God’s Covenant with Noah– Genesis 9:1 -17
God had performed a mighty, earth-shaking act in destroying the world with the flood. The fountains of the deep were broken and the windows of heaven were opened. Cresting the heaving sea was an ark adorned with God’s precious creatures. With waters abated, Noah offered the clean animals as a sacrifice of thanksgiving and God smelled a sweet savor. Therewith God established His covenant with Noah and all creation.
We will divide our material into 2 parts. This division is very appropriate because every covenant contains two parts. The first part (vss. 8-17) deals with God’s part in the covenant which is not only logically first, but is the deep source of the second part (vss. 1-7) which is man’s part in the covenant. When God establishes His covenant with man then man has an obligation to perform what God demands of him.
God established His covenant. Noah did not reach out to God, but God reached down to Noah. It was in the sphere of this covenant that God moved to save Noah and his family in the ark. God knew Noah in His own infinite love, and dealt with him accordingly. As a result, Noah is not to be considered a party in this “covenantal contract,” but a receiver of covenantal blessings. There was no bargain session between God and Noah. God took the initiative and Noah was called upon to pay attention. God now approached Noah and announced to him what must have been obvious to him long before. Notice that Elohim (God) came to Noah. Why that name? Consider that in verse 1 of Gen. 15 Jehovah is used. What about Exodus 6:3? God now came and revealed the essence of His covenant, viz. His friendship with Noah. He who spoke to Noah and his sons was the same God who had announced to Adam that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the seed of the serpent. Noah had witnessed the truth of those words graphically in the waters of the flood. By water God saved eight souls from the raging seed of the serpent (I Peter 3:20). Now God con¬firmed this same covenant with the generations after the flood. In clear and understandable language God told Noah that He would cut His covenant (Berith) and eat at the table of friendship with him.
What had moved God to establish this covenant? Was it so that God beheld in Noah a righteousness that was well pleasing to Him and on the basis of that which He saw, God condescended to Noah and established His covenant with him? Noah was a preacher of righteousness. Was it on account of this that God remembered Noah in mercy? What was the ground of the covenant? No, God established His covenant with Noah and his sons, not on the basis of their works, but only because of the coming of Jesus Christ. Certainly, the occasion for this covenant was the offering of the sacrifice of thanksgiving at the conclusion of the flood. God beheld in that act a sweet savor. Yet, the only basis was not the act itself, but the offering — the clean animals on the altar, the great type of Jesus Christ. Christ is forever the only meritorious ground of the covenant favor with God. Noah’s righteousness was the external proof of the internal work of God Himself.
The covenant was established with Noah, his sons, and all brute creation. It is apparent from this section, that Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth and their wives were recipients of this covenant. They personally were friends of God and entered into conscious fellowship with God. This also pertained to Ham. The words were addressed to him as well as the rest. God blessed him according to verse 1. He, too, was saved by water, the picture of Christ’s blood (I Peter 3:20). This explains somewhat the curse on his son, not on himself (Gen. 9:25).
What is more, however, this covenant was established with their children, “your seed after you.” Here we find God’s covenant is with the human race. It becomes apparent from all Scripture that this seed does not include all men, all the natural seed, but the seed according to the promise. In light of Gen. 3:15, it is the seed of the woman extended throughout the generations of Noah. This eventually was extended through the family of Abraham and the patriarchs even to Christ the one seed (Gal. 3:16). Romans 9:8 explains, “they which are the children of the flesh are not the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.”
The one outstanding feature of this covenant with Noah is the fact that it also included brute creation. It is this fact that distinguishes, not separates, it from the covenant with Adam and Abraham. By brute creation we mean plants and animals (cf. vs. 10). Even nature was comprehended in this covenant. This brute creation was subject to the slavery of sin by man’s transgressions. Romans 8:20: “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope.” The sting of death was also extended to creation causing it to groan (Rom. 8:22). The flood was God’s hand of judgment not only on sinful man, but also on creation and therefore served as a type of the last judgment when creation will be destroyed by fire (II Peter 3:6,7). In this covenant with Noah, nature is also comprehended. The question arises as to how that was possible. God does not love a cow or a tree. How can such creatures be part of God’s friendship? First, we must remember that man was made king of creation. After the fall, the believer is king over all which God had made. All creatures are subject to man and must serve man. Secondly, the king of creation is a rational and moral creature. When the children of God look upon the creation of God and behold His handiwork, they sing, “How great thou art.” Through this adoration of God by the king of creation (the believer), all brute creatures really praise God. God’s heart is joined to the creature’s through the heart of man. All creation sings to God a glorious song through the praise the believer brings to God and God loves and cherishes the creature and promises to deliver her through Jesus Christ, the King of kings. Here then we see that the object of all God’s covenant friendship through Jesus Christ is extended to the believer and all creation, a friendship which shall be perfected in the New Jerusalem.
