************ Sermon on Genesis 9:1-17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 14, 2011
"The Covenant with Noah"
"I will establish my covenant with you ..." (Gen 6:18). Notice the future tense. God said that before Noah entered the ark. "I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you ..." (Gen 9:9). Notice the present tense. This is what God says after Noah left the ark. "This is the sign of the covenant I have established ..." (Gen 9:17). Notice the past tense. This is what God says at the conclusion of our Bible reading. Whether it is the past, the present, or the future the point is God makes a covenant with Noah.
We can organize what our Scripture reading says about the covenant into three points: first, the covenant commands; second, the covenant promise; third, the covenant sign.
You may wonder what God's covenant with Noah has to do with you. God's covenant with Noah has never been revoked or annulled. In other words, this covenant still applies today.
I The Covenant Commands (vs 1-7)
A Let's start by looking at the covenant commands. We quickly notice there are two positive commands and two negative commands.
Our Scripture reading begins with the first command: "Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth" (Gen 9:1)." Notice, this is the same as what God said to Adam (Gen 1:28).
At the time of Adam and at the time of Noah man is told to fill the earth. I doubt if anyone at the U.N. ever keeps this in mind. Many environmentalists and many population-control experts take the view that the less people, the better. God's view, expressed in this first command, appears to be the opposite: the more people, the better. God wants the earth He made to be filled with His image-bearers.
B The second covenant command is implied rather than stated. Notice what God says to Noah about the beasts and birds and creatures and fish? He says, "they are given into your hands" (Gen 9:2). In other words, Noah – like Adam – was given dominion over them and was called to rule them (Gen 1:26,28).
However, because of sin there are some crucial differences between Adam and Noah. For instance, Adam exercised a benevolent rule over the fish and birds and animals – think of the animals being brought to Adam in the Garden in order to be named by him (Gen 2:19). By Noah's time the benevolent rule had been changed so that the animals and birds and fish experienced "fear and dread" at the presence of man (Gen 9:1). Also, Adam was given nuts and fruits as food. By Noah's time man's diet also included meat. Here we see that man's authority over the animals has terrifying consequences for the animal world.
I want you to notice that whether you are Adam or Noah, you have been given a command to subdue the earth and everything in it. Or, to put it another way, Adam and Noah have both been given a command to manage the Lord's earth for His glory and our benefit. That command remains in force today. Mankind – fallen mankind – is still called to exercise dominion over creation so that it serves God's glory.
Though we look to Jesus alone for our salvation, the Bible teaches that we who have faith will be rewarded based on how we manage God's earth (Mt 25:14-30). We will not be rewarded, however, for reckless stewardship. Christians who cause large scale ecological damage, spend wastefully, do not work productively, and abuse God's creatures can not expect a reward for this kind of behavior.
Having said this, let us admit that our stewardship of the earth is as imperfect as we are imperfect. Let us admit that all that we do and all that we touch is stained with sin. Let us admit that only One has exercised and is exercising perfect stewardship. The book of Hebrews quotes Psalm 8 and says,
(Heb 2:6-8) But there is a place where someone has testified: "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? (7) You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor (8) and put everything under his feet."The author of Hebrews sees Jesus as the fulfilment and fulfiller of these words. He is the One crowned with glory and honor. And, everything is under His feet. He is the perfect Steward of God's creation.
C Listen, now, in verses 3 &4, to God's third covenant command:
(Gen 9:3-4) Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. (4) But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.The pattern is the same as the one we saw in the Garden. It starts with God's generous provision: God said to Adam, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden" (Gen 2:16); God said to Noah, "everything that lives and moves will be food for you" (Gen 9:3). It is followed by a single prohibition: God said to Adam, "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Gen 2:17); God said to Noah, "But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it" (Gen 9:4).
This last verse is the first of many in the Bible that absolutely prohibits the consumption of blood (Lev 3:17; 7:26-27; 17:10-14; Deut 12:15-16, 20-24; Acts 15:29). God forbids the eating of blood because blood is equated with life. To eat blood, then, is to end life.
D This is followed by the fourth covenant command: a prohibition against taking another person's life. Noah is told not to murder another person; in fact, the prohibition even extends to the animals – they, also, are not to kill people.
Because life – especially human life – is valuable to God. Human life is sacred to God. Human life is a gift of and from God. So, only He can decide when human life is to end.
After the devastation and destruction of the flood one could conclude that life is cheap and of little value to God. After all, God has just killed every living, breathing being – people, animals, creatures, and birds – except what was with Noah on the ark. But God tells Noah that human life is precious because it is made in the image of God.
God announced three times that He will demand an "accounting" for the taking of human life – from both man and beast. That word "accounting" is very interesting. It means to inquire, investigate, study, follow, read repeatedly, and search carefully. Think of a CSI team carefully going over a crime scene. In God's eyes the shedding of human blood and the taking of human life requires due diligence.
Why this triple warning? Because God knows what is in the hearts of men. Because God knows man is prone to violence and guns and knives. Because God knows that all men are murderers. Because God knows our sinful hearts are filled with hate.
We see man's hatred and violence for his fellow man again and again in Scripture. Think of Pharaoh drowning the Hebrew boys in the River Nile. Think of Haman's plot to kill all the Jews in the kingdom of Persia. Think of King Herod killing the baby boys of Bethlehem. Think of David – a man after God's own heart. Yet, what did he do? He killed one of his own soldiers – a loyal man – to cover up the sin of adultery. What did the Pharisees at the time of Jesus do? They hated Jesus and quickly sought His destruction. In the book of Acts we see that same hatred was transferred to the apostles and the church. Man has a tendency to murder.
