Description / Transcription
Come, thou long expected Jesus, loosen now thy sacred tongue. Speak and may our ears receive Thee, give us hearts for Thee alone. Set us free from love of sinning, teach us from Thy sacred page. Fit us for our heavenly dwelling, be our joy from age to age. We ask, O Lord, that You would give us ears and that You would speak and that You would tell us just what we need to hear. By Your grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit, may these Your dear people now hear a better sermon than the one that I’m about to preach. Give us grace for all that You have for us this morning. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the book of Genesis, the very first book in the Bible, as we continue our series, chapter by chapter, through this book, and we come to chapter 9. The waters of the flood have washed clean the iniquity on the earth and God has reformed and refashioned a new heavens and a new earth as it were, and now He will establish with Noah as a new kind of Adam, His instruction and His covenant on the earth.
Follow along as I read the first 17 verses of Genesis, chapter 9.
“And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.'”
“‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image. And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.’ Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.'”
You may have noticed before that we really like the word “covenant” around here. We are Christ Covenant Church, of course, that’s obvious. We have a school, Covenant Day School. We have covenant groups, we have women’s classes and Sunday School classes on covenant theology. We refer to our children as covenant children.
And so it may not surprise you that I’ve heard before from visitors and new members who can find it all a little overwhelming, sometimes in a good way, curiosity, what is this covenant? And sometimes maybe slightly annoyed, do I have to hear the word one more time?
So what is the big deal with you and the covenant? Well, we’re going to talk about that this morning.
A covenant, simply put, is a contract. A covenant is an agreement between two parties. You think of the covenants we have in our day, whether we call them that or not; marriage is a type of covenant, if you buy a house you sign all sorts of papers of things that you will provide of the money that the bank is loaning to you and what you will give them upon pain of your very firstborn if you do not give them what you promise. If you want to buy a cellphone or you want to enter into any sort of contract, you’re signing some sort of covenant.
When it comes to the Bible, covenants take different shapes and forms. Sometimes they have only one-way obligations, this is what God is going to do; sometimes they have two-way obligations. Covenants may include conditions or not. They may be administered by one party or by two parties. They often include the promise of blessing and the threat of cursing.
God’s way of relating to His creatures is by way of covenant. That’s why it’s so important and why in Reformed theology and in the Reformed tradition in particular, you hear so much about covenant. The faculty at Reformed Theological Seminary just put out a big, thick book, like 600 pages or something, this thick, of essays and chapters on covenant theology. What a great stocking stuffer it would be if you have a very large stocking.
There are covenants throughout the Bible. The most famous are with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and then the new covenants. We didn’t talk about the covenant with Adam. It’s not labeled as such, but we know from Hosea 6:7, “like Adam,” Hosea says, “like Adam they transgressed the covenant.” So we know that the arrangement that God established with Adam in the garden was a covenant.
It goes by various names. The Westminster Confession calls it a “covenant of works.” Why a covenant of works? Not because it was wholly absent from grace, it was God’s gracious initiative to even establish this covenant, but a covenant of works wherein God promised life to Adam and his descendants upon the condition of perfect and perpetual obedience. That’s why it was called a covenant of works.
The eternal life, the fellowship in splendor in the garden to walk with God for all eternity was conditioned upon their obedience, that Adam could eat from any of the tree but he could not eat from that tree in the midst of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was a covenant of works.
The first use of the term, however, is not in Genesis 1, but in Genesis 6:18, we saw last week: “But I will establish My covenant with you and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” First use of the term in Hebrew “berith,” and it may be that chapter 6:18 is a kind of introduction of the fuller expression of the covenant with Noah in chapter 9, or, as I’m slightly inclined to think, that it’s actually a separate covenant that in chapter 6 He’s saying in a very simple way “I promise that I will not destroy you and these eight persons in your family, but you will be saved in the ark,” and then the fullness of this Noahic covenant as we know it comes to us in chapter 8 at the end and then chapter 9.
There is a lot more going on in this covenant, and you’ll hear me use that word, it may be unfamiliar to you, “Noahic,” that’s just “Noah” with an “ic” at the end of it; it just means “the covenant with Noah.”
There’s more than you might think, and so we’re going to try to move through a number of big ideas and show what’s going on here in this covenant with Noah and why it matters more than you might think.
