“Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.” Genesis 9:16-17 KJV
The Noah story in the Old Testament depicts God reacting to sin in the world by drowning the entire population of the world. In the light of the German mass murder of six million Jews saying God also murdered the entire population of the world is unthinkable to me. If I am to consider this story as history I must consider it horrifyingly offensive. If I however see it as myth it becomes a beautiful, redeeming part of my life my life.
What is a myth? A myth is not a made up story, a piece of fiction. A myth is a statement of the underlying reality of a population. I think a myth is a product of many thousand of years of human groups that told these stories as a part of their connection with other people.
I imagine the storyteller standing in a central place with a fire going telling and retelling stories over the passing centuries. All the while the next gathering in the next village over is telling the their version of the same stories century after century. These stories were told all over their part of the world. Gradually, a dominant version of the story emerges. This story sifted countless times becomes central to the entire population and becomes a summary of the underlying reality of that culture. At that time the story becomes myth
That myth has become summary statement of deep common viewpoint of a people. It says “These ideas are a part of the presuppositions of our people .If you want to understand this people you have to understand this myth”.
Ancient Semitic people lived in fear of the gods. Every time something unpleasant happened they had to guess how they had offended the gods. They would try to figure out what they failed to do. If a crop failed they would make sacrifices to appease the gods. The sacrifices included anything of value up to and including sacrificing their babies and children. If they got sick they thought god was angry with them. Pleasing and appeasing god was a constant part of their existence. It was a harmful and destructive thing to be everlastingly doing
Noah story is not a history. Instead it a myth. In the Noah myth god destroys all the people of the earth in a flood. I propose that destruction of all people by God is meant to sum up all the destruction they had experienced in their tireless effort to keep god blessing them or to keep god from harming them. All of those endless, expensive, murdering, frightening , compulsive efforts trying to guess why God’s behavior was so vicious .
The promise of the rainbow stands for god saying all that effort and guessing, sacrificing and killing has been washed away by the roaring, raging worldwide flood . From that point of view the rainbow was god saying could serve to open their eyes in a beginning way to a god of love and joy, a God of infinite blessing.
There is an even deeper and to me more wonderful way to understand the rainbow. Because of the need and danger of travel in that world the ethics of the time included the central idea of hospitality. I can see throughout the Old Testament the teaching of remembering the plight of the stranger in you midst with kindness. That is because you once were sojourners in Egypt. From that point of view the Rainbow is first a promise that says ” This flood will never happen again” but it also means that the people are offered the hospitality of God.
God is saying I am opening my home to you. This offer anticipates the promise of Jesus In my Father’s house are many mansions. This is a promise to all people of all eras not just the followers Of Jesus