God’s Bow in the Clouds

God’s Bow in the Clouds

What kind of deity is Yahweh?

In so many ways, that’s the question of the early chapters of Genesis. Is he angry? Is he harsh? Is he implacable? Does he care about his creation?

It comes to a head in the Flood story of Genesis 6-9, and it’s interesting to compare the biblical account to other ancient near Eastern flood narratives. One of the most interesting is found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic Mesopotamian poem that predates the writing of Genesis. In this poem, the Flood is described as a god’s attempt to destroy all of humanity, but ultimately the god was tricked by the hero of the story (Utnapishtim), who hides people and animals in a big raft and saves the world.

The contrast between that story and the biblical account centers around God’s concern for the future of humanity. Instead of Noah’s tricking God and saving the world, it is God who provides the way out. The narrative culminates in the paragraph above, where God promises a better future and seals the covenant with a “bow in the cloud.”

There’s a hint in the text of what God ultimately intends to do to rescue the world, and we’ll conclude with that tomorrow. But the central theme of the story is that God’s justice/wrath, though it responds to the sins of humanity, ultimately points toward God’s desire to be in a covenant relationship with his creation.


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