"Let the little children come to me . . ."
After Abel was slain, and his brother Cain had gone into another land, again God gave a child to Adam and Eve. This child they named Seth; and other sons and daughters were given to them; for Adam and Eve lived many years. But at last they died, as God had said they must die, because they had eaten of the tree that God had forbidden them to eat.
By the time that Adam died, there were many people on the earth; for the children of Adam and Eve had many other children; and when these grew up they had other children; and these had children also. These men and women and children lived in tents. They owned sheep and cattle, and they moved about with them, wherever they could find pasture. The children played around the tent doors, and sat beside the camp-fires in the evenings, where they all sang together, and the older people told them stories. After a time this land where Adam's sons lived began to be full of people.
It is sad to tell that as time went on more and more of these people became wicked, and fewer and fewer of them grew up to become good men and women. All the people lived near together, and few went away to other lands; so it came to pass that even the children of good men and women learned to be bad, like the people around them, and no longer did what was right and good.
And as God looked down on the world that he had made, he saw how wicked the men in it had become, and that every thought and every act of man was evil and only evil continually.
But while most of the people in the world were very wicked, there were some good people also, though they were very few. The best of all the men who lived at that time was a man whose name was Enoch. He was not the son of Cain, but another Enoch, who came from the family of Seth, the son of Adam, who was born after the death of Abel. While so many around Enoch were doing evil, this man did only what was right. He walked with God and God walked with him, and talked with him. And at last, when Enoch was a very old man and weary with life, God took him away from earth to heaven. He did not die, as all the people have since Adam disobeyed God, but "he was not, for God took him." This means that Enoch was taken up from earth without dying.
All the people in the time of Enoch were not shepherds. Some of them had learned how to make rude bows and arrows and axes and plows. And after a long time they melted iron, and they made knives and swords and dishes to use in their homes. They sowed grain in the fields and reaped harvests, and they planted vines and fruit trees. But God looked down on the earth and said:
"I will take away all men from the earth that I have made; because the men of the world are evil, and do evil continually."
But even in those bad times God saw one good man. His name was Noah. Noah tried to do right in the sight of God. As Enoch had walked with God, so Noah walked with God, and talked with him. And Noah had three sons; their names were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth.
God said to Noah, "The time has come when all the men and women on the earth are to be destroyed. Every one must die, because they are all wicked. But you and your family shall be saved, because you alone are trying to do right."
Then God told Noah how he might save his life and the lives of his sons. He was to build a very large boat, as large as the largest ships that are made in our time; very long, and very wide and very deep; with a roof over it; and made like a long, wide house in three stories; but so built that it would float on the water. Such a ship as this was called "an ark." God told Noah to build this ark, and to have it ready for the time when he would need it.
"For," said God to Noah, "I am going to bring a great flood of water on the earth to cover all the land and to drown all the people on the earth. And as the animals on the earth will be drowned with the people, you must make the ark large enough to hold a pair of each kind of animals and several pairs of some animals that are needed by men, like sheep and goats and oxen; so that there will be animals as well as men to live upon the earth after the flood has passed away. And you must take in the ark food for yourself and your family, and for all the animals with you; enough food to last for a year, while the flood shall stay on the earth."
And Noah did what God told him to do, although it must have seemed very strange to all the people around, to build this great ark where there was no water for it to sail upon. And it was a long time, because this ship was so big, that Noah and his sons were at work building the ark, which God had told them to build, while the wicked people around wondered, and no doubt laughed at Noah for building a great ship where there was no sea.
At last the ark was finished, and stood like a great house on the land. There was a door on one side, and a window on the roof, to let in the light. Then God said to Noah:
"Come into the ark, you and your wife, and your three sons, and their wives with them; for the flood of waters will come very soon. And take with you animals of all kinds, and birds, and things that creep; seven pairs of these that will be needed by men, and one pair of all the rest, so that all kinds of animals may be kept alive upon the earth."
So Noah and his wife, and his three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, with their wives, went into the ark. And God brought to the door of the ark the animals, and the birds, and the creeping things of all kinds; and they went into the ark. And Noah and his sons put them in their places, and brought in food enough to feed them all for many days. And then the door of the ark was shut and no more people and no more animals could come in.
In a few days the rain began to fall, as it had never rained before. It seemed as though the heavens were opened to pour great floods upon the earth. The streams filled, and the rivers rose higher and higher, and the ark began to float on the water. The people left their houses and ran up to the hills; but soon the hills were covered, and all the people on them were drowned.
Some had climbed up to the tops of higher mountains, but the water rose higher and higher, until even the mountains were covered and all the people, wicked as they had been, were drowned in the great sea that now rolled over all the earth where man had lived. And all the animals, the tame animals, cattle, and sheep, and oxen, were drowned; and the wild animals, lions, and tigers, and all the rest were drowned also. Even the birds were drowned, for their nests in the trees were swept away, and there was no place where they could fly from the terrible storm. For forty days and nights the rain kept on, until there was no breath of life remaining outside of the ark.
After forty days the rain stopped, but the water stayed upon the earth for more than six months, and the ark with all that were in it floated over the great sea that covered the land. Then God sent a wind to blow over the waters, and to dry them up; so by degrees the waters grew less and less. First mountains rose above the waters, then the hills rose up, and finally the ark ceased to float and lay aground on a mountain which is called Mount Ararat.
But Noah could not see what had happened on the earth, because the door was shut, and the only window was up in the roof. But he felt that the ark was no longer moving, and he knew that the water must have gone down. So, after waiting for a time, Noah opened a window, and let loose a bird called a raven. Now the raven has strong wings; and this raven flew round and round until the waters had gone down, and it could find a place to rest, and it did not come back to the ark.
After Noah had waited for it awhile, he sent out a dove; but the dove could not find any place to rest, so it flew back to the ark, and Noah took it into the ark again. Then Noah waited a week longer, and afterward he sent out the dove again. And at the evening, the dove came back to the ark, which was its home; and in its bill was a fresh leaf which it had picked off from an olive tree.
So Noah knew that the water had gone down enough to let the trees grow again. He waited another week, and sent out the dove again; but this time the dove flew away and never came back. And Noah knew that the earth was becoming dry again. So he took off a part of the roof, and looked out, and saw that there was dry land all around the ark, and the waters were no longer everywhere.
Noah had now lived in the ark a little more than a year, and he was glad to see the green land and the trees once more. And God said to Noah:
"Come out of the ark, with your wife, and your sons, and their wives, and all the living things that are with you in the ark."
So Noah opened the door of the ark, and with his family came out, and stood once more on the ground. And the animals, and birds, and creeping things in the ark, came out also, and began again to bring life to the earth.
The first thing that Noah did when he came out of the ark, was to give thanks to God for saving all his family when the rest of the people on the earth were destroyed. He built an altar, and laid upon it an offering to the Lord, and gave himself and his family to God and promised to do God's will.
And God was pleased with Noah's offering, and God said:
"I will not again destroy the earth on account of men, no matter how bad they may be. From this time no flood shall again cover the earth; but the seasons of spring and summer and fall and winter, shall remain without change. I give to you the earth; you shall be the rulers of the ground and of every living thing upon it."
Then God caused a rainbow to appear in the sky, and he told Noah and his sons that whenever they or the people after them should see the rainbow, they should remember that God had placed it in the sky and over the clouds as a sign of his promise, that he would always remember the earth, and the people upon it, and would never again send a flood to destroy man from the earth.
So as often as we see the beautiful rainbow, we are to remember that it is the sign of God's promise to the world.