From the above, it should be apparent that this covenant with Noah was not one of common grace. It would be a good idea to consider why this covenant was not established with all men, all the generations of Noah head for head. Does the fact that God’s covenant is with creation prove that the rain and sunshine are God’s gift of favor upon the wicked? When God promised to withhold destruction of the world with a flood, was that favor to the wicked? For whom really were all these things and what do they do for the wicked?
The sign of the rainbow is the beautiful token of this covenant. One may ask, why a rainbow? Was it merely coincidental that God chose the rainbow as the sign of His covenant with creation? Verse 14 indicates something of the true meaning of the bow and its proper interpretation. The cloud is rain that is still in vapor form. Upon right atmospheric conditions this vapor will change into liquid drops of rain. Every time God’s people from every generation see the sunlight bounce upon the rain bearing clouds, they bear witness that God will not destroy the world with a flood of great waters. There is that immediate connection, first of all.
But there also is a deeper meaning. The cloud also is symbolic of God’s presence. Cf. Rev. 4:3. God’s presence is always twofold, either in love or wrath. That was true for Israel when the cloud condescended upon the tabernacle. It is particularly true when one looks into the churning, wind-driven cloud and beholding the angry face of the heavens, sees the picture of the presence of God’s wrath. He looks with anger against sin. Upon that angry face, the sun shines, the presence of light that covers the angry clouds and we see reflected the rainbow, the multi-colored spray of radiance that tells us for Christ’s sake God will not spew forth his anger upon us, God looks at the bow and remembers His promises for the sake of Calvary; we look at the bow and remember the faithful word of God. That makes the bow a precious sign. It speaks in visible language what God has written in His Word. God is faithful and will not consume His people in anger, but will lead them to glory.
Connected with the establishment of this covenant also rests the sincere obligation for Noah and all God’s people to do their part. The believer has certain duties that he must perform within the covenant.
Immediately after blessing Noah and his sons, God commanded them to be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth (verse 7 adds the adverb abundantly). This was not the first time such a command was given. An identical commandment was expressed to Adam and Eve when creation was finished. Gen. 1:28. God had now destroyed the world with the Hood and there was need now for a repetition of the original injunction. Well might Adam and his sons fear to bring forth children. They undoubtedly began to reason, since the generations of man became wicked in their children, would it be wise to bring forth a seed and arouse the anger of God again. Wasn’t it vain to bring forth children, if they would be destroyed? To allay this fear, God now gave them expressed orders to reproduce and replenish the earth. They were not to stay in one little isle and arrange some utopia, but spread over the earth. Only in this way could The Seed, Christ Himself be born.
There is one obvious difference between this context and Gen. 1:28. In the latter the food for man and beast was plants. Here, however, in addition to plants, animals were given to men for food. Sin had left its mark upon the brute creation. Now the animals were no longer gentle and companions for man. Sin affected the nature of the beast and made him fear man (vs. 2). Now there must have been changes in nature that made it more difficult for man to live. The life span of man was greatly diminished. Besides the nutrition of vegetables, he now needs meat and God provides that by direct command. All creation stood in the service of man.
Men were not to eat meat without first preparing it properly . . . They had to drain out the blood before preparing it for consumption. These words anticipated Lev. 17:10-14 where we are explicitly informed that the soul of an animal is in its blood and since these animals were offered as O. T. sacrificial types of Jesus on the cross, the blood was symbolic of the soul offered for others and thus considered sacred. Hence, we find the direct prohibition of eating flesh without first draining out the blood. At the same time this prevented brutality upon the animals, for it was common among the heathen to ravishly eat flesh without properly killing the animal (cf. I Sam 14: 32).
In addition, God now gave the commandment as to the respecting of the life of our fellow human beings. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Obviously, this instituted the bearing of the sword power over the offender. The reason given was, “For in the image of God made he man.” This means that in the formal sense, man was made an image bearer and thus should be treated with proper respect. This can hardly be considered the beginning of government, since in that time it would be the duty of the next of kin to seek the “revenge blood.” Nevertheless, when family became clan and clan grew into tribe and eventually nations were born, this responsibility for the execution of the murderers now rests with the government (Rom. 13:1-4). There appears to be no reason why the principle of punishing the murderer with death should be abrogated today.