Gleanings In Genesis

14. God's Covenant With Noah

Genesis 8

The covenants referred to therein constitute one of the principal keys to the interpretation of the Old Testament, denoting, as they do, the dividing lines between the different Dispensations, and indicating the several changes of procedure in God's dealings with the earth. At various times God condescended to enter into a compact with man, and failure to observe the terms and scope of these compacts necessarily leads to the utmost confusion. The Word of truth can only be rightly divided as due attention is paid to the different covenants recorded therein. The covenants varied in their requirements, in their scope, in their promises and in the seals or signs connected with them. The inspired history growing out of the covenants furnishes a signal demonstration of God's faithfulness and of man's faithlessness and failure.

There are exactly seven covenants made by God referred to in Scripture, neither more nor less. First, the Adamic which concerned man's continued enjoyment of Eden on the condition that he refrained from eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. But Adam failed to keep his part of the agreement, see Hosea 6:7 margin. Second, the Noahic which concerned the earth and its seasons, see Genesis 9. Third, the Abrahamic which concerned Israel's occupancy of Palestine, see Genesis 15:18, etc. Fourth, the Mosaic which concerned Israel's continued enjoyment of God's favors, conditioned by their obedience to His law, see Exodus 24:7, 8; Exodus 34:27. Fifth, the Levitic which concerned the priesthood, promising that it should remain in this tribe, see Numbers 25:12, 13; Malachi 2:4, 5; Ezekiel 44:15, which proves God's faithfulness in respect to this covenant in the Millennium. Sixth, the Davidic which concerns the Kingdom and particularly the throne, see 2 Samuel 23:5; 2 Chronicles 13:5. Seventh, the Messianic or New Covenant which concerns the Millennium, see Isaiah 42:6; Jeremiah 31:31-34. Much might be written concerning these different covenants, but we limit ourselves to the second, the Noahic. We wish to say, however, that a careful study of the above references will richly repay every diligent and prayerful reader.

1. Coming now to the second of these great covenants let us notice the occasion of it. It was as it were the beginning of a new world. There was to he a fresh start. With the exception of those who found shelter in the ark, the flood had completely destroyed both the human family and the lower orders of creation. On to the destruction-swept earth came Noah and his family. Noah's first act was to build, not a house for himself, but an altar "unto the Lord," on which he presented burnt offerings. These were, unto the Lord, a "sweet savor," and after declaring that He would not curse the ground any more for man's sake, and after promising that while the earth remained its seasons should not cease, we are told "God blessed Noah and his sons" (Gen. 9:1). This is the first time that we read of God blessing any since He had blessed unfallen man in Eden (Gen. 1:28). The basis of this "blessing" was the burnt offerings; the design of it to show that the same Divine favor that was extended to Adam and Eve should now rest upon the new progenitors of the human race.

Here then we have the second "beginning" of Genesis, a beginning which, in several respects, resembled the first, particularly in the command to be fruitful and multiply, and in the subjection of the irrational creature to man's dominion. But there is one difference here which it is important to notice: all now rests upon a covenant of grace based upon shed blood. Man had forfeited the "blessing" of God and his position as lord of creation, but grace restores and reinstates him. God makes a covenant with Noah which in its scope included the beasts of the field (Gen. 9:2) who are made to be at peace with him and subject to his authority; and which in its duration would last while the earth remained. Let us now note:

2. The source of this covenant. At least two of the seven covenants referred to above (the first and the fourth) were mutual agreements between God and man, but in the one now before us, God Himself was the initiator and sole compacter. The whole passage emphasizes the fact that it was a covenant of God with Noah, and not of Noah with God. God was the giver, man the receiver. Note "I will establish My covenant with you" (v. 11); "This is the token of the covenant which I make" (v. 12); "And I will remember My covenant" (v. 15). That this was God's covenant with Noah, and that man had no part in the making or keeping of it is further seen from the following language: "I do set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between Me and the earth" (v. 13), and, "I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh" (v. 15).

It is further to be noted that God said to Noah "with thee will I establish My covenant" (Gen. 6:18). The benefits of it have been enjoyed by Noah's posterity, yet the covenant was not made with them. Favor has been shown to his descendants for Noah's sake. Similarly, God made a covenant with Abraham in which He promised to bless his offspring. Thus, at this early period in human history God was revealing the great principle by which redemption should afterwards be effected by His Son, namely, that of representation, the one acting for the many, the many receiving blessing through the one.

3. The basis of this covenant is seen in the closing verses of Genesis 8. The chapter division here is most unfortunate. Genesis 8 ought to terminate with the nineteenth verse, the remaining three forming the proper commencement of the ninth chapter. "And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar" (Gen. 8:20)- the next two verses, and the whole of chapter nine down to the seventeenth verse, contain Jehovah's response to Noah's offering. It is in these verses we learn God's answer to the "sweet savor" that ascended from the altar. This covenant, then, was based upon sacrifice, and being made by God with Noah, and not by Noah with God, is therefore unconditionable and inviolable. How blessed to learn from this type that every temporal blessing which the earth enjoys as well as every spiritual blessing which is the portion of the saints, accrues to us from the Sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ of whom Noah's burnt offerings spoke.

