God's Covenant with Noah
The chapter we are looking at today tells us about the start of things after the great and destructive worldwide flood.
It teaches us some extremely important lessons, lessons which unfortunately most men have forgotten.
It first reveals to us what society is all about, for it discusses the true divisions of mankind, while the succeeding chapters immediately begin to show their roles, inheritance, and contributions, and shows how God organized and placed men in the world.
As such then, it shows that our tendencies to categorize people by skin color, language, eye color, or such superficial distinctions, are just simply misguided standards.
It also shows us that despite tremendous punishment, sin still resides in man, and that this infection will break out in sexual perversions from time to time. We see that Godly men, who had previously lived in a perverted world, and who witnessed the massive punishment of sin, and survived it, still were not immune from falling victim to the temptation to practice the perversions that God had shortly before roundly condemned and dealt with.
(Note righteous Noah, he is so described in 6:9, was soon to be found naked and hopelessly drunk in 9:21. Then we immediately learn about his son’s terrible misbehavior which has perverted sexual overtones)
We learn that we must never take lightly and underestimate the effect on us of that mysterious and powerful malady called sin.
It is now very important to pay attention to the promise that God made to himself, in his own mind, as recorded in Genesis 8:21-22, that he would never again destroy the earth and the creatures on it by a flood.
We are told the reason for this resolve made by God himself. Note that this resolve was not made to man, the words were not spoken to Noah.
This was based on the nature of man. God knows man and what makes him what he is. He knows that man's unstoppable yearning to sin is not something that he has learned, but that his predisposition to sin is something innate. Men still do not want to accept this notion. God knew that if man was to be helped at all, he had to be given a new nature. A full restoration of man would only come about when there was a new man.
So God tells us the reason for this resolution not to destroy the earth again with a flood. This would never cure man. No matter how many times he would wipe the slate clean with a flood man would not change.
So God in his mercy, kindness, and grace said, in order to warn us and to reassure us: “I will not again curse the ground anymore for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth.”
We should expect then, that God would now set about a project and a blueprint for life on Earth that would help in bringing about a new man.
This chapter of Genesis records one of the major covenants of the Bible, the first specific covenant made with Noah and with all humanity.
Note that this covenant is a long-term commitment made by an infinite, all-powerful, and changeless God. We do like to make long-term commitments and sometimes feel that we should not make clear, specific agreements, but this is what our God does. This is how he behaves. It would be good if Christians were like him.
Note again that biblical covenants are not agreements that God made following a bargaining session with man.
Man was in rebellion then, just as he is in rebellion now. God does not regard him as a threat to his control or to his government. Man does not understand much, if anything, and therefore we must not consider him as bargaining with God and then God making covenants with man.
God is in control of history. He will always be in control of history whether we like it or not.
These covenants are as it were, game rules, governing human life. God had first told Noah in Genesis 6:18 that he would establish his covenant with him and so He would preserve him through the Flood. So God acted in line of with His word.
Given the wickedness of men’s heart, He set up the world on a sure basis by way of a covenant to preserve men on the earth. He had to make some rules and provisions. In this covenant he made a provision of making nature dependable, (Gen. 8:22), so that men could depend on the constant recurring of the seasons.
This gracious provision, made at the same time as the warning that man would always suffer from evil imaginations from the time of youth, should point out God's wonderful love to us.
God wants us to understand that he has so set up the world and human life that we are constantly faced with this overwhelming set of facts. His love for us, even when we are in sin and do not love him always stares us in the face.
When we look at mankind’s history of evil imaginations, mindset and emotions and when we look at the heavens and nature which operate in such an orderly fashion, helping us always along our path in life, we know that the glory of God is being displayed to point us to him.
Predictably men don't want to admit any of this. They constantly tell us that God cannot have created the earth, did not set up the seasons, the rhythms of life came about by accident. The big lie is that it is all a stupendous and amazing accident.
They tell us then that men do not need to worry about God and his judgment. Despite what God says, they hold that man is basically good. In addition, life is on an uninterrupted upward trajectory, there is continuous progress and man will eventually come to a state of universal blessedness, peace and contentment. There is no need to worry.
