God Makes a Covenant with Noah -- section 1 (series: Lessons on Genesis)
by John Lowe
I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you
November 26, 2013
Commentary on the Book of Genesis
By: Tom Lowe
Lesson I.E.2: God Makes a Covenant with Noah. Gen. 9:8-17
Genesis 9.8-17 (KJV)
8 And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying,
9 And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you;
10 And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth.
11 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.
12 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:
13 I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.
14 And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud:
15 And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.
16 And the bow shall be 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.
17 And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.
This section is what theologians call “The Noahic Covenant.” Though God spoke these words to Noah and his family, this covenant includes all of Noah’s descendants (v. 9, “with your seed after you”) and “all generations to come” (v. 12). The covenant doesn’t stop here, however, for it also includes every living creature (vv. 10, 12) and “all living creatures of every kind” (v. 15). Humans, birds, beasts, and wild animals are included in this wonderful covenant.
In this covenant, which is the first covenant that God made with man, God promised unconditionally that He would never send another flood to destroy all life on earth. As if he wanted to make it emphatic, three times He said, “Never again” (vv. 11, 15). He didn’t lay down any conditions that men and women had to obey; He simply stated the fact that there would be no more universal floods. From that day on, Noah and his family could enjoy life and not worry every time it began to rain.
A Covenant with Creation
At least four times in this covenant, the Lord mentioned “every living creature.” He was speaking about the animals and birds Noah kept safe in the ark during the flood (v. 10). Once again, we are reminded of God’s special concern for animal life.
When the apostle John beheld the throne room in heaven, he saw four unusual “living creatures” worshiping before God’s throne, each one having a different face (Rev. 4.6, 7i). The first had a face like a lion, the second like a calf, the third like a man, and the fourth like an eagle. These four faces parallel the four kinds of creatures with whom God made this covenant: wild beasts, cattle, humans, and birds (vv. 9, 10). These creatures are represented perpetually before the throne of God, because the Lord is concerned about His creations. They remind us that all creation worships and praises the God who provides for His creatures and rejoices in their worshipii.
The forming of a covenant involves the solemn binding together of two parties, who were previously free from obligation to each other. God’s binding Himself to this one family group was a voluntary act of free grace. Noah and his family had done nothing to merit the covenant relationship, and God was not obligated to them. A covenant agreement may contain sanctions in case of “non-compliance”; but that is not mentioned here. God acted unilaterally as sovereign Lord, and He demanded only that they accept the covenant.
A Covenant Sign
To help His people remember His covenants, God would give them a visible sign. His covenant with Abraham was sealed with the sign of circumcision (Ge. 17.11iii; Rom. 4.9-12iv), And the Mosaic covenant at Sinai with the sign of the weekly Sabbath (Ex. 31.16, 17v). God’s covenant with Noah and the animal creation was sealed with the sign of the rainbow. Whenever people saw the rainbow, they would remember God’s promise that no future storm would ever become a worldwide flood that would destroy humanity. This covenant, however, does not rule out God sending other disasters to inflict punishment upon mankind. He may choose to destroy particular places and countries through what we call “natural disasters”;--floods, drought, earthquakes, typhoons, tornados, monsoons, cyclones, hurricanes, volcanoes, etc. Neither will the destruction of the world at the last day by fire (2 Pe. 3.10vi) be a breach of this promise.
Mark Twain and his friend William Dean Howells stepped out of church just as a violent rainstorm began. Howells said, “I wonder if it will stop”; and Mark Twain replied, “It always has.” Why? Because God made a covenant and He always keeps His Word.
God spoke of the rainbow as if Noah and his family were familiar with it, so it must have existed before the Flood. Rainbows are caused by the sunlight filtering through the water in the air, each drop becoming a prism to release the colors hidden in the white light of the sun. Rainbows are fragile but beautiful, and nobody has to pay to see them. Their lovely colors speak to us of what Peter called “the manifold grace of God” (1 Pe. 4.10).
The Greek word translated “manifold” means “various, many-colored, variegated.” The rainbow reminds of God’s gracious covenant and the “many-colored” grace of God. We are told in Genesis 2.5 that no rain fell before the Flood, but in the next verse it says, “Streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground” (Ge. 2.6). And in Genesis 1, God created oceans and rivers. There was plenty of water around to produce rainbows before the Flood.
Let’s pursue that thought. If the rainbow reminds us of God’s faithfulness and grace, then why do we fret and worry? God hasn’t promised that we will never experience storms, but He has promised that the storms won’t destroy us. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you” (Isa. 43.2). When the clouds appear and the sun is hidden, we have nothing to fear.
Let’s think about the bow. A bow is an instrument of war, but God has transformed it into a picture of His faithfulness and grace, a guarantee of peace. God could certainly turn the bow of judgment upon us, because we have broken His Law and deserve judgment. But He has turned the bow toward heaven and taken the punishment for us Himself! When Jesus died on the cross, it was the Just One suffering for the unjust (1 Pe. 3.18vii), and bearing the suffering that rightly belonged to us.
Rainbows are universal; you see them all over the world. God’s many-colored grace is sufficient for the whole world and needs to be announced to the whole world. After all, God loves the world (John 3.16viii), and Christ died for the sins of the world (1 John 4.10, 14ix).
But the rainbow isn’t only for us to see, for the Lord said, “I will look upon it” (Ge. 9.16). Certainly, God doesn’t forget His covenants with his people, but this is just another way of assuring us that we don’t need to be afraid because God is committed to keep all His covenants. When we look at the rainbow, we know that our Father is also looking at the rainbow; and therefore it becomes a bridge that brings us together.
This covenant is the first of five divinely originated covenants in Scripture explicitly described as “everlasting.” The other four include:
1. Abrahamic—Ge. 17.7
2. Priestly—Num. 25.10-13
3. Davidic—2 Sam. 23.5
4. New—Jer. 32.40
The term “everlasting” can mean either (1) to the end of time and/or (2) through eternity future. It never looks back to eternity past. Of the five explicitly mentioned covenants of this kind in Scripture, only the Mosaic or old covenant was nullified.