Bible Text: Genesis 6–9
Lesson Focus: We all sin and need God’s unconditional promise to save us through grace.
Big Question: What does an old covenant have to do with me?
Key Words: WALK WITH GOD, COVENANT, RESTORATION
• The Noah story is one of realism and promise.
• The waters of the flood are driven back by the wind/breath/spirit of God (Genesis 8:1; compare to Genesis 1:2).
• The divine judgment in this story is completely for the sake of redemption. God wills to save, not destroy.
• The sign of the covenant, a rainbow, is a reminder to God, not humanity, of this promise.
• Humanity does not change in this story; God does! God commits to an imperfect world, working with the imperfections and even the wickedness.
• As we live, we need rules and boundaries (Genesis 9:1–7), but we also need grace and the promises of God.
• The fulfillment of God’s promises does not depend on human faithfulness.
• The flood allows a new beginning.
It takes only five short chapters in the first book in the Bible for things to get pretty ugly and messy. By chapter 6 of Genesis, human violence and willfulness have corrupted God’s good creation so thoroughly that God is “sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (6:6). In this story, we find humanity at its worst, God brokenhearted with an extreme plan for ridding creation of this awfulness, and only one righteous man and his family for God to work with. Whether Noah was righteous in the truest sense or just relatively so might be debated, but the story tells us that Noah “walked with God,” and indeed, God picked Noah to be the initial partner in this first universal covenant. The earth was threatened by watery chaos, but “God remembered Noah” (8:1) and the ark kept Noah’s family and the animals safe. The water was driven back by the wind/breath/spirit of God (8:1; compare to 1:2), and the universal promise made to Noah is marked with the sign of the rainbow.
Reading the Noah story straight through (Genesis 6–9) is a little repetitious and circular. In fact, it seems like two accounts at times. Many biblical scholars agree that the three chapters probably reflect two different sources: the J (Yahwist writer) and P (Priestly writer) of source scholarship. We are the recipients of a fuller story because of these two accounts.
The flood story in Genesis is similar to many flood stories in the literature of other ancient civilizations; however, there is an important difference in the Genesis account. Most ancient flood stories feature a god or gods sending a flood upon creation without much reason. Whimsy and caprice seem to be the motives. In Genesis, God used the flood as judgment with the end goal of redemption. The flood’s purpose is to allow a new beginning.
The divine judgment in this story is unleashed for the sake of redemption. God is not taking revenge on anyone or just looking for something to do. God wills to save, not destroy. Humanity has apparently become so unbalanced by this time that drastic measures are necessary, but the object is not terror or even “getting rid of evil.” The goal of the flood is restoration.
A covenant is a binding promise between two unequal parties. The covenant with Noah is just that, a bit one-sided. God’s promise to Noah in particular—and humanity and the rest of creation more generally (9:8–11)—is universal in scope, and its grace is expressed in the regularities of nature (8:22). There is no mention of Noah’s part of this promise. We’re only told that God makes a promise. And indeed, the rainbow, the sign of the covenant, is a reminder to God—not humanity—of this promise (9:14–15).
God limits Godself in this covenant. Never again will judgment and ultimate restoration come through flood. On the other side of the flood, it is not humanity that changes, but God! (Indeed, Noah is in trouble within a few verses, and the descendants of Noah’s sons are wreaking havoc in the next chapter.) God commits to an imperfect world in this story. God decides to grieve but stick with it, working with the imperfections and even the wickedness. It seems as though God realizes a couple of things in the course of the flood: If humans are to live, they need rules and boundaries (9:1–7), but they also need grace and unconditional promises. The Noah story is a story of both realism and promise.
What does an old covenant have to do with me?
The word covenant translates roughly to “promise.” In more legal terms, a covenant is similar to a contract—if you do this, I promise to do that. Your students probably have some understanding of the concept of covenants or promises. They may also understand that there are consequences if a covenant/promise is broken. In their world, the concept of covenant/promise most often relates to keeping (or breaking) a confidence, such as, “Promise not to tell anyone.” Kids today often establish their own code of ethics based on promises or broken promises. Friendship is often contingent on promise-keeping. Use this lesson to help youth see God’s promise to Noah as a basis for understanding how God keeps a promise unconditionally, even when humans cannot live by the rules and maintain faithfulness to God.
