FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT
Genesis 9: 8-17
God proclaims an unconditional covenant with Noah and his descendants, that is, no requirement is laid on mankind: God will never again send such a flood. The bow in the sky at the time of rain is for God to see to remind him of his promise. We take the bow in the clouds to be a rainbow, but the Hebrew word for bow never means an arc; it means a weapon. God formerly used the bow to cast lightening against the earth (see Psalms 7, 18; Habakkuk 3: 11), but now it has been laid aside in the clouds.
First Peter 3: 18-22
We know nothing about the author of this letter, not even his name. In the way so common in that age, he attributed the letter to a figure he admired. He is not the disciple, who was martyred at Rome in 64 CE. This letter was written about 115 CE. Second Peter is a similar case, composed about 150CE.
Our reading begins with a statement of the doctrine that Christ died to redeem mankind. Of special interest to me are the two statements that Christ after his death on the cross descended into hell. The miraculous incident is told nowhere else in the Bible. Yet it was fixed as doctrine in the Apostle’s creed—“He descended into hell.” The statements presume the ancient Jewish concept of Sheol, in English Bibles usually rendered as “Hades.” Sheol wasn’t a place for punishment. These ancient Jews believed God’s justice was carried out in this life, prosperity for the good, misery for the bad. Sheol was nothing but the abode of the dead, good people and wicked people together. But it was a dreadful place a “land of gloom and deep darkness” from which there is no return (Job 7: 9; 10: 20-22). A land of silence, the inhabitants of which have no memory, and are out of touch with God (Psalms 88, 94, 114, 115). The inhabitants of Sheol are alive, but deprived of living. In Chapter three, Christ is said to have descended to help the spirits “in prison,” oddly, to preach to the sinners who died in the flood (3: 18-20). But in the next chapter, Christ proclaims the gospel to “the dead,” seeming to mean all of the dead, “so they might live in the spirit as God does” (4: 6). In short, Christ went down to Sheol to tell those who had never had a chance to hear the Word, that rebirth is available. In effect, by this act Christ abolished Sheol.
© Arthur H. Cash