If there is one story we think we know with most of the detail accounted for if we graduated any level of children’s church or Sunday school, it’s Noah and the ark. We probably know it as well as Mary and Joseph being turned away by an innkeeper minutes or hours before three wise men show up with gifts for baby Jesus. The story of Noah is a grand example of how rich, nuanced, and new the smaller stories within The Great Story can be if we will read them humbly, openly, and on their terms. No, we learn, there was not just one pair of every animal on the ark. Of all the clean animals and birds, there were seven pairs. Why? Because Noah needed not just enough to repopulate the earth, but also to offer sacrifice to God (Genesis 8:20-21).
I love this story. It is perhaps the climax of the “downward spiral” we reflect on this week, which is very depressing. It is the only time in history when God all but started over. Why would I say “all but”? Because of one family – Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives, and all those animals. Never again would God wipe out the face of the earth and rid the world of all but a handful of humans. And with this handful He would make a new covenant. The first had been made with Adam and Eve under perfect conditions. This one, less than perfect conditions. We read it in Genesis 9, and it’s beautiful. This concept of covenant is not introduced first with Abraham in Genesis 12. It’s introduced with Adam and Eve and again with Noah. The other concept that is introduced here is “remnant.” The handful spared, the small fraction (which is all God has ever needed) that is sold out to humility, a Godly reverence for creation, obedience, and seemingly irrational trust is what I love about the story of Noah. It is faith that results in redemption.
We see this also in the story of Jacob and Esau that will be read today by those journeying through the whole Bible in 2015. I can’t read this story without at least almost crying. Jacob, the usurping deceiver, goes through some life-changing stuff. He is blessed with wives and children, used by God despite his glaring flaws, and “struggles with God and humans and overcomes.” His brother finally catches up to him, and this time Jacob fears not for his own neck or agenda. He strategizes to protect his now large clan. When Esau approaches he bows low, but Esau runs to embrace him and they both weep tears of forgiveness and reconciliation. This is one of the most dramatic transformations in all of scripture and it’s long before the Damascus road. Both Noah and Jacob reveal what God has always really been after, a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:16-17), humble obedience, and faith that is seemingly irrational. And you know what God can do with just a pinch of faithful trust? Redemption. Bring on the rainbows!