Note that God has set things in such a way that man cannot blame nature for his evil. It is true that nature does act in a way that is sometimes destructive, but it is also true that much of the destructive things that we face are clearly caused by man's greed and evil. Men do not seem to want to accept that however.
So today we will look at the faithfulness of God and his provisions for all men living at all times and in all places.
Verse 1. The only persons on earth are those of the family of Noah. Every human being who has ever lived, have descended from Noah and his family. Whether we like to believe it or not we are all from the same family. All have the same blood. We are all equal. There is no essential difference. Differences are only superficial.
We cannot excuse our iniquity, our bad and evil behavior toward people on the basis of anything else but on the evil imaginations of the heart, from which we suffer from the time of youth. When we kill, hurt and destroy, we are harming members of our own family. That's pretty bad.
The kind and always merciful God blesses Noah, now that he is about to start a new beginning. Let us be mindful that now there are a new set of rules.
God had blessed mankind when he created them (Genesis 1:28) and told them to be fruitful and multiply, and now He does the same. This blessing told them that he had goodwill and gracious intentions towards them. He meant them no ill. But note that he did not, like in Genesis 1, say that this new situation was “good”.
Then, at the very start, creation was pronounced “good”. Now it was a little different. Adam was then commanded to subdue the earth and to rule over the animals. Now there was no similar command. During Adam’s life in Eden, there had been no spilling of blood and taking of life, and so Adam was apparently vegetarian. The situation here is different.
Noah was told that God had placed a wide, fertile, empty earth for him to occupy and on which he should multiply. It was certainly not a Paradise like the Garden of Eden, but it was nevertheless good and he could count on God. He could have as many children as he wanted. He was responsible for the repopulation of the earth.
Verse 2. One difference between this new start and Genesis 1 now stands out. Animals, birds, and the fish of the seas, will have an instinctive fear and dread of men. They would need protection from man.
It is clear that Noah was given some limited kind of authority over the animal kingdom, but now there would be no love between creatures and men. Men would have to go through the laborious exercise of taming animals and probably failing to tame many.
Man clearly would have to understand that he was no longer what he once was. There would be no loving, obedient response from animals. Instead there would be fear, a running and hiding from him.
So Noah would realize that the image of God in him, his family, and in his descendents was twisted and marred tremendously.
Sin before the Flood had been serious and a heavy price was now being paid.
One lesson here is that we should never think that there are no consequences for sin. When we sin there are consequences for us and consequences for our family and descendents. All is not lost however, for God does forgive and does not punish us for all our sins, for he himself said, that if He did, the sons of Jacob would all be consumed.
Verse 3. Now came the most dreadful part. Man was allowed to have animals for food. We must understand that God allowed the eating of meat. One cannot argue that a person of God has to be vegetarian.
You might not realize that this permission not only signified a different relationship between animals and men, but even more importantly, it meant that every meal would remind a person that their meal was only possible by the death of another creature.
The message is clear, we are alive only because other creatures had died to sustain our life. Man was now feeding off another's life. Man was living only by the death of another.
The need for man to learn this lesson, as well as the fact that he would spiritually live by feeding on another, was pointed out symbolically. This truth was illustrated by Jesus in John 6:53-54. There we are told that unless we ate the flesh of the Son of Man and drank his blood, we have no life. But whosoever ate his flesh and drank his blood had eternal life.
It is thus emphasized that we are dependent creatures, dependent on others for sustenance, and are not independent and masters of our own fate.
Verse 4. Here the sacredness of human life is emphasized. In view of the new permission, man had to be taught now to reverence life. The earth had been a violent place before the Flood. Tough new rules had to be put in place. See Genesis 6:11 and other passages to see why these new rules were necessary.
Man could eat the flesh of articles but not eat the blood. The blood represented the life principle as explained in Leviticus 17:11, 14:1For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul… For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.
and Deuteronomy 12:23…Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh.
