of the flood, of which I may as well tell you at once. The Bible account of the flood will teach us how to look at the many terrible accidents, as we foolishly call them, which happen still upon this earth. There are floods still, here and there, earthquakes, fires, fearful disasters, like that great colliery disaster of last year, which bring death, misery and ruin to thousands. The Bible tells us what to think of them, when it tells us of the flood.
Do I mean that these disasters come as punishments to the people who are killed by them? That is exactly what I do not mean. It was true of the flood. It is true, no doubt, in many other cases. But our blessed Lord has specially forbidden us to settle when it is true to say that any particular set of people are destroyed for their sins: forbidden us to say that the poor creatures who perish in this way are worse than their neighbours.
'Thinkest thou,' he says, 'that those Galilaeans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices, were sinners above all the Galilaeans? Or those eighteen, on whom the tower in Siloam fell, and killed them; think you that they were sinners above all who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you nay.'
'Judge not,' he says, 'and ye shall not be judged,' and therefore we must not judge. We have no right to say, for instance, that the terrible earthquake in Italy, two years ago, came as a punishment for the sins of the people. We have no right to say that the twenty or thirty thousand human beings, with innocent children among them by hundreds, who were crushed or swallowed up by that earthquake in a few hours, were sinners above all that dwelt in Italy. We must not say that, for the Lord God himself has forbidden it.
But this we may say (for God himself has said it in the Bible), that these earthquakes, and all other disasters, great or small, do not come of themselves--do not come by accident, or chance, or blind necessity; but that he sends them, and that they fulfil his will and word. He sends them, and therefore they do not come in vain. They fulfil his will, and his will is a good will. They carry out his purpose, but his purpose is a gracious purpose. God may send them in anger; but in his anger he remembers mercy, and his very wrath to some is part and parcel of his love to the rest. Therefore these disasters must be meant to do good, and will do good to mankind. They may be meant to teach men, to warn them, to make them more wise and prudent for the future, more humble and aware of their own ignorance and weakness, more mindful of the frailty of human life, that remembering that in the midst of life we are in death, they may seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near. They may be meant to do that, and to do a thousand things more. For God's ways are not as our ways, or his thoughts as our thoughts. His ways are unsearchable, and his paths past finding out. Who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him, or even settle what the Lord means by doing this or that?
All we can say is--and that is a truly blessed thing to be able to say--that floods and earthquakes, fire and storms, come from the Lord whose name is Love; the same Lord who walked with Adam in the garden, who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, who was born on earth of the Virgin Mary, who shed his life-blood for sinful man, who wept over Jerusalem even when he was about to destroy it so that not one stone was left on another, and who, when he looked on the poor little children of Judaea, untaught or mistaught, enslaved by the Romans, and but too likely to perish or be carried away captive in the fearful war which was coming on their land, said of them, 'It is not the will of your Father in heaven, that one of these little ones shall perish.' Him at least we can trust, in the dark and dreadful things of this world, as well as in the bright and cheerful ones; and say with Job, 'Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him. I have received good from the hands of the Lord, and shall I not receive evil?'