Welcome and Review
As students and leaders arrive, play upbeat music in the background. Welcome them, thank them for coming, and sing a few favorite songs with the group if that is your congregation’s tradition. Thank adult leaders for their presence and for helping pass on faith to the next generation.
Ask students to recall the previous week’s Lesson Focus, Key Words, and Big Question.
Help kids dive into the Key Words by asking for definitions and/or providing these definitions:
WALK WITH GOD: remaining faithful to God even when others around you are not; trusting and believing in God. Noah walked with God.
COVENANT: a promise or binding agreement between two parties. When God makes a covenant, it is very one-sided, with the people of God getting the full benefit
RESTORATION: bringing something back to its former condition; reinstatement. Through the flood, God restored an understanding of the rules and boundaries we live by. It was a new beginning, living in the grace and forgiveness of God.
Discussion: Good and Evil
Have the students recall some of the news stories of the past week. If you have a recent newspaper or access to a computer, page through the headlines and stories of the paper to list what is making the news. Ask students what the big news is from their schools or what kids are talking about. Have the students make a list of all the topics.
Debrief the process of gathering news with these questions.
• How many of the news stories would you consider to be reporting on events that are good versus evil?
• How would you describe the world’s condition today in terms of good versus evil?
• Do you think if the world is mostly evil? In an evil world, do you think that God would destroy the world and start all over with a new creation?
Gather to pray around a bowl of water. Lead students in this prayer as everyone places a hand in the water.
Creator God, thank you for making the promise with Noah and with everyone who comes after him—the promise where we were washed clean and got to start over again. Thank you for the new chances we get every day when we sin and you forgive us. Let us feel the goodness that comes with your promises. Help us reflect your image in which we were created, even though we sin and have many flaws and limitations. Amen.
My Faith Story
Ask kids to respond to the Big Question: What does an old covenant have to do with me?
Then share a part of your own faith story using the suggestion below or another way to talk about the importance of covenants.
Bring a contract from home—an apartment lease, a car purchase agreement, or a mortgage contract. Tell the class about a contract agreement into which you have entered. What do both parties bring to the agreement? Which party makes a bigger commitment? Compare and contrast this agreement with a covenant between you and God. What do both sides bring to God’s covenant? How is God bringing more to the covenant than you are? How is a covenant similar to and different from a legal contract? What covenants or contracts have your students entered into?
Music Option: Flood
Play the song “Flood” by Jars of Clay (from the CD Jars of Clay, Essential Records). Please preview this content to determine its appropriateness for your setting.
The cry that is sung about here comes from someone who hopes to outlast a 40-day deluge: “Lift me up so high that I cannot fall.” As humans who sin and have already fallen, we count on God’s supernatural strength to save us from floods of many kinds, including those we bring on ourselves by our sin.
Once you listen to the song, ask these questions about the song and its connection to the lesson’s Bible text:
• What is the symbolic significance of water in the Noah story? It may help to think about other places that water appears in Bible stories.
• What are the “floods” in your life? Do you bring those concerns to God?
• Are there any areas of your life where you feel the need to make a brand new start? What promises of God will help you do that?
Object Lesson Option: Squeaky Clean
Plan this activity for the church kitchen or, as an option, you could do a similar activity with a particularly dirty floor or carpet. Make whatever prior arrangements are necessary to have access to the specific area and to cleaning materials.
Save or create some really yucky, greasy pots and pans, and bring them to class along with the tools that might be needed to clean them. Discuss with the students the possible ways to get the mess cleaned up. Then take turns trying to get those pots and pans clean. During the work session, compare the messy pots and pans to what God had to work with—a nasty mess. It didn’t take long after creation for the world at that time to get messed up. Evil people corrupted God’s creation. As students use elbow grease to attack the dishes, ask them to consider God’s actions and options. While God punished humanity and got rid of the evil in the flood, God also used the flood to restore the world to what it once was. With the flood came a fresh new beginning.
Discuss with the class how they as individuals attack a mess in their lives at home or at school.
• What “tools” do they have at their disposal to help resolve conflict and get out of the mess?
• When have they seen a fresh new beginning arise out of what seemed like a hopeless situation?
