The story of one righteous man in an evil generation. The Almighty commands Noah to build the ark on a hill far from the water. He built it over a period of 120 years. People deride Noah and ask him, “Why are you building a boat on a hill?” Noah explains that there will be a flood if people do not correct their ways (according to the comedian Bill Cosby, Noah would ask “How long can you tread water?”). We see from this the patience of the Almighty for people to correct their ways and the genius of arousing people’s curiosity so that they will ask a question and, hopefully, hear the answer.
The generation does not do Teshuva, returning from their evil ways, and God brings a flood for 40 days. ah leave the ark 365 days later when the earth has once again become habitable. The Almighty makes a covenant and makes the rainbow the sign of the covenant that He will never destroy all of life again by water (hence, James Baldwin’s book, The Fire Next Time). When one sees a rainbow it is an omen to do Teshuva — to recognize the mistakes you are making in life, regret them, correct them/make restitution, and ask for forgiveness from anyone you have wronged as well as from the Almighty.
The rainbow is a sign to do teshuvah. I’d never heard of that before or, if I had, it leaked out of my memory somewhere along the way.
The Jewish world has just completed the period of the High Holidays including Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most Holy and solemn day on the Jewish religious calendar, a day when every observant Jew seeks to repent and to beg God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of others. The rest of the world, including most Christians, don’t have much regard for Jewish holidays, but for Christians, you’d think we might take a cue from the rainbow.
Of course, since we have the blood of Jesus covering our sins and we’ve been washed white as snow, most Christians don’t give a great deal of thought to ongoing repentance, forgiveness, and atonement. More’s the pity.
But this is about me, not you. No, I’m not writing this as an exercise in narcissism, but rather as my effort to continue to turn toward God and to seek His face.
The heart of those that seek God shall rejoice. Seek God and His might, constantly seek His countenance
As I write this, I didn’t sleep well last night. I thought about seeking God, about recounting His wonders, about remembering His marvels and judgments, but my mind was too clouded and distracted. Reading the Bible while fighting fatigue was unproductive. All I could do was to try to cling to God and pray that He would grant me at least a little bit of rest.
I’ve resolved to meditate on and even to memorize His Word (some of it, anyway) as a way to keep Him and His teachings close to my heart. Last night wasn’t a good time to do that and it reminded me of just how far a journey I must yet travel.
Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman says that the rainbow is both a curse and a blessing. It’s a curse because it is a reminder that the world deserves to be destroyed for its sins, but that God has promised by covenant not to do so by flooding. Such a grim reminder of destruction that, in slightly smaller ways, we still suffer from today. But then, what else can we say about the rainbow? Rabbi Ullman states this:
The generation of the flood indulged in this worldliness to the point of perversion. Their wanton obsession with variety and variation resulted in their abusing the full gamut of their G-d given powers for the purpose of impurity. The flood purged the world of this impurity and the rainbow was given as a sign and reminder of what results from inundating the world with indulgence. However, the same rainbow simultaneously reminds us to repent from the relentless pursuit of multiplicity drawing us away from G-d. It urges us to direct the full spectrum of our powers and interests over the rainbow to the One on High.
In this way the rainbow is at once both curse and blessing; transgression and repentance; seductively appealing and pristinely beautiful. It depends on what you’re looking for in life. And perhaps that’s why, although it’s forbidden to indulge in the rainbow’s beauty, one may gaze at it – for the purpose of doing teshuva and directing one’s pluralities to G-d — in order to make the blessing.
I think the rainbow is visually appealing so that it will draw our gaze and having done that, remind us that we must continually seek to repent, to do teshuvah, to be reminded that we have a purpose in this world that goes beyond pursuing our individual desires.
I’ll never look at a rainbow the same way again.
One of the fundamental differences in Jewish Law and Noahide Law is that, Jews do not actively pursue Jewish converts, among non-Jewish nations.
The B’nai Noah are already under the Seven Laws, and have been permanently warned concerning their observance, so it is not a matter of trying to “convert” someone, from one religion to another; for the Noahide Code is not a “religion;” and all organized “religions,” are prohibited for the Noahide.
For the Noahide, it is a matter of Teshuva (return to G-d), not proselytization. Similarly a Jew who grew up atheist or agnostic, or who had strayed from the Torah and converted to an idolatrous religion; when he realizes his mistake and returns to Judaism, he does not “convert” back to Judaism; it is a matter of Teshuva, or returning.
It is the same for a Noahide. Others proselytize, Noahides return.
“The Noahide Teshuva”
Gateway to Heaven
I include this quote because it suggests a very interesting idea. Jewish people are born into a covenant relationship with God whether they want to be or not. When a Jew leads a wholly secular life and later wants to return to God, as “Shlomo” says, that person doesn’t have to “convert” to Judaism, since they’re already Jewish and in relation to God. However, they do have to return to God, to do teshuvah, to repair the damage done in that relationship (I’ll argue that a Messianic Jewish person has not converted to Christianity but rather, made an even more complete return to God by becoming a disciple of Moshiach).
Most Jewish people don’t recognize the Christian connection to God or that we are the beneficiaries of the blessings of the covenant God made with Abraham. However, they are quite willing to say, as “Shlomo” did above, that all non-Jews already have a covenant relationship with God through Noah. So, from that perspective, a Gentile does not have to “convert” to Judaism or anything else. The Gentile, like the Jew, is born already having a covenant relationship with God and on that basis, must return to God.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.
–Genesis 12:3 (NASB)
Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.
–Galatians 3:16 (NASB)
Christianity is something else. No one is born a Christian. Even if you are born to parents who are believers, you are not automatically a believer. Each person negotiates their own relationship with God. On the other hand, the covenant God made with Abraham is very old and spans across human history just waiting for any and all of us to grasp it and experience the blessings of the seed, of Messiah. In that sense, are we converting to Christianity or returning to something God intended for us all along?
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
–2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)
Not that all of us will, of course. But we each have a responsibility to turn…to return to Him. It is not a casual act and it’s not something you do once and then it’s done forever. I neglect my relationship with God at my own peril. God created each of us in His own image, and endowed us with free will and a desire to seek Him. Many of us twist or distort those gifts and either go our own merry way in chasing our pleasures, or in seeking “something” we can’t define, become lost in the maze of religions and philosophies, imagining we are wise by worshiping what isn’t alive or even real.
Another Shabbos approaches. Another opportunity to welcome the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8) beckons. Will the glow of the candles symbolize the warmth of God in my home and my heart? Will I fill in the “missing rainbow colors” in that glow and see the reminder to repent and return?
“A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.”