So here’s our outline. It sounds daunting but we’re going to move through the ending very quickly. So six questions and then we’ll finish briefly with five points of implication and application. So six questions to try to understand what is happening in this Noahic Covenant.
Here’s the first question: What is the setting? Or what is the context? That’s just a way to try to remind us what is going on here when we come to Genesis chapter 9. Remember, we saw last week that the flood was not only a destructive force on the earth, but it was a kind of unraveling of creation.
Look at chapter 7, verse 11: “On that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth and the windows of the heavens were opened.”
This is similar to the language we have in Genesis 1:6&7 where there God says let there be an expanse of the midsts of the waters, let it separate the waters from the waters.
So in the act of creation, God separates these waters and He puts the waters restraining in the deep and He restrains the waters in the heavens, and so what we have in the flood is the unraveling of that created order. The restraining power upon those waters is now loosed, and so it’s very deliberate that Genesis 7:11 doesn’t just say “and it rained cats and dogs,” but it says “the great deep burst forth and the expanse in the heavens began to flood and pour down water.” It is the unraveling of creation.
And then we saw that as the waters abated, it wasn’t simply that there was now dry land; that’s true, but it was depicted as a kind of re-creation.
Look at chapter 8. We see in chapter 8, verse 1, God made a wind. The Hebrew word “ruach,” translated “wind,” same Hebrew word for “spirit.” Remember in Genesis chapter 1:2, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of” what? The waters.
So just as the ruach of God at creation is hovering over the waters, here we have the ruach, the Spirit, the wind of God, over these waters, blowing forth to create dry land.
And look at chapter 8, verse 2. Remember what we saw about the unraveling of the waters? Well, here God is putting them back in place. The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained. So God is putting back into place what He had established in creation in chapter 1.
Go back to chapter 1, we’re flipping back and forth. Look at chapter 1, verse 10, and “God called the dry land earth.” So in the initial act of creation, the waters are gathered into one place and then the dry land appears.
Well, what happens here after the flood? Chapter 8, verse 13: “In the six hundred and first year, in the first months, the first day of the month, the waters were dried off from the face of the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry.”
And just as in the original creation, chapter 1:20-25, you have birds and animals and creeping things begin to swarm the earth, it uses that exact language, look at chapter 8, verse 17: Bringing out with you every living thing that is with you, all flesh, birds and animals and creeping things that creep on the earth that they may swarm on the earth.
And there again it repeats the creation ordinance, which was given to the animals in chapter 1 and now is given again in chapter 8, to be fruitful and multiply.
And think about it. What happened after God completed His creation in chapter 1? He looks out and He says, “Behold, it is very good.” And then on the seventh day, He rested. As if He took a deep breath and said, “That’s good.”
Now we have something similar here. Look at chapter 8, at the end. Verse 20: Noah built an altar to the Lord, took some of very clean animal, some of every clean bird, and offering, burnt offerings on the altar. When the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground.”
So in a similar way, at the end of this re-creation, the Lord takes a deep breath and He says, “That’s good.”
Now it isn’t the same, as we’re going to see throughout this message. It is tainted by sin; it’s not the perfect world where He says, “Behold, it is very good.” But He accepts the offering from Noah, this thank offering, and He breathes it is and He takes a kind of rest as it were after this new creation week.
So we have the unraveling of creation and then we have signs that this is a new creation.
You may recall last week I just mentioned very quickly these parallels between Noah and Adam. There’s 10 of them in Bruce Waltke’s commentary. He says both worlds are formed from watery chaos; both Adam and Noah are associated with the image of God. And it’s not like the phrase “the image of God” shows up very often, only in chapter 1, chapter 5, and here in chapter 9. Both Adam and Noah are said to walk with God, both rule over animals, both are told to be fruitful and multiply, both worked the ground, both follow a similar pattern of sinning; Adam’s sin is in eating, we’ll see next week Noah’s sin is in drinking. The results of both of their sin is an embarrassing nakedness. Both have three named sons, and both sets of sons divide into elect and non-elect, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.
So very clearly we have a new kind of creation and Noah is a new kind of Adam.
And so just as God established a covenant with Adam, so He establishes a covenant with Noah.