• How does God’s grace and promise of forgiveness affect their attitudes in a messy situation?
Field Trip Option: About A-Boat
Some churches are designed like an upside-down boat. Visit your sanctuary to explore boat shapes and symbolism. Then search for symbols of water.
• What connections can you make between boats or water and your life as a Christian?
• How could you use a boat and water to symbolize God’s saving grace?
Best/Worst and Prayer
Amazing God, thank you for bringing us to this safe place. Thank you for my friend, (insert prayer partner’s name). Help us realize that your promise of salvation is real and is for us today and every day. We pray all this in your name. Amen.
Pass out pencils and Student Sheets. Look together at the front of the Student Sheet. Pick a volunteer to read each bullet point aloud for the group. Talk about the points with students.
• What is the most surprising information to you on this list?
• What is the most reassuring information?
• How is God’s covenant with Noah also a covenant with you?
Turn to this week’s activity called “Word Scramble.” Let your kids pair up to work through the activity page together. After a few minutes, discuss the answers as a group.
Use the cartoon and questions on the Student Sheet to kick off a conversation.
• Why is this a “couples cruise”?
The animals saved on the ark were in pairs. Important to note is that God saved more than humans in the ark. This is another reminder that we have a responsibility to care for all of God’s creation.
• The cruise promises to be at least 40 days long. Is that a promise too good to be true?
When are human promises too good to be true? Do we tend to look for unrealistic promises? Compare human promises to God’s promises.
• Would 40 days together on a cruise be a good thing or a bad thing for your family? Why?
This could be a fun question to explore with the students. What if God was with you for those 40 days? Do students realize that God promises to always be with them, in both good times and bad times?
Student Book Connection
Student Book pages 96–97: Read together the introduction of “A Brief History of God’s Covenant with the People” and the first selection “Covenant with Noah.” Review the definition of covenant and discuss why a covenant with Noah was necessary. Emphasize that God’s covenant with Noah was really a promise with all people who would follow him. In that one covenant, God’s grace was given to all humankind.
Student Book page 111: Check out the “Noah’s Ark” text and illustration together. Challenge students to use their math skills and work together to determine how many feet or meters there are in a cubit. Then measure the height, width, and length of your classroom (in cubits) and determine how many rooms that size would fit into the ark. Remind students that just like the rules and formulas of math, there are rules for humans to follow in order to live together. Fortunately, there is God’s unconditional love and mercy that we need when we have trouble living by the rules.
Talk about last week’s Life Connection. Ask your group what they did this week to live out last week’s lesson. What did they learn? What might they do in the future to keep living out that Life Connection?
Read and talk about Life Connection on the Student Sheet. Discuss the difference between meaningful and meaningless promises. God doesn’t just make promises; God makes covenants, and God never breaks a covenant. The covenant made with Noah has meaning for us today because it is a promise of God’s renewal of creation and God’s faithfulness to those who walk with God.
Ask students to act on this Life Connection this week. Invite them to write down a promise they make during the week. Ask them next week: Did they keep it? How did the recipient of the promise respond?
Open the Bible
Noah “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9) before the flood. However, God was very displeased with the wickedness of the rest of humankind (Genesis 6:5, 11–13). God found Noah’s family to be the only righteous people left in creation. How did God feel about the creation? (Genesis 6:5–8.)
Invite students to find Genesis 9:8–11 in their Bibles. Ask a volunteer to read the passage aloud. After keeping Noah, his family, and the animals safe during the flood, God made a covenant. Reinforce the idea of a covenant as a promise between two unequal parties. God made a promise to Noah and his descendants to never destroy the earth again. There is no mention of Noah’s part in this covenant. As is always the case with God’s grace, the promise does not depend on any things humans do. God cared enough about Noah and his family, and all humanity that was to come after them, to give them good news for the future.
Ask students to read Genesis 9:13, a verse about the rainbow. Talk about some other natural images in the Bible that God used to teach people. (Use a Bible index to look for these terms and others: water, stones, sun and moon; cloud, etc.) Remember that the biblical people often lived outside. No one would miss spotting a rainbow! This verse states that the rainbow would be a sign. Throughout the Bible God gives signs to people to help them remember who God is.