The idea of blood is extremely important and it is pointed out that it is used four hundred and twenty-four times in three hundred and fifty seven separate verses. One commentator points out:
“-Blood was the sign of mercy for Israel and the first Passover. (Exodus 12:13)
-Blood sealed God's covenant with Israel (Exodus 24:8) (Note that also sealed the covenant with Abraham even before Israel was created as a nation)
-Blood sanctified the altar (Exodus 29:12)
-Blood set aside the priests (Exodus 29:20)
-Blood made atonement for God's people (Exodus 30:10)
-Blood sealed the new covenant (Matthew 26:28)
-Blood justifies us (Romans 5:9)
-Blood brings peace with God (Colossians 1:20)
-Blood brings redemption (Ephesians 1:7)
-Blood cleanses us (Hebrews 9:14 and 1 John 1:7)
-Blood gives entrance to God's holy place (Hebrews 10:19)
-Blood sanctifies us (Hebrews 13:12)
-Blood enables us to overcome Satan (Revelation 12:11)”
The clear idea is that man is prejudicing his own life by eating food that is not wholesome and that is prejudicial to his health, certainly spiritually and probably physically too. God has forbidden the eating of blood, for blood is the life.
We also note that at the Jerusalem Council meeting recorded in the Book of Acts, the Apostles reemphasized this same prohibition.
Versse 5-6. The implication of the significance of blood is now brought forward. Life is in the blood, and life is God's property, never man’s, for man does not originate life nor can he give life. Man therefore has no right to take life, and even when he's permitted to take animal life, he has to recognize the authority of God over life by not eating the blood.
Obviously the life of man is precious. God gives life and he alone can take it. Murder is absolutely forbidden. So obviously is suicide, for that involves man taking his life into his own hands, even though God says that is his prerogative.
These verses also seem to prohibit abortion, for if life is in the blood, and if the fetus has blood it has life. No one should destroy this ‘life in the blood’ by shedding blood.
So man does not seem to be the master that he think he is, for some things are off-limits.
Since man is created in the image of God, God states that there will be a reckoning even if beasts take the life of man. The animal that kills a man should be put to death. Incidentally Moses confirms this law in Exodus 21:28.
God also commands that when a man’s blood is shed, there should be an accounting for this action.
Let us also remember that there is a distinction between killing, such as for example, accidental killing, and murder, a deliberate premeditated act. There is also the matter of God teaching that human government can punish the guilty. Romans 13:1-4. Numbers 35:31-34 also teaches that the guilt of unpunished murder defiles a land.
It is clear that God does not support unlawful killing of any kind. Human life is off-limits and can only be taken under strict God prescribed conditions. God says that he will have a reckoning or an accounting if His Commandments are broken. The blood of Abel cried from the ground and God did not ignore it.
God reserves punishment for taking a life in acts of vengeance. Deuteronomy 32:35 and Romans 12:19 stress this.
In view of this massive amount of violence in the population before the Flood, God now prohibits the wanton, unregulated, and thoughtless taking of human life, pointing out at the same time, that if men do not do justice, and punish murder as required , he will extract a price.
Man is a brotherhood and from one family. If men ignore this reality and sin against others, if they allow individuals to be killed and let the crime go unpunished when they could do something about it, here is a warning that He will extract a price. He even indicates in Scripture that nations that commit murder, killing and war that he does not approve of, will face his vengeance. The prophets condemned many Gentile nations for their barbarity. They also condemned Israel for wanton murder.
Murder is a terrible sin against God and God will demand a reckoning. Individuals and nations had better consider that. No killing is to be taken lightly. God takes seriously this matter of the image of man. Violence can only be done by government and by nations under extremely restricted circumstances.
Verse 7. God knows that man has this evil imagination in him, and he knows that men love violence. So in all this He realistically instructed Noah to repopulate the earth. The manifested presence of the image of God in man was important to God. God would bless man because of the presence of the divine image, though the image was distorted, twisted and marred.
