God's promise to Noah still significant



Lessons appearing in the Adult Bible Series for the fall quarter were written by Dr. Gary Thompson, pastor of Biloxi First United Methodist Church. The lessons appearing in the Advocate are based on the Adult Bible Series.

By Sue Whitt

Note: My primary sources for this month’s commentary are The New Interpreter’s Study Bible and The New Interpreter’s Bible.

Sept. 3
God’s Covenant with Noah
To recognize that in the midst of a dangerous experience, God has covenanted that the forces of chaos will never overwhelm the world.
Bible Lesson: Genesis 9:1-15
Key Verse: “I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” — Genesis 9:15 

God gave the first humans a paradise for a home. They messed it up. Out of Eden, they continued to do wrong. Grieved by the great wickedness of humankind, God made a new start by sending a flood. Only one family — that of the righteous Noah — is saved (Gen. 6:5-8). 

After the flood has subsided, God comes to Noah and his sons and tells them what their life is to be like now. Re-populate the earth. Add meat to your diet. Don’t kill anybody. God has saved them but God’s ultimate goal is to say the earth and all that live on it (9:1-7). 

God who has saved them from destruction now tells them, “I am making a covenant with you and with all the animals on the ark. Never again will I destroy the earth with a flood.” Then God tells them “I have set my bow in the clouds. It’s a sign of this covenant. Every time I look at the bow, I will remember this covenant (9:8-17).” 

God has taken something that already existed — a rainbow — and given it a new significance. I said rainbow, but the text in Genesis says “bow,” the same word used elsewhere for the weapon. God has taken a weapon of war, a means of killing, and laid it aside. God has turned it into a symbol of peace. 


  • We are told that God blessed Noah and his sons. What about Mrs. Noah and their daughters? Are they included in the blessings? In the commands?
  • Have we humans ever done what God has told us to as well as we have followed the requirement to “Populate the earth”?
  • Would the animals agree that they all fear and dread us?
  • In what ways are we held accountable for shedding the blood of other humans?
  • God promised no more floods. Is there a loophole—fire next time? Will God continue to self-limit when faced with our continuing evil?
  • God promised not to destroy the earth (at least by a flood). Will God let us destroy it?
  • We now know how a rainbow is caused by sunlight’s being broken by passing through water. How does scientific knowledge affect our use of Bible stories written for people without this knowledge?

Sept. 10
God’s Covenant with Abram
To use Abraham’s experience to explore the covenantal relationship between God’s promises and our faithfulness.
Bible Lesson: Genesis 17:1-8, 15-22
Key Verse: “No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestors of a multitude of nations.” — Genesis 17:5 

Compare this reading with Genesis 12:1-3 and 15:1 (God’s promises) and 12:4 and 15:2-6 (Abram’s response). 

How they are alike: In each case, God makes the initiative. God speaks first. God promises home and children. In Chapter 12, with no discussion, Abram does as he is told. In Chapter 15, Abram asks for some specificity on the child part of the promise: When you said descendents, were you referring to the son I had by a slave? In Chapter 17, God again makes the initiative. Again, God speaks first. Abram initially responds by falling on his face. 

Again, God promises many children. But, this appearance is not just a repeat of the earlier two. First, God speaks specifically of a covenant, an everlasting covenant between God and Abram and his offspring. “I will be your God, and I will be God to your offspring forever. The place where you are now a stranger will become your home and the home of your offspring forever.” 

God changes the names of Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah to mark the promise that they will be ancestors of many nations. Sarah is specifically included in the blessing. Abraham again falls on his face — but this time in laughter. “You must be kidding. She’s 90. I’m 100. Don’t you think that Ishmael would be enough?” God refuses to see the humor so apparent to this elderly couple. “No, you’re going to do it my way. Sarah’s going to have a baby by this time next year. About Ishmael, of course, the promise I made about him is still true. He also will be the father of a great nation.” 

Note, about Ishmael: Sarai had so despaired of ever having a child that she had convinced Abram to impregnate her Egyptian maid Hagar, planning to claim the child for her own. When Hagar became pregnant, Sarai had realized her plan was not going to work out. She sent Hagar away. God sent her back. Abram’s second son, Ishmael was born (16:1-15). 

God has chosen these two people for many blessings, but the blessings are not for them alone. As in the case with Noah, God intends that many nations will be blessed through these chosen ones. 