Review the students’ understanding of the flood story with these questions:
• God spared Noah and his family during the flood, but what happens to them after the flood? Invite students to discover the answer by reading Genesis 9:18–28.
• Did the flood rid the world of sin? How can God’s covenant keep you positive when you realize that you will always be a sinner?
• Besides the rainbow in this story, what other signs can you think of in Old Testament and New Testament stories?
• God didn’t just save humans. Animals were included on the ark, too. What does God’s commitment to saving animals mean for us?
Lutheran Study Bible page 2059 and 2072. In the Bible index, look up the words covenant and promise. Choose one or more of the references to read and note how God continues to make and keep promises. You may want to assign a Bible reference to pairs of students to read and report on the promise God made and to whom the promise was made.
Open the Catechism
Student Book page 299: Read the first article of The Apostles’ Creed. This part of the Creed states what we believe about God the creator. Students already know that God created the universe long ago. Explore what they know about how God continues to create today. God promises to care for us and for all of creation. Discuss how God cares for us through other people, giving us what we need, protecting us each day, and enabling us to believe in God as our continuous creator.
Write the letters of CREATOR along the side of a whiteboard or chart paper. Ask students to name a word or phrase that starts with each letter that helps them think about God’s promises.
If practical, set up a quiz show environment with horns or buzzers for contestants. Organize two teams or have two individuals face off in a test of their knowledge about the flood story. Ask a question, and the first person or group spokesperson to answer the question correctly gets a point. If the answer given is incorrect, the other team or person gets a chance to answer. You may want to have a small prize for the winning person or team.
Multiple Choice Questions
1. The point of the flood was to . . .
a. show the effects of global warming.
b. restore God’s creation. (Correct)
c. sell more arks.
d. freshen up creation.
2. God chose to save Noah because . . .
a. he already had a lot of pets.
b. Noah “walked with God.” (Correct)
c. he was the best carpenter God could find.
d. he had a large family that could repopulate the earth.
3. God decided not to destroy the world again with a flood because . . .
a. people are imperfect and will always need rules and love. (Correct)
b. another 40 days and nights of rain was too much to bear.
c. new generations of people would be more God-fearing.
d. it’s not possible with people spread out in so many places.
4. A cubit is a measure of the distance roughly equal to . . .
a. your ear to your big toe.
b. your molars to your front teeth.
c. your knee to your ankle.
d. your elbow to your fingertip. (Correct)
True or False Questions
5. God told Noah to find a pair of every animal except the mosquito. (False; all animal species were saved on the ark.)
6. God’s judgment returned creation to the watery chaos out of which it first arose. (True)
7. The ark was built of gopher wood, a hardwood that no longer exists. (False; God’s instructions were to build the ark of cypress wood.)
8. Mount Ararat, where some scholars say the ark probably landed, is in the country of Turkey. (True)
Take a Break
Kids this age have lots of questions about right and wrong, stories in the Bible, and faith and life. Provide time for them to ask questions. Remember, there isn’t always a right answer, but encouraging discussion is great! Questions help kids explore their faith. Help them explore on their path to confirmation.
After their questions, ask one or more of the following questions to connect your conversations with the Lesson Focus:
• What is God’s covenant with you?
• Every day we sin and every day God forgives us. How would you finish the simile “God’s love is as big as . . .”?
• The evil that we do is distressing to God. How do you know God will not get fed up with the evil again and destroy the evil in the world with a flood or some other disaster?
Light a candle and have students sit around it and focus on it as you get ready for prayer. In silent prayer, ask the students to name in their minds someone they know whose life seems to be overwhelmed by a “flood.” Then pray silently for that person to experience God’s covenant love, asking that God would be with her or him and help the person make a new beginning. Conclude by offering this prayer:
God of life, we thank you for forming a covenant with us. Extend that unconditional love to the ones we hold up in prayer today. Help us learn how to be a blessing to them in order to help them get out of a mess and start over with a new beginning. We pray in your name. Amen.
Before students leave, offer the following blessing, or ask smallgroup leaders to give this blessing to each one in the group as they dip a finger in a bowl of water and trace the cross on each student’s forehead.
May you always walk with God and daily experience God’s covenant promise of unconditional love and forgiveness. In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.