It is amazing that God seems to love men despite the evil that is in them. The love of God is certainly different. That is why we are saved. We are not saved because of the good in us, or because of our good works. The best of us Christians are not as good as we think. God has to restrain us. God often has to give the powerful servants among us a thorn in the flesh to keep us humble and leaning on Him for strength.
So we see that the love of God is far greater than tongue can tell.
THE NATURE OF THE COVENANT WITH NOAH
Let us know list some features of the covenant with Noah before we begin to study the verses 8-15.
First, the covenant with Noah was initiated and dictated by God.
Second, it was made with Noah and with all generations after him.
Third, it was a universal covenant, for it was specifically said to include “all flesh”, every living creature including man and animals.
Fourth, it was on unconditional covenant. Living creatures did not have to do anything for the covenant to remain in effect.
Fifth, a promise never again to destroy the earth by a flood. Destruction would come but not by a flood.
Sixth, the sign given to confirm the covenant, to give assurance, is a most beautiful one, that of a rainbow, a panoply of beautiful colors.
Seventh, this sign was not only for man’s benefit, but for God's benefit, for he would remember His promise whenever the rainbow appeared.
Verse 8. God now spoke to Noah and his sons directly about establishing His Covenant and revealing the extent of the Covenant.
We are now looking at God's gracious condescension, indicating that he is pleased to deal with men by way of a covenant.
Let us remember that a covenant originally meant simply a contract or agreement between two people or two groups which involve promises made by each to the other. Normally, when men deal with each other they can enter compacts or agreements where each party binds themselves to fulfill certain conditions and promise certain advantages. In that situation they often invoke God as a witness. Oaths are generally sworn, gifts can be exchanged as witnesses to the covenant, or as in Genesis 31: 52 a heap of stones would be set up. Some covenants or agreements such as marriage are however called covenants of God.
Breaking a covenant according to Ezekiel 17:12-20 is regarded as a heinous sin. One dictionary points out, there are some shortcomings to using the word covenant without understanding the unique situation when God is involved. It says:
“It is also improperly used of a covenant between God and man. As man is not in the position of an independent covenanting party, such a covenant is not strictly a mutual compact but a promise on the part of God to arrange His Providences for the welfare of those who should render Him obedience.”
When God is involved then one has to examine what God has promised, for generally in the biblical sense a covenant made by God is a permanent arrangement. There is no equality between God and man in the making of the Covenant, for God is the superior. He always takes the initiative.
In Scripture we see several covenants.
We are looking today at the Covenant with Noah.
But there are also
-The covenant with Abraham
-The Covenant with Israel
-The Covenant with David.
-The Covenant with the tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe (Deut 33:9; Jer 33:21; Mal 2:4)
The Covenant with Phineas (Numbers 25:12-13) and so on.
Some covenants made by God are conditional, or more precisely they have conditional elements or features, that is, they state that if certain conditions are not met certain unpleasant things will follow. But these covenants, such as the one with Israel, also contain unconditional features. Some of course like to skip over those unconditional elements.
The covenants that God made were all made with the people of God, the congregation of God and in no way are these people of God left out of His gracious actions.
Many of the Covenants that we hear about a lot were first made with the people of Israel. In this regard we should read again Jeremiah 31:30-34, 35-37; 33:20-26; Psalm 89:30-37. Gentiles were at the appropriate time grafted into these covenants in fulfillment of the promises of God. They should not boast against the people of Israel, says the Apostle Paul. Many of course disregard this apostolic warning to unduly elevate themselves.
Here we emphasize that God confirmed to Noah and his sons, that he wanted them to spend their energies on re-establishing the entire race.
Verse 9-10. God makes it clear that he is now establishing His covenant, following His promise in chapter 8.
He calls attention to this, “And I, Behold..” so that we might wonder at and praise Him for what He is doing.
This is His Covenant.
These are firm matters and cannot be disannulled, for God is faithful. These promises are to Noah, his sons, to their children, and to every living creature.
It is to be noted that in Isaiah 54: 9-10 the prophet would remind Israel that God was faithful in keeping the covenant to Noah. At that time the nation of Israel was in dire straits, and all the facts around them pointed to total a collapse of the nation.