4. The contents of this covenant call for careful consideration. A part of these has already engaged our attention. "While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease" (Gen. 8:20); "And I will establish My covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth" (Gen. 9:11). These promises were given more than four thousand years ago, and the unfailing annual fulfillment of them all through the centuries forms a striking demonstration of the faithfulness of God. The terms of this covenant refer us to that which is almost universally lost sight of in these days, namely, the fact that behind Nature's "laws" is Nature's Lord. Men now seek to shut God out of His own creation. We hear so much of the science of farming and the laws of diet that our daily bread and the health of the body are regarded as something that man produces and controls. Our daily bread is a gift, for without the recurring seasons and God's "renewal of the face of the earth" (<19A430>Psalm 104:30) man could produce no grain at all, and the recurring of the seasons and the renewal of the earth are the fulfillment of the covenant that God made with Noah. A casual observation of Nature's "laws" reveals the fact that they are not uniform in their operation, hence if a Divine Revelation be eliminated man possesses no guarantee that the seasons may not radically change or that the earth shall not be destroyed again by a flood. Nature's "laws" did not prevent the Deluge in Noah's day, why should they prevent a recurrence of it in ours? How blessed for the child of God to turn to the inerrant Word and hear his Father say, "And I will establish My covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth!"

5. The design of the covenant is hinted at in the scripture just quoted. The timeliness and blessedness of such a revelation are apparent. Such an awful catastrophe as the Flood would shake violently the confidence of men in the established order of Nature, and distressing apprehensions were likely to obsess their minds for generations to come. They would be filled with terror as they feared a repetition of it. It was therefore a merciful act on the part of God to set their minds at rest and assure His creatures that He would no more destroy the earth with a flood. It was a wondrous display of His grace, for man had fully shown that he was utterly unworthy of the least of heaven's mercies, yet, despite the fact that "the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth," the Lord said in His heart, "Neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done" (Gen. 8:21). It was also an affirmation of His Creatorship- the varying seasons, the planets that rule them, the influences of climatic conditions, were all beneath the control of Him who upholds "all things by the word of His power" (Heb. 1:3).

6. The requirements of the covenant are of deep interest. Though the word itself does not occur till the eleventh verse of the ninth chapter, a careful study of the context makes it clear that the covenant itself is expressed in Genesis 8:22, and that from there on the "covenant" is the one theme of the entire passage. Three things are included among the Divine requirements: first, blood must not be eaten; second, the principle of retributive judgment is clearly enunciated for the first time, capital punishment as the penalty of murder being now commanded; the human race was to multiply and people the earth which had been depopulated by the flood. Let us take a brief look at each of these things.

"But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat" (Gen. 9:4). This is the second passage in Scripture in which the word blood occurs. Here, as everywhere in the Word, the earliest references forecast in outline all that is subsequently said upon the subject. The first seven passages in which the word blood is found contain a complete summary of the teaching of God's Word upon this fundamental theme. (1) Genesis 4:10, 11, gives us the first mention of blood, and here we learn that the blood cries unto God. (2) Genesis 9:4-6, here we learn that the blood is the life, and that blood must be held sacred. (3) Genesis 37:22, 26, 31, Joseph's coat is dipped in blood and is brought to Jacob: here we learn, in type, that the blood of the Son is presented to the Father. (4) Genesis 42:22, here we learn that blood is required at the hand of those who shed it. (5) Genesis 49:11, here, in poetic and prophetic language, Judah's clothes are said to be washed in the blood of grapes." (6) Exodus 4:9, the waters of the Nile are turned into blood, teaching us that blood is the symbol and expression of God's judgment upon sin. (7) Exodus 12:13, the blood provides a covering and shelter for Israel from the avenging angel. We say again, that in these passages which are the first seven in the Scriptures in which blood is referred to, we discover a marvelously complete summary of all that is subsequently said about the precious blood. It is deeply significant, then, that in the first requirement in this covenant, which God made with Noah, man should be taught to regard the blood as sacred.

We turn now to the second of God's requirements mentioned here in connection with His covenant with Noah- "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man" (Gen. 9:6). Here we have instituted the principle of all human government. The sword of magisterial authority is, for the first time, committed into the hands of man. Before the flood, there does not seem to have been any recognized form of human government designed for the suppression of crime and the punishment of evil doers. Cain murdered his brother, but his own life was spared. Lamech also slew a man, but there is no hint that he had to defend himself before any tribunal that had been ordained by God. But now, after the flood, capital punishment as the penalty of murder is ordained, ordained by God Himself, ordained centuries before the giving of the Mosaic law, and therefore, universally binding until the end of time. It is important to observe that the reason for this law is not here based upon the well-being of man, but is grounded upon the basic fact that man is made "in the image of God." This expression has at least a twofold significance- a natural and a moral. The moral image of God in man was lost at the Fall, but the natural has been preserved as is clear from 1 Corinthians 11:7, and James 3:9. It is primarily because man is made in the image of God that it is sinful to slay him. "To deface the King's image is a sort of treason among men, implying a hatred against him, and that if he himself were within reach, he would be served in the same manner. How much more treasonable, then, must it be to destroy, curse, oppress, or in any way abuse the image of the King of kings!" (Andrew Fuller's Exposition of Genesis). As we have said above, God's words to Noah give us the institution of human government in the earth. The sword of magisterial authority has been given into the hands of man by God Himself, hence it is we read, "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God" (Rom. 13:1, 2).