Go back to chapter 9. In verses through 17, we have the word “berith,” covenant, now you’re never going to guess now many times; 7 times. Common to have sevens, seven times the word “covenant” is mentioned. Now, it’s not just in verses 8 through 17, but this whole section is about the Noahic Covenant. If you have the ESV, the Elect Standard Version, you notice that before verse 20, oh, it’s English Standard Version, you see God’s covenant with Noah, and I think that’s right. That this covenant, though the word comes in verses 8 through 17, that this whole section from chapter 8, verse 20 on is the establishment of the covenant.
Notice the similar language that you have. Look at verse 21 of chapter 8: “I will never again curse the ground because of man for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth, neither will I ever strike down every living creature as I have done.” So that’s the covenant promise and you see it repeated in chapter 9, verse 11: “I establish My covenant with you that never again shall all flesh be cut off by waters of the flood, never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
So clearly there is a thematic tie throughout this section, God’s singular covenant promise, which we’ll come back to, that he will not destroy the earth again with a flood.
So I’ve been pointing out similarities. But we don’t want to press the continuity too far. What we have is a kind of new creation, a kind of new Adam, and yet it’s not identical. The covenantal goal in Genesis 1 and 2 is eternal life. You can live forever with God, just don’t eat this one tree. But they ate from the tree and therefore they died a spiritual death, and then coming into the world is physical death.
In other words, Adam and Eve did not accomplish what they were given to do. They did not fulfill all that God had given to them in the creation mandate. And so now, as we’ve seen from chapter 3 onward, the world is rife, corrupt, with sin. So corrupt that God had no choice in His own heart but to wipe out the earth save for these eight persons.
And so we have a covenant, but it’s not the same kind of covenant that we had with Adam.
Notice some differences, and we’ll pull these out in a few minutes even more, but there’s no command to subdue, there’s no command to have dominion. Now there’s something like that as we’ll see with this uneasy sort of peace between the animals and between Noah, but it’s not the same. Man is no longer going to be able to have the same sort of subduing dominion over the earth. Rather what we have is the creation mandate refracted. That is, re-drawn up, given to us in a new way that now accounts for a world that is filled with sin. It’s a kind of new normal.
Just like unfortunately we’ve had to get used to the new sort of normal in COVID tide. It’s sort of some things are like what they were and you can go some places and do some things and put on your mask and do it, but it’s not the same.
And so we have here, we’re going to see, that God in this new kind of creation with this new kind of Adam, is giving the same sorts of commands but now it takes into account the presence of sin. In other words, Noah is like a new Adam in a new world. God establishes a covenant with Noah that is both like and unlike the one He established with Adam.
So what we’re going to see is the covenant of Genesis 9 reestablishes the blessings and the commands in most ways of Genesis 1, but it does so in a way that assumes a fallen world instead of a pristine garden paradise. That’s the big picture, that’s the setting. That’s the first question.
Second question: What does God promise in this Noahic Covenant? What does God promise?
Well, in a word, He promises preservation. Preservation. He promises that He will never again destroy the world with a flood. He will not curse the ground in the same way.
Look at chapter 8, verse 21: “I will never again curse the ground.” Now importantly, that’s a different Hebrew word than we have for the curse in Genesis 3. It isn’t that the curse of Genesis 3 is removed; this is a different Hebrew word, and you can see there a footnote, or dishonor, but it’s an important point. The Lord is saying never again will I do on the earth what I have done in the days of Noah with the flood. There will be a predictability, a regularity, look at verse 22, to days and to seasons, to the weather, to seed time, to harvest, to the seasons of summer and winter, to day and night, they shall not cease, lest the people live with a constant dread that at any time the world as they know it could again be wiped out with a flood. The Lord says, “no, no, I promise you to preserve you, and you will have food to eat.”
And in chapter 9: “As I gave you the green plants,” verse 3, “I give you everything.” So now God gives to them animals to eat.
As someone quipped tongue in cheek one time, if God didn’t want us to eat animals, He wouldn’t have made them taste so good.
So He gave them animals to eat now, not just plants, but food from animals. The war of annihilation has ceased. As often would happen in the ancient world, when a king would triumph over a conquered people, he would enter into a covenant with them. He would be the, the fancy language is he would be a Suzer and they would be a vassal. He would be the conqueror, they would be the conquered.
