A S God looked down upon the beautiful world He had made, it grieved Him to see how it was spoilt by the wickedness of the people who lived upon it. No one tried to be good or to obey God's laws, and as time went on they grew worse and worse, until God was sorry that He had made the world at all.
"I will destroy it," God said, "both man and beast, and the creeping things, and the fowls of the air."
But there was just one man in all the world who loved God, and tried to please Him; and in the end God determined not to destroy everything, but to save this man and his family, and some of the animals and birds and creeping things as well. And so God told the man, whose name was Noah, exactly what to do—how he was to build a great ark of safety, to be ready for the time when God would destroy the world by a great flood.
All the rest of the people in the world went on enjoying themselves and doing just as they liked, never thinking of God at all. Only Noah worked with all his might to obey God's directions. He tried to warn the people of what was coming, but they only laughed at him and his work. What was this curious kind of ship that he was building? It surely must be meant to float upon the water. But Noah was building it inland, far away from any sea, and no one had ever beheld such a huge vessel before.
"Where is the great sea on which it is going to float?" asked the people; and they only scoffed when he told them that God would send a mighty flood that would cover the earth and drown all the people of the world. There was no sign of a flood, they said, and they did not believe any flood was coming. What a fool he was to toil all day and wear himself out with work, instead of taking his ease and enjoying his pleasures.
But Noah worked on. And as the years passed by, the ark at last was finished, and Noah went in with his wife and family and two of each of the birds and beasts and insects which God had promised to save. Then the sky grew black with clouds, and a terrible rain began to pour down. Blacker and blacker grew the sky, and fiercer and fiercer blew the wind, and the rain came down in such torrents that the rivers began to swell and overflow their banks, and presently the whole world was just one great sea of tossing grey waters.
But God remembered His promise, and the ark floated safely on that tossing sea. For many long days the storm raged, and then at last the rain stopped, and the flood began to subside. Noah waited patiently still for a while, and then opened one of the windows of the ark, and sent out a raven and a dove to see if they would find anything to rest upon. But the dove came back with tired wings, and Noah knew that there was no dry ground yet showing above the water. So he waited for another seven days, and again sent the dove out; and this time she came back with a tiny green olive leaf in her beak. And the third time he sent her out she did not return at all.
"And, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off."
The waters were slowly going down; the earth, all fresh and clean, began to show itself once more, and the green things were all beginning to grow again. Then God bade Noah open the ark and set all the animals free upon the green earth once more.
So Noah came out with his wife and all his family, and he built an altar to God, and sacrificed upon it the best of everything in a great thanksgiving service.
Then God blessed Noah, and promised that never again would He send another flood to destroy the world. And as Noah listened to God's voice, he looked up, and saw in the sky a beautiful half-circle of shining light made up of all the fairest colours, its ends touching the earth, and its circle stretching across the sky.
It was the sign of God's promise, the rainbow of hope, which should always bring to us its message telling of sunshine after rain, joy after sorrow.