But Isaiah used this to remind them that they had a living and a sure hope. God would keep his promises to them as the people of God, just as he kept their promises to Noah and his descendents. They could depend on the Word of God.
The prophet Hosea in 2:18 also used this Covenant to Noah to assure God's people of their restoration.
In the famous Jeremiah prophecies in chapters 31 through 33 Israel was reminded that God would bring salvation to pass. They should only look back to what God had promised (31:35-37) to understand that God's Messiah would complete the fulfillment of God's Covenant which he had just before spoke about in verses 30-34.
Note that these verses are what we call the New Covenant promised by God. They were addressed to Israel, the people of God.
Of course, there are superior promises, guaranteed by the coming of Messiah.
Verse 11. Note that God was not unjust in bringing the Flood to destroy humanity. It is clear from his comments that God did not believe that he had done anything wrong or was too harsh. Remember that God is righteous in all his ways.
He made the promise to make these men understand that he was doing what was necessary, so that the evil conditions and practices of the world before the flood would never be exactly repeated on that scale. God did several things to help sinful man from achieving the levels of wickedness followed before the flood.
Note that he had also imprisoned the angels that had sinned (Jude 6), and had also shortened the lifespan of man.
Believers must remember that God has warned in Matthew 24:37 that when things become similar to the days of Noah, God will act to destroy the earth by fire, not by a flood.
God has kept his promise. Many local floods have come but there has never been a repeat of a universal flood to destroy all humanity.
Remember that God has changed the way he will judge men. 1 Peter3:1-7 reminds us that this time it will be by fire.
Note the implication of this new method of judgment. When God sends water, it generally takes some time to accumulate and to destroy. People have some time to repent if they want to.
But a judgment by fire is totally different. Fire comes quickly, just as lightning comes quickly and destroys immediately. When the atomic structure disintegrates, the fires produced are terrible and destroy instantaneously. So when God brings this final catastrophe there will be no time.
So it is most urgent that we watch, be alert and not think that we will have time. We must work urgently, showing the truth of what will happen in the future judgment by fire. Sin drowned the old world. Fire will burn this new one.
Verse 12-14. So after the terrible implications of future judgment, God gives a wonderful sign of assurance.
Note that this is the longest section in the Covenant. There is a reason for it. So let us get the message.
God is telling us that the rules have been set. The imaginations of our hearts are evil continually. Nothing we can do will make it better. The only hope we have is to go to the Redeemer that God has provided, for there is no escape apart from Him.
To assist us He has made nature dependable.
The seal of this covenant was the rainbow, an apparently natural phenomena. Our eyes see it in the clouds whenever there is water around. We remember the wrath of God, for rainbows always appear when there is moisture, after the rain and we understand that there will not be again a universal flood.
This is as it were, the sign of God's military might in the clouds and this is the chosen token of the covenant between God and earth.
Verse 15. It is amazing when we see the other mentions of a rainbow in Scripture, it is always set in the context of God's enthroned glory. In Ezekiel 1:28, and Revelation 4:3 and 10:1 we see God's throne surrounded by a green coloured rainbow.
So our glorious God has set a piece of his glory, which is always around him, in the clouds to remind him of his promise to man.
When we see the rainbow then we should remember God's sovereignty as well as his commitment to do His good purpose.
What can we say then? Our Lord and God reigns in Heaven and He reigns on earth.
Man has been made in the image of God and so he is a creature dear to his Creator.
People should be dear to us and we should love even our enemies. The image of God is in man and we should not treat men with contempt, for in doing so we are defacing the image of God and dishonouring God.
God has established the Rules of the Game, and they have been established for our benefit.
God knows our fears. He knows what is in us. Despite that He still loves us. He has helped us, and will continue to help us. Let us learn to understand more and more of this great, good and faithful God, who has provided all the necessary things for our salvation and sanctification.
He has withheld nothing from us. Let us obey Him and never stray.
His Holy Spirit is right beside us and in us. He is watching and His Son is at his right hand in interceding for us.