And so it makes sense that God would enter into a covenant with these people. But notice that God is an exceedingly gracious king. He doesn’t subject the world to slavery, but rather He promises that He will not do the same thing again with a flood. It is a promise of preservation.
Third question. So what is the setting, what does God promise, what is the sign of God’s promise: The sign, as most of us know, is a rainbow. We see it in verse 13, verse 14, verse 16. Actually the word “rainbow” never appears here in the ESV, simply the word “bow.”
It’s a natural sign. Whether it had appeared on the earth with rain before or whether it was the first time that there had ever appeared this meteorological phenomenon we know as a rainbow, nevertheless God says from now on this will be a sign to you.
Now notice something about this sign, and this is going to be important as we flesh out some of these other points. It is perhaps the only major sign, now this isn’t a sacrament per se, but it’s sacramental in the sense that it provides a sign, signifies something of God’s grace. Notice in distinction to the other major signs, this one has nothing to do with the shedding of blood. Circumcision in the Old Testament, obviously that had to do with the cutting off of the foreskin and the shedding of blood. Even baptism in the Old Testament has to do with remission of sin and the sprinkling of waters at baptism have an echo of the sprinkling of the blood on the altar in the Old Testament. And then the other New Testament sign, communion, obviously, the shedding of Christ’s blood and it’s parallel in the Old Testament is what? It’s the Passover with the shedding of the passover lamb.
So this sign has nothing to do with the shedding of blood. It is a different sort of sign for a different sort of covenant. It’s a rainbow in the sky. And I know the rainbow has been taken as a very different sign in our day, as a sign for the sexual revolution, and so unfortunately one must be careful in how you display your affinities for rainbows, but it was a Jewish/Christian symbol first and we ought not to give it up. It is a precious sign that God has given to us. Not just to us, but to all humanity, and we’ll see more about that in just a moment.
Now many scholars, you may have heard of this before, and it’s possible, though we can’t be certain, many scholars speculate that perhaps the bow, because it is just the same word that the rest of the Old Testament uses for an archer’s bow, for a bow and arrow, that it is a way for the Lord saying that My hostility with the earth has ceased and I will never again destroy the world with a flood, and so He is, as it were, hanging up His warrior’s bow in the sky, hanging it up on the mantel, to say that “I will no longer be at war with you on the earth.” Whether that’s the case or not, whether that’s an implication we’re meant to draw, it’s certainly explicit here that the bow is to be a sign.
And notice for whom it is a sign. We often think of the rainbow as a sign to us, and it is by implication, but notice explicitly it is not a sign for us, it’s a sign for God. Verse 14: When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember My covenant that is between Me and you and every living creature.
Verse 16: When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember.
Again, the Bible is using language that we can understand. It isn’t that God forgets things, has a mental lapse, but to remember is to be drawn toward the object of His affection, or to recall those promises that He has made. And so by implication, the rainbow says something to us, but first of all, God says it was a sign for Himself, that God would look into the heavens and see that rainbow in the sky and say, “Yes, I remember, I have promised to all living things that never again will I destroy the earth with a flood.”
What is the sign of God’s promise? It is a bow in the sky.
Fourth. How long does the covenant last?
It says at one point that it is everlasting, but the Hebrew word “olam,” everlasting, is not a technical word to mean from eons and to eons, but simply means for the foreseeable future, for a long, long period of time. And here it means until the end of the age as know it.
Look at the language in verse 22: “While the earth remains.” So there’s the length of this Noahic Covenant. “While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”
In other words, the Lord’s promise is not that He’ll never be angry with sin, the promise is not that He won’t judge the earth, but rather as long as the earth as we know it remains, God will never again destroy the people with a flood.
So hold your finger there and turn to 2 Peter. We’ve been going through 2 Peter in the evening, and you’ve seen how much 2 Peter tracks with many of the events in Genesis, and I want you to look at 2 Peter chapter 3. The scoffers, the false teachers, in Peter’s day, were saying that there was no judgment to come, and therefore it didn’t matter how you lived and you could be sexually free and do whatever you wanted because Jesus wasn’t coming back, there was no cataclysm of judgment, and Peter says you couldn’t be more wrong.
Look at chapter 3, verse 5: “For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”
The argument Peter’s making is just as they were living and moving and marrying and partying and doing life as normal in Noah’s day and a flood came, so now in the world that now exists there will come a judgment, but not of water, not of flood, but of fire.
