Saturday, February 18, 2017

Earthquakes and rainbows

13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds…15 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 (Gen (9:13-15).

i) From time to time I defend both the global and local flood interpretation. Gen 9:13-15 is a strong prima facie prooftext for the global extent of the flood. The argument is that since local floods recur throughout history, this must refer to something categorically different. How, if at all, might a local flood interpreter respond?

ii) Perhaps he'd say that while there's nothing exceptional about local floods, per se, Noah's flood was the most massive flood in the history of the ANE. Or that it was the most destructive to human life, given the concentration of humans in the ANE at that time. Even a local flood can be unexampled. 

iii) But here's another consideration. Let's take a comparison:

the world is established; it shall never be moved (Ps 93:1). 

the world is established; it shall never be moved (Ps 96:10).

He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved (Ps 104:5).

the world is established; it shall never be moved (1 Chron 16:30).

That's a recurring motif in Scripture. Some take it to be prooftexts for geocentrism. However, there's no evidence that OT Jews shared the Greeks' theoretical interest in celestial mechanics. Moreover, these passages say nothing about the earth in relation to the motion of the sun and planets. So geocentrism just isn't in view.

But what, then, does it refer to? I think it's using seismic imagery. Palestine is a seismically active region. So the claim is that God will protect his people from catastrophic earthquakes. For further corroboration of the seismic interpretation, consider these passages:

who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble (Job 9:6).

when he rises to shake the earth (Isa 2:19,21).

Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry (Ps 18:7).

It's the same stock imagery. Among natural disasters, earthquakes may be uniquely terrifying, because humans are land animals, so there's no escape from an earthquake. People can sometimes dodge floods by building on high ground or repairing to high ground as flood waters mount. They can sometimes outrun wildfires. They can take refuge inside during storms. Volcanoes tend to give warning signs of impending eruption. But earthquakes are sudden, and there's nowhere to go. 

iv) However, it might be objected that God hasn't protected his people from catastrophic earthquakes. But I take that to mean the imagery is figurative and hyperbolic. Yet if Scripture makes hyperbolic and figurative use of seismic imagery to symbolize providential protection, Scripture could just as well make hyperbolic and figurative use of meteorological imagery (e.g. rainbows) to symbolize providential protection. 

v) So what do promises of divine protection mean? What do they amount to? It's clear, both in Bible history and church history, that God often allows his people to suffer horrendous harm. 

In terms of life on earth, it may have a corporate rather than individualistic meaning. God preserves a people-group. God preserves a remnant. He doesn't allow the Jews to be exterminated. He doesn't allow Christians to be exterminated. He extends enough protection to keep the faith alive from one generation to the next, until the Parousia.

And it may also refer to eschatological protection. God will shield his people from the final judgment that awaits the wicked. 

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