  • Why Abram? Why Sarai? Why has God chosen these two people?
  • How does their response to God’s command affect the outcome?
  • In Genesis 9, God gave the rainbow as a sign to all people that God would remember the promise not to destroy the earth by flood. In Genesis 17:9-14 (omitted in this lesson), God requires circumcision of the male children of Abraham’s family. Is the world of the world not included in the promises of Genesis 17? Are the girls and women?
  • Abraham will not live to see the realization of the promises made to him. How do we deal with the fact of postponed or partial fulfillment of promised blessings?

Sept. 17
God’s Covenant with
Purpose: To explore the making of the Mosaic covenant to help us understand our responsibility in God’s covenant with us.
Bible Lesson: Exodus 19:1-6; 24:3-8
Key Verse: “Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” — Exodus 24:3 

Three months after leading the people out of slavery in Egypt, Moses approaches God. Only Moses approaches God. The people hang back. God had called Moses from the top of the mountain. Consider what a mountain is like — very visible, but hard to attain.

God has something for them to remember and something for them to do. 

“Remember what happened to the Egyptians when they failed to do what I told them to. Remember how I saved you from danger and brought you into my protection. If you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will continue to be my protected people. The whole world belongs to me. Your assignment is to be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation,” God told them. 

In Exodus 20, Moses receives the words we call the Ten Commandments. He listens and then tells the people what he has heard. With one voice, they agree to do everything that God wants. Moses writes down the words. He builds an altar at the foot of the mountain and sets up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. The people make sacrifices at the altar. 


  • God tells Moses what to say to the people. Why did they need an intermediary? Do we still need somebody to tell us what God has done for us and what God wants us to do?
  • How has the covenant with Moses different from that with Abraham? Has the covenant become conditional?
  • Israel is to be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. Who was Israel’s congregation—only other Israelis or the whole earth? Does this requirement of priesthood and holiness extend only to ordained clergy, or does it extend to every Israelite? In our time and place, how is the requirement to be a holy nation to be carried out?
  • Our order of worship differs significantly from what is described in Exodus 24. What in our worship service helps us to remember God’s word and actions on our behalf?

Sept. 24
Covenant Renewed
To assert that a life of service and obedience is an essential element of our covenantal relationship with God.
Bible Lesson: Joshua 24:1, 14-24
Key Verse: “Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve,...but for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” — Joshua 24.15 

Last week’s lesson was about the events three months into their 40-year-long wilderness trek. A lot of time has passed before the events of this week’s lesson. Moses has died. The people, now led by Joshua, have crossed the Jordan into Canaan, the land they had abandoned many generations before. The land to which their ancestor Abraham had brought them because God had shown him the way. The land that Abraham’s grandson Jacob had left during famine because Egypt offered food. 

Coming back to the land shown to Abraham has meant many battles for the people. They defeated many kings. The conquered territory was assigned to the tribes. Yet, even with their victories, they could not quite be the kind of people that we can’t quite be either. For example, a couple of tribes built an altar in an area that was considered inappropriate by the other tribes. The don’t-build-it-here group wanted to go to war against the altar-builders. Finally, they were able to come to acceptance and peace among themselves. 

Joshua retells the story of how God had brought them into this land. He warns them of the dangers still facing them. 

The first danger is forsaking God. “Stop substituting lesser Gods for the one God.”

The people respond, “What are you talking about? Of course, we won’t forsake God. We remember all that God has done for us.” 

Joshua reminds them of the grave consequences of sin. “You know what happens when you don’t do what God had told you to. You’re in this together. You’ve made the choice to obey and to serve God.” They said, “Yes, we have.” 

They have been rescued and given many gifts. They have behaved well and badly. They promise to do better in the future. Joshua marks this covenant and draws up for them decrees and laws. He sets up a large stone to be a visible reminder of the choice they have made.


  • These believers in God broke into separate camps. They disagreed about lots of important things. How are we present-day believers doing in comparison to them?
  • Do you recall times in your own life when you made a conscious decision to serve God? How has that worked out?
  • Joshua set up a large stone as a reminder of the covenant between them and God. What in your life is a reminder of the covenant?


The Rev. Sue Whitt is a retired elder in the Mississippi Conference. She lives in Jackson.