So Peter very clearly says there is a day of judgment. We confess in the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead. So the Lord’s promise in the Noahic Covenant wasn’t that God didn’t care about sin anymore, or that there would not be a cataclysmic world-altering judgment for sin, but rather that as long as the earth endured, there would no longer be a flood to wipe out the earth.
What Peter says is coming at the end of the age is not a cleansing by water, but a cleansing by fire. And apparently if the analogy holds that the final judgment, it’s not going to be a complete obliteration like the Death Star just blown up into millions of little specks and sparks, only to be built again, you’d think they would learn, stop building the Death Star, it gets blown up, but just blown up.
That’s not how the new heavens and the new earth come, but neither is it just things continue as they are. Just as the world had to be purified and wiped out by water, so with the judgment to come it will be purified and wiped out by fire.
You go back to Genesis 9. So this Noahic Covenant is God’s promise that as long as the earth endures, as long as we have life on this planet as we know it, until the final day of judgment comes, God promises this covenant of preservation. The earth will continue as it is, until the end of time, as we know it.
Fifth question. With whom is this covenant made? With whom.
So look at chapter 9. This is key. Remember I mentioned that there’s all sorts of covenants in the Bible, the major ones; Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the new covenant. This is the only covenant that is not made with God’s people alone. Covenant with Adam is made with the elect, with Adam. Abraham is going to be a covenant with Abraham and his descendants through the promised line. Moses is with his people. David is a promise for the line of David. The new covenant is for God’s new covenant people.
This uniquely of the major covenants is made not just with the promised line of God’s people, but is made with all flesh. This point could not be made more emphatically.
Look at how often this is mentioned. Look at verse 10 [sic]: So “I will establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you,” that’s typical covenant language, for you and for your children after you. God makes covenants with families. But now notice this covenant, verse 10, “And with every living creature that is with you, birds, livestock, every beast of the earth.”
We see it again in the second half of verse 10: “As many as came out of the earth [sic], this covenant is for every beast of the earth.”
Second half of verse 11: “I establish my covenant with you… That all flesh shall not be cut off by the waters of the flood.”
Go to verse 12: This sign of the covenant is between Me and you and every living creature, for all future generations.
Go down to verse 15: My covenant between you and every living creature of all flesh. Again, and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.
Finally, at the end in verse 17: “This is the sign of the covenant I’ve established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
So this is the only one of these major covenants that God has established not just with His chosen people, not just with the Church, you might say, but with the world. And in fact, with all creatures. Not even just with people, but a promise that God has made to the animals of the earth.
In other words, this is a covenant of common grace rather than a covenant of special grace. Common grace because it includes the godly and it’s going to include the ungodly. It includes even animals. It is a covenant not of redemption. There’s no promise here of salvation. There’s no promise of forgiveness of sins. There’s no promise of eternal life in this covenant. It’s a covenant of preservation.
Now, just to sketch out our covenant theology a little bit more, there is one covenant of grace stretching from the old to the new whereby sinners are saved by grace through faith. This one covenant of grace is established most particularly, and we’ll see it in the months ahead, in the promise to Abraham. The covenant with Noah, it also comes from God’s grace, don’t think this has nothing to do with grace, the fact that Noah and his family exist and are alive is because of grace, the fact that God is not going to punish the wicked people on the earth with a flood again is an aspect of His grace, but is a different kind of covenant than this one covenant of salvific grace.
So let me give you a quotation from Herman Bavinck, one of the most well-known of Reformed theologians. He says this covenant with Noah, though it is rooted in God’s grace, and is intimately bound up with the actual covenant of grace, because it sustains and prepares for it, is not identical with it. It is rather a covenant of long-suffering, made by God with all humans and even with all creatures. It limits the curse of the earth. It checks nature and curbs it’s destructive power. The awesome violence of water is reined in. A regular alteration of seasons is introduced.
In other words, it is a common grace promise encompassing all living things. As much as we are inclined to scan the world in which we live and think how could things be worse, well, they could be much worse. Actually, throughout most of human history in most places, they have been much worse.
But we are enjoying, in fact, all people are enjoying it, whether they realize it or not, these common grace blessings of the Noahic Covenant. A basic fearfulness of animals toward human beings, the preservation and propagation of the human species, most pointedly that God has hung His bow in the sky and has stayed His hand of final judgment.