Human life is important. Human blood must not be shed and human life must not be taken. Yet, God knows it will happen anyway. So, note the consequence once God's investigation is done: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed" (Gen 9:6).
Do you hear what God is actually saying here? In Genesis 9:5-6 God orders the death penalty for those who murder other human beings. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Count outlawed capital punishment for minors. The subsequent praise and criticism of the decision tells us how contentious this issue remains on a world-wide basis. Today, the civil magistrate, Christian or not, retains the obligation to enforce God's will. However, there are biblical safeguards to prevent the abuse of this punishment. And, today, we should also make use of the latest in DNA tests to prove the innocence or guilt of those charged with capital crimes.
What a message to those who kill life in the womb through abortion. And, what a message to those who end old age or suffering through euthanasia. And, what a message to those who are murderers. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed" (Gen 9:6). God wants to send a warning that sinful, violent man must not shed the blood and end the life of one of His image bearers.
"Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed" (Gen 9:6). Do you know what this implies? This implies the rule of law. This implies civil government. This implies some sort of legal authority. After all, man is not to take the law into his own hands. Rather, it is to be enforced by the authorities God has established.
II The Covenant Promise (vs 8-11)
A In verses 8-11 God declares the covenant promise: God says He will never again destroy the earth with a flood (Gen 9:15). When God gave Noah this promise, do you think Noah breathed a huge sigh of relief? Noah knew he was still a sinner. Noah knew every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time (Gen 6:5). Noah knew God had every right to destroy the world again. But God announced He wouldn't. As we see at the end of Genesis 8, this covenant promise means that "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease" (Gen 8:22).
Notice exactly what God does promise. God promises that "Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life" (Gen 9:15). But remember what we just heard from Genesis 8? Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life "as long as the earth endures." But we all know, or should know, that the earth will not endure forever. In fact, there will come a day when God will destroy the earth at the end of time with fire (2 Pet 3:5-7).
B I want you to notice that the covenant promise is not just for Noah and his family. Rather, it is cosmic and universal. Verses 10 and 12 tell us three times it is with "every living creature." Verses 15 and 16 both mention "all living creatures." And, verses 11, 15, and 17 specify "all life." Here we see another instance of God's common grace – a common grace that includes you, me, every other person, and every living creature whether or not they repent and believe.
C Now, like the covenant of grace God established in the Garden, this covenant with Noah and all other creatures is unconditional. God does not demand anything from Noah as a condition to His promise. God's promise has nothing to do with Noah's righteousness and everything to do with God's mercy. The flood showed what God is capable of in His wrath and justice. Yet, because Noah's life – and our lives – are precious to God, He chooses to restrain His wrath. The earth we stand on today with its regular cycle of seasons and days (Gen 8:22) is a tribute to God's great mercy.
The covenant is unconditional because God knows man is unable to keep any covenant. God knows sinful man cannot keep His commands. So God, out of grace, takes it upon Himself to establish the covenant apart from anything man does and tries.
Knowing that God has graciously decided to restrain His fury should not cause us to sink deeper into sin. Instead, it ought to bring forth gratitude and obedience from us. It ought to bring forth repentance and faith. In other words, now is the time of God's grace and favor, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2) because a time will come when this present earth and everything in it will be destroyed and then it will be too late (2 Pet 3:5-7).
III The Covenant Sign (vs 12-17)
A As a sign of the covenant, God set a rainbow in the clouds. But, did you notice for whom the rainbow is a sign? It is not a sign for man. It is not intended to help man remember God's covenant mercies. God put the rainbow in the sky as a sign to Himself. Listen to what He says:
(Gen 9:14-16) Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, (15) I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. (16) Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.Did you hear what God says? "I will remember ..." "I will see it and remember ..." The rainbow as a sign is for God's benefit.
Does God need to remind Himself in this way? Is God even capable of a lapse in memory?
The Israelites listening to Moses had just experienced something similar. The people had been told to splash blood over the sides and tops of the door frames so that when God sees it He will pass over them. God certainly is in no need of blood to know who belongs and who does not belong to Him. Still, the blood, like the bow in Genesis 9, is a sign which God observes.
B So, what is the point of the bow and the blood if God does not need reminding? Let me answer that by asking another question: What really is a rainbow? It is more than just white light broken by a prism into its various colors. The word for "rainbow" in our Bible reading is the same word used for bows wielded in battle. As the flood shows us, the Lord is a Warrior. At the time of the flood, He rained arrows of destruction upon the earth. But after the flood He hung up His weapon.
God set His bow in the clouds. It has the curve of a hunting bow, but it has no string and no arrow. Without a string, it cannot be fired, and without an arrow, it is no longer a weapon of war. And, just in case we fear that God will quickly string His bow and load an arrow, He has pointed it upward toward heaven. Even if it were fitted with a string and an arrow, it is not aimed at us.
Now, how many of us look at a rainbow and are reminded that God is a Warrior-Judge? How many of us look at a rainbow and are comforted by the thought that for now, at least, God has really set aside His weapon? How many of us would say a rainbow appears because God has put His weapon away?
From beginning to end, this passage is about God. God speaks. God establishes. God remembers. God promises to put up with sinful man, giving us time to repent and believe and be saved of our sins. He assures us, again and again, that He love us and cares for us and cherishes us. That is the message we see and hear in God's covenant with Noah.
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