We turn now to the third of God's requirements- "And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein" (Gen. 9:7). This was the renewal of God's word to Adam (Gen. 1:28). The human family was starting out afresh. There was a new beginning. Noah stood, like Adam stood, as the head of the human race. The need for this word was obvious. The earth had been depopulated. The human family had been reduced to eight souls[1] (1 Pet. 3:20). If then the purpose of man's creation was to be realized, if the earth was to be replenished and subdued, then must man be "fruitful and multiply." "And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered" (Gen. 9:2) is further proof that Noah stood as the new head of the race, the lower orders of creation being delivered into his hands as they had been into the hands of Adam.

7. "And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between Me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud;. . . . and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth" (Gen. 9:12-16). These verses bring before us the token of the covenant. In the giving of the rainbow God ratified the promise which He had made. The bow in the cloud was not only to assure man that no more would the earth be destroyed by a flood, but it was also the memorial of the new relationship which God had entered into with His creatures. "His eye," and not man's only, is upon the bow, and thus He gives them fellowship with Himself in that which speaks of peace in the midst of trouble, of light in the place of darkness; and what this bow speaks of it is ours to realize, who have the reality of which all figures speak.

"‘God is light,' and that which doth make manifest is light." Science has told us that the colors which everywhere clothe the face of nature are but the manifold beauty of the light itself. The pure ray which to us is colorless is but the harmonious blending of all possible colors. The primary one- a trinity in unity- from which all others are produced, are blue, red, and yellow; and the actual color of any object is the result of its capacity to absorb the rest. If it absorb the red and yellow rays, the thing is blue; if the blue and yellow, it is red; if the red only, it is green; and so on. Thus the light paints all nature; and its beauty (which in the individual ray, we have not eyes for) comes out in partial displays wherein it is broken up for us and made perceptible.

"‘God is light'; He is Father of lights." The glory, which in its unbroken unity is beyond what we have sight for, He reveals to us as distinct attributes in partial displays which we are more able to take in, and with these He clothes in some way all the works of His hands. The jewels on the High Priest's breastplate the many-colored gems whereon the names of His people were engraved were thus the "Urim and Thummim" the "Lights and Perfections," typically, of God Himself; for His people are identified with the display of those perfections, those "lights," in Him more unchangeable than the typical gems.

"In the rainbow the whole array of these lights manifests itself, the solar rays reflecting themselves in the storm; the interpretation of which is simple. "When I bring a cloud over the earth," says the Lord, "the bow shall be seen in the cloud; and I (not merely you) will look upon it." How blessed to know that the cloud that comes over our sky is of His bringing! and if so, how sure that some way He will reveal His glory in it! But that is not all, nor the half; for surely but once has been the full display of the whole prism of glow, and that in the blackest storm of judgment that ever was; and it is this in the cross of His Son that God above all looks upon and that He remembers." (F. W. Grant).

In the rainbow we have more than a hint of grace. As some one has said, "The bow is directed towards heaven, and arrow to it there is none, as if it had already been discharged." There are many parallels between the rainbow and God's grace. As the rainbow is the joint product of storm and sunshine, so grace is the unmerited favor of God appearing on the dark background of the creature's sin. As the rainbow is the effect of the sun shining on the drops of rain in a rain cloud, so Divine grace is manifested by God's love shining through the blood shed by our blessed Redeemer. As the rainbow is the telling out of the varied hues of the white light, so the "manifold grace of God" 1 Peter 4:10) is the ultimate expression of God's heart. As Nature knows nothing more exquisitely beautiful than the rainbow, so heaven itself knows nothing that equals in loveliness the wonderful grace of our God. As the rainbow is the union of heaven and earth- spanning the sky and reaching down to the ground- so grace in the one Mediator has brought together God and men. As the rainbow is a public sign of God hung out in the heavens that all may see it, so "the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men" (Titus 2:11). Finally, as the rainbow has been displayed throughout all the past forty centuries, so in the ages to come God will shew forth "the exceeding riches of His grace, in His kindness toward us, through Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7).


[1] It is something more than a coincidence that the word “covenant” is found in this connection just eight times, see Genesis 6:18; Genesis 9:9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17 - eight being the numeral that signifies a new beginning, as the eighth day is the first of a new week.

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