It is a covenant made with all living things.
Sixth question. Okay? Sixth question, and then we’re going to wrap up with, okay, what does this mean?
What does God require in this covenant?
Now notice there are no covenant conditions per se. A condition means if this, then that. Do this and you live, don’t do this and you die. There was a condition in the garden: You can eat from any of the trees, do not eat; if you eat from this tree, on the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die. There’s no condition like that because there’s no promise contingent upon it.
God promises sovereignly, unilaterally, to preserve the earth.
But there are obligations, nonetheless. Notice three things, and here we are in verses 1 through 7. You could list the three things as “fruitfulness, food, and fellow man.” It’s a bit of a stretch to get the “F’s” to work there, but…
Fruitfulness. So here’s the first obligation under the Noahic Covenant. It’s repeated in verse 1 and again in verse 7: Be fruitful and multiply.
In some of the ancient near Eastern myths, because they had flood stories, too, which doesn’t mean that the biblical flood story is untrue. Actually, it’s some confirmation that, you know what? There was a global flood which is why people had stories about the flood.
But in these ancient near Eastern myths, it was sometimes the case that the gods found humans too noisy, too annoying, they had populated too greatly and so that’s why they needed to sort of thin the herd. There’s too many people on the planet, that’s the problem. We have too many human beings who are spoiling the planet. That’s never the way in which God looks at human beings.
Rather, He says even though you multiplied iniquity, we’re starting over again with Noah and his family, and again the blessing of children and the obligation of reproduction is once again put upon the human race. The command is repeated almost verbatim from Genesis chapter 1. So there’s fruitfulness. So it’s repeating again that creation mandate, be fruitful, multiply, we’re down to eight people and we have some pairs of animals and we’ve got some seven pairs of clean animals, and you need to reproduce.
Second of these requirements, we can put under the category of food. He says, “I give you animals to eat.” Now this language again echoes Genesis chapter 1. In Genesis 1, He said “I give to you these fruit and the trees and the plants,” and now He says “I give to you these but I also give to you animal life.” But there’s a limitation. You cannot eat flesh with its lifeblood in it. You see verse 4: “You shall not eat flesh with its life,” that is, its blood.
Now this is not a commandment about how you can cook your steaks. Yes, I’m a terrible person, I like my steaks medium-well to well-done. And you want to know how much of an awful person I am? I like to eat my steaks with ketchup. So there. Okay? It’s terrible, I know. It’s terrible.
That’s not what it means here, that you can only eat your food well-done. Rather, the lifeblood refers to the distinction between the way humans ought to eat their food and animals ought to eat their food. That’s the issue.
Humans don’t eat their food as animals. You don’t tear into it like wild animals, like wild beasts. You got that, teenagers? Okay, you don’t tear into it, that you just hunt it down, you kill it, and there on the spot you start ripping it. That’s what it means to have its blood in it. You cook it. It’s not a commandment about how you have to cook your food, but about the distinction between animal life and human life and how humans are different than animals. We are not beasts.
So you can eat the food, but you are not to be as beasts in the way that you do it. So here again you see there is similarity and dissimilarity with the creation mandate in Genesis 1. There God gives to them food, here He gives to them even additional food.
Also remember the commandment in Genesis 2, the prohibition was about food. You can’t eat from that tree. Here again, there’s a prohibition about food. Not with a tree now, but the sort of way in which you can eat the animals.
So God has put this common grace blessing, verse 2, the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, every bird of the heavens. It doesn’t mean you can’t be hurt by animals, it doesn’t mean that there are mosquitoes or bees don’t sting or you won’t have a dog chase you, but it is generally the case, you know, when I go out and I see deer in my yard on most mornings, you have to really tiptoe. They see one little thing, crack of a twig, and they go. There’s a fear, there’s an uneasy existence.
So you see it’s different than have dominion, subdue, where Adam can in Genesis 2 have all the animals parade before him and he gives them their name. It’s not that sort of control. It’s now a world of sin. But God in His preservation has given this uneasy peace between humans and animals and He has given animals now for food.
So fruitfulness, food, and then third requirement, fellow man.
Verse 5: From fellow man, I will require a reckoning for the life of man.
