by Rev. Jesse Burns
On the wall above my eldest daughter’s crib, in our former house, were words found in Luther’s baptismal prayer: “Grant that this child be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church.” These words were accompanied by various other pieces of artwork depicting images from the Noah’s ark narrative, such as animals, the ark, and of course, rainbows.
The connection between the salvation given to the human race in the flood and the eternal salvation distributed in holy baptism cannot be overlooked. St. Peter writes, “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you…” (1 Peter 3:20-21) Perhaps this is one reason why many a child’s nursery, like that in our old house, are decorated with the images of Noah, the ark, the animals, and the rainbow. Those images serve to remind us of God’s gracious salvation.
Read Genesis chapter 9.
By His grace, God provided a remnant in the midst of the wrath of the flood. After Noah and his family disembarked from that vessel of salvation, God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” (v. 1)
Luther writes, “For one thing, this chapter confirms marriage; for through His Word and command God joins the male with the female, and that for the definite purpose of filling the earth with human beings. Because before the Flood God had been provoked to wrath by the sin of lust, it was necessary, on account of this awful expression of wrath, to show now that God does not hate or condemn the lawful union of a man and a woman but wants the human race to be propagated by it. This was a sure proof for Noah that God actually loves man, is well disposed toward him, and has now put away all wrath. He wants human beings to be propagated through the union of a man and a woman. He could have brought them into being from stones, as in the poet’s fable about Deucalion, if He had not approved of this lawful union. This passage, therefore, deals with the honorableness of marriage, which is the source of both the family and the state, and the nursery of the church.”
- When did God institute the honorable estate of marriage? Did He alter it after the fall? Did He alter it after the flood?
- How is the renewed command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” proof that God loves man? How is marriage an image of God’s husbandly and fatherly character?
Again Luther, “This passage, moreover, leads us to believe that children are a gift of God and come solely through the blessing of God, just as Ps. 127:3 shows…[The] heathen do not thank God for this gift, nor do they receive their children as the gift of God.”
- Based on this passage, how are Christian husbands and wives taught to view the vocation of parenthood, where God grants it?
- How does this word of God differ from the prevalent view of the world toward the rearing of children?
God also gave Noah and his sons a great promise never again to destroy the earth with a flood. He also gave a sign of the promise: the rainbow. In verse 15, God promises that when He looks upon the rainbow “I will remember My covenant that is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh.” (v. 15)
“This sign should remind us to give thanks to God. For as often as the rainbow appears, it preaches to the entire world with a loud voice about the wrath which once moved God to destroy the whole world. It also gives comfort, that we may have the conviction that God is kindly inclined toward us again and will never again make use of so horrible a punishment. Thus it teaches the fear of God and faith at the same time, the greatest virtues.”
- What meaning does God attach to the sign of the rainbow? In what ways does the rainbow preach the Law of God and His just wrath over sin? In what ways does the rainbow preach the Gospel of God and His mercy upon mankind?
- In our day, the image of the rainbow is often used by those who celebrate a decidedly anti-biblical view of marriage, sex, and the rearing of children. How does this use of the rainbow’s image differ from the message of Law and Gospel that God has attached to it in His Word?
- The rainbow is a sign of great comfort, as it reminds all of creation that God has promised never to destroy the earth with a great flood again. But that message is meaningless if we do not remember that God sent the flood as an outpouring of His wrath over sin. How are sinners robbed of that comfort when the image of the rainbow is used to support an anti-biblical teaching?
Moses tells us that Noah lived three hundred and fifty years after the flood. But the only thing he records from that time period about Noah is his drunkenness and the reaction of his sons. “But the intention of the Holy Spirit is familiar from our teaching. He wanted the godly, who know their weakness and for this reason are disheartened, to take comfort in the offense that comes from the account of the lapses among the holiest and most perfect patriarchs. In such instances we should find sure proof of our own weakness and therefore bow down in humble confession, not only to ask for forgiveness but also to hope for it.”
Noah’s weakness also gives place for his blessing, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem.” (v. 26) “Why, however, does he not say: ‘Blessed be Shem’ but: ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Shem’? My answer is that this is done because of the excellence of the blessing. For here Noah is speaking, not of a material blessing but of the future blessing through the Promised Seed.”
That “Promised Seed” is Jesus, the Seed of the woman promised to Adam and Eve. God’s covenant with Noah and the whole creation ultimately served the purpose of fulfilling His promise to send a Savior to rescue mankind from God’s eternal wrath over sin. In the flood, we see the wrath of God over sin, but so also we see that God is merciful and provides salvation.
The very God who saved believing Noah and his family and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply has sent forth His Son, through that family, to save you from His wrath. He has provided another flood, Holy Baptism, in which sinners are brought safely into the ark of the Holy Christian Church where they receive God’s gift of salvation. May Noah, the ark, and the image of the rainbow ever remind us of our salvation in Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Jesse A. Burns is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ventura, Iowa.
 Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 2: Luther’s Works, vol. 2: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 6-14 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House., page 131
 Ibid., page 132
 Ibid., page 148
 Ibid., page 166
 Ibid., page 178