Again, with have the repetition of the phrase “the image of God” in verse 6. We have here the establishment of the principle, which is sometimes given with the Latin phrase “lex talionis,” “eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” which sounds to us very barbaric. Didn’t Gandhi say that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind? But that principle in the Old Testament was actually a principle of restraint, because it meant that your justice had to be proportionate to the crime.
Think about what we saw back in chapter 4 with Lamech. Chapter 4:24: If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is 77-fold. That’s the way of unbridled sin in the world. You hurt me, I kill you. You injure an eye, I slaughter your tribe. You do one thing to me, I avenge your pain 77-fold. That’s the way of Cain and the way of Lamech.
Here, the Lord institutes proportionate justice. So, whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed. Christians can disagree about how the death penalty ought to be administered or whether it can be safely administered or whether it can be justly administered, but clearly the Bible gives us the category for capital punishment. And it’s not as an affront to the image of God, but rather because of the image of God.
And notice in verse 5 that the emphasis is not so much upon man’s rights as an image-bearer, though that’s true, but upon man’s responsibility. Three times we have the word “require” or demand: “And for your lifeblood, I will require a reckoning, and every beast I will require it and from man and from his fellow man, I will require a reckoning for the life of man.”
Again, we hear echoes of Genesis 1 with the language of the image of God, but now in Genesis 9 we have to take in account sin. Genesis 1 doesn’t say anything about being made in the image of God and therefore you may have to take the life of a murderer because they’re in the pristine garden paradise.
So, yes, we are still made in the image of God, we’ve been corrupted but we’ve not lost that. Isn’t it interesting that outside of the garden, the only two times in Genesis where we have the language of the image of God is immediately following sin? So the sin of Cain and Abel in chapter 4, Genesis 5 then mentions being made in the likeness and image of God, and then after the sin of the flood in Genesis 9, again we have the mention of the image of God? Because it’s God’s way of reminding you, “I know you really messed up and you’re sinners, but you still bear My image, and with that image comes certain requirements and obligations.
Image-bearers will now kill other image-bearers, which necessitates God’s justice being meted out. And how should God’s justice be meted out? Well, look at verse 6: By man shall his blood be shed. In other words, God is going to execute His justice on the earth upon image-bearers by His image-bearers.
So there are three requirements in this Noahic Covenant: Be fruitful and multiply, I give you food to eat but there are certain limitations, and then these principles of retributive justice.
Okay. I told you we’re going to be quick at the end here. Very interesting lecture, Kevin, what do I do with any of this?
Let me give you just five quick thoughts.
Number one: We see here in the Noahic Covenant there is a realm under God’s provision and preservation which nevertheless is not identical with His saving purposes for the elect.
So there’s a realm, and it’s still under God’s control, but it’s not identical with His saving purposes for the elect.
Theologians make the distinction between Christ’s essential reign and his mediatorial reign. His essential reign is there’s not one square inch of all creation that does not cry out this is mine. So God’s Lord over all of it, that’s true. But He reigns over all of it in different ways. An essential reign as King, and then a mediatorial reign as its high priest and as its savior over God’s people.
So this begins to establish. There is a realm under God’s provision and preservation, which is still under God’s control, still preserved by God, but it is distinct from the saving world that we will see in Abraham.
Second application, or implication: The world of common grace is not independent of God.
So if point one is that there is this world we might call “common grace,” point two is to remind us that common grace doesn’t mean, well, God doesn’t have anything to do with it. It is really God’s grace. There is a natural law that comes from God’s covenantal action. It isn’t that this world envisioned under the Noahic Covenant is just ruled and guided by unaided human reason or by human moral autonomy that now God said, “Well, I’m just going to stick with my people and what I’m going to do with Israel coming up, but you guys just figure out how you want to live.”
No, there isn’t human moral autonomy. Under this realm of common grace, it is not independent of God, but God still establishes rules for all people.
Third. This is important. God’s commands and provisions in the Noahic Covenant presume a world of sin.
What have we seen? The chief difference from Genesis 1, that Adam and that world, with Genesis 9, this new kind of world and this new kind of Adam, the chief difference should be obvious. Genesis 9 envisions a world of conflict. It envisions animals sometimes killing human beings. It envisions humans killing animals. It envisions, sadly, humans killing humans. And those humans needing to be put to death by the instrument of the law. It envisions the need for justice because there will now be injustice. And it envisions that God will need a sign in the heavens simply to stay His hand of judgment.
So this tells us the sort of world we inhabit and begins to lay down the sort of planks for the sort of state or government that is going to best operate in this kind of world.
Here’s what I mean. The worst schemes in history have always come from those who think that you can make heaven on earth. Some of the worst perpetrators of evil, think of totalitarian regimes, from communism or socialism over the past 100+ years, are those who have thought that human nature is basically good, that human nature is malleable, and that a proper government does not need to take into account the fallenness of the world that we inhabit.
The beginning of any sort of cultural advancement or proper government must be with an awareness that we live in a broken world. We live in a world full of conflict and sin. We do not live in a utopia and we will not bring heaven on earth.
Fourth implication, following from the third. We see in this Noahic Covenant the basic building blocks of cultural achievement and the basic building blocks that will later be fleshed out throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, the proper role of government.
We see here what is necessary for the flourishing of a civilization, the support and nurture of the family. If you are to be fruitful and multiply and to propagate on the earth, there must be some basic structure that supports and allows for that human flourishing and that propagation. We see here in Genesis 9:5&6 that there must be the reliable execution of justice on the earth.
If we had time, we could tie in what we seen in miniature in Genesis 9 with what we see again in Romans 13, that the governing authorities serve two main purposes: To punish the wicked and to reward those who do good. The two main purposes that Paul sees in Romans 13 are to be a deterrent to enact justice, to see that wrong-doers are punished, that justice is executed fairly, that the law is blind, and to see that there are the basic patterns set in place so that righteous behavior is rewarded and encouraged. That’s what we see in Romans 13.
And we see the very beginnings of it, the sketchings of it, here in the Noahic Covenant, which is not just God’s dealing with His chosen people in Israel or the Church, but with all people in all places at all times.
And then a final application. We ought to, in light of Genesis 9, thank God for His common grace while at the same time recognizing our need for special grace.
Yes, there are many reasons to be discouraged. It’s not hard to look out and see bad news. The news, you have to realize, specializes in giving you bad news. It doesn’t make the news. Breaking news: Things still pretty good. No, you don’t tune in for that. It specializes in telling you things are worse, things are terrible.
So as easy as it is to see those things, we ought to thank God for His common grace, His common grace in restraining His own hand of just judgment, His common grace in giving us blessings and bounty and prosperity, in many freedoms that we have enjoyed in this country, thank God for His common grace, His preserving covenant with Noah, which is still in effect, and at the same time we realize in our broken, fallen, sinful world, that the Noahic Covenant is not enough. As much as it is a blessing of preservation, you notice there is no promise, there is no way to get back to the garden here. This is simply God saying, “You’re going to have seasons, you’re going to have day, you’re going to have night, you’re going to have crops, you’re going to have food and animals, and I will not flood the earth again.”
Okay, that’s something. But we’re going to see very quickly that just like the first Adam, Noah, a second Adam, is going to sin colossally. And by the time we get to chapter 11, God’s people will again, well, not God’s people, but the people, will again need to be dismissed and dispersed because of the sin at Babel. And God will have another plan because this Noahic Covenant of preservation, as good as it is and reason for thanksgiving, is not God’s plan to save a sinful people. This is not the way back to the garden.
And let us not be content merely with preservation. Perhaps that’s a danger in a place with as much prosperity as we have in this country, to simply make it from here to the grave, and have some good times and some vacations and some food and some laughs and get to the end.
But there is a judgment coming. Not a flood, but a fire. And we will stand before this God and we will need more than this covenant of preservation, we will need a covenant of special grace, the sort of grace that only comes to us by faith, by faith that we are children of Abraham and by faith that there is a much better Adam to come, who again will be given a command, but this time will be faithful in all God’s house.
Let’s pray. Our heavenly Father, we give thanks for Your Word, there is much here for us to learn, to think about. We pray that You would give us a heart of gratitude for great is Your faithfulness, Your mercies are new every morning. We thank You for the mercy of life, for the mercy of harvest, for the mercy of family and friends and turkey and Advent, and we thank You for the mercy most of all that is ours in Christ, for sins forgiven, for grace promised, for grace coming, for grace again this day. We pray it all in